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Iran Officials Tell Media Not To Focus On Economic Crisis

Iranian protesters shout slogans during a protest against the economic conditions in central Tehran, June 25, 2018

Iranian media have been under immense pressure by judiciary and security officials to keep silent about the implications of the devaluation of Iran’s currency, rial.

Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on Iran's state TV on Monday that media may report any decline in the rates of exchange, but they should avoid disseminating reports that would further destabilize the market, meaning that announcing negative fluctuations in the rates of exchange is out of question.

Last week, Dolatabadi shut down 17 websites and social media outlets that had real-time announcements of exchange rates based on observations at the markets in Tehran and other major cities.

In one of the latest developments in this regard, Iran's Cyber Police Chief Kamal Hadianfar said at a press conference in Tehran on Wednesday that the "Cyber Police has identified 1381 websites that created tension in the gold coin market."

He said over 500 websites have been blocked and over 200 of them are being investigated.

A Radio Farda cartoon by Shahrokh Heidari. Rial overtaken by the US dollar.
A Radio Farda cartoon by Shahrokh Heidari. Rial overtaken by the US dollar.

These sites announce down-to-the-minute rates for various mints of gold coins in Iran's market.

The prices of gold coins have been on a constant upward trajectory since February when Iran's economic crisis led to social unrest and the decline of the rial. Obviously when the local currency loses value, gold becomes more expensive.

Buying standard gold coins is viewed as one of the safest ways of saving and investment other than purchasing hard currencies, as few Iranians would trust the banks and other financial institutions because of their failure to repay people's investment, let alone the interest they expect to receive.

Meanwhile, the official news agency IRNA claimed on Wednesday that the 1381 websites mentioned by the Cyber Police chief, are being maintained abroad.

Some of these websites and social media networks have up to 200,000 active members and millions of readers.

According to IRNA, some of these websites have been traced in Dubai and Canada. The statement by the agency ignores the fact that a majority of Iranian websites including some government sites are maintained on servers based in other countries as Iran's internet backbone lacks the capacity and bandwidth to serve all the websites in the country.

In the meantime, President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi summoned the editors of major Tehran newspapers to the Culture Ministry on Monday to tell them to "help the government to solve problems and inject hope and vitality in society"; meaning they should avoid disseminating news that would disappoint the nation because of the government's failure in resolving the ongoing economic crisis in Iran

Vaezi told media managers and editors the government was facing "a new situation," and that it needed media's help "to leave this situation behind," possibly referring to US sanctions following Washington's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran.

He urged the media to try to keep the nation happy as "the enemies have conspired to wage an economic war on Iran," and have created "a difficult economic situation."