The Tehran media fair
July 8, 1999
The following report describes the media atmosphere in Iran just
a couple of months ago. Several moderate publications attracted big crowds,
a sign of a more open society. But the roller coaster seems to be heading
down again. Parliament is considering a new bill that would put new limits
on freedom of the press. Also the moderate daily Salam has been
shut down by the revolutionary court. -- Editor (Related
Iran is a country of nuances.Untrained senses miss a lot of the finer
rapport among people. But at this year's media fair in Tehran, particularly
dull senses would have been required to not notice what was being said.
Some 400 publications had set up booths at the International Trade Center.
This while most rightist papers, such as Jomhuriy-e Eslami, Resalat,
Kayhan, etc., boycotted the event that coincided with the impeachment
hearings of Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani. Entekhab,
which represents the voice of the new conservatives, did take part, however.
All you had to do was enter the place and see the people's reactions
to various booths to get a picture of what is going on in this society.
The reformist daily Neshat
was packed with spectators, as editor Shamsolvaezin
sat and talked directly to the people. Across the hallway, Faezeh Hashemi's
-- the issue that covered in brief ex-empress Farah's Noruz message
-- was selling like hot cakes. More interesting was their display of a
big chain and lock in protest against a ban on the paper. A tag hanging
from the lock read: "This lock is rightist too" though the term
"mostaqeem" was used instead of "raast."
A teenage woman smiled cunningly upon seeing the sign and asked the
woman behind the booth what the display meant. "I think the message
is pretty direct," came the reply. The crowd was even happier when
they saw Shamsolvaezin cross over to visit Zan's booth in a show
Other popular booths included Sobh-e Emrooz. Again, a crowd had
gathered to watch a fairly civil debate between folks from that paper and
a conservative visitor. It was a heated but respectful crossfire, a true
pleasure to watch. I was told, however, that this was nothing compared
to the previous year, when rightist papers had participated. Apparently
the organizers of the event were a bit naughty and deliberately set the
booths of rightist papers next to those of the reformists, which allegedly
resulted in interesting debates.
If you wanted a serious chat, without the big lines to get to Shamsolvaezin,
the likes of Gofto-gu
editor, Morad Saghafi, made for great conversation. Like-minded Adineh
magazine saw quite a bit of traffic as well. But if you wanted to just
hang out with the youth and perhaps chat up someone, the exhibition hall
where the popular film and art magazines were displayed, was your best
Also present were religious publications, though they generally found
themselves a bit lonely. The publication Beshaarat,
which aims to teach the youth about the Quran, even promised a raffle
of sorts worth 80 quarter-gold coins, though as far as could be seen this
marketing tactic did not bring in the lines they may have hoped for. I
should add that not all the godly publications lacked visitors. Meanwhile
the conservative students were represented by Basij.
The booth of the Zoroastrian magazine Vahoman
drew in a good crowd. But in all honesty, they did not play fair: They
proudly displayed multiple copies of an issue that boasted Mossadeq's portrait,
not to mention a most interesting postcard with a graphic image of the
lion, sword and the sun (sheer-o khorsheed). There was even a bolder version
of that card with the famous display that has been taboo for years, but
only to be displayed for sale to select people. On the same nationalist
promised to hit the newsstand soon.
This year the Iranian Jews joined the event for the first time, as they
have finally published their very own magazine, Bina.
I engaged in a conversation about the recent Internet debate on the Iran-News
listserve regarding the status of the Jews in Iran. "So," I ask
the woman behind the booth, "is it really hard to live in Iran as
a Jew?" "It is a lot better
now," she said with due precautions. "A lot better implies
that it was terrible, and it is still pretty bad," I persisted, "Is
that what you mean?" She just smiled and told me to figure out the
meaning for myself. Goes to show that caution is still the rule in Iran.
I talked to the young man behind the booth of Zaman as well.
Zaman is geared towards travel-minded Iranians. This relatively obscure
publication came to national limelight during Mohajerani's impeachment
hearing after a Majlis deputy accused it of having published contacts to
prostitutes in Dubai -- a charge to which Mohajerani replied in a strong
and unequivocal voice: "That's a lie!" Well, to set the record
straight, it was a lie. I now posses the famous issue. As I bought it I
joked with the man that he must have paid the Majlis deputy something,
for his sales must have skyrocketed now. He smiled and told me, "They
have, but it really is a shame that a member of parliament says things
like that, obviously not having read the text properly."
It was also fun to eavesdrop on the replies to various people being
interviewed for a survey.
Most of them agreed that the press was freer now and as a result more reliable.
They also generally agreed that the reformist papers gave a better report
and analysis of events. More interesting was that it seemed that not too
many of the same folks were as happy regarding progress (or lack there
of) in state-controlled radio and television news.
I was taken by Rah-e
No's empty booth. What is amusing is that the booth space for this
recently-banned publication was actually set up, though there could clearly
be no representation for an illegal journal. So, all you saw was an empty
space with a lonely white plastic chair inside. Perhaps I read too much
into these things, but it is a custom to leave a place for missing guest
of particular importance who just could not make it to the gathering (much
like leaving the porch light on for a son at the front).
If that was the case, Mohajerani's defeat of the impeachment drive was
great news. That is, those who are happy to see the burgeoning of a press
with more freedom and diversity, may be smiling more frequently, and the
likes of Rah-e No need not have an empty booth next year. Hopefully
the rightist papers will also be present to enhance this attractive landscape.