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Memorandum on Media regulation in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Introduction

The purpose of this Memorandum is to examine the legal framework regulating the media in Iran in the context of the international standards governing the right to freedom of expression. Key issues regarding the legal framework, and how these problems are compounded by administrative and judicial practices, will be outlined, as well as the extent to which these diverge from international standards.

The sources of law for the regulation of the media addressed in the Memorandum are the Constitution, the Press Law and the Penal Code. There are also relevant provisions in other statutes such as the Theologians’ Law and the Public and Revolutionary Courts’ Procedural Law. Practice demonstrates that the Preventive Restraints Act is also utilised in respect of the media. Islamic law serves as an over-arching source of law,1 which informs the content and interpretation of many of these legislative provisions.

Television and radio broadcasting are firmly controlled by a constitutionally entrenched State broadcasting monopoly.2 Incoming foreign news is tightly restricted by a prohibition on satellite antennae introduced in 1995 and prior censorship provisions concerning all foreign publications.

In terms of press regulation, the Press Law very seriously restricts the role of the media within society. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned about the extensive restrictions on what content can be published and the excessively harsh penalties, including incarceration, flogging and suspension/banning of media outlets, which are standard sanctions for violation of the Press Law. ARTICLE 19 notes that the lack of objective criteria and clear definitions in the Press Law are particularly problematic from the perspective of the right to freedom of expression. The same law provides for licensing for all individuals and organisations operating in the press sector, another very serious concern. Finally, we note that there are a number of problematic administrative and judicial practices which further heighten the repressive impact of the legislative provisions, including the inappropriate use of the Revolutionary Court and the issuing of written orders by the Executive concerning what material can be discussed in the print media. These and other practices are outlined in detail in this Memorandum.

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