The Institute for War&Peace Reporting

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2011

TEHRAN -- When a Turkish reporter recently asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad what impact international sanctions were having on his country, the Iranian leader replied, “What sanctions are you talking about? If you come to Iran today, people will tell you that sanctions have had no impact on their lives or on their country’s development.”

But even to the casual observer, the effect of international economic sanctions on the Iranian economy are clearly visible, as reflected by the complete lack of commercial advertising around the capital, Tehran.

Only a few years ago, billboards all across the city advertised Swiss watches and other luxury goods from Europe and beyond. It was all part of a drive by the mayor’s office to earn revenue by allowing advertisers to tout their wares. The signs also helped brighten many otherwise gloomy thoroughfares.

But today, much of the advertising space available along the main arteries in the city is empty. Even Western companies not directly affected by the ever-tightening sanctions have withdrawn from the Iranian market, making advertising here unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the recession that has driven many Iranian firms to the brink of bankruptcy in recent years means that there’s little or no demand for advertising by local firms either. After all, a company that’s finding it hard to make its monthly payroll is in no position to pay the $20,000 to $80,000-a-month that a billboard can cost.

The only organizations still advertising are government agencies, which buy the space to display political slogans or religious exhortations.

Far more common are crudely made flyers used by individuals to offer goods and services.

Outside a major hospital in the city, for example, one can find such homemade flyers advertising human organs available to transplant -- at a price.

Such fliers are a sure sign that the sanctions are indeed beginning to bite.

Farslhid Alyan is a reporter in Iran who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site:

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