On the occasion of its 41st birthday last week, Iran’s leading English-language newspaper commissioned a slew of editors past and present to pay tribute to the work of the Tehran Times in a special anniversary edition.
Two themes stand out.
First, according to the contributors, the Tehran Times is a champion of the oppressed. It is the “perfect tribune for the voiceless,” “echoing the pain of the poor,” and the “supporter of the oppressed people in the world.” As the current editor-in-chief puts it, “We amplify the sound of the suffering of those whose bones are being crushed under the pressure of different inhumane and non-divine schools and worldviews.”
Second, it acts as the voice – “the loud voice” – of the Islamic Revolution, formed “to establish a convincing communication with the outside world through a common language.” In his homage, the Deputy Culture Minister for Press Affairs describes the Tehran Times as “a loudspeaker to convey the voice of the Islamic Revolution beyond the borders.”
The Tehran Times does precisely none of the first and a lot of the latter.
A true journalistic defender of the oppressed would at minimum highlight government abuse of vulnerable people in its own country, like Iran’s brutal mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities. The Tehran Times does nothing of the sort. In fact, on the rare occasion that clear cases feature, the editors simply parrot the regime line – like the claim that seven members of the Bahai “infidels” arrested in 2009 were Israeli spies.
The second claim, however, is accurate to a fault.
The paper was founded in the aftermath of the Revolution in 1979 by Ayatollah Mohammad Hossein Beheshti, one of the key architects of the new Islamic constitution and second only to Khomeini in influencing the direction of the new Islamic Republic.
In other words, the Tehran Times began as a shameless mouthpiece for a brutal regime and 41 years later, it continues to play the same role.
Other claims among the eulogies are also worth noting.
For example, among the “memorable and valuable” contributions highlighted by the paper’s former Managing Director is an interview with Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad. The significance may not be obvious until one recalls that Prime Minister Mohammad is mostly known for his unapologetic antisemitism. “I am glad to be labeled antisemitic,” “Jews are ruling the world by proxy,” and “the Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively” are just some of his insights. Naturally, these “valuable” ideas slot neatly into the regime’s own ideology.
Another commemorative article titled “The path towards a world-class outlet” suggests that the Tehran Times is close to competing with global papers of record, earning the respect of say, the Times of London, the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. “As mentioned in the title,” the former editor-in-chief says, the Tehran Times “can effectively serve as an international paper” – with just a little nudging in the direction of digital.
Esmaeli fails to understand that in order to for a newspaper to be taken seriously, the bare minimum conditions of journalistic freedom must be present. Reporters in Britain and the Unites States are broadly allowed to do their jobs. As should be obvious from Iran’s drop to number 173 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index last month, it is impossible for Iranian reporters to do theirs without regime apparatchiks breathing down their necks.
Indeed, when ‘reformist’ newspapers and magazines get shut down – which happens regularly – the Tehran Times always somehow seems to survive the purge.
So let us say Happy Birthday, Tehran Times. Here’s to another four decades of being the “voice of the Revolution,” parroting fascists and dictators and helping to subjugate your fellow Iranians at home and abroad.