2 بهمن 1392

Arbitrary use of titles by Iranian media

22 January 2014

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info- Sara Mohseni:Dr., Eng., Mr., Ms., Hujjat al-Islam val Moslemin, Ayatollah, His Excellency Grand Ayatollah, Supreme Leader, King of Kings, Prince and other titles and designations are widely seen in the news.

But to what extent is the use of such titles acceptable by journalism standards? Are they commonly used by the world media? Do Iranian media have a style-book or handbook of journalism?

A case study of news texts before and after the 1979 Revolution shows there have been no specific rules concerning the use of titles and designations.

While some media outlets shun writing courtesy titles such as Mr., Ms., Dr. and Eng., it is customary for them to use certain titles.

Before the revolution, His Majesty was widely seen in media as an honorific way to refer to the Shah. It was replaced with Supreme Leader after the Iranian revolution to refer to the highest-ranking statesman.

The religious title Ayatollah, a politically-active Shiite religious leader, has been inseparable from the names of high-ranking Muslim cleric even in foreign media.

Few Iranian media are governed by their own specific style-books. The now-defunct Jame’e and Tus newspapers used to adhere to their own tailored style-books, which prohibited journalists from using certain titles and designations.

Reformist dailies spearhead omitting titles

“It’s not easy to answer, because different outlets had different approaches,” Morteza Kazemian, a former journalist of now-defunct reformist Jame’e and Tus newspapers says when asked how much the editorial staff paid attention to the use of titles and designations. In our outlets, Kazemian says, all articles were read and edited by desk editors and then by veteran journalists Masoud Shahamipour and Hossein Ghandi.

“These were independent of the Stylebook we were given to impose a uniform composition on the newspaper content,” Kazemian, who now resides in France, says.

“If I’m not mistaken, the first wave of reformist newspapers spearheaded banning the use of certain titles and designations such as Dr., Eng., and Hujjat al-Islam,” he adds.

“It was a different story for the Islamic Republic’s leader and Marja’s [religious references to be imitated by the populace]. The prefix “Ayatollah” was used due to its great sensitivity and as stated by Press Law, fearing a ban on the newspaper by the Press Court headed by Judge Mortazavi,” he explains.

Supreme Leader: Exception in Iranian news style

Iranian journalists are trained to use the prefix Ayatollah for Iran’s leader. They are also told that the Iranian leader takes a plural verb, out of respect.

This has been explicitly stated in some journalism handbooks. Pupils Association News Agency’s Handbook of Journalism states that “[only] plural verbs are used for the Supreme Leader, e.g., the Supreme Leader commandeth [instead of the Supreme Leader said].”

The Khordad daily, a banned reformist daily, used the title “the Leadership Authority” for the first time to represent the Islamic Republic’s Leader, instead of titles such as “the Supreme Leader of the Revolution” or “the Leader of Revolution.”

“It was not possible without the audacity and resolution of the daily’s managing director Abdollah Nouri,” Kazemian says.

Equality of all citizens

Despite the fact that most books on journalism and reporting instruct journalists to not use titles and designations, they are used arbitrarily by the Iranian media. But why is important to leave out titles and designations in the news?

Kazemian believes that the confrontation with titles and designations during Khatami’s tenure as President ensured uniformity across the reformist newspapers, giving a significant cultural shake to the society: “That a title or degree isn’t that important. What people say is deemed authentic if their actions say so – if what they say is logically, scientifically or morally right.”

Iranian citizen, therefore, Kazemian argues, were given greater equality, and their view on titles and academic degrees changed. “Such rules are not only helpful for media outlets, but necessary. It clears up the confusion among readers,” he stresses.

Use of titles by global media

Almost every distinguished global media outlet has a style-book specifically designed for itself. AP has strict rules on writing news stories, mentioning how abbreviations, titles and designations should be used.

“We have a style-book that we must abide by when writing stories,” Saeed Kamali Dehghan, an Iranian journalist working for the London-based Guardian says.

“We never use titles and designations in the Guardian. For example, we write Hasan Rouhani, not Dr. Hasan Rouhani or Mr. Hasan Rouhani,” Dehghan explains.

Case study underlines arbitrary use of titles

A case study of news texts confirms the arbitrary use of titles and designations by the Iranian media both before and after the revolution. A clipping of Ettelaat daily on June 9, 1965, shows that the disorderly use of titles was more prevalent in the past.

But if we scrutinize the use of titles in today’s reformist and conservative media outlets, we will notice that reformist newspapers are more disciplined in adhering to a certain writing style.

Shahrvand daily, affiliated with Red Crescent Organization, includes the prefix “Dr.” for Iranain President Hasan Rouhani in one headline, while leaving out the title in another headline in the same day.

The titles such as “Brigadier General” or “Hujjat al-Islam”[one level lower than Ayatollah and the title has been given to numerous clerics] are also used by Shahrvand.

But in the conservative daily Kayhan, the disorderly use of differing writing styles is clearly evident.

Of course, a number of prevailing trends were noticed in writing titles. In Kayhan daily, Hasan Rouhani follows the prefix “Hujjat al-Islam,” an honorific title for Shiite clerics below Ayatollah.

Kayhan uses pompous, flattering titles for the Islamic Republic’s Leader.

News websites use titles for their owners

Regarding the news websites, their affiliation with a particular individual affects their news writing style.

Farda News, affiliated with Tehran Municipality, refers to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf by the title of “Dr.”

The Majlis News Website affiliated with Parliament also uses the prefix “Dr.” for Ali Larijani, the Parliament’s speaker, while other members of parliament are only represented with their first and surname.

Kalemeh and Jaras, affiliated with the Green Movement, almost always use the prefix “Engineer” for Mir Hossein Mousavi and the prefix “Dr.” for Zahra Ranavard.

It seems that a lack of journalism style guide has led to disorderly writing styles based on personal whims.

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