This article is the fourth in a series about how foreign media cover the election. Read the latest article about Russia here.
This edition of our election series focuses on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s media and its coverage of the upcoming American presidential election. Iranians are watching this election closely due to the implications it could have on the future of U.S.-Iran relations.
The major issue that contextualizes the lens through which Iran’s media and the Iranian people view this election is the future of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The JCPOA was signed by the U.S., Iran, and six other signatory countries.
On Sunday, the hardline conservative Kayhan Daily covered the Donald Trump “Access Hollywood” leaked audio where he spoke of sexually assaulting women. Kayhan Daily ran the headline “Trump Plunges Into Crisis Over Sex Tape,” stating “even his running mate Mike Pence refused to defend the billionaire politician, saying that he was ‘offended’ by the obscene comments made in a taped video that surfaced Friday.” While the tape was not a sex tape, it did record Trump saying disparaging and perverse things about women.
The Tehran Times, which was founded in 1979 as the voice of the Islamic Revolution, does not feature the American election on its print front page. However, the paper has run several articles mentioning election, including one with the headline “The Dangers of Daesh” with an accompanying photo of Republican Party Nominee Donald Trump hollering into a microphone behind a podium at a rally in Tampa. Most recently, the paper published a Q&A with Harvard political scientist Peter A. Hall, which addresses the JCPOA.
“I think it is very unlikely that the next president will cancel the nuclear deal with Iran,” Hall told the Tehran Times. “There are no good alternatives to that deal – for the U.S. or for Iran – and, although criticism of the deal is bound to figure in the rhetoric of the election, a sober president, even if it is Donald Trump, is likely to see the advantages of preserving this deal.”
Following the first American presidential debate on September 26, Al-Monitor ran a piece entitled, “Trump-Clinton debate dominates headlines in Iran,” outlining the coverage published by Iranians of all political affiliations about the US election.
According to Al-Monitor reporter Misha Zand, a news outlet close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that is considered among the most conservative in Iran called Javan Online, published an article entitled “The Iranophobia Race.”
Kayhan Daily called the debate “a contest in Iranophobia” in which “Trump threatened to attack Iran and Clinton continued to stress the political and economic pressures against Iran.” Kayhan has been one of the loudest critics of Iran’s nascent diplomatic relations with the United States and the nuclear deal. The piece failed to mention Clinton’s defense of the JCPOA diplomatic approach.
Press Freedom in Iran
Freedom House classifies Iran’s society as “Not Free,” and it’s country report is highly critical of the country’s freedom of expression laws. As recently as two weeks ago, two journalists were arrested in Iran. Sadra Mohaqeq, editor of the reformist Shargh Daily, was arrested as an “infiltrator,” and online journalist Yashar Soltani was also detained after he reported on alleged corruption in Tehran’s municipal government, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran’s 1986 media law (amended in 2000 and in 2009 to include online publications) allows the authorities to ensure that news and information providers do not “endanger the Islamic Republic,” “offend the Supreme Leader,” or “disseminate false information.”
Iran’s media is both publically and privately owned, with outlets having close ties to both the elected officials in government. Additionally, Kayhan Daily’s editor is appointed to the Guardian Council, the religious council that is led by the country’s supreme leader.
Access to social media is limited; Twitter and Facebook are blocked, and the government filters Instagram content they feel is in violation of their morality code. Additionally, even with the social media restrictions, the government also engages with foreign and domestic publics on Twitter through the Supreme Leader’s and President’s Twitter handles. They tweet both in Farsi and English.
The regime also restricts access to broadcast television, and has passed laws to make owning a satellite in Iran illegal. However, more than 60 percent of Iranians in Tehran and over 30 percent in rural areas own satellite dishes, although the government periodically raids and confiscates them.
In an interview with the Harvard Kennedy School podcast PolicyCast, Iranian journalist and scholar Yeganeh Rezaian outlined some of the challenges facing Iranian journalists, and specifically female Iranian and Middle Eastern journalists.
“Every Iranian house that you walk into, you see that at 9pm, at least the parents in the house will turn the TV on because it’s prime time for nightly news,” said Rezaian.
Rezaian, and her husband Jason who was the former Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran, were imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on “espionage” charges. Both Yeganeh and Jason were denied basic rights to food and water, and Jason was held without trial for 544 days. Jason was freed in an exchange between the U.S. and Iran as part of the implementation of the nuclear deal between the two countries in early January 2016.
The Washington Post published several editorials regarding the treatment of journalists in Iran, calling it “appalling,” saying “we’ll know that Iran has really begun to change when the brave journalists still in prison are freed.
Iranian Public Opinion of the US Presidential Election
Camila Entekhabifard, an Iranian journalist, penned a personal perspective for CNN regarding Iranian’s feelings about the American election. She grounded her piece in public opinion that the majority of Iranians “view the diplomacy pursued by President Obama and the moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with approval, and they support the continuing progress.”
Former spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hamid Reza Assefi penned an op-ed following the election for Shargh Daily, and drew the following conclusion: “The truth is, both parties in the United States share the same opinion on the general aspects of the conflict with Iran.”
Yeganeh Rezaian indicated that Iranians are eager to hear perspectives from both state-run media, privately-held media, as well as media from outside Iran.
Iran is a country where the media is under some of the greatest government surveillance, scrutiny, and control in the world. However, there are many dualities that Iranian society exhibits. Restricted access to the internet with simultaneous government use of Twitter, among other contradictions, makes studying Iranian media coverage of the election complex and essential to understanding public and government opinion regarding the U.S.-Iran relationship.