The Internet: A New and Liberating Medium
In Iran, many journalists discover the Internet as a liberating new medium. Various online magazines are able to publish without any major restrictions. This, however, might change in the near future.
Golnar is the co-founder of the online magazine Cappuccino, one of the first web-based newspapers in Iran. Together with a handful of editors, she files weekly reports on cultural events in the Iranian capital, Teheran. Cappuccino covers a wide variety of subjects: from articles on travel, cinema and music to socially critical reports. The editorial team got to know each other a few years ago through personal publications on the net: so-called ‘weblogs’, personal diaries on the Internet, which are gaining popularity in Iran. Says Golnar: ‘Since the start of the “weblog movement” in Iran, a growing number of people are becoming interested in the Internet. Most Iranian Internet users send e-mails or chat online. But weblogs are now reaching a wider audience. Thanks to these weblogs, many Iranians are discovering different websites and finding out that there is more to the web than e-mails and chats.’
The Iranian enthusiasm for the Internet is growing. There are already over two million Internet connections in the country and this number just keeps on rising. The number of new Internet cafés in major cities like Teheran, Shiraz and Esfahan is also steadily increasing, a trend that is being observed with suspicion by Iran’s conservative clergy. Not least because some journalists who are critical of the regime sought refuge in online media after the ban imposed on many reform-friendly printed media.
Numerous bloggers and publicists have been arrested over the past few months and black lists of illegal web publications are circulating: this is a warning, even to online editors whose publications studiously avoid pursuing political aims. ‘The problem is that the Internet is not governed by any legal regulations’, says Golnar. ‘This leads some people to believe that they can write exactly what they like. As editors, we publish articles using our real names. This is why we are very careful what we write. We don’t want to be arrested. Sometimes we get it wrong. But we just don’t know where the border between legal and illegal actually lies. The fear remains that we are writing something that the state won’t like.’
There is also a very real fear that the country’s restrictive press laws will be extended to cover domestic online media. Already, the content of web magazines is being screened and filtered. Nevertheless, journalist Massoud feels that this is no reason for Iran’s online editors to be discouraged: ‘In Iran we are not so much afraid of expressing ourselves freely; we are afraid of reprisals and being confronted with legal consequences. But this fear has always been there. We are not confronted with a situation that is set in stone. It isn’t as if only a small group of people are dissatisfied; the majority is dissatisfied!’
Arian Fariborz, DW Online, June 2003