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Rouhani Forced To Take Back Bill Restricting Free Journalism


A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on September 13, 2017, showing the cabinet during a meeting in Tehran.

Following an avalanche of criticism by lawyers and journalists, President Hassan Rouhani’s government decided to return a new controversial bill to its Cultural Commission for further review.

The bill titled the Media Governance Organization, MGO, had triggered opposition among journalists and lawyers who believe it would totally deprive Iranian media of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Citing unnamed government officials, Iran Students News Agency, ISNA had earlier maintained that the new bill was adopted to “support journalists’ legitimate rights”.

However, dozens of journalists, lawyers and legal experts begged to differ.

The bill, as first proposed, would have required all journalists to apply for a special license; otherwise they would have been barred from reporting on public and state matters.

Furthermore, had unlicensed journalists committed a “media” offense, they would have been tried without a jury.

The returned bill, according to government’s official news agency, IRNA, was compiled in seven Chapters and 66 Articles that were at least partly endorsed by Rouhani’s administration.

Currently, the government has called on its cultural commission to define references to the penal and legal matters in the bill with “special care” and report the outcome to the cabinet.

Meanwhile, Rouhani’s administration has asked the Employment and Administrative Organization to weigh the possibility of launching MGO as a public and non-governmental organization.

The new bill was mainly attacked for the fact that MGO was designed to be totally controlled by the government, without journalists having a say in it.

However, ISNA, quoting a cabinet meeting, had presented a long list of “advantages” the new bill was expected to award Iranian journalists; including “supporting the freedom of media staff who are responsibly active in covering events and developments”, “free flow of information”, “public’s right to have access to information” and “promoting moral ethics and professional code of conduct among journalists”.

The bill was at the verge of adoption at a time that Iran, along with Turkey and China, is described as the largest prison for journalists and broadcasters in the world.

The bill was at the verge of adoption at a time that Iran, along with Turkey and China, is described as the largest prison for journalists and broadcasters in the world.

In her latest report, UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir once again announced receiving reports on violations of freedom of expression and persecution of journalists in the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s harsh treatment of journalists has recently reached a point that the Islamic Republic’s judiciary issues bills of indictment against Iranian journalists working abroad and even deprives them of their civic rights, including the right to transaction in their homeland.

On October 25, the BBC filed a complaint with the United Nations over Iran freezing the assets of more than 150 people associated with its Persian service, calling the Islamic Republic's actions "a deprivation of human rights."

The British broadcaster also said that Iran's move was part of a "criminal investigation" into the BBC's staff, former employees, and contributors over allegations they fomented a "conspiracy against national security" in Iran.

Those swept up in the investigation include Iranian dual nationals from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Britain, and the United States, the BBC said.

"BBC Persian staff are unable to return to Iran as they risk arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment," the complaint said. "Many BBC Persian staff have been separated from their families for years and, in a number of cases, were unable to see loved ones before they have died."

MGO, if launched, will lead to creating a government controlled journalism, denying the necessity of independence for the profession and imposing more restrictions on Iranian media”

The BBC's complaint was sent to David Kaye, the UN's independent investigator on freedom of expression. He told journalists at UN headquarters in New York that he had received the BBC's complaint.

Numerous official acts of intimidation and harassment have also been reported against many Radio Farda journalists abroad.

Many journalists in Iran already dismissed MGO as a useless tool incapable of addressing the problems Iranian journalists and journalism are confronting in the Islamic Republic.

In an article for the reformist daily Sharq, a renowned lawyer-journalist, Kambiz Norouzi insisted that MGO explicitly contradicts the principle of respecting the freedom for social and public media, as well as the necessity of having an independent media staff, in a civilized society.

Norouzi also noted that the new bill is suffering from at least 47 fundamental legal shortcomings.

“MGO, if launched, will lead to creating a government controlled journalism, denying the necessity of independence for the profession and imposing more restrictions on Iranian media”, Norouzi elaborated further.

In a letter dated Sunday, May 21 and addressed to President Rouhani, hundreds of Iranian journalists reminded him of his earlier promises to re-open Tehran’s Professional Trade Society of Journalists (TPTSJ) and paving the way for its registration as a legal institution.

The letter has not been officially answered, so far.

Earlier in an interview with Radio Farda, a former government official responsible for supervising the media, Issa Saharkhiz had noted that Rouhani’s minister for Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, Ali Rabiei had a pivotal role in blocking the registration of TPTSJ as a legal institution.

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