Fight against science journalism and information in Iran

“I spent an hour and a half in one of the vaccination centers and talked with doctors and health care workers. When I was leaving the center, the security asked me to give them my cell phone and delete all my interviews. I did not care. They pushed me and broke my finger. I went through surgery, and they had to install pins in my hands.” 

This is the translation of a tweet by Faeze Momeni, an Iranian health reporter today.

This tweet is just the latest episode in an ongoing confrontation between the Iranian health care management system and the data and facts and reliable information. 

Just a few months into the pandemic, the Iranian health ministry stopped publishing the data on Covid-19 cases by each province. 

They just announced the total numbers. 

And on a few occasions, when deans of hospitals and local authorities published their data, it turned out that the sum of only a few province’s numbers is higher than nationwide numbers. 

Science journalists have to use an indirect data set to estimate the reality of the situation in Iran. Many of my colleagues and I turned to the “National Organization for Civil Registration” to find the total seasonal deaths. Using statistical methods, we estimated the number of deaths caused by the pandemic.  

The NOFCR usually is publishing its data every three months. Not anymore. 

This organization’s last update was eight months ago, and they did not publish the data for the previous fall and winter. 

The data on vaccinations is the same. There is no public data on the distributions of vaccines, and the ministry of health is only publishing the total national numbers of people who get vaccinated. 

The official information on the process of importing vaccines and producing Iranian-made vaccines is even worse. It became an opaque process. 

Questions of reporters do not receive proper answers, and the tsunami of contradictions and misinformation by people involved in the country’s health management is disturbing.

The Minister of the health of Iran accused the reporters and critics as people who are aligned  with the enemy of Iran.

And now, the physical attack on a reporter for doing her job added a new dimension to the saga. 

It is quite a peculiar situation. In less than a month, Iran will hold its presidential election. No general guidelines on the safety of the election in regard to the pandemic have been published yet. And the questions about the safety of an event that could become a super spreader event have not found any answers so far. 

There are many parameters playing in this situation. But the result is clear. In lack of reliable information and oversight of the media, the misinformation will thrive. People get hurt and will die. 

We – journalists and science communicators –continue to ask our questions and continue to report stories that matter, but the cost of this reporting is going high.

We stand with Faeze Momeni and all of those fighting in the battle between information vs misinformation, truth vs lies and science vs the BS.

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