From Journalism to Politics

About a hundred years ago, the Iranian society was introduced to a new medium which soon supplanted and nearly replaced pulpit and poetry as the means of shaping and influencing public opinion. In the short-lived Iranian Age of Enlightenment (1890's-1920's) a new breed of intellectuals combined political activity with journalistic vocation and became the Iranian counterparts of the illustrious French philosophes of the 18th century. As journalist-political activist-intellectual, these leaders of the Iranian Constitutional Movement set a powerful precedent. Later on, some of them played an active role in the second phase of Iran's social and economic development instituted by Reza Shah, the enlightened despot. Ali Akbar Davar was the leading member of this group who became the first journalist-intellectual to attain sufficient power to implement some of his reform programs. Reza Shah, however,viewed both journalists and intellectuals with a mixture of suspicion and contempt and thus with Davar's suicide the expansion of journalism as a credible venue for politics had to wait Reza Shah's own downfall which entailed a strong backlash on the part of the Iranian intelligentsia. This newly-educated younger generation, which soon fell under the spell of radical leftist ideas, embraced journalism with a vengeance, taking advantage of the purely material and technical gains achieved by the press during Reza Shah's years.

The two most influential representatives of this new generation of political journalists were Ehsan Tabari and Khalil Maleki who along with Hossein Fatemi, a radical nationalist, inspired an army of journalists for whom journalism became guerilla warfare by other means. The decades of 1950's and 1960's witnessed the maturation of Iranian journalism. The two major dailies, both evening papers, along with many quality periodicals, created and supported a class of professional journalists who successfully challenged the Shah's ever increasing power. One important development of those years was the emergence of Ayandegan, a thoroughly political daily which explicitly declared its mission to be the elevation of the level of political discourse. Ayandegan was unusual in that it was liberal and anti-left. Its editorials, which were the improved versions of the political columns introduced by the author in Ettela'at, often took a critical position on domestic issues and helped the paper attain an influence far above its material capabilities.

Iranian political journalism, by confusing high political and moral stands with unreserved opposition to the regime, greatly helped the surge and eventual victory of the Islamic revolution and was one of its earliest victims. The revolutionary regime with the clerical monopoly of power, had no room for journalism as a venue for politics. Nevertheless, political journalism is flourishing in Iran. The continuing polycentrism of the regime with organized chaos as its inevitable corollary, provides for a great number of journals, which are engaged in political expression, room for maneuver and at the same time threatens them with horrifying risks. Outside Iran, too, political activity is almost solely conducted through the press. Thus, a hundred years after the Constitutional Movement the process of the passage of politics through journalism has been completed.

* Abstract prepared by the author

Daryush Homayoun
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