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Iran media warned off of reporting negatively on economy, sanctions

July 12, 2012 |  8:40 am

BEIRUT — Media workers in Iran say government monitors are telling journalists to refrain from reporting about the effects of Western sanctions on the country's economy and about soaring prices for everyday goods.

An editor at one Iranian economic daily, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the topic, told The Times that censors had warned the top editor to avoid publishing negative headlines about the impact of sanctions. The editor, said the source, was urged to switch to more positive headlines. As an example of a desired headline, the censor cited the following, he said: “Iran is developing oil fields, says oil minister.”

In some cases, the censors’ warning was a bit more veiled. A reporter working at an Iranian media outlet, who also requested anonymity, told The Times that the organization had been sent a letter from the government media supervisory department telling journalists to pay “special attention” to topics that show the dark side of the Iranian economy.

“Special attention,” added the source, was taken to mean stay away from publishing reports about price hikes and the effect of sanctions.

Mohammad Hosseini, whose ministry of culture and Islamic guidance is in charge of monitoring Iran’s printed press and government news sites, offered some frank commentary on the topic:

"Our country is not in a position to allow the media to publish news or analysis which is not compatible with the regime's and national interests," the culture minister said in remarks reported by media that first appeared on the dolat.ir government news website (link in Persian). "The situation regarding sanctions and other pressures, especially in economy ... requires more cooperation by the media so the country is not hurt."

International sanctions have been imposed on Iran to encourage the nation to curtail its nuclear program, which Western nations fear is designed to produce weapons despite Tehran's assurances to the contrary. Prices on some basic commodity goods have risen. Earlier this year, the Iranian national currency plummeted against the U.S dollar, but authorities said the dramatic slide in currency was not related to the sanctions.

Iranian officials often shrug off sanctions, saying they have little or no effect. But observers say economic conditions are deteriorating and ordinary people have taken to complaining about the economy in public.

The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, brushed off the effects of harsher sanctions on Wednesday, telling a conference in the capital that Iran was "100 times stronger" than before.

"The Iranian nation, through life, wealth and loved ones, has stood up to all plots and sanctions and has advanced to the extent that today we are 100 times stronger compared with 30 years ago," Khamenei told a women's conference in a speech that was published on his official website, the Reuters news agency reported.

"These days Westerners are being sensational about sanctions, but they don't understand that they themselves vaccinated Iran through their sanctions imposed over the last 30 years," he said. He was referring to the Islamic revolution that toppled a U.S.-backed regime more than three decades ago.

According to Hosseini, the culture minister, a meeting with the country’s media and economic figures will be convened soon in a bid to inform them about the sanctions and current conditions and so that they do their jobs while taking into consideration Iran’s national interests.

“'I am sure the authorities will have a session with the heads of print and broadcast media to advise more coordination and convergence in economic news to keep the minds of people in peace and to prevent anxiety spreading,” said one independent Iranian newspaper columnist.

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-- Alexandra Sandels. Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed this report.

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