German FM makes unfounded claims about Iranian govt.’s pressure on media regarding COVID-19

MNA – Some European governments have gone beyond planting opportunistic elements to put pressure on the Iranian media and government regarding the freedom of the Iranian press amid the pandemic, and have now reached a point where they make baseless claims without any evidence.

Political pressures hiding behind ‘freedom of the press’ façade

The baseless pressures of some European governments regarding the freedom of the Iranian press inside and outside the country have gone beyond planting opportunistic elements to put pressure on the Iranian media and government and have now reached making baseless claims without any evidence.

In his recent speech at Germany’s parliament, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas while noting the various dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, named what he called “repressive measures taken against journalists in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, and China” as examples of such consequences.

Of course, Heiko Maas made the claim against these countries without providing any evidence, citing only the internal situation in Germany by saying: “Right here in Europe we are seeing how emergency measures are being used to cut back the rule of law.”

Deutsche Welle had previously cited UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as voicing concern over the adoption of repressive measures under the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. This was a kind of warning against restrictions and violation of human rights under the pretext of the pandemic only in certain countries and either refuses to report on or understates the dire situation in the US or European countries.

For example, US President Donald Trump recently announced that no media outlet is allowed to independently publish news and statistics about the pandemic, and several cases of cover-up in the early weeks of the outbreak of the virus in the United States became headline news and even led to a legal dispute between the executive of the Erie County and the governor of New York.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a press conference accused the governor of New York Andrew Cuomo of breaking the law by revealing the number of Erie County residents being monitored for possible exposure to the coronavirus.

“The state violated the law,” Poloncarz said. “We’ve been told that we can’t disclose that.”

This instance shows the extent of the role of the US government’s delay in disclosing information on the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus in the US and was, in fact, a clear structured violation of the freedom of the press.

In spite of that, the Reporters without borders (RSF) website claimed in a report that China is ranked 177th and Iran 173rd in censorship of information related to coronavirus outbreaks in their countries, while there is no information in the report about how the research was conducted and what kind of criteria and scales was considered for the ranking. In the RSF report, similar to the claims by the UN chief and the German foreign minister, the risk posed by countries in opposition to European governments has been exaggerated and the report is clearly biased in favor of the political angle of the other side.

Press Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance: German FM must present evidence

We asked the Press Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Khodadadi about the sources of the information used in the RSF report, and what documents had convinced the RSF that the freedom of the press in those countries, including Iran, was restricted.

Based on what information has Mr. Maas taken this stance (against Iran)?

This you should ask the German foreign minister himself. If there is any evidence, he should present it to us as well. I’m also bewildered based on what information the German officials have made such a claim!

Do you think there is a kind of psychological warfare going on against Iran by the German government?

I think the German government’s intelligence sources are in disarray. There are only two possible scenarios here: either the information they received was incorrect or they do not actually have any information and just wanted to take a position without basing it on a source, which is also a wrong move to make. I expect the German embassy in Iran to have at least explained the real situation to their own foreign minister. The embassy should at least send him real information and documents.

Has any journalist been arrested amid the pandemic? Has the activity of any journalist been restricted due to the coronavirus? Are there any open cases? Have any orders been issued to the media? Has any media been banned from releasing statistical information? If they [German officials] have seen or been reported to of any such instances, they should let us know.

At the very least, we expect that without evidence and actual information, they refrain from harassing a media community that is struggling with the pandemic while under sanctions, and if they cannot provide the right information, at least they refrain from spreading the false one, especially when it comes to the foreign minister of a country that claims to support freedom of speech.

Have you had any meetings with foreign journalists or ambassadors after the pandemic?

Yes, indeed there have been many meetings with foreign journalists stationed in Tehran, but there have never been any talks about restrictions. We actually are waiting for the German foreign minister to provide evidence for his claim.

Reporters at foreign news outlets in Tehran: ‘We have had no problems’

We talked to a number of reporters at foreign news outlets in Iran to find out if they had experienced any restrictions while reporting on the coronavirus situation in Iran.

Javier Hurtado, a reporter from Spanish newspaper ‘El Mundo’

* Have you run into any problems while making reports in Iran amid the pandemic?

– No, I had no problems. Just like any other person who feels responsible and tries to take care of others during these days. Honestly, I have had no problems in Iran.

* Was there any problem while asking questions from people or the government?

– No. They were actually very helpful when they saw me at work. As a reporter, I’ve had no problems while doing my job.

Motaharibina, a reporter from German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (dpa) 

* Have you run into any problems while making reports in Iran amid the pandemic?

– We actually don’t make reports on our own to run into any problems. The domestic press makes the reports, and they are usually the ones being invited to certain places to cover the news. We just use domestic news sources.

* You mean you don’t go looking for news at all?

– The Ministry of Guidance has to invite us. There were some programs too, but the German side did not allow us to participate. It wasn’t just our agency. Everyone else was the same. I mean, they’d say this piece of news was not important enough to risk sending a reporter out there and having them possibly get infected.

Siavash Ghazi, from Radio France Internationale

* Have you run into any problems while making reports in Iran amid the pandemic? Were there any restrictions while questioning people, the hospital staff, or the government?

– I didn’t go to any hospitals, but I did talk to the people while observing the social distancing protocols and I ran into no problems.

* Have you received any orders of restrictions from the government or any other organizations for reporting about the pandemic?

– No, I have received no such orders from the government.