The managing editor of Tehran’s leading reformist daily Etemad says the paper decided not to cover an important topic because of constant government pressure.
Elias Hazrati, who is also the proprietor of the newspaper explained that restrictions imposed by the government have made it impossible for the editors to do their job according to the daily's editorial standards.
Hazrati said in the editorial that readers had complained why the paper did not carry a report on the anniversary of the Ukrainian plane, shot down by the Revolutionary Guard on January 8, 2020, as it took off from Tehran.
He stated that "in fact, Etemad's editors had prepared several reports on the topic with added value by its analysts. But Etemad's editorial standards were not compatible with the closed circle some policymakers and state institutions have drawn around the media to restrict their activities."
"When we found out how limited the scope of our articles should be, we decided not to publish the story at all," wrote Hazrati. However, his statement revealed that at least sensitive articles are read and censored by individuals other than the daily's editors before publication. He also spoke about directives that were issued by "some institutions" to censor the media.
The statement by Hazrati, which came in an editorial entitled "A transparent report to our readers" in the January 9 issue of Etemad, was made a week after security forces stormed the home of the daily's political editor Medi Beik's and arrested him after confiscating his cell phone, computer and other equipment.
When Beik's wife broke the news about his arrest, his colleagues in the newspaper expressed support for him in social media comments. On January 7 several columnists as well as Hazrati himself expressed support for Beik on the frontpage of the newspaper, pointing out that he should not be jailed for doing his job.
Beik became very well-known for publishing a series of reports about young protesters in prison. In one particular case, Amir Hossein Rahimi, a 15 year-old jailed protesters with shotgun pellets in his head and neck whose mother did not have the bail money to secure his release, was finally freed thanks to an article in Etemad about the case. The shotgun pellets were subsequently taken out in a Tehran hospital.
Hazrati’s reference to "institutions" refers to the IRGC and the intelligence ministry in the Iranian political jargon. Although IRGC's aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh has admitted that it was an IRGC battery that fired two missiles on the Ukrainian aircraft, still, discussing the matter is some sort of taboo for the press. Even the Iranian Judiciary has not been able to convince the families of the victims why due judicial process has not been observed to determine the main culprits.
Hazrati said: "We trust that our policy is quite clear. We believe that well-documented reports by Etemad and other media outlets can pave the way for the people's trust in the government." He pointed out that the arguments about the downing of the aircraft and secrecy around the case has eroded this trust. However, he noted that perhaps the authorities do not want any coverage of the matter while a court is investigating the case.
"But we believe that free media are part of responsible governance. Democratic countries welcome transparent news dissemination. And experts and the family members of the victims have a right to speak about the case outside the court," he said.
The story has been controversial from the start as Iranian officials denied any attack on the aircraft for three days before admitting that it was hit by two missiles. Still, no one wants to accept any responsibility.