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Farideh Farhi

Silencing a voice of reason

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Farideh Farhi
February 7, 2008

LATE LAST MONTH, the Press Supervisory Board in Iran silenced another vibrant and reasoned voice by revoking the license of the magazine Zanan. The monthly is dedicated to the reporting and analysis of women's issues, problems, and achievements, and has been a voice for good sense and equality.

Zanan, which means women in Persian, has been in business for the past 16 years, weathering all sorts of pressures even during times when many other magazines and newspapers were being shut down.

Publishing a privately owned magazine in Iran for 16 years is a major feat. It is not only hard politically for a magazine that deals with sensitive social and cultural issues, because it faces a variety of restrictions and constant threats of shutdown; it is almost impossible financially.

Yet Zanan's dedicated staff has done it by repeatedly defending the magazine in front of authorities and the courts, developing a base of loyal subscribers, and relying on women-directed advertising. This has not been an easy process, but it has been done with grace and acumen, making Zanan an arena in which difficult issues are discussed, problems and solutions contemplated, and women's achievements in Iran, individually and collectively, are celebrated.

In the process, a large number of young and dedicated reporters have been trained to approach women-related issues not ideologically and through empty slogans but with an eye on revealing the social, political, and cultural problems that are being overlooked; discussing them with a variety of people, including politicians, social workers, clerics, lawyers, doctors, academics, and specialists in search of solutions; and reporting on the many women who are doing challenging and inspiring work in a variety of arenas, ranging from business to law to arts to sports.

Zanan's license was revoked by the Press Supervisory Board, a body that includes representatives from different branches of the government but is currently dominated by the hard-line Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Relying on a little-known guideline apparently issued by the National Security Council in 2000, it accused Zanan of threatening "the psychological security of the society," deliberately showing the women's situation in the Islamic Republic in a "black light," and weakening the "military and revolutionary institutions, including the Basij." The magazine was also accused of having an "extreme feminist stance" and the gumption to claim that many of the unequal laws in Islamic countries do not have Islamic roots or justifications and hence can be rectified or changed.

The Press Supervisory Board is legally in charge of examining applications for licenses and issuing permits. It also has the power to suspend a publication temporarily for what it deems are violations. However, by law it is the press court and jury that ultimately have authority to ban a publication and revoke its license. As such, by revoking Zanan's license, the Press Supervisory Board has acted well beyond its mandate.

, Given the arbitrary way that press laws have been implemented in Iran, Zanan's staff and others in the press are involved in a process of internal lobbying as well as generating public pressure to reverse a decision that was based neither on law nor necessarily the support of other important institutions of the Islamic Republic, including the Judiciary.

One can only hope that they are successful. If not, Zanan has the costly and lengthy option of lodging a complaint against the Press Supervisory Board in the Administrative Justice Court, a court that deals with government violations.

It is possible, given the common practice, that several license holders will offer Zanan the use of their license so that it can continue to be published, albeit under a different name. But it would be a shame to lose the name of an institution that has done so much to bring out women-related issues and disagreements about them in a constructive manner.

Iranian officials seem to have forgotten that it is not only the government's long arms that keep a political system lasting and durable but also longstanding institutions, such as Zanan, that were born and bred out of the egalitarian ideals of the 1979 revolution. By revoking Zanan's license, the government of Iran is once again enfeebling its own roots.

Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and adjunct professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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