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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 18:23 GMT
Iranian media gears up for polls
Women protest for press freedom
One of the most noticeable differences between the run-up to next month's elections and the last polls in 1996 is the role of the press.

This time around, there are long queues at the newspaper kiosks. Iranians clearly cannot get enough of the papers.

Newspapers have been President Mohammad Khatami's great success story.
Banned papers
Zan Published announcement by late Shah's widow
Salam Published details of moves to curb press freedom
Neshat Called for end to death penalty and questioned Ayatollah's authority
Khordad Accused of spreading anti-Islamic propaganda
Although Mr Khatami heads the executive, many bodies and institutions, including the courts, the armed forces and the police, are beyond his control.

However, he and his culture minister, Ata'ollah Mohajerani, have been able to use their jurisdiction over the press to give journalists a relatively free rein.

And journalists have exploited the opportunity. No sooner has the judiciary banned one newspaper than another one springs up.

The recent closure of two newspapers, Neshat and Salam, was followed by the appearance of four more titles; Akhbar-e Eqtesad, Asr-e Azadegan, Bayan and Mosharekat.

Reform

With more than 20 national dailies and countless provincial papers, Iranian newspaper readers are spoilt for choice.

student protest
Newspaper bans have sparked the worst unrest in 20 years
While some of the older pre-Khatami titles, such as Kayhan, Resalat and Jomhuri-ye Eslami, stand for the old guard and defend old-style theocracy, the newer titles represent the changing face of Iranian politics and advocate gentle to wholesale reforms.

Hamshahri, Tehran Municipality's daily which launched eight years ago, was the forerunner of the new, brighter newspapers.

It was the first to publish as a colour tabloid, and it has devoted substantial space to social and cultural issues, rapidly capturing a formerly untapped market - Iran's younger generation, which forms a very high percentage of the country's population.
Best sellers
Hamshahri Tabloid popular with younger generation. Circulation c. 460,000
Asr-e Azadegan Replaced banned Neshat
Kayhan Conservative broadsheet. Managing director appointed by supreme leader
Fath Replaced banned Khordad, whose managing director Abdollah Nuri has been jailed
Sobh-e Emrooz Run by close Khatami aide Sa'id Hajjarian
The Iranian news agency's daily, Iran, now in its seventh year, has also overhauled its appearance along similar lines.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recently boasted that Hamshahri and Iran, both licensed under his presidency, had paved the way for Mr Khatami's 1997 victory.

It is perhaps a reflection of how things have changed that these two newspapers, which were the trend setters under Mr Rafsanjani, now represent the middle ground politically compared to new titles such as Asr-e Azadegan, Sobh-e Emrooz and Fath.

Jailed

The managing directors of these newer papers, and sometimes even their writers and editors, are regularly brought before the clerical courts and occasionally jailed.

But they continue to defy the authorities. And they are supported by large sections of the public.
Abdollah Nouri
Abdollah Nouri: Barred from elections

When Salam was banned last year it led to the worst unrest since the Iranian Revolution as pro-reform students took to the streets.

And protesters vented their anger again when the popular former interior minister Abdollah Nuri was jailed for five years for ''spreading anti-Islamic propaganda'' in his paper Khordad.

Mr Nuri, one of Mr Khatami's closest allies, has been barred from standing in the parliamentary elections as a result of his sentence.

Television

Newspapers in Iran owe at least part of their success to the tight control over the broadcast media, which come under the supreme leader's jurisdiction.

Radio and television still adhere strictly to what they consider to be the orthodoxy in the Islamic Republic.

This may be one reason why newspapers are particularly in demand before elections as they will cover developments unlikely to be reported elsewhere. But this also leaves the press vulnerable to falling foul of the authorities.

Salam, for example, was banned for two days on the eve of the 1996 polls for criticising the Guardian Council's vetting of election candidates.

Internet

Many of the key newspapers now publish on the internet and Mr Khatami and his rival, Majlis speaker Ali Akbar Nategh-Nuri, both used the web to get their message across in the May 1997 presidential elections.

Their main objective was to reach Iranians living abroad who were also allowed to vote, but cannot take part in parliamentary elections.

The Iranian news agency IRNA says several companies have recently set up special sites on the internet to promote candidates.

But although both sides of the secular-clerical divide are generally supportive of the internet, the technology is still basic and the cost prohibitive to most Iranians.

This report was compiled by BBC Monitoring


BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
See also:

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