Iranian investigative journalist and writer Akbar Ganji criticized the lack of press freedom in Iran under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and claimed but said that "the revolution in media has changed the world." Ganji was speaking at the 17th World Editors Forum in Hamburg.
Akbar Ganji, who has spent six years in Iranian prison and was awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom in 2006, drew attention to the fact that any criticism of Iranian government can be considered as a crime. "We have no independent media in Iran, we don't have the right to do any sort of analysis. Dozens of opposition newspapers have been banned over the last 13 years. Our media just produce ideological propaganda as they are obliged to write only from the government's point of view," Ganji said.
Ganji said that 26 journalists and 9 bloggers are currently held in Iranian jails. He himself was jailed for 18 months for criticism of his country's leadership, and he said that opposition journalists risk being imprisoned for a period from 6 months to 2 years. Ganji compared the situation in Iran to that in the former Soviet Union.
Even foreign media are extremely limited, being forced to use government-approved translators and sometimes being denied visas. Ganji has sharply criticised the Western media for their coverage of the situation in Iran. Western journalists settle for interviews with Ahmadinejad rather than also talking to his enemies, said Ganji. Also, he believes that they do not ask the right questions. "Why don't they ask about the systematical opression of the Iranian people?" he questioned. Ahmadinejad regularly makes front page headlines for denying the Holocaust or criticising Israel, but the human rights issue is often over looked, he said. Western journalists are not critical enough and do not report on the reality of Iranian life, Ganji believes.
Nevertheless, Ganji expressed optimism about the increasing prevalence of social media and blogs, particularly among younger Iranians. "The revolution of media and technology has completely changed the situation," he said, noting that it has made totalitarian or fascist regimes an impossibility. The number of Iranian bloggers is proportionally one of the highest in the world, which Ganji sees as extremely positive. He described how young people in Iran break the web-filters and find ways to get and share information. Young people with mobiles in the streets take clips about the "Green Movement" and distribute them around the world via the web. During last summer's elections the 'Twitter revolution' and increase in citizen journalism received much international attention.
"70 percent of Iranians are under 35 years old. This means that about 50 million people are in fact potential members of this new movement in Iran. The power of our movement is the power of new media," Ganji emphasized.