Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Public debate in Iran

In a non-transparent regime, like Iran's, when political disagreements become publicly visible, it might mean that no one has the power to impose their views. It might mean that those in power want to give the appearance of open debate. It might be a way of tempting others to reveal their positions and make them targets of future political persecution. (Remember the Hundred Flowers Campaign in China?) So what's going on in Iran? What signs in the future might help us answer that question?

In Iran, a battle over control of media and culture is heating up
A long-smoldering battle over government control of media and culture in Iran is heating up, as opposing political forces fight over where the limits should be drawn on access to information.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and his supporters argue that press restrictions should be reduced and that the public should be trusted with greater access to the Internet and television.

Hard-line conservatives, meanwhile, believe that such freedom would undermine the country’s Islamic rule.

The debate intensified last week when Ali Jannati, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance under Rouhani, described as “ridiculous” many of the policies that Iran has adopted since the revolution of 1979 to control the flow of information, including filters on the Internet…

Since Rouhani entered office, gradual improvements in the media landscape are being felt, but there have also been setbacks.

Some prominent figures have reappeared on state television for the first time since being banned in 2009… Several reformist publications have reopened after being shut down during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s predecessor.

But other publications have been closed, and Rouhani has remained at odds with the state television chief, who is appointed not by the president but by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader…

Rouhani’s ideological rivals within Iran may be his biggest roadblocks to change.

Officials who oppose the relative openness publicly espoused by Rouhani argue that Iran’s Islamic society is being corrupted by values and ideas that they deem are a part of what they call the West’s long-standing “soft war” against Iran…

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