Iran sinks in press freedom index

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders says Iran has slipped further toward the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index because of an increase in arrests of Iranian journalists and citizen-journalists.

In its annual press freedom ranking, the Paris-based group, also known as RSF, said Iran dropped six places to 170th out of 180 countries and territories. It attributed the drop to Iran’s increased arrests of “professional and non-professional journalists, especially those posting on social networks” in 2018.

The report described Iran as one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.

In an interview with VOA Persian’s News at Nine program, Reza Moini, Reporters Without Borders’ Iran researcher, said the increased arrests of Iranian journalists coincided with their attempts to cover frequent anti-government street protests by Iranians last year.

Detained Iranian journalists often have been charged with spreading propaganda and other national security offenses for posting critical comments about the government via social media. Moini denounced Iran’s prosecutions of such journalists as unjust and unfair.

Social media

Hand holding cellphone showing Telegram app (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)
An Iranian man shows Telegram app on his mobile phone. (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)

Reporters Without Borders said another factor in Iran’s deteriorating press freedom is its toughening crackdown on social media.

“Iran, which is tackling an unprecedented wave of protests in several of its cities, has clamped down even harder on online information and is still blocking several apps such as Telegram, Facebook and Twitter,” the report said.

Moini noted that Iran’s press freedom ranking already was near the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders index because the government controls radio and television and puts tight restrictions on privately owned print media.

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance licenses all news outlets operating in the country and oversees their activities. It also issues work permits for domestic and foreign journalists.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the poor state of press freedom in his nation in a publicly broadcast January 21 speech to officials of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Tehran.

“We do not have free media. We have a state-run TV and radio [organization],” he said. “If we had 500 media outlets, cyberspace would not have been so congested. [People] want to say everything there [in cyberspace] because they have no other place.”

Michael Lipin wrote this Voice of America article. A longer version appears on VOA’s website.