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Interview with Abdolreza Tajik, journalist
Coverage of disaster news in Iran is emotional21 February 2013
Reported by Niki Azad
Translated by Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info – Iranian journalist Abdolreza Tajik is based in France. He is a winner of the Reporters without Borders’s 2010 press freedom award. He agreed with an interview with Khabarnegaran.info to elaborate how news coverage of disasters like hunger strikes, executions, death and legal sentences.
Khabarnegaran: why are such news like hanging, hunger strike and death in Iran are published very frequently and at large scales? Are Iranians getting used to it or it is one of the Iranian demands?
Tajik: controversial titles and provocative analysis receive higher readership. That is the reason why journalists pick such subjects is to feed the society’s emotional hunger. It is not only bounded to Iran.
Khabarnegaran: How far can journalists go to provoke people’s emotions with covering such disaster news? Don’t you see it as threat to Iranian media that such news becomes a norm?
Tajik: getting used to reading disaster news is very unfortunate, especially if middle cultural class get into a habit of hearing such news every day. Meaning, people do not ask questions after hearing such news. Journalists do not let the disaster news become a norm or a habit. They provoke people’s emotions to attract them.
Khabarnegaran: don’t you think that the society is becoming less sensitive towards hunger strikes and prison as they read more and more about it? Don’t you find it related to media’s emotional approach?
Tajik: we cannot speak about the hanging becoming a norm or not in a society that thousands of people gather together to watch an execution. Take a glance at the event pages of newspapers or news websites to find out how populist their approach is. The execution and hanging news are easier to publish of a rapist or a drug trafficker is hanged. Also we must be cautious about an individual or a group imposing their ideology on the rest of the society. For example, a number of people were hanged in Tehran for burglary. The media and the virtual world of Iranian users had been fueling the public anger about the insecure atmosphere in the society. We also can say the trial was accelerated due to such intense coverage and result was execution.
We experience the same situation about political executions and hunger strikes. Covering one political prisoner’s case and his/her situation in a prison, while his/her situation is the same as other prisoners, is not professional and is called provoking people’s emotions.
Khabarnegaran: consider blogger Sattar Beheshti’s case. Media played a good role in promoting the public awareness. Don’t find such activities fruitful?
Tajik: unfortunately, journalists and reporters act emotionally. The same journalists, who praise the judiciary system for a case, will condemn it for another case. Journalist must look for data rather than judgment. Journalists did not do a good job in finding enough information about Sattar Beheshti’s case. They were involved in emotions that forgot to find new data.
Khabarnegaran: Are we at a stage that only death can hit the headlines?
Tajik: the Salam newspaper promoted public awareness by publishing a title about Saeed Imami at the time he was alive. At time of the sixth parliamentary election also the media was very informing. So death is not the only subject to hit the headlines.
Khabarnegaran: Are you suggesting media does not know how to be effectively informing under such pressure and censorship?
Tajik: Iranian media that are published inside the country are experiencing a very closed atmosphere. Shargh used to publish human rights news everyday. They managed to control redlines yet raise the public awareness. Today, fortunately, there are a few periodical magazines that cover such news out of circle of emotions.
Khabarnegaran:Why does the media loses its interests in human rights issues after a while and become less sensitive towards the matter?
Tajik:sometime the journalists look at the media as a ladder to reach their political goals; that is how accurate news coverage is stained and some news, although important, become a lower priority.
Khabarnegaran:should we define new desks for accurate news coverage of Human Rights and Executions in particular?
Tajik:following the presidential election in 1998, new cultural diplomacy formed the reformist newspapers. Publishing news about political prisoner was a very slow step taken cautiously. The demand from the society made the media to dare to leave caution aside. They used to cover human rights news under politics section. Yet after a while that the demand for such news went sky high, they created Law Desks. Today we feel such gap. Under the current pressure names of prisoners and arrested figures as well as human rights news irritates the government quickly. We can fill such gap with interviewing MPs about these matters and also addressing such subjects generally.
Khabarnegaran:Shall we create particular media or website to address such subjects?
Tajik:there are various websites that cover human rights exclusively. The main problem that threatens them is emotions. A journalist should visit a political prisoner’s family to gain data about his/her case. It makes the separation of emotions from news reporting difficult. A journalist has much more responsibility than citizen journalists.
Khabarnegaran:how do you evaluate Green websites following the 2009 election?
Tajik:in regards with covering the news about political prisoners and their families, such websites are doing their job very greatly.
Khabarnegaran:don’t you find such websites influential in terms of making political prisoners’ news a norm, which could be published easier.
Tajik:I don’t give the credit exclusively to Green websites. Even if it happened, I believe they owe it to playing with emotions.
Khabarnegaran:how should media, both based in Iran and abroad, should contribute to the society?
Tajik:media should use the smallest chance to let the news be published. The Persian media outside the country must realize that they should dig in deeply and don’t get involved in emotions. Also they must enjoy the luxury of uncensored atmosphere and don’t sacrifice it with wrong literature.
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.