For several hours ,I was under peaceful siege and questioning of dozens of journalists who sought to find replies for their political , social, urban and international queries. I took some time yesterday (Thursday) afternoon to visit the National Press Fair held in Tehran. The Press Fair is now an annual event and many newspapers and news agencies take part to introduce their work and activities in the field of journalism. The free press has faced many challenges in the past in Iran and some members of the press were absent due to the ban that the judiciary has set on their publication, nevertheless many independent newspapers and reformist press were present. It was a very demanding function, since I was constantly ushered into different booths and expected to visit and of course, provide an interview for each. Some of these newspapers now have a considerable readership, although many argue that the numbers are still much lower than what should be expected considering high literacy and education rates in Iran.
A popular Tehran daily, Hamshahri, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Tehran Municipality, now has a group of affiliated journals as well. I spent more time with them, since as a Tehran City Councilor ;I felt we needed to take more stock of the assets of the newspaper group for better urban management. In meeting with some of the more conservative media I could not refrain from stressing upon the importance of observing freedom for the press and allowing a wider spectrum of views and criticism to be voiced. I criticised some of the current policies in curbing freedom of expression and troubles created for independent press. There were many people around us asking for autographs, contact numbers, proposals and ideas for urban management and environmental protection. I guess I missed some of them in the crowd and the hassle created.
The interviews were mostly political , the news agencies were asking about the alignment of political parties and their coalitions. They were also inquisitive about Mr. Khatami, of every 10 people I met 9 were asking whether Khatami would accept to stand as a candidate in the upcoming Presidential elections. "The answer is not clear yet, otherwise you wouldn't all be asking the question. Mr. Khatami has not made the decision. There is alot of pressure on him to stand, but he has his reservations and that makes it difficult to decide." I told them.
After 3/5 hours , there were still many media asking for interviews , the closing of the exhibition at 8 pm was a relief for me. My vocal chords were just not holding up. I left the fair pondering on the reasons why as an Islamic Democracy we have not fared well in tolerating criticism and allowing more freedom of expression as stipulated in our Constitution.
The Reform movement has endeavored to create an opportunity to accommodate the principle of freedom of expression and the right to criticise power, but that has proved to be a difficult ordeal in the past.We have to hope for the future.