SOPA. PIPA. ACTA. PCIP. In the United States, any piece of legislation designed to restrict first amendment rights is certain to be met with the cries of enraged protesters pouring down crowded city streets. Public demonstrations in response to such acts, such as those staged by Wikipedia and Google in the past month, have raised awareness and concern about America’s increasingly draconian Internet regulations. Do these bills indeed violate American press freedoms or do they truly serve “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property. . .” (H.R. 3261)?
Such controversies raise concern about press freedoms in the U.S. and likely contribute to America’s surprisingly low rank of 48th on the Reporter’s Without Borders Press Freedom Index. Despite these concerns, however, Americans’ rights to openly protest such legislation rival the liberties of most peoples around the world. While justifications including national security, intellectual property rights, and protections against obscenity fuel speculation about the motives of legislators, they do not prohibit Americans from freely exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble, protest, and petition.
In Iran, the government’s media outlets are state-run, and officials brutally oppress and arrest journalists who are audacious enough to challenge their authority. Iranian journalists made international news in 2009 when they defied recently reelected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Shortly after the news broke about Ahmadinejad’s reelection, protests brokeout in Tehran and other Iranian cities; the Iranian government responded by shutting foreign press out of the country and disrupting journalists’ efforts to reveal the true circumstances of the election. According to a 2010 Freedom House survey of Iran’s Freedom of the Press, “Allegations of torture, mistreatment, and other forms of abuse in detention also reached unprecedented levels. Dozens of newspapers were closed, and coverage of the opposition protests was particularly restricted, as was reporting related to dissatisfaction with the government, women’s rights and ethnic issues, the ailing economy, and the development of nuclear technology.” According to ambiguous and far-reaching Iranian legislation, no one is allowed to publish works that criticize the state or contradict Islamic law.
Due to preexisting laws preventing press freedom, strict censorship, and past crackdowns on journalists, the international community fears a similar climate will seize Iran in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in March. Consistent with its history of political and social oppression, the current government has already denied the candidacies of many Iranian MPs critical of the current government. In addition to restrictions on political participation, press restrictions prevent barred candidates from speaking with foreign media.
In order for protests to effectively change Iranian society, Iranian journalists need outlets by which to expose corruption in the Iranian government. While state-run news agencies prohibit criticism of the government and threaten progressive and reformist journalists with fear of punishment, websites such as Khabarnegaran Iran (The Iranian Journalist), Jaras News, and Kalameh provide forums for journalists to freely publish their ideas. Though their efforts come with a risk (especially since the Iranian government has tried to shut these website down in the past), they serve as crucial weapons in the fight against corruption and political illiteracy.