Iranian newspapers are discovering, to their journalists' dismany, that the temptation to censor the press seems as strong after the departure of Shah Mohammad Reza Phlavi as it was during his reign.
The pressures now come from different directions, however, and they lack the fear-inspiring authority that SAVAK, the secret police, used to give to palace complaints.
More than 100 militant Moslem students from Tehran University recently staged a 30-hour sit-in at the country's biggest newspaper, Kayhan. Within hours, they were replaced by angry Moslem guerrillas screaming the same intolerant message outside the gates.
The students complained that since the Iranian press resumed publication -- after a 62-day strike to protest the now departed military government's censorship policy -- Kayhan has favored leftists at the expense of their hero, Ayatollah Ruhollah Knomeini, the exiled Moslem leader.
To no apparent avail, Khayan staffers offered the free services of their technical staff for two hours a day to allow some students to put out a newspaper of their own and promised to distribute and market it as well.
The student's complaints ranged from charges that the paper was printing "incorrecet news that hurt the Islamic movement" and "fanning the flames of disunity among students" to the need to suppress any mention of Marxists and suggestions the Journalists were "anti-Islamic."
The Moslem students were not alone in trying to bring pressure on newspapers.
"Marxists, Moslems, guerrillas, the army, the whole lot keeps trying to tell us what to do," a senior editor said. "With the exception of the goverment and the Ministry of Information, which used to do it so often and so well in the old days."
An editor from the rival Ettela'at group singled out the army.
Soon after publication resumed Jan. 6, a leading general warned the press it had a week to restore relations between the army and the people. Nothing has been heard from that quarter since, but an editor said: "We are sandwiched between the army, potentially threatening us to do this or not do that, and Khomeini's people, who are doing the same thing."
"We just keep telling them all that we went on strike on Nov. 6 to protest against censorship," he added, "because we wanted press freedom and no limits on it."
Another editor told a visiting Moslem cleric: "If we are going to be surpressed by anyone, at least the shah was more handsome. Anyhow, we refuse to accept censorship by anyone."
Until this week, complaints have remained just that, and there has been no violence. Today, however, seven journalists were arrested under a martiallaw provision banning meetings of more than three persons, despite Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar's pledge to uphold freedom of the press.
The main newspapers here, privately owned by the Ettela'at and Khayan groups, are becoming more receptive to reader complaints. Kayahan National, an English-language paper, confessed on the front page recently that readers had been correct in taking issue with a headline about a pro-Khomeini demonstration that termed the march a referendum in favor of an Islamic republic.
Only a popular vote by all Iranians would justify the use of the word referendum, the newspaper acknowledged.
A letter signed by a Mostafa Rahimi advised Khomeini to stay out of politics and act more like Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian who led his country to independence but remained outside public office.
At the rival Tehran Journal, an editor said readers had called up to complain about an editorial defending the monarchy. "They said we were in a revolution and to hell with the monarchy," the editor said.
He, in turn, complained about one of his editors who had airbrushed a picture of Iranian students in New York carring signs saying, "You can't let the fascist shah into the United States," to delete the word "fascist."
More seriously, journalists are getting used to their freedom. They now talk about the revolution and its dangers and think nothing of favoring a republic, Islamic or otherwise over the monarchy, or vice versa.
The newspaper Ayandegan recently devoted half a page to questioning the validity of an Islamic republic, a piece of daring these days.
Lost in the turmoil was the self-censorship of the twilight period between September and early November, when Prime Minister Jaafar Sharif-Emami defended press freedom despite martial law authorizing censorship.
Only recently have newspapers gotten around to saying crowds shouted "death to the shah." But even before the monarch left the country Jan. 16, newspapers had long since stopped referring to him as His Imperial Majesty, King of Kings, Light of the Aryans.
Despite all their tribulations, newspapers are having a heyday. Reliable circulation figures are hard to come by but sales are better than ever. They would be even better were it not for a gasoline shortage and the railroad and air strikes that limit circulation.
In view of the general strike that has paralyzed ports, newspapers were farsighted in stocking enough newsprint to last at least another two months. And despite the continuing pressures, the mood is still happier than it was in the days of the shah's total censorship.
SAVAK never penned an appreciative note such as the one left recently on Kayhan's front door.
It read: "We offered our blood in order to be free -- we congratulated your feeedom with flowers -- but what did you do?"
It was signed, "Islamic students."