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Farhi Comments on Iranian Media, Elections and Detentions

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Farideh Farhi, adjunct professor of political science at the University of Hawaii-Manoa recently published a series of revealing articles in the Informed Comment Global Affairs website.

In Yet Another Election Kickoff in Iran Farhi comments on the preparations for the upcoming March 15 parliamentary elections in Iran:

Given the power of non-elective institutions – office of the leader, the Guardian Council, and the Expediency Council – one can and should question the significance of elections in Iran in heralding any measurable change in the political system as a whole. But notwithstanding this fundamental issue, elections in Iran do involve a competition in which the outcome is not pre-determined and as such they are significant political games, involving all the machinations, organizational maneuvering, attempts at coalition building, and voter and vote manipulations that are prevalent in many countries that have competitive political systems.

Farhi highlights some rules which have been changed since the last elections, as well as their motivations and effects on the upcoming elections:

For instance, the new election regulations require those who occupy a significant number of government positions to resign from their positions six months before elections (hence the last weeks deadline). This rule is a clear disadvantage to those with higher chances of being vetted by the Guardian Council, i.e., the reformists/centrists.

[…] The second changed rule, an increase in the education requirement of candidates to a Masters degree (or a Bachelors degree and five years of managerial experience in the private or private sector) is likely to reduce the traditionally unwieldy number of candidates without little partisan impact over the long run. But in the short run the mere fact of the conservative controlled Interior Ministry becoming an arbiter of whether a candidate has enough combined education and experience adds another layer of vetting, hidden by the veneer of educational requirements. […] Finally, the decision to count each four-year stint as a member of the parliament as equivalent to one educational degree is undoubtedly intended to help the incumbent (mostly conservative) deputies retain their seats.

Farhi points to some possible strategies and challenges for reformists to manage the vetting:

For the reformists/centrists the issue is registering enough candidates, particularly for the 30 seats of the city of Tehran, so that after disqualifications they would still have appealing slates in large cities (by appealing I mean that the top tiers of the slates are sufficiently well-known to attract the voters to come and vote and, when they do, vote for the whole slate). They also need to struggle against the urge among some reformists to boycott the elections if the vetting process becomes too extensive […]

Even more important for the reformists/centrists is the need to overcome political divisions that have cost them several elections by offering slates that despite some variations essentially share a core of candidates that are acceptable to all the reformist and centrist forces.

She also takes note of the challenges faced by conservatives:

The conservatives’ problem with political divisions is probably worse. Being in power and not facing the kinds of adverse moves that the reformists/centrists have faced in the past few years against their political survival, they will have a more difficult time overcoming their ideological and political differences, particularly over the running of the economy.

In her article Iran’s Intelligence Ministry Goes Back to Its Old Tricks Farhi examines the detention and recent television appearance of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, and the subsequent coverage of newspapers in the US:

I said that I am not surprised at what is being shown on IRTV but I am very surprised at the way the American newspapers are covering the trailer. Rather than reporting the exact words of both Haleh and Kian, they are printing the implications that Intelligence Ministry would like to relay through the doctored frames of their words. The implication is of course that these two scholars have “admitted” to things. For instance, the Washington Post story states: “Esfandiari …is quoted as saying her work was ‘in the name of dialogue, in the name of women’s rights, in the name of democracy.’ In the trailer, however, Haleh in no way says “her work” was in the name of anything. In fact, as mentioned above, the doctored footage simply says, “in the name of democracy, in the name of women’s empowerment, in name of democracy.”

[…] The circumstances of Haleh and Kian are difficult enough to explain anything they end up saying to just get out of Evin prison. But I must admit that the American newspapers’ falling so easily for the Intelligence Ministry’s tricks took me by surprise.

For more on the post-revolutionary history of the Iranian press, read Farhi’s thorough examination in Iran’s Continued Press Woes. Farhi reports on the closure of the reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan, placing it into the larger context of the present condition and future of journalism in Iran:

Still, unlike the prerevolutionary period, when there was a censor physically present in every newspaper, checking topics and contents line by line, contemporary journalism in Iran does not have to contend with prior censorship. Rather, it (and the license holder for the newspaper who the current press laws consider responsible for whatever goes in the paper) pays the cost when it crosses a line that someone powerful deems to be a red line. It is this dynamic and the constant testing of what is permissible that prevents Iranian journalism from dying.


The complete closure of the public space is unlikely essentially because of the reality of intense elite competition and conflict. So long as there are rich patrons of reformist, centrist or even conservative newspapers, some sort of critical press (in the sense of being critical of the opposing camps, their policies or their proposed policies) will continue to exist. This economic aspect is usually forgotten in the analysis of the Iranian press.

Irancove @ July 18, 2007

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