The Carter administration's effort to eliminate all U.S. dealings with Iran has bumped into the First Amendment, and some news organizations are yelling about it.
As part of the president's efforts to increase pressure on Iran for holding 50 Americans hostage in the U.S. Embassy, the Treasury Department issued regulations Monday prohibiting imports from and financial transactions with Iran.
Almost as an afterthought, the regulations noted that American journalists would be permitted to do business in Iran, but that any news organization sending someone into the country would be required to notify the government of the journalist's nane.
The rationale, according to State and Justice department officials, is that the government needs to know which American citizens are in Iran. "It's a hot situation," one official said "Anything that happens to a U.S. citizen directly affects us. We have a legitimate interest in knowing who's there."
Sylvia Westerman, a vice president at NBC News, said yesterday that the network considers the requirement an intrusion on its First Amendment press-freedom rights and has lawyers checking legal options.
Bud Benjamin, a CBS News vice president, said the issue seems academic at the movement because Iran is refusing to give a CBS producer a visa to enter the country. "I don't want to shoot from the hip on this," Benjamin said. "But I don't understand the rationale for [the requirement]. We have seven people in there and we certainly keep track of them. We don't need that kind of help from the government."
A State Department official noted that similar regulations were enacted years ago when the United States had "hostile relations" with Cuba, North Vietnam and China.
In the meantime, what's considered bureaucratic foulup has delayed publication of similar State Department regulations on passports that will limit travel to Iran by American citizens -- including hostage families.
Officials said the delay wasn't deliberately intended to allow relatives like the mother of hostage Kevin Hermening, a Marine sergeant, to go to Iran.
The State regulations, expected to be published today in the Federal Register, say the restrictions on travel to Iran are necessary because of the "increasingly unstable situation in Iran and the concomitant increase in the threat of hostile acts against Americans."
"The governing authorities in Iran have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to maintain public order and to protect United States nationals from hostile and uncontrolled mob action," the statement by Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said.