Foreign media crackdown in Iran
Jon Sawyer on the Iranian government's censorship of journalists
15 Jun 09

This is a guest post by Jon Sawyer, Executive Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

On Saturday, Iranian officials contacted television journalists for The Associated Press in Iran and warned that the government would enforce an existing law banning provision of news video to the Farsi-language services of the BBC and the Voice of America. Both agencies broadcast to Iranians via satellite in their own language.

AP employees then contacted the BBC and VOA to discuss the order.

”It is the AP practice to comply with local laws regarding media. We are nonetheless determined to continue to provide accurate coverage of events in Iran,” said AP’s Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.

There were a variety of other clamp-down steps affecting both international and domestic news organizations. For instance, officials telephoned several visiting international journalists with visas to cover the elections and told them that their visas would not be extended after the vote, a courtesy often offered in the past.

Two other international news agencies that operate in Iran, Reuters and Agence France-Press, could not be immediately reached for comment. Neither reported any restrictions on their journalists.

A spokesman for the Swedish network SVT, Geronimo Akerlund, said its reporter, Lena Pettersson, had been asked to ”leave Iran as soon as possible because the elections are over.”

Dubai-based news network Al Arabiya said the station’s correspondent in Tehran was given a verbal order from Iranian authorities that its office would be closed for one week, said Executive News Editor Nabil Khatib. No reason was given, but the station was warned several times Saturday that it needed to be careful in reporting ”chaos” accurately, he said.

German television network ZDF said Sunday on air that its reporter in Iran and other reporters were being ”prevented from doing their jobs in a massive form”. The network said it was unable to show a broadcast feed from the network’s correspondent depicting protests.

Italian state TV RAI said one of its crews was caught in a street clash. An Iranian interpreter was beaten with clubs by riot police and officers confiscated the cameraman’s videotapes, the station said.

Iran regulates and monitors the activities of international and independent media operating within its borders, and it closely watches and guides its own internal state media. Many reformist newspapers, magazines and websites have emerged in the past decade, but often come under restrictions or are shut down.
International media normally are allowed to work without censorship in Iran, subject to certain rules, such as seeking advance permission to travel to certain locations outside the capital or to interview government officials.

But Iran is more sensitive about news reports or blogs and Internet communications in Farsi, apparently concerned about the effect on its internal political situation.