Press, State and Civil Society: Illusions and Realities
From the mid-90s under the banner of ‘civil society’ and press as a ‘fourth estate’, a new movement for democratization in Iran started to defi ne itself, which resulted in two landslide victories for reformist candidate Khatami in 1997 and 2001. Undoubtedly and due to the nature of the Iranian press, the battle between the ‘reformists’ and ‘conservatives’ in Iran was also a battle over the defi nition and the role of the media. Since then and due to the signifi cant role that was played by the reformist press in mobilizing public support for the reformist camp, the press has come to be hailed and defi ned as the ‘fourth estate’. This chapter examines such generalizations about the role of the press and the term ‘civil society’ with particular reference to the reformist press and whether they were located ‘outside’ the realm of the state. This chapter begins with a brief review and critique of the term ‘civil society. It then examines various defi nitions and approaches and debates about the notion and various responses to such debates inside the Islamic Republic. By analyzing the background and the context of the emerging reform movement, it begins to examine the relationship between media and state and suggests that the new political space that emerged after 1997 was inextricably linked with the state and, as the continuing struggle over the press demonstrates, the arena of competition among various social, economic, and regional interests. The ‘civil society’ very much did depend on the state and did not last long as the two pillars of Khatami’s reform (the rule of law and civil society) were unreal and so easily crumbled in the face of the realities of Iran.