19 خرداد 1391

Dos and Don’ts of signing a statement by journalists

Journalists who do not keep silence

8 June 2012

Reported by Niki Azad

Translated by Rose Arjmand

Khabarnegaran.info-Recently, signing petitions and statements have become very common among Iranian journalists. They sign many statements and petitions for various political and social occasions and lately they sign petitions demanding freedom of their fellow journalists from prisons. This could be called a typical Iranian trend in world of journalism because other countries do not suffer from censorship as much as Iran. Since the judiciary system in the country is a biased system, journalists feel responsible to help their colleagues in prisons. However, some journalists and experts argue this movement saying a journalists is no longer a journalist if he signs a petition or supports a statement; he appears as a political activists because he cannot hold on to an impartial stance. On the other hand, have these statements and petitions been useful? Did journalists get what they demanded in those petitions?

Signing statements does not question your impartiality

A young journalist who often signs the statements and petition says: "I do not find a logical connection between these two matters. How can we keep our silence when one of our colleagues is imprisoned? I have been reporting for a few years and I did my best to be unbiased. However, I am fully aware that we cannot be completely unbiased. Choosing a reformist newspaper over a conservative newspaper was the first step that I took walking away from pure impartiality. So I can say no one is perfectly unbiased."

He and more than 100 other journalists have recently signed a statement demanding freedom of Nazanin Khosravani, an Iranian journalist.

He states: "Nazanin Khosravani, my good friend and colleague, was innocent still was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Are you suggesting that I should sit down and worry about my impartiality? What if the same scenario happens to me? Hope is our only asset and we should prove it to the government that we support each other. Also we should let our friend know that we back her no matter what."

This journalist believes that the special situation in country has created such unique characteristic and reaction among Iranian journalists.

"We support a colleague like her who did not victimize the truth in exchange for convenience," a sum of 108 journalists and media activists has mention in their statement.

Journalists must follow people’s interest

Hossein Shahidi, senior lecturer at university who teaches journalism, has a different opinion regarding this matter. He states: "journalists, like other citizens in a society, have their own opinion about current events of the country. However, people trust journalists who look for the national interest rather than their syndication. If they tend to sign such petitions showing their personal view, other people who read their articles may lose their trust in journalism."

Shahidi, who has been teaching journalism in Iran, England, Afghanistan, Arab countries and South East Asia, answers journalists asking if they should keep silence when their colleague are in prisons. He says: "the answer to this question depends on the level of people’s trust in the judiciary system of the country. If the judiciary system is a truth worthy system, the journalist must see it as his duty to publish both the plaintiff and the defendant’s claims. If the society and even the judiciary system have access to both sides of the story, the case would be solved more easily. under such circumstances, journalists should make their colleagues’ legal cases make look more important than other people. No one expects journalists sign petitions for all innocent prisoners’ freedom. It is better if they do not sign a petition for their fellow journalists.

He does not leave the debate without any solutions. He suggests: "journalists must hold on to a legal organization, hire lawyers, and use other legal tools to help their imprisoned colleagues. Helping the family of the imprisoned journalist could be another useful way to approach such an issue.

He continues talking about the practical benefits of statements and says: "if there is no room for trust towards the judiciary system, journalists must ask themselves whether the statements could be useful or not. If the imprisoned journalists are set free under the pressure of the statements, is it a correct practice of law? Signing such petitions can result in long term positive effects and will prove the journalists’ unity.

He adds: “all of us must be caution and think before we sign a petition. We must be wise and consider if the consequences of each signature before signing a statement. In most western countries, people have more trust in their judiciary system and they’d rather follow a case in its legal routine rather than signing petition, initiating protests or strikes to increasing public pressure on governments.”

Signing petitions violates impartiality of journalists

Another journalist who lives in Iran and has distanced herself from this career for various reasons argues the nature of petitions and says: “I have never signed a petition in my entire professional life which is not short. Not that I am scared of a government or any organizations, but, I strongly believe that signing such statements violates my impartiality as a journalist.”

This journalist spoke to us under condition of anonymity believes signing a petition by journalists is a kind of violence and journalists are strongly urged to distance themselves from such aggression and hostility. She believes the government has never bothered about such statements and has never been concerned about any possible consequences of such statements.

She raised a question asking if the Iranian judiciary system or any other organization have ever paid attention to such signatures. She went on answering her question: “No. It has never been so. Why should we bother doing something useless? It is also wrong if we aim to direct the public opinion to the direction that we want. People want to hear the truth from us not our concern and our opinion.”

She says: “We must follow the professional criteria at the world of journalism. And the norm is to be unbiased.”

Iranian journalists have various opinions about signing a petition or statements. Some agree and some disagree with such an idea. Some simply say: “we do not keep silence.”

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