July 6, 2000
The press & the government
I wanted to thank Azadeh Hamehdoni for her fine article on the contemporary
Iranian press ["Red
ink"] but also to quibble with the second paragraph of the background
Of course, all periods in history are unique but they may also have
analagous precedents. There were other times besides "'October 15
to November 6'" fo 1978 when Iranian journalists enjoyed relative
freedom from censorship: the 1940's following the abdication of Reza Shah
and in the wake of the Constiutional Revolution of 1905-6. Also, from
the late 19th Century through the early 1930's there was a vibrant and
influential expatriate Persian-language press (which was free from Iranian
censorship if not always Ottoman, British or other European censors).
On the issue of "professionalization," the role of the authoritarian
state -- be it Qajar, Pahlavi or Islamic Republican -- is more complicated.
It was the state that introduced the periodical press to Iranian culture
in the 19th Century. Mohammad Mas'ud, the publisher of the controversial
Mard-e Emruz from 1942-48, was sent to Belgium to study journalism
in the 1930's by Reza Shah's government (not that it bought Reza Shah
much affection from Mas'ud!). Mas'ud also went on to be a founding member
of the Iranian Press Association in 1946.
The state has always had an interest in contolling the press -- most
obviously through press laws, but also through education. The first effort
to create an Iranian school of journalism came under the reign of Mohammad
Reza Shah in the 1960's in the wake of the White Revolution. Mostafa
Mesbahzadeh's Keyhan -- closely allied with the throne -- established
an institute to train journalists and other press-related professionals.
Later, in the early 1970's, a school of communciation (including press
and broadcast media) was established at the University of Tehran. These
efforts were influenced by American models. Even into the late 1980's,
the bibliographies of university journalism textbooks in Iran reveal a
heavy reliance on American and European scholarship on the press and other
I do not mean to suggest that politics and censorship are not a vital
part of the history of the Iranian press, but there is a bit more to it
than that. The central role and faith in the power of the press in Iran
today derives from over a 150 years of history in which the press has
played a crucial role in politics, culture and economics -- sometimes despite
the power of the state and sometimes supported by that same power.
Granted, this is "too much information" for an article on
the contemporary Iranian press, but I thought I'd offer it for consideration
Camron Michael Amin