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.
In an interview with two journalists;
How to keep journalists informed during suppression29 April 2013
Reported by Saba Etemad
Translated by Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info –In the recent months we have witnessed arrest of many Iranian journalists across the country. Many weeklies and newspapers were closed down. While the circle of pressure become tighter by days, how can journalists keep themselves informed and make sure accurate information is circulated in the mainstream of media.
How can the journalists find a channel to spread the censored news? Are there any relations between the rate of arrest and the journalists’ unawareness on working under suppression?
Noushabeh Amiri and Abdolreza Tajik are Iranian journalists based in France who have some tips for journalists from their study of the history of Iranian journalism.
Iranian Press since Reform to Now
As Mohammad Khatami started his first tenure of presidency in 1997, his deputy minister of culture late Ahmad Bourghani initiated his reform plan on Iranian press. His plan did not reach to the peak of success. However, it managed to spread some news that was labeled “red” before.
Iranian journalist Abdolreza Tajik is based in France. He is a winner of the Reporters without Borders’s 2010 press freedom award. He states: “publishing news about political and religious prisonershas become possible after 1997. Of course such a step was taken cautiously that the authorities on top of the pyramid would not be provoked. Journalists had chances of writing analysis on Iran’s nuclear program and subjects of this sort.”
He believes the journalist still had problems criticizing any organization or ideology that was under the Supreme Leader’s direct observance. The journalist managed to enter this red circle as well by using equal language.
Tajik says that during particular events like elections the political atmosphere of the country and the media. Opinions other than the pro-government opinions were given a chance to be published. Even those used to write under pennames for long time, started writing under their real names.
However, as President Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, Iran witness dramatic changes in media, culture, film and book fields. Censorship was applied visibly; and government publicity was seen as a parallel element to culture. If a media did not post any article publicizing for the government, it was found anti-cultural.
Tajik says: “at the time of President Ahmadinejad, the journalists cannot write any opinion opposing the government, namely critics on nuclear program and political prisoners. At some point the journalists could not mention inflation and price rise in the country.”
Barring media from political prisoners news
The restrictions and also the security ambiance dominated in the country after the controversial presidential election in 2009, the media were banned from publishing any news related to the election and also were barred form mentioning Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, MirHossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard’s names.
Noushabeh Amiri says: “previously, we never had a problem in publishing official press releases and we wouldn’t have been arrested or interrogated for doing so. The circumstances vary according to the ruling party’s tolerance.”
Tajik shows a picture of the press during the controversial presidential election in 2009 and says: “the ruling stream in Iran tried to control the content of the media by sending agents and representatives to the printing houses. Such supervision led to censorship of some news or titles. If the representatives didn’t find a title appropriate wouldn’t let it be published. There several example of newspapers that printed a page blank. As the public protests increased, the suppression became severer. Newspaper couldn’t cover political arrests and got to a point where journalists were not allowed to cover former president Mohammad Khatami’s comments. Today journalists cannot even cover news about inflation and prices rises and also social issues.
Unclear Redlines; Show Evidence
Noushabeh Amiri believes despite much suppression, there is still a way to inform people: “news is the first victim of suppression. It is often said that journalists should not cross the redlines when cover a story. However, the redlines are not clear and change from a day to another. Journalists are encouraged to keep documented evidence; proving their legitimate broadcast of news.”
Tajik says: “to understand the concept of news coverage in suppression environments, we need to review the totalitarian governments’ guidelines and stylebook. The guidelines tell you which topic could be covered or not.”
He states that journalists learn the governments’ redline; newspapers learn how to cover broad range of topics yet not provoke the government. Suppressive governments try not to leave a trace of violation in international communities because they must respond how and why such violations happened.
The suppressive governments pretend to support various press and media. That is the reason why they issue permits for new media as they suppress current media. That, actually, can be a window for journalists to broadcast more news.
Tajik recalls an event in the year 1997 at the time of former president Khatami; then Iranian media was experiencing slight growth. Such open media provoked judiciary and legislative branch of the system to initiate a rivalry with the executive branch to stop the media. The arrest of journalists did not block the stream of information. That is how the head of the power pyramid changed its redlines.
Controlled Media Better than No Media
Tajik believes journalists and newspaper can promote people’s awareness professionally. As the cultural understanding of the society grows, their demands for independent and free media, both quality and quantity wise, will grow.
At a meeting held on the sideline of UN Human Right Council summit, Tajik was asked: “don’t you find the existence of controlled media better than their nonexistence?
His response was: “that true that Iranian journalists are under pressure. Yet, the flow of information is an irreversible flow. Media did its best to never stop the flow.
How to Inform People under Suppression?
This is a 50-year-old experience for Iranian Society. Noushabeh Amiri notes Facebook, blogging, archiving, memoir and book writing are all means to inform people.
However, Tajik says suppression is accompanied with special security conditions. Newspapers don’t have the luxury of publishing news except for government news. He points out: “firstly, such governments send guidelines or stylebooks, either written or unwritten, to dictate how some subjects should be covered and reflected.”
For instance news about some political figures is manipulated. Only criticisms against them are allowed to be published. On the other hand their defence or their ioinion is banned from being published. According to Tajik, journalists should take advantage of such conflicts within the government and enjoy the duopoly between the ruling parties and their rivals.
Conservative political activist Habibollah Asgaroladi and his comment about Mehdi Karroubi and MirHossein Mousavi, two candidates of the controversial 2009 presidential election who are under house arrest since then, is an example of my point. An independent journalist could maneuver around Asgaroladi’s comment and criticism and publish news and reports about Karroubi and Mousavi.
Life Doesn’t Go on without Danger
Some may argue the high number of arrests is a sign that journalists are not doing their job well during the suppression. However, Noushabeh Amiri says: “apart from Facebook and emails, we cannot take journalists responsible for anything else in terms of not taking precautionary measures. Unfortunately, the government invests much in monitoring journaliss moves. We got to a point that even a simple friendship can be counted as illegal.”
She states: “recent arrests showed the government may arrest people for no apparent reason. So isolation is no solution.” However, Tajik looks at the matter from a different aspect: “emotions are a journalist’s weak point. It is true that emotion hit the target audience easier than any other tool. Yet, covering news in this style provokes the government. If the journalists avoind emotional coverage and be careful with their choice of words, the government will not provoked and they can do their job informing the society.
Journalist Arrest and ControllingPublic Opinion
Tajik pinpoints official statements released by Intelligence Ministry, “the interrogating body of the government that puts journalists under a magnifier to monitor them closely”, saying: “Intelligence Ministry always claims that the arrests happen because the journalists, against warnings, keep their ties with other journalists based abroad. However, I believe the government is trying to hinder any union or cooperation between Iranian journalists based in the country and based abroad.”
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.