Iran’s Culture Ministry backs down on journalist licensing


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Iran’s Culture Ministry has decided to suspend a controversial plan to resume requirements for journalists to apply for work permits through the ministry after more than 400 journalists wrote an open letter protesting the move.

Hossein Entezami, the Culture Ministry’s deputy for media affairs, told reporters on Tuesday, “I’ve seen the comments of friends on this matter and I have realized that some of the criticism is relevant, and therefore the council formed for this matter has been suspended.”

The licensing requirement would have forced journalists to periodically submit their work to the Culture Ministry for evaluation in order to retain their licenses. In their open letter, journalists argued that this requirement went against President Hassan Rouhani’s promises to create a better relationship with journalists and give more space for non-governmental organizations and guilds to operate.

Entezami deflected some criticism by saying the plan had never been put into effect. A journalist inside Iran told Al-Monitor that even suggesting the plan was unnecessary and surprising from Rouhani’s administration. “No one expected Rouhani to remove all of the barriers, but we expected at least for him not to create new barriers,” he said.

The press conference between Entezami with the press association was held to examine the Culture Ministry’s media policies in the first six months of the new administration.

In response to the question about what system the Press Supervisory Board uses to evaluate publications for licensing, Entezami said that the body has conducted research and investigations and came to the conclusion that appropriate “spatial planning” is needed. He continued, “We have to answer whether we need this many province-focused publications, given the geography of the media. Does the country need the number of publications that have received licenses or not? Either way, there has to be a balance between resources and expenditures.”

He went on, “We have 18 sports newspapers in the country, and they are primarily focused on soccer. For a country whose premier league has 18 teams, does so much happen that we need 18 newspapers covering analysis and news going to the newsstands?”

Entezami was also criticized by reporters for being unavailable to them and generally silent on media matters. He responded, “What difference does it make if I give interviews or if I write reports? Reports can contain news and analysis as well. I do this on purpose, because the reality is that there is a misunderstanding in Iran on what accountability is. The assumption is that if the oil minister does not answer his phone at two in the morning to talk to a reporter, it means that he is not accountable. It is a mistake to, on the margins of a conference, confront a minister who has other plans after the conference, and ask him questions, and if he doesn’t answer questions, say that he is unaccountable.”

In response to questions about when the journalists guild will be able to reopen, Entezami said that he would give a detailed interview on that matter soon.