Tight controls on media inside the country mean that Reporters on the outside can write more freely, and those based in Iran are forced to play by the governments’ rules. Journalists who covered the 2012 parliamentary election were required to stay in the same hotel, monitored constantly, and were bussed from place to place by government officials, an experience journalist Laura Secor expertly recounted in The New Yorker.
“Access doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the complete truth these days in Iran,” Fassihi said. “Just because you are based in Iran right now or that a foreign organization has a reporter in Iran doesn’t mean that the story they’re getting is necessarily more truthful than an outsider reporting because of the self-censorship and the intimidation and the restrictions and pressure.”
Either way, it is clear that this week, the regime in Tehran is not risking the 2009 scenario, in which reporters from around the globe witnessed the opening days of the uprising and the crackdown as it unfolded. Last week Iran’s culture and Islamic guidance minister, Mohammad Hosseini, said the government would “closely examine” the 200 visa applications from foreign journalists in order to keep out “Zionist spies,” as quoted by Reporters Without Borders.
“This year has been different,” said Kelly Niknejad, the founder of Tehran Bureau, a website dedicated to deep coverage of Iran currently hosted by The Guardian. “Very few foreign reporters have gotten in,” she said. Those who have received only seven-day visas (down from 10), that expire at midnight on June 15, the day after the election.
The government has also continued to stifle critical news reporting by domestic media. At least 40 journalists are currently in prison in Iran, the second highest total in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A few American organizations do have journalists based in Tehran, many of them engaged in thoughtful, nuanced reporting. Among them are the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian and the Los Angeles Times’s Ramin Mostaghim.
Perhaps the most visible of those still inside the country is The New York Times’s Thomas Erdbrink, a Dutch citizen and longtime resident of Iran, who declined to be interviewed for this article. The Times’s foreign desk directed inquiries to the paper’s Director of Communications, Danielle Rhoades-Ha, who sent an email saying, “As a matter of general policy we do not discuss staffing/personnel matters or the process of reporting and editing.” She also characterized the paper’s coverage of Iran as”incredibly comprehensive” including reporting “on matters of Iranian politics, national security and domestic issues.”