US sanctions leave Iran’s papers short of ink

Bourse and Bazaar | Golnar Motevalli: A lack of headlines is making headlines in Iran.

The economic hardship triggered by a year of U.S. sanctions has extended to the Islamic Republic’s newspapers, which are struggling to combat fast-rising prices—and shortages—of both paper and printing ink.

At a time when Iran’s on front pages around the world, two government-owned dailies have cut coverage while journalists fret about possible layoffs.

Javad Daliri, the editor of “Iran,” which broadly supports President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted that the newsprint crisis and more expensive zinc oxide used in ink meant his paper would be eight pages lighter. The most widely-circulated daily, Tehran municipality-owned “Hamshahri,” told readers it would be running at 16 pages, down from 24.

Slashing oil exports has been the primary focus of President Donald Trump’s economic offensive, which seeks to curtail Tehran’s Middle East influence and foment popular discontent with its ruling clerics. But penalties imposed since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord also led to an exodus of foreign companies from Iran and a 70% slump in the value of the local currency, the rial.

Newspapers “depend on imported paper and fluctuations in the exchange rate in the past year have caused paper prices to multiply by several times,” Mehdi Shafaei, the director of the “Iran” daily’s media and cultural foundation, told the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Emily Amraee, a journalist who’s on the editorial board of a leading arts and culture magazine, said its bill for paper had risen by 400 percent. “It’s really damaging to our culture and national interest because it means we cannot then pursue the stories that hold the government accountable,” she said.

Owners typically fire three to four people per page lost during a downturn, Amraee added. Iran’s already financially shaky print media is closely monitored by authorities and vulnerable to state censorship.

The government offered some importers a favorable, fixed-exchange rate to help maintain supplies of essential goods, including paper, as the rial sank. But the policy often backfired, with importers accused of hoarding imports to drive up prices.

ISNA reported on April 30 that only 23,000 tons out of 262,000 tons of newsprint imported through this channel this year had been distributed to suppliers, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The rest is missing.