Iran warned domestic news outlets Sunday that they will be banned if they continue reporting on the country's opposition leaders, delivering the strongest and most public threat to the media in the government's push to silence the pro-reform movement.
Iran has already closed nearly all pro-reform publications and blocked Internet sites in an attempt to deny an outlet to the opposition, whose claims of fraud in last year's presidential election brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets.
In the new warning, the government called its opponents "leaders of the plot," a reference to allegations that the opposition movement is seeking to topple Iran's ruling system with the help of its adversaries in the West.
"Publications that still print statements and photographs of the leaders of the plot will be banned and have their licenses' revoked if they continue after an initial warning," said Ehsan Qazizadeh, director for local media in the Ministry of Culture. His remarks were reported by the official IRNA news agency.
In August, pro-reform websites reported that authorities were already requiring newspapers and news agencies to shun any coverage or images of the opposition leaders, including former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi as well as former President Mohammad Khatami.
Sunday's announcement was the first public acknowledgment from the government that such a policy was in place.
In recent months, there has been no coverage of Mousavi or Karroubi in mainstream media.
Qazizadeh also said newspapers that do not cover pro-government rallies should not expect government support or subsidies for newsprint.
"Print media should know our support and supervision in the press are relevant," Qazizadeh was quoted as saying.
Pro-government media have either dropped most coverage of the opposition or refer to them only as "enemies" or with other indirect references.
The media restrictions have forced the opposition to rely on the Internet, largely through social networking sites that can be accessed with anti-filtering software.
On their websites, Mousavi and other opposition figures regularly challenge the government and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, especially on policies that they say result in further international isolation for Iran.
Besides the media restrictions, Iran has arrested journalists and bloggers alongside political activists and members of the opposition, accusing them of links to the postelection turmoil.