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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 March 2008, 11:29 GMT
Iran media lean to the right
By Saeed Barzin
BBC Monitoring

IRTV1 election news bulletin
Iranian TV broadcast special election programmes

Most Iranian media outlets appear to have tilted in favour of the conservative camp during the campaign for the country's parliament, the Majlis.

State-run TV and radio supported conservative candidates and groups opposed to the reformists. All the major news agencies, which are the main source of reporting for newspapers, also supported right-wing groupings.

The picture was more differentiated elsewhere. It became clear that newspapers and the internet provided the space for political debates, but their audience was largely limited to the educated elite.

Numerous campaigning restrictions such as a ban on car convoys, loudspeakers, and posters or placards in public areas meant that media coverage assumed greater importance than in previous polls.

TV and Radio

Television is the most important instrument in building public interest in the elections. In a festival-like atmosphere, channels carried election programmes, commentaries, reports on foreign media reaction, interviews with officials and special bulletins.

The main television channels held regular "Election Platforms", where correspondents asked people on the street for their views.

Most questions had little political content, however, and the interviews were selective - not a single person who was shown criticised the elections or the disqualification of candidates, and almost all interviewees said they would vote.

Broadcasters also emphasised the "youth factor". Young correspondents were deployed, the language of reporting was "lightened up", and ideas thought to appeal to a younger audience were discussed.

Reformist complaints

Reformists accused broadcasters of exaggerating the differences between critics of the government and understating disagreements among pro-government groups.

The editorial line of state-run TV and radio was in fact more complex. In many programmes, discussions concentrated on general and non-partisan issues, and there was no expression of support for any particular group.

IRTV1 election news bulletin
Khomeini's image still serves as an inspiration to voters

However, some programmes, such as the evening news bulletin on IRTV2, displayed sharp anti-reformist spin in their reports. This bulletin gave selective and negative coverage to pro-reform groups.

But the state broadcaster defended itself, saying that its coverage was in accordance with ethical, Islamic and political standards.

News agencies

All major news agencies supported the right-wing and demonstrated varying degrees of anti-reformist bias.

The state news agency IRNA reported all official election statements. There was some political "spin" in other IRNA reports, such as a stress on internal differences among reformists, but this was not a dominant theme. However, there were no reports containing criticism of the elections as such.

The conservative Mehr agency concentrated on pro-government groups, and its reporting of the reformists was selective.

The Fars agency also displayed partiality, highlighting differences among reformists and giving particular prominence to statements by moderate reformists against more radical ones. It gave extensive coverage to conservative groups but downplayed differences among them.

Of all the national agencies, ISNA made the greatest effort to create the impression of unbiased reporting by giving some coverage to the views and statements of reformists. But it still concentrated mainly on reporting the views of pro-government groups.

Newspapers

The balance of reporting in the print media was more evenly distributed between the conservatives and the reformists.

An almost equal number of dailies supported the two camps and political debate between the two sides was more clearly evident, and more evenly reported.

Almost all major political statements, commentaries and reactions were reported by the newspapers, but while TV and radio targeted a large and undifferentiated audience, the print media, especially the reformist newspapers, targeted the educated elite.

New media

All the major factions had election websites, but the left-wing reformists were the only group which relied heavily on web outlets for public relations.

State authorities were nervous about the role of new media and public access to systems of mass communication.

The pro-reform website Norooznews.ir reported that the Yahoo messenger service and Yahoo e-mail were blocked by a number of ISPs following an "unofficial directive", which the authorities refused to confirm.

The authorities also said they would intercept and stop "destructive" SMS texts, but they did not attempt to define the term "destructive".

Rumours that the internet would be restricted on election day forced a response from the authorities.

The Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi denied that the "internet would be disconnected" on polling day, but he made no reference to the filtering of sites, which is standard practice in Iran.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Iran
09 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

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