L'Iranian Students News Agency
The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) is a student press agency among the biggest in the world. Created one year and a half ago, it has already won a strong influence in Iran thanks to the quality of its informations. We visited the main office, including about a hundred persons, in Teheran and met Hussein Ban Salaam, a member of the agency.
To produce its informations, ISNA has differnts services to its disposal : the international one, the scientific, economic and social news, foreign affairs. Every service woerks independently, on the same principle : 50% of the informations come fomr the ISNA correspondants, the other 50% come from other orgnisations after verifications, or from local offices of ISNA.
Every service has 4 correspondants to its disposal, students workin the all day. to be able to combin students and work at ISNA, students benefit often from an arranged timetable to have time to search for informations.
The edition office must after sort out among these forst news and verify the authenticity (calling for example the interviewed person). This aspect of verification is fudmental for the reputation of the agency.
Last, the chief redactor of the service will take the decision about publicating it ont the website of ISNA (for the moment only in farsi, an english version is planned for next year). This site gives for free the collected informations, and a lot of Iranian newspaper find there their sources. The other visitors (about one million a day!) are the Iranian diaspora, principally american. moreover, all the archives are available on the site.
ISNA has an annual budget of 20 000 US$ for the equipment et more than 72 000$ for the functionning. 10% of the budget is given by the government, the other 90% by ISNA itself as a part of an important NGO which bring the fundings.
ISNA and press regulation in Iran
The austion wo all wanted to ask was naturally the one of the censorship; in a state like Iran, reputed for its restrictions of any type. For an expamle, to criticise the religious guide, ayatollah Khameney, is punished by death penalty. Many journalists are today in prison to have dared to put in doubt the legitimity of his power. Iran is reputed in Occident to be a "prison for journalists". All this is confirmed by Hussein, who adds quickly that journalists in prison are the one who criticised the power without respecting basis pronciple of journalism - those principles can as wall be considered as limitations. An inforamation that we will not be able to verify...
Actually, to create such an agency is quiet simple : it needs only to send a document attesting its creation to the Ministry of Guidance and Culture (institution which has in charge to regulate publications and to control their conformity to the ideological values) . this ministry sends back a confirmation and a paper with the limitations imposed to the agency, the famous islamic rules of thegovernment. The problem is to appreciate the freedom at the disposal of the agency for its publications.
Hussein underlines that its agency has a lot of freedom, the aim of ISNA is to talk of reality, with as few limitations as possible. The agency benefits from a certain immunity and form such an audience for staying neutral, whereas newspapers are often commitied. ISNA tries to give the word to the conservative and to reformists, to be clos to reality. The reality yes, but the reality contained by 4 fundamental principles : islamic values, constitutional law, the interdiction to destroy convistions, and the interdiction to affect the image of someone. Quiet unclear limits, easy to be interpreted in different ways. But Hussein informs us that it is possible to speak of anybody, exept of course form the untouchable Khameiney end Khatami. still, some journalists took the freedom to criticise Khatami (the president) as he declared in a speech 'everyone can be criticised".
speech of Hussein about restrictions
A different conception of democracy? Iran pretends to want to evoluate towards a democracy, by conservating a religious power. Butis it compatible to want a controled democracy by a power rooted in Islam? Hussein is convinced of it, and it is for him not necessary to evolve towards a laïc state liket Turkey. The resulting democracy will be different from our European democracies. His idea of this political organisation is only the opportunity for eveyone to influate on its destiny. Actually, some freedoms we have in France are not positively perceived here. Especially about the woman, crucial issue of course : who would qualify a democracy a state which considers a woman as the half of a man ? (apart from the hijab they must wear, woman have restrictions for jobs, and 2 women must witness against one man et the tribe). Islamic law which forces to wear the hijab in public places is interpreted by Hussein - and by many other Iranians, like a protection of the woman against mens's desires. No use to say that our clothes freedom are abusive here !
Speech of Hussein about Democracy in Iran
Anyway, Chach will not be able to let him admit that woman is treated as an inferior being here, and most of all that she suffers from it!
We will never know if Hussein's ideas were really his, as our interview took place in an official way, in his office. The image we perceived were still the one of a bound vision to the actual governement. If we believe him - and why not after all? - the Iranian press would not be in such a bad position, and the tendancy would be the progress. A conclusion for the optimists.