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Iran paper calls for live TV debates before elections

TEHRAN, Aug 25 (AFP) - An Iranian newspaper on Wednesday urged state television to broadcast live debates between leading scholars to help voters make better choices in next spring's key parliamentary elections.

The Iran News also said conservative-dominated state television has "shied away from the clash of ideas" and that its programming has "not been able to quench the public thirst for more accurate and impartial information."

The idea of live television debates has become "the topic of the day," the paper said, noting such broadcasts would help the public "cast an educated vote and elect the best-qualified candidates" in February's polls.

Such debates were common in the early days after the 1979 Islamic revolution but were discontinued in a bid to maintain national unity during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, it said.

Iran's state television and radio are largely dominated by conservatives, who were handily defeated in last spring's first-ever municipal elections.

But many of the candidates were unknown to voters when they went to cast their ballots.

Reformers and moderates are trying to end the conservative majority in parliament in the February elections, seen as a crucial test for the reform agenda of President Mohammad Khatami.

Since Khatami took office two years ago he has eased curbs on the press, resulting in a flowering of newspapers and magazines.

But a conservative-led crackdown has closed three leading pro-Khatami dailies since the beginning of the year and dozens of journalists have been arrested or brought in for questioning.

The closure of the pro-Khatami paper Salam last month set off student demonstrations that erupted into six days of riots after protesters were attacked by security forces and Islamic hardliners.

The judiciary, also dominated by the regime's conservatives, earlier this month presented a draconian draft bill that could make many forms of free speech subject to possible prosecution as crimes against the state.

The measure outlaws "any contact or exchange of information, interviews or collusion with foreign embassies, organisations, parties or media, at whatever level, which could be judged harmful to Iran's independence, national unity or the interests of the Islamic republic."

The bill must be approved by Khatami's cabinet as well as parliament before becoming law.


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