This is a guest note by Barbara Slavin, freqent TWN contributor and author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation. Slavin has visited Iran seven times.
Let my reporters come: Iranian reporters blocked from covering Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York to speak at the review conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is unlikely to help resolve the escalating dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
But since the Obama administration allowed him to come – a U.S. obligation as host to the United Nations – it should also have permitted the Iranian president to bring Iranian journalists with him. Unfortunately, their visas have been denied.
A State Department spokesman declined comment on the reasons, noting that the visa application process is “considered confidential.” But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” suggested one reason: “We’re not going to permit Iran to change the story from their failure to comply” with nonproliferation obligations.
Restrictions on the press have been a factor in the three-decade-long dialogue of the deaf that passes for U.S.-Iran relations. Iran until recently has behaved better than successive U.S. administrations, giving visas to U.S. reporters to cover events such as a recent nuclear conference in Tehran and Iran’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, the Bush administration refused to accredit Iranian reporters to cover the 2008 U.S. elections. And Iranian news organizations have been largely confined to a 25-mile radius around the U.N. while U.S. reporters have been free to travel outside Tehran.
Throughout the long Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, journalists from both countries interpreted each other’s policies and helped domestic audiences see adversaries as human beings. What’s more, Russian journalists based in the U.S. came to understand the strengths of the U.S. political system. That sort of experience should be available to Iranian journalists, particularly those who work for hard-line outlets that routinely denigrate the United States.
The situation for journalists in Iran has never been easy and has deteriorated significantly since fraud-tainted presidential elections in Iran last year. More than 30 Iranian journalists remain in prison and foreign reporters based in Tehran must exercise care for fear that they will also face prison or be expelled. Still, U.S. officials who rightfully criticize Iran’s crackdown should jump at the chance to allow Iranian reporters to experience U.S. freedoms.
Let the Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency open a Washington bureau, let its reporters go to White House and State Department briefings and have President Obama and other top U.S. officials give interviews to its editors and writers. That would make it harder for Iran to censor information about U.S. policies and make it easier for U.S. media outlets to demand reciprocal rights in Tehran. At a time when confrontation appears to be building again between the two countries, the more access their journalists have to each other, the better.
— Barbara Slavin