Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: Local journalist Mahdieh Amiri speaks of the hardships of practicing journalism in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr. Amiri has been working as a journalist in Bushehr for years. Since 2007, she has been the editor-in-chief of a few local websites, biweekly and quarterly magazines. She is now the editor-in-chief of hamooniran.com website and Ava-ye Dashtestan biweekly.
A look at an experience
Iranian journalism under suppression16 March 2013
Reported by: Niki Azad
Translated by: Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info – How can journalists keep their title under suppressive circumstances? How can journalists cope with vulnerability under such condition and control the damage caused by dictatorship?
The Iranian society has experienced such Guerilla lifestyle for longer than 50 years. Under such condition self-censorship appears in two shapes: positive-thinking self-censorship and denying self-censorship.
Journalists, who adopt the denying self-censorship, mostly choose to be indifferent and silent about many issues in the society. Eventually such behavior leads to praising of dictatorship and autocracy. This is absolutely against the job description of a journalist. Journalists are supposed to raise people’s awareness and to improve life standards for their society.
Responsible journalists adopt positive-thinking self-censorship. Such journalists find a way out to complete their mission impossible. Difference choice of words, examples, and bases are the basic measures taken by responsible journalists.
A look at the Iranian journalism over the past 50 years, during which it has seen various versions of repression and totalitarianism, reveals that responsible, professional journalism has always survived authoritarian, oppressive regimes. Under such circumstances, the use of symbolism usually becomes more widespread in journalistic works.
“Many Iranian journalists write ‘the capital of a Middle Eastern country’ to imply ‘Tehran’, so they can more freely deal with the topics related to the Iranian capital. Sometimes, they open up the subject in another country that has a similar situation to Iran, so they can indirectly fulfill their journalistic duty to censure the current situation in their country,” an experienced Iranian journalist explains how symbolism is used in nowadays journalism.
Another common approach is that journalists half-heartedly take account of the views in favor of a sensitive issue, so they can publish the sharp criticisms levelled at that issue. “Sometimes we choose topics that are deemed as fundamentally threatening for the existence of the newspaper [it will cause their ban], but we make it happen by inclusion of the views of proponents alongside the criticisms. Sometimes choosing an utter neutral stance helps a newspaper survive the repressive political climate,” says a society journalist.
Nowadays, the behavior of journalists toward a repressive political climate is far different from what it used to be in the past, even 20 years ago, when the most basic reaction to a ban on a newspaper was to publish and distribute it secretly at nights – which was called ‘night papers’. This method was fraught with serious dangers.
Now, the situation is different. Once a newspaper is banned, journalists embark on using internet sites and blogs, presuming that it is less likely to be informed on compared with distribution of night papers. Also, the distribution is less costly and wider. But why have the Iranian journalists become vulnerable in social networks, news websites and blogs to such a great extent? What is their Achilles heel?
In truth, the Iranian society are suffering from a type of excessive optimism about their online security. They see the possibility of being tracked down by the state as extremely low. This is because they do not have a fair understanding of the basics of network and internet, eventually easily making them vulnerable to the government’s crackdowns.
Internet and mobile networks are still the two most vulnerable means of communication for social and political activists. Perhaps less than 30 percent of the facilities of these two are in the hands of people, and social and political activists, while more than 70 percent is controlled and administered by the governments.
To avoid any damage to the nature of journalism, veteran journalists stress independence must be set as the main goal. Journalists must not be related to politics at any time, either at the time of suppression or at the time of freedom. This is a strategic tactic that hinders the harm and prevents individuals’ from being in trouble.
Iranian journalists must be always ready to take any opportunity to make their point. In the early month of the year 2013; the pressure on media was elevated so meaningfully that even conservative media started to criticize their ruling party in the government. A good journalist must find the niche in the political atmosphere of his country. These were a few examples of what Iranian journalists face. However, they never let such obstacles hinder them professionally and socially.
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.