Iran’s skepticism of foreign media

Jason Rezaian – Washington Post Feb 20, 2013

Three weeks after authorities here arrested several Iranian journalists, saying they had been illegally working for foreign media without government permission, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence issued a statement saying three of the journalists had been freed on bail. The case offers a revealing, if at times confusing, glimpse into  the unique nature of Iranian journalism, which is more complicated than it may sometimes appear from the outside.

The Intelligence Ministry statement, issued Tuesday, also said that four other journalists were wanted for questioning and thought to be in hiding; one of them, it alleged, had fled the country illegally.

The government statement asserted that several of the journalists had unknowingly been working for a network of foreign-based media outlets, which it said had “covert goals and ill intentions.”

The statement reflects the Iranian government’s deep distrust of foreign media, particularly the BBC’s Farsi-language station, which it accuses of illegally employing Iranian journalists who lack government permission.

Sadeq Saba, head of BBC Persian Service, wrote via e-mail: “We refute these allegations completely. We do not have, and never have had, any working relationship whatsoever with these journalists. The allegations are completely without foundation.”

BBC Persian is broadcast over Iranian airwaves despite apparent efforts to block it. Millions of Iranians have access to satellite television, from which they can access news in their native language, funded by foreign governments that Iran deems hostile and often from journalists who used to work inside Iran.

Analysts say the recent arrests of journalists likely signal a tightening of media restrictions ahead of Iran’s June presidential election. But it may also have to do with internal political jockeying. All of the arrested journalists work for outlets that are associated with more reformist policies and politicians, including Shargh, Etemad, Bahar, and Arman newspapers and Aseman Weekly.

It’s important and often glossed over that, although Iran has a history of jailing journalists, reporters here are often allowed to get away with much more than they were in the past. A decade ago, journalists had to navigate a far denser minefield of off-limits subjects, which has since thinned. Still, it remains a complicated media environment for local journalists to navigate.

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Here’s another take on the above from the Iranian Fars News Agency. Readers will note moreover that it mentions one aspect to the story that the Washington Post doesn’t touch upon.
While the Washington Post blathers on that “Iran has a history of jailing journalists”, it fails to mention accusations that the foreign media have also been linked with espionage and intelligence gathering activites. Ed.

Intelligence Ministry Continues Probe into BBC-Led Spy Networks in Iran

Fars News Agency – Feb 19, 2013

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said in statement on Tuesday that it has summoned and later released a number of reporters and journalists after briefing them about their rather unwilling links and connections with a media spy network run by the BBC in Iran.

“During the trend of investigations, the other individuals linked to the (BBC-led) network of psychological operations were summoned and interrogated and also a number of others who were not aware of the nature of the network were also called in and were briefed about the covert goals and ill intentions of the network,” said the statement which was the third since the Intelligence Ministry embarked on detaining a number of reporters last month to investigate their suspicious connection with the BBC and some other western-led media.

The statement said that four of the summoned people are on the run and one of them has escaped the country.

The ministry said it has freed several of those who have been summoned after informing them that they are working for this network unknowingly, and added that three detainees have also been freed on bail as their debriefing procedures were completed.

The statement further said that the intelligence and information gathered by the ministry shows that the center of this network which is stationed at the British spy agency’s psychological operations organization (known as the BBC) is also leading a number of radio, TV networks or anti-revolution news websites, including R.F.L, Deutsche Welle, Radio Farda, BBC, VOA and Manoto TV.

The statement also named the Persian-language websites, Jaras, Kalameh, Melli-Mazhabi (National-Religious), Norouz, Neday-e Sabz-e Azadi, Rooz Online, Gozar, Khodnevis and Saham News as among the internet and news websites helping the BBC-led network.

Late in January, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry in its first statement on the case dismissed the western media ballyhoo about the recent arrests in Iran, and said it is conducting thorough investigations into the case, which pertained to the suspicious links and communications and relay of information between some Iranian journalists inside the country and a number of anti-Islamic Republic media in the West.

The January statement said the intelligence ministry “has succeeded in uncovering one of the biggest networks (of informants and agents) linked with the media camp of the arrogant powers”.

It said “the network was run by the British government’s psychological operations organization (known as the BBC) in cooperation with several western governments and used a multilayer, extensive and well-quipped structure and very special methods of communications for sending its reports”, adding that the BBC and its western co-conspirators used the experience they had gained in the post-election unrests in Iran in June 2009 to better run the network.

The statement said at the time that the Intelligence Ministry watched the operations and moves of the network for months and collected the needed judicial proofs and evidence before it made the arrests.

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