A History of 163 Years of Iranian Press (the Story of Repeated Efforts)

Eqtesade Iran; Economic, Financial & International (Monthly)
May 2000, No. 15
Word Count: 21654

Summary: The first nameless newspaper of Iran was published in May 1837 under the aegis of an informed technocrat by the name of Mirza Saleh Kazerouni (Shirazi). In 1850 the first issue of Amir Kabir's newspaper under the title of "Darol Khelafeh Tehran" was published.

Pictures made their debut for the first time in Iranian papers in 1860. The period for state run press came to an end in 1906 when the constitutional decree was issued and the royal court and government monopoly on the press was terminated. There are seven stages cited in identification of the Iranian press: 1. State run press, 2. Constitutional era, 3. Reza Khan era, 4. Anarchy era, 5. Silence era of Pahlavi II, 6. Revolution era, and 7. Post-revolution era. The best and freest period of the Iranian press was between the years 1906 and 1908 when 44 publications were published.

Text: The first nameless newspaper of Iran was published in May 1837 under the aegis of an informed technocrat by the name of Mirza Saleh Kazerouni (Shirazi). The major particular of this publication was that it went to print under the autocratic order of Mohammad Shah Qajar and not for the fact that there was a public need for it. Secondly, the objective for its publication was to communicate the decisions taken at the royal court and neutralization of activities of Fathali Shah's children, who had then made claims to the throne (Mohammad Shah was not Fathali Shah's son, he was his grandson and his becoming king was through the side support of Turkemanchai Treaty, the peace treaty between Iran and Russia after the former's defeat in the war). Furthermore, the newspaper was entirely an state owned paper and people had nothing to do with its make up and reading. All the same the publication of this paper gave birth to journalism and other newspapers. The history of the Iranian journalism can be divided into seven periods:


The unnamed publication of Mirza Saleh, which he later called `kaghaze akhbar' (a literal translation of its English version, newspaper), had a little to do with the reform and development trend of the time. No one knows how many issues of the newspaper were actually published or how long its publication lasted or what the circulation was! By all probability, the publication lasted up to the time of Nasereddin Shah. The first article of this paper was more in tune of giving advice to rebellious princes and the glorious services of Mohammad Shah as well as the tendency of the status quo and the royal court for the welfare of the peasants.

The seven stages of the Iranian Press: State run press from 1837 to 1906 Constitutional era from 1906 to 1911 Reza Khan era from 1911 to 1941 Anarchy era from 1941 to 1953 Silence era from 1953 to 1978 Revolution era from 1978 to 1980 Post Revolution era from 1980 to date STATE RUN BULLETIN OF AMIR KABIR

In the lunar year 1267 when the first issue of Amir Kabir's newspaper under the title of "Darol Khelafeh Tehran" (ever since the second issue of the paper was called Vaqayeh Etefaqieh) was being prepared, its publishers had no background and experience in Mirza Saleh's job, but Amir Kabir had the correct notion that newspapers were in service of development and progress. However, he failed to understand that the press should be suitable and equal to other social norms in order for the press to be a symbol of development.

In all fairness as long as Amir Kabir was alive while he supervised and influenced the day to day care for the country, his paper "Vaqayeh Etefaqieh" performed well and reasonably in line with development. Amir was not a man of compromise and speaking without acting. When he announced the prices for the household consumer commodities, no one would dare to subordinate. When he said something about vaccination for small pox, all the governors and governors general had to put the orders into effect. What was interesting, was the fact that he made the paper into a tool for encouraging sincere services and a means for reprimanding goldbricking. No issue of the newspaper would see the light of the day unless there was some sort of encouragement for some national industry in it or there was no honoring of the sincere services of some official or yet the news about sacking of some other official.

Amir Kabir used to regard Vaqayeh Etefaqieh paper an state bulletin in practice. He wanted the officials to find out their responsibilities in this paper so that they would be answerable for their services and treachery. Of course, this approach to development was very effective even though the paper would fall short of its designation as a public medium. On the other hand, Amir Kabir set a bad example during the publication of Vaqayeh Etefaqieh paper which left its negative effects for many years to come and that was making the purchase of the paper compulsory for all senior officials and authorities of the country. Although this practice paid for the greater part of the paper's expenses, the approach, however, was highly unpopular among the subscribers who were forced to buy the paper. This obligation on the part of the subscribers was very unwise since most of them were from among the nobles, as well as the aristocrat and high ranking authorities of the country. This very practice bred a lot of ill feelings against Amir Kabir and his paper. Upon the publication of the 48th issue of Vaqayeh Etefaqieh, Amir Kabir was sacked from premiership and then he was sent into exile some time later. The news of his having been sent into exile and then his illness came out in issue number 50 and then the news about his passing away came out only in three short lines in the paper. These later events are highly educational in the history of our press.

The publication of Dowlat daily under the aegis of a man of letter, a prince by the name of Etezadol Saltaneh against Iran started more than 140 years ago. Pictures made their debut for the first time in Iranian newspapers at this time. Later newspapers during Nasereddin Shah's era, whether they were with or without pictures, whether they were of specialized or common nature, no matter whether they were printed in Tehran or in provincial cities failed to help enlighten and bring about any development and progress among the people. There was nothing else in these papers apart from obsolete news (translations or production), official visits, hunting trip news, gift giving and news about granting monikers and positions as well as the details of the king's faring. Furthermore, apart from some exceptions to the rule, all the press at that time operated under the royal court and the government.

Of course, things were not so quiet as far as demands for reforms and progress were concerned. It was about this time when Iranian papers such as Akhtar in Istanbul (Turkey) and Qanoon in London began to be published abroad because of the internal turmoil and suppression.

Publication of specialized newspapers such as Merikh, Danesh, and Vaqayeh Adlieh paved the way for non-political papers.

The assassination of Nasereddin Shah coincided with the massacre of three writers and journalists at the hand of Mohammad Ali Mirza the crown prince in Tabriz. This event actually told people that the royal court and the government were also vulnerable.

The debut of the first establishments for censorship in more than 130 years ago and the inclusion of certain measures in the press laws in the first recognized civil laws were an open indication of the royal court's fears of the responsible and free press.

During this time men such as Mirza Malkom, Mirza Mahdi Tabrizi, Seyed Jamaloddin Assad Abadi, Mirza Hossein Khan Sepah Sallar (whose first publication called Vatan was banned) set examples for free and critical journalism to the future generation of journalists. By and large, the period for state run press came to an end in 1906 when the constitutional decree was issued and the royal court and government monopoly on the press was terminated. A new era of free, reform oriented and critical journalism was dawning.


On August 4th 1906 the ailing king signed the decree for the constitution and passed away a short time later. The autocratic crown prince who came to the throne set out to reverse the reforms of his father. Within the period of the sanction for the constitution up to July 1908 when the autocratic king backed out on the constitutionalism, 44 new publications came out and began to converse with the public opinion. The Iranian intellectual and press community made the historical and fatal mistake of thinking the time for restrictions and autocracy had come to an end after centuries of oppression, suppression and the time had come for Iran to take leap forward and become a carbon copy of England, France and Belgium. What this community failed to recognize was the fact that no preparations and conformations had taken place in our country to favor democracy even though the decree for the constitution had been signed. The throne still belonged to the Qajar dynasty, no progress and change had taken place in our people's morality, culture, education and scopes. The traditional share taking from the status quo collectively had not changed among the aristocrat, courtiers, the feudal lords, the clergy, the armed forces elites and...

The whole thing boiled down to the fact that the people were far away from attaching any faith in democracy, rule of law and the civil society. The fallacy that constitutionalism had endowed people with all the rights and the attitude that if you are in possession of a pen and a column in a newspaper, you can sail into anybody in any manner and in any field proved to be very dangerous and ill destined. It was not for the fact that a few journalists ended up losing their heads or were riddled with the bullets of the executioners or still some were forced to high tail it and go into seclusion; the real damage came when the reform and development trend and the establishment of civil foundations were retarded.

The Iranian journalists of this period took a real beating because of the fact that they had neither the experience of popular and free journalism without supervision, nor had they experienced hazards of tabloid type journalistic freedom. They had also failed to appraise the limits of tolerance on the part of those in power. What makes this still more surprising is the fact that the same mistakes were repeated in later similar periods in the history of this country.


The best and the least restricted period of press activities in Iran was during the infancy of constitutionalism. During this period most of the papers, specially the four publications of Hablol Matin, Mosavat, Sour Esrafil, and Rouhol Qodos had become so rash as to severely attack the king himself, the aristocracy, the feudal lords, governors and governors general, big time businessmen, the clergy and the parliament members of the constitutional assembly without any considerations and restrictions. The upshot was that in less than a year and a half a consolidated and united front of all influential and powerful people began to make a show against the press. The first MPs left everything else unattended to pass a detailed and strict law called the press law.


The doom finally came when in 1905 the Russian Cassock Liakhov was detailed to attack the house of the nation (the parliament) and put an end to constitutionalism altogether. Journalists were the first and the main targets of the royal court's wrath. When this assault began, Assadollah Mirza Shirazi was first to bite the dust by the direct shot of the Cassocks. Then they tied a rope around the neck of Jahangir Khan Malekol Motekalemin to lynch him and then tore through his chest. Sheik Ahmad Torbati, the manager of Rouhol Qodos was tortured, refused food and drink and then thrown in a well. Dehkhoda, Mosavat, Seyed Hassan Kashani, Ashrafoddin Gilani and a few others each took his flight to find a hole to hide in and escape with their lives. They definitely and literally received a new lease on life. Now there was a barren desert devoid of freedom seeking in place of the former garden of Eden for free journalists. Mohammad Shah's regaining royal absolutism called the smaller autocracy lasted for eleven years during which the king dominated the lives and wealth of the people. During this period there were a few publications whose only job was to attack constitutionalism and the seekers of constitutionalism. They were adamantly trying to justify Mohammad Shah's violence and cruelty.

There were no other papers left.

Constitutionalism returned to the political scene of the country in 1907 when Tehran was sacked and the new child king Ahmad Shah was put on the throne. The international and domestic conditions at that time, however, were not conducive to the hope for freedom. Physical and violent eliminations coupled with foul mouthing, slander and framing among the politicians and the journalists who were partly affiliated with foreign powers had worn out the forces of the internal fronts to such an extent that when a cheap, bloodless and mediocrely sponsored coup d'etat was staged on February 21, 1910, there were no organizations and internal forces nor any unity among the forces to stand against it.


Reza Khan was by all appearances an illiterate, rough Cassock. His attitude had nothing in common with universal suffrage, freedom, criticism of the state, opposition and in a nutshell being different. In this light he had his people attack the press offices and then changed the press law and refused license for publication to the press bosses. He had Vaez Qazvini killed right in front of the people and flog Saba, the manager of Setareh publication. Men of pen decided to retract their pen against this rough and tough Cassock. On the contrary, those papers and publications, which never missed a chance to rant and rave about the king thrived. The irony was that all that glory and glamour in the autocrat went up in smoke in a tiny skirmish with the occupying forces of the Allies in 1941.


The people and the press were badly stunned when the dictatorial rule of Reza Khan came to an end after their being mute and deaf for decades. They suddenly found their tongues back after being only witness to injustice and oppression for so long a time. Everybody wanted to immediately pour down on the papers his pent up feelings and long and secretly held complaints in one go. This is exactly how the conditions of the press and the political parties were in the days after September 1941.

Just like the constitutional era, or even more rapidly and more profusely, a constellation of the press made their debut after the days of suppression. Anyone with the least conditions applied for a license to publish and he received what he had asked for. The press started an snowball of criticism against Reza Khan. Some of the press extorted money from those who were in power through threats and others had a scandalous nature and noisy feature. People from different walks of life were overjoyed in this free for breathing space. They first began to read the newly born press, but then they gave up on them all because there was no piety nor any professionalism among them. During this time and up to 1946 the Allied occupation forces as well as the central government had claims over the press. In some cities and towns they would even go as far as arresting the journalists and decree punishment on them. The departure of the American, British and later on the Russian forces from Iran was accompanied with the appearance of all kinds of political parties from one extreme to another and with all sorts of tendencies. The leftist and non-leftist political parties set up their own press publications. A dirty war of libels, profanities and inconsideration and framing had started for the third time. No one made a decent review of what had taken place during the infant constitutionalism era and the return of constitutionalism. The Fedaeen Islam (extreme devotees to Islam), the Tudeh (pro Soviet Iranian communists) organized execution and assassination teams. They first started with the journalists to square the old accounts.

Ahmad Kasravi, Mohammad Massood, Ahmad Dehqan, and Dr. Hossein Fatemi were the first victims of the new wave of terrorism. The press were deeply involved in mud raking, and mud slinging, accusing each other of collaborating with the aliens, downright treachery and treason as well as murder and selling out to foreigners. Everybody had made a cudgel of libels and bludgeoning the others into oblivion. They had distanced from their real profession. It went as far as the point where Mohammad Massood published a notarized document according to which anybody who could assassinate Ahmad Qavam, the prime minister before he was sacked he would receive 100,000 tomans ( a hefty amount of money at that time). When the Shah took to flight out of Tehran on August 6, 1946, there was an acute need of historic intelligence for everyone to come together or at least think about trying to build a future for the country. Alas, the press and politicians in their extreme form of narrow mindedness made no use of the occasion. They missed a historical opportunity while they continued slinging mud at each other and the highly valuable movement petered out through the most primitive backlash. Just like the time during constitutionalism, or when Reza Khan came to power. As usual in our contemporary history, England and America shaped the destiny for us by their own different motives.


Infantry brigadier, Teymoor Bakhtiar was assigned to clean out the highly politically charged atmosphere of the country when he first became the martial governor of Tehran and through the assistance of loyal military personnel. He was later to found the country's much feared intelligence and security organization (SAVAK). The police and well trained agents, an extensive network of newly built prisons were put at the service of elimination of any opposition. Hossein Fatemi, a journalist and a political personality of the days of struggle for restoration of the country's rights in connection with the oil industry, Amir Mokhtar Karimpour Shirazi and Morteza Keyvan fell in the trap made for them by Bakhtiar and were shot dead in front of the firing squads. Under the guise of perfunctory stability of the serene island, the press, under the yoke of the government, was not allowed the slightest form of freedom to make any enlightenment or criticism. The newly born press were either preoccupied with movies and the nakedness of the Holly Wood movie stars or grossly immersed in sensationalism, fortune telling and beauty queens instead of so much fiery political debates and discussions. In place of the press law of Mossadeq era, the newly approved press law of two legislative bodies were in control of the press. The fawning and sycophant press would receive government assistance and their managers were cohorts and sidekicks of the newly appointed ministers, senators and the newly formed aristocracy. Would it be right to blame the 1940's press and active political party bosses for these new terrible social ills? Would it be correct to say those multitudinous press and a large diversity of political parties during the nationalization of the oil industry era were only to blame for the coup d'etat of August 18, 1953 and the subsequent suppression of the people? Perhaps we may never find a straight forward answer to these questions. We can not however, make a flat denial of the development trend of the press during the fifth period? It was during this very period when a number of independent and responsible journalists did not shun their duties even though there was a great deal of ruthless supervision imposed on the press.

Some journalists employed a figurative and metaphorical language to inform their democratic inclinations and freedom seeking public. Although this language was decipherable only by a handful of a few, nevertheless the number of these few people was becoming larger all the time. Specialized press and seemingly non-politically affiliated would give vent to sociological, philosophical and artistic debates. The art of caricature and cartoons began to thrive in design, lettering and the application of pictures and photos. Our press began to experience some development and progress. Academic training of journalism was started and expanded.


The wrath and disillusionment of an intimidated and tired out nation erupted again in 1978 and put an end to the monarchy. The Iranian press community had experienced constitutionalism, the emergence of Reza Khan, his escape and occupation of the country and then the period of the movement for the nationalization of the oil industry, which were both stained with blood and highly valuable for the needs of the day, if we had our eyes wide open and the wisdom for democracy. Sad to say, it seems as though we are not to wisely and correctly make use of our bitter experiences. Once more a dash for making restitution demands for all shortcomings and in their most immaculate and flawless forms was repeated. Repetition of such mistakes as the elimination of the friendly and internal rivals to further the private and group causes were haphazardly committed, just like those in the years during the World War I and before the emergence of Reza Khan, became the order of the day. Just like post September 1941, anybody who wished, could have his own newspaper. Those which had gone on a long holiday on the pretext of low circulation in 1974, received a new license for publication. There were no political groups nor any publications that would have any limited regards for the national interests in their demands. One day the office for the domestic press, which had been recently reopened, made the press make the promise to start on new initiations and creativities. The press people lost their patience and tolerance for having to put up with each other to the point of picking up the heavy glass ashtrays in order to bash in the heads of their own kinds. The government authorities still had their doubts about the stability of the country. Ayatollah Qodoosi announced the closing down of 40 publications in May 1980. The imposed war caught up with everybody with all special regulations and expediencies for the press. Just like everywhere else in the world, apart from a few specialized papers and publications, the general press scene of the country began to hibernate during the war. There was no hustle and bustle around the newsstands of the country.


After the war, the period for returning to practical idealism and reconstruction began. The reconstruction period was accompanied with the elimination of two friendly currents in the scene. This period also coincided with the age for growth and economic shake-ups. Nonetheless, in the political and economic arenas people began to share less in the achievements of the revolution and their general rights. The emergence of a charismatic clergy, with attractive words in the scene began to rock some structures, which were supposedly in line with the completion of the revolution. Khatami spoke about the people's rights, the participation of the young, law and order, civil society, dignity of man and respect for the people's choice. These tuneful words were readily received by the younger generation that could not remember the revolution. These were the very same values at the forefront of the 1978 revolution. The people gave him their all- out consensus through 27 million of ballot bills. There was a new era in the socio-political life of the country or at least it seemed that way. A new warmth began to fill the hearts and minds of the people. This gave birth to a whole new range of press publications. Khatami, while in his former post of the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, had issued the biggest number of licenses for publications. In the new civil society journalism began to decisively and extensively live up to its public and democratic call of duty. A new school of journalism based on enlightenment, respect for the people, publicity of the people's rights, defense of the people's right of vote and the publicity of political maturity began to thrive. This, however, may not be devoid of harshness, immaturity and some rash and non-historical outlooks. It's still too soon to make judgments about the seventh period with all its accompanied ebbs and flows, achievements, and extensively deep effects and influences. We are still in the infant stage of freedom seeking, although 170 years have passed since Mirza Saleh Shirazi. Although more than seven periods have elapsed in this history of journalism for this country, and there were many killed or imprisoned or deprived in this line with this duty, we should have matured socially and politically but there is still a long way to go before we get to that point. There is of course nothing wrong with being factionally or non-factionally affiliated. What is surprising however, is the fact that after so many ups and downs and all the human costs that we have paid to get to where we are at right now, we have not come to the conclusion that others can think and publicize their thoughts just like we do even though they do not think the same way as we do. We are still clinging to this traditional, ancient and nonconstructive modus operandi which is the norm for everything we consider bad, good and our way of thinking. How great it is that this year is the year for unity and security!

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