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.
Hossein Shahidi’s legacy for Iranian, foreign journalists20 May 2014
Translated by:Mehrdad Safa
Khabarnegaran.info-Sara Mohseni: “In the winter of 1979, I – like many other Iranian students studying abroad — returned to Iran to play my part in the long-awaited revolution. My bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering could barely help me find a job, because at the time, a fresh engineer graduate would be uncalled-for during the post-revolution industrial recession. But thanks to my good command of English, I managed to earn a living by working as an interpreter for foreign reporters and a translator for Kayhan International daily. A few years later, I accompanied my mother in her travel to the UK for medical treatment. There I found an opportunity to join BBC Persian as an English-to-Persian translator. After a while, I started to notice that I could have written the translated stuff myself, especially those relating to Iran. I developed my ability to write features and analyses in English, which then were ready to be translated into other languages, including Persian.”
This was a short account of how Hossein Shahidi, a professor of journalism, took the first step on the road to the world of media, as given by himself in his book “Journalism in Iran: From Mission to Profession.”
Shahidi died of diseases on Thursday, April 1, 2014 in London, leaving many mementos for his students, associates, family and friends. He also left behind an invaluable book that can be used as an authoritative source by journalists and media studies scholars for years.
April 20 would be his sixty-first birthday, but his long-time suffering from a cardiac disease ended his life ten days earlier.
Born in 1953, Shahidi was admitted to study engineering in Ariamehr University (now called Sharif Industrial University) and later awarded a scholarship from the American University of Beirut – where, years later, it became a place for him to teach Communications to students coming from different countries – to study electrical engineering.
In the preface to his seminal book, he recounts the story of his immigration to London where he started working for BBC Persian. “After a few years, I went to the Central News Section at BBC and was given adequate training by the most distinguished reporters from around the world. After that, I was appointed as the managing for Reporting Training and Programming at the BBC World Service.”
Fani: “He had a passion to learn and teach”
In a recent blog post, Enayat Fani, a BBC Persian Television host, wrote about his fellow journalist Shahidi: “As a senior news producer from BBC English, he was transferred to the Persian Language for a six-month mission in May 1992. At that time, I had been working under a temporary contract for about eight months. BBC Persian had been undergoing a transitional phase since two years earlier, metamorphosing from a “translation house” to professional journalism. News production had started to grow within the organization, more interviews were held, and naturally, a higher responsibility was placed on the shoulders of editors and managers of the Persian Desk.”
Shahidi started to work as a senior producer with BBC Persian at that time. His personal and professional traits is described by Fani as “basically a passionate person, to a great extent sentimental, which recurrently manifested in his professional work.”
“He always had a passion and haste to learn and teach, bursts of emotion always accompanied his interest in knowledge.”
At the same time, Shahidi was able to earn his Master’s degree in Economics from the University of London. In 2005, he earned his doctoral degree in Journalism from St. Anthony College, Oxford University.
His book “Journalism in Iran: From Mission to Profession” was his doctoral thesis under supervision of Homa Katouzian.
In the preface to his book, written by himself, which was later translated into Persian, he writes: “The motive of this research was my aspiration to practice journalism in Iran, of course without the omnipresent fear that have been always gripping Iranian journalists. This could only come true if journalism was regarded as an independent profession in our country; that a journalist could make a living – just like any other line of work such as a chef, carpenter, taxi driver, pilot, brain surgeon – unaffected by its personal opinion in his professional work, or as it is perceived by the others.”
Pourostad: “I was stunned by his book”
Vahid Pourostad, a journalist with a long time experience in Iran who now lives in Prague, is a person acknowledged in the preface to the book. In an interview with Khabarnegaran.info, Pourostad tells the story of how he got to know Shahidi: “It was through my books on the [infamous] trials of journalists [during the late 1990s].”
“In the early 2000s, Shahidi was busy writing his doctoral dissertation on Iranian journalism in London. My books on the trials of Iranian journalists served as one of the sources of his dissertation. This passing acquaintance became deeper each time until his doctoral degree was published in English, when he started thinking about translating it into Persian. However, more work, changes and additions were deemed necessary before getting published. Although I told him it was unlikely to get a publishing license for this book – and it was so and he couldn’t get a permission – his efforts to publish a proper and informing book was admirable.”
The scrupulousness and meticulousness of Shahidi, in Pourstad’s opinion, may be seen best in the way of annotation and citation. “I have seen many books that hesitate to insert or poorly insert references and quotations, as if the less they cite, the more intellectual and literate they are! But not only Dr. Hossein Shahidi was very precise at citing references. However, he did another great job that really stunned me and was one of the great lessons I’ve learnt as an investigative journalist.”
“During all the years he was busy writing this book, he was interviewing me, other fellow journalists and professors on the phone, in person or via email. The interesting bit was that in every answer cited in the book, it was clarified when, where, from whom, and through which medium exactly the answer had been received.”
Baniyaghoob: Many female Afghan journalists were his students
Shahidi was also a professor of Communication Studies at the American University of Beirut. He wrote many in-depth articles on the Middle East’s affairs, including Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine in three languages – Persian, Arabic and English.
In an interview with Khabarnegaran.info, Zhila Baniyaghoob, a women rights activist and journalist said: “Dr. Hossein Shahidi worked for some time at the UNIFEM’s Kabul Office. He invited me once to help him run a training workshop for female Afghan journalists. I went to Kabul and witnessed how assiduously he was working to hold workshops and training courses for Afghan women.”
Many of the contemporary generation of female Afghan journalists have been trained by Shahidi. “Many female Afghan journalists are his students. He gave these women much help to found the Women Journalists Association. I closely could see how hard he was teach them to set up a democratic structure in their association.”
On the personal traits of Shahidi, Baniyaghoob says “He worked really hard. The success of his projects and activities, and not reputation and fame, was important to him. For the very same reason, we haven’t heard much of his activities and may always be unaware.”
Baniyaghoob: “I’ve never seen such a sensitive, precise individual”
Baniyaghoob points out to her working experience with Shahidi. “I can definitely say that I’ve never seen an individual throughout my whole journalistic career as sensitive and precise as Hossein Shahidi. From the time I made his acquaintance about 12 years ago, he was sending me emails, informing me of mistakes in my articles in such a friendly, appropriate way that made me happy. It made me happy that he had read my articles with such a keen interest and found mistakes that were unlikely to be noticed by other people.”
After the 2009 presidential election, Shahidi was concerned about the imprisoned journalists. In an article published by BBC Persian, he pointed out: “The repression of press has always been present in Iran except for short periods. It has even become worse after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Since then, dozens of journalists have been detained, while many others have left the country after a short period of incarceration to do a free journalism. Bahman Ahmadi Amouyi and his wife Zhila Baniyaghoob were the first victims of the strike on the press. Bahman and Zhila were under the house arrest a week after the election and later were transferred to the Evin Prison.”
Baniyaghoob has lots of memories on this issue. “He was so serious and organized that seemed to be an insensitive, rigid human being. But soon I realized that he wasn’t, especially during the days I was put in prison. My sister Taraneh, in her visits, told me that one of the people regularly asking for you and Bahman is Dr. Shahidi. For times, he translated the reports and letters of mine and Bahman into English without us asking for it. And every time he expressed his apology for not being able to help us.”
Shahidi: “Good newspaper and journalists mustn’t get easily surprised”
Shahidi had repeatedly put Iranian journalism under scrutiny in his articles and interview. His criticisms of Iranian journalism was consistent with the realities of the profession in Iran – something that he may have gained though his numerous trips to Iran.
In an interview with Loh Magazine in 1998, Shahidi discussed the style of journalism in Iran and the world: “Nowadays, the style of journalism is undergoing a change throughout the world under the pressure of the competition among the newspapers, and more importantly, the competition between the newspapers and radio and television. The necessity to write clearly and shortly in radio and television has gradually changed the habit of audience. People want newspapers to avoid evading and point to the gist of story as soon as possible. The bigger fault of Iranian journalism is the weakness of the news preparation of newspapers. As a result, there are lots of articles that do not seem to come from an authentic source or after adequate research. The very same semi-authentic or unauthentic news may come with controversial headlines.”
“There is an interpretation that a good newspaper is one that do not surprise its reader. Likewise, a good journalist is one who only becomes surprised by earthquakes, volcanos, plane crashes or a coup in a far-off country; but he must be able to predict – at least on the whole – the happenings of his own country.”
This professor of journalism has inspired and mentored many students from around the world. Many journalists from Iran, Afghanistan, Britain, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, India, Algeria and elsewhere have attended his classes.
His students, many of whom are now professional journalists in their home countries, recount their memories of Prof. Hossein Shahidi. They are opening up Facebook pages in his memory, sharing their photos with him and expressing their regret for his absence.
Shahidi has been spent much working in Jordan for teaching journalism training courses to Arab journalist in the years between 2009 and 2012.
Hossein Shahidi was the son of Jafar Shahidi, professor of Persian Language, former head of Dehkhoda Institute, and translator of Nahjulbalaqa.
Although an unfulfilled dream of Shaidi was to practice journalism in Iran, he was able to gain a far-reaching understanding of the practice of journalism in Iran, leaving a valuable legacy for different generations of Iranian jouranlists.
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.