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Iran approves new measures to rein in press

By Mehrdad Balali

TEHRAN, April 17 (Reuters) - Iran's conservative outgoing parliament passed new measures on Monday to rein in the liberal press, whose influence is increasing in the Islamic country. Related satire here

The new measures, part of a series of amendments to the press law, came as Iran's electoral watchdog nullified parliamentary poll results in several regions, drawing criticism from reformers.

The new rulings ban criticism of the constitution, seen by some in the liberal press as a hurdle to democratic reforms.

They forbid Iranian publications from receiving ``direct or indirect'' financial support from foreign governments or other entities.

The measures also extend responsibility for press violations to news writers and commentators, in addition to a publication's director.

The parliament will continue debating additional new measures on Tuesday.

Liberal Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani and several reformist deputies attacked parts of the bill, including the proposed ban on press challenges of the constitution.

The constitution, written after the 1979 Islamic revolution, places immense powers in the hands of the country's supreme clerical leader at the expense of its elected president.

``This part of the bill closes doors to any criticism of the constitution and its amendment. We must have an open atmosphere to debate constitutional provisions,'' the culture minister told parliament.

``I suppose that the next parliament will correct provisions in this amendment which restrict the rights and freedoms of the press,'' the minister later told the state news agency IRNA.

But the majority conservatives defended the motion.

``There is a difference between well-intentioned and ill-intentioned criticism,'' said a rightist deputy. ``We want to prevent the press from disturbing public opinion.''

Iran's press law already bans publications from running material deemed offensive to religious principles.

Reformers have accused their conservative rivals of seeking to take revenge for their poor showing in parliamentary polls.

The elections in February gave reformers a stronger position in the new parliament, thanks largely to wide press publicity.

Moderates had urged the outgoing assembly to drop the controversial bill until the next assembly convenes on May 28.

Parliamentary approval of the outline of the bill last summer led to student unrest and street riots. The assembly in January postponed the second reading of the bill for three months.


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