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.
Journalists at Electoral Campaigns
Electoral Campaigns, Interesting, Dicey, Unfair28 May 2013
Reported by Niki Azad
Translated by Mehrdad Safa
Khabarnegaran.info – Are journalists and official media allowed to work for presidential election campaigns? Is it an internationally accepted trend before elections or is it just an Iranian trend? Khabarnegaran.info asked a number of journalists about their opinion on this subject.
Simultaneous Campaign and Media News?
In less than a month to the election, presidential candidates have shaped their think tanks and their election campaigns. Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf had formed his think tank long time ago and even invited reformist journalists to his campaign. Mohammad-Reza Aref is another candidate that hired journalists to his campaign.
Are journalists, working for a presidential campaign and media at the same time, unbiased and fair enough to cover election news?
Nikahang Kowsar, journalist and cartoonist, says: “any individual, including journalists, is allowed to work for presidential campaign of any candidate of their choice, as long as they do not work for media. In other words, as long as journalists are working for election campaigns, they should distance themselves from the media.”
Kowsar reminds us that he had worked for an electoral campaign before: “in the year 1998 I made the same mistake and participated in Gholamreza Forouzesh’s campaign for city council elections. I sketched a couple of cartoons for them and advised them briefly on their slogans. I deleted their pro-Leader slogans and replaced them with popular slogans. I did that voluntarily and was not paid for it. I did not spend a penny in their campaign either. In the 2001 election, I collaborated in publishing a newsletter for [former president] Khatami’s campaign. In 2002 I was a candidate for the city council election. I have always seen myself as a social player and never had a financial motive behind my activities.”
Another journalist, who lives in Tehran and spoke to us under condition of anonymity, told Khabarnegaran.info: “I worked in election campaigns since 1997. I used to work for Hamshahri Newspaper back then and was also working at Khatami’s campaign. I was not the only journalist working in a presidential campaign. I can say most the pages of the newspaper were full of election commentaries and opinions. We never missed any news about the latest updates on presidential campaigns specially Khatami’s. Even our arts and economics articles were related to Khatami. Today I look back and I don’t approve that approach. Although it was not a journalistic move, it continued until the 2009 presidential election.”
Arash Hassan Nia, Radio Farda reporter, has a different opinion about journalists who work at electoral campaigns and says: “political affiliation for journalists is totally accepted as we see journalists writing for particular newspapers with certain political tendencies. It is very normal that journalists expand their political tendencies up to a political campaign. But it does allow a journalist to extend an absolute support and approval to a candidate. Such an act question unbiased and independent journalism.”
Hassan Nia believes demand and supply should never be replaced with statement and agreement; meaning a journalist should not try to convince his or her target audience to vote to the person he or she chose to vote for.
Campaigns and Manipulation of Public Opinion
Kowsar says simultaneous campaign and media journalism can lead to manipulation of public opinion.
Kowsar says: “my lecturers at a Canadian university in 2007 explained why journalists should not contribute to both media and political campaigns at the same time. It made me feel guilty about what I used to do.”
The journalists, who lives in Iran, says western journalists that came to Iran for the previous elections were surprised to see Iranian journalists working at both media and political campaigns at the same time. Back then I thought could explain it to them by describing the closely tied political and cultural layers of our lives. Today, I find such excused baseless. As far as I know journalists’ independence is highly valued in the west. Even the literature of the campaigns news is different from the literature of media news.”
He notes that financial excuses never have been a drive for him to write for campaigns but “there are many journalists who chose to write for political campaigns without even having parallel political views. Basically low income is the main enemy of the Iranian journalism which brings all the contradictions together.”
Hassan Nia doubts the definition of impartial news writing as he says: “I find impartial and unbiased journalism very dicey and unexplainable. I find fairness more practical than impartiality. That is why I say journalists should distance themselves from political campaigns, because such contribution makes fair journalism a challenge.”
Difference Experience in Political Campaigns
Kowsar says: “I owe my target audience an apology for working for campaigns during my career as a journalist. I doubt if I participate in any campaigns again. Even if I do, I will separate that from my career.” “I believe it is a betrayal to a readership if a candidate wins an election and the readership of his or her media never realises that they were fed slogans as well as news.”
Hassan Nia, however, finds his experience in political campaigns valuable saying: “I experienced working in a presidential campaign and attended various meetings which taught me a lot about politics. Yet, I do not want to have a direct present in a political campaign again.” The journalist who lives in Iran, yet, has a different opinion: “I want to attend the political campaigns again. But this time I will resign from my job in the media that I work for and then will start writing for the campaign.”
Politics and Journalists’ Arrests
The fact that any political activity makes journalists more vulnerable is undeniable.
Arash Hassan Nia says: “In Iran and countries like Iran that are in the pre-democracy era, participating in a campaign or not does not make a difference in the destiny of journalists. Trying to raise people’s awareness is enough to be threatened to be imprisoned.” “I believe post-2009-election arrests were not related to the journalists’ contribution to any political campaigns. The arrest of independent journalists writing at environment desk is a good example for my claim.”
Kowsar emphasises on the arrests and says: “arrests of journalists after the 2009 election was very unfortunate. I wish my good friends would never involve in politics. Many people believe that journalists must support a political movement and weakening the other side of the story. To me, considering the truth is journalists’ main job.”
Journalists Job at Time of Elections
Saying such sides of the story, does it mean that journalists must not write about elections?
The journalist that lives in Iran says: “what we already told may sound very idealistic in the current situation in Iran. I still believe that there are some chances to comply with the standard journalism and write impartially.”
Arash Hassan Nia finds the fair journalism the best option yet is aware of the restrictions in Iran: “journalists must have a real understanding of the elections and candidates. This can create a better understanding of the elections for the people which can lead to election of a better candidate.”
Niahang Kowsar concludes a journalist’s job during elections challenging, saying: “journalists must challenge candidates. They must ask various questions about almost everything from the candidates and evaluate their responses. Do they answer the questions or evade certain question? Do they have solutions for problems or they choose propaganda over solutions?”
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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.