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.
Journalism, Passion of Agony in Garden
Mohammad Bolouri, Father of Event Journalism in Iran18 November 2011
Translated by Rose Arjmand
khabarnegaran.info:-Literature was his favourite course at school. He is quoted as saying: “I counted the days down until it was the day we had literature at school again.” It was the teacher of the same course that discovered his talent for journalism and later he was selected as the best journalist at event desk in Iran. Mohammad Bolouri, 75, never forgets his passion and his love for his profession, journalism. He states: “you have to be passionately in love with journalism. Sometimes I call it agony in the garden but if you are a lover, you must be patient.”
Passion and journalism are rhyme of this veteran Iranian journalist. Bolouri was born in 1936 in Iran’s northern province of Mazandaran, in the small city of Ghaemshahr. Since his childhood he was in love with rain and fog that lead him to more understanding of his inner world.
He started writing at the age of 18. Writing stories and journalism moved him to begin his career in a local newspaper.
Mohammad moved to the Iranian capital, Tehran, to finish his high school. He graduated from Iran’s prestigious high school of Dar-ol Fonoun. He never forgets his literature teacher, late Mohammad Javad Tarbiati. He was the man who discovered Mohammad’s talent in writing. He quotes his teacher as saying: “your essay was really good. You will make a good journalist in the future.”
Later, Tarbiati introduced Mohammad to the renowned newspaper of Keyhan, where he spent six month as an intern and none of his works were published during his internship. He still approves that kind of education system. He believes people were evaluated in such a system fairly and were appreciated if they wrote well. Finally Keyhan hired him as fulltime journalist. He was accepted by the university ,while he was working as a journalist and received his bachelor degree in psychology. He was promoted to the position of an editor at the event desk after five years. In 1978 he received his other promotion and managed to join the editor-in-chief council of Keyhan newspaper. But he never let go of his passion for writing stories and parallel to journalism he wrote two plays. People know him as the father of footnote writing in Iran. But more than references, it was his comments and notes that attracted the readers to follow his works. His readers had followed his series of adventure stories in magazines for at least three years. Critics state that his footnotes were actually more interesting than the actual stories and of course as comprehensive as a book.
After 23 years of work at Keyhan, he asked for his redemption fee, called for his redundancy and left Keyhan newspaper. Then he accepted the position of an editor-in-chief in a couple of magazines. He worked for Iran newspaper, the official newspaper of the Iranian government, from the beginning days that the daily newspaper initiated its work. He worked for the Persian newspapers and magazines namely Etemad (Trust), Iranian, Payam-e Azadi (Message of Freedom). He thinks his stories in the field of journalism have the potential of becoming a book.
He is known as the father of event journalism in Iran. Writing about events and reporting accidents were among his main focus in journalism. However, he remembers the first time when he visited a forensic pathology centre to write for the Keyhan newspaper; he fainted.
He has many more memories and stories to tell about his work, stories from criminal acts and murders to small burglaries. "This profession changes people, it makes you something other than your own personality. You always want to exaggerate while telling the story. Once I was recruited to the scene of an accident and I was told that a dozen of people were killed. Arriving at the scene I found out there was a mistake in the number of dead people, instead of a dozen it was a couple. Disbelievingly I asked only two people?” he says with a smile on his face. “Such a remark by me was not very well welcomed by the mourning families. They came at me and I was badly beaten up!” He covered the case of Somayeh Shabazinia and Shahrokh Vosugh. They were both reportedly underage criminals who committed two murders at the age 16 in the year 1997. He reported all trials of the Iranian serial killer Gholamreza Khoshrou, titled Night Bat. Khoshrou raped and murdered nine women and young girls. His modus operandi was to pose as a cab-driver, choosing his victims from commuters and passengers. As Bolouri says these two cases and a few others were the peak of his professional life after 1979.
Bolouri initiated the “love seekers” column in the Iran newspaper for orphans or adopted children who were looking for their birthparents. This column was received pretty well by the readers. He also made the first move to start a column to tell the story of people who donate their body organs or their family members’ organs. The story of people who donated money to free prisoners who were in prison for their poor financial status and could not cover their fines were also at Bolouri’s and his colleagues attention.
First strike by Iranian journalists
He has many first hand experiences, and partaking in the first strike by the journalists held in the history of Iranian journalism. He was then a member of the editor-in-chief council of Keyhan newspaper. He remembers that day pretty well: “at 9:30 am on the morning of 11 October 1978 I was busy doing my daily routine at work. Two colonels entered the newsroom of Keyhan newspaper office and without introducing themselves or saying a word, they looked for the editor-in chief council’s office and told us that they wanted to read the news of the day before it was published.”
He went on to say: “in less than 10 minutes 160 members of the newsroom stopped their work and stood at their office, still in silence. This was the first strike in the history of Iranian journalism.”
The strike lasted for 6 days and later was titled the 6-day strike. Bolouri, who wears a smile of complete satisfaction upon his face, revisits the consequences of the strike: “we refused to write for six days. We later found out that the colonels went to the office of Ettela’at (Information) newspaper too and asked them the same request.”
Finally they received a phone call from Jafar Sharif Emami, then Prime Minister of Iran, saying he had a talk with Mohammad Reza Shah and convinced him to withdraw the colonels from the newspaper offices. Immediately after the colonels left the newsroom, everyone was back to work.
Although everything seemed to be back to normal, I was still worried if it was a scam to make us go back to work and break our strike. I told my colleagues: “it seems that censorship is gone. But until they censor our publication, strike must go one; unless the government guarantees freedom of expression.” 150-year-old censorship in Iran ended.
Our strike was contagious and was transmitted to other newspapers such as Ettela’at and Ayandegan (Futures). People who were involved in the revolution against Shah visited us in the office to show their solidarity with us. The staff went back to work. Bolouri explained to the Prime Minister about the reasons of their strike stating censorship as the main reason of their strike: “the strike will go on as long as it takes for the government to stop censorship in Iranian media.” The government accepted to hold a meeting with journalists. Mohammad Reza Ameli Tehrani, then Minister of Information and the Prime Minister showed up at the meeting. The fruitful meeting ended with them signing the statement by the journalist demanding their freedom in publishing news. After they achieved such a success in re-gaining their obvious rights, journalists resumed their work.
Bolouri recalls that the first edition of the newspaper, which was published after signing the agreement, became rare in the country. Printing machines were not advanced and fast enough to satisfy the demand of the society for the latest news published in a free media environment. Keyhan and Ettela’at were published in circulation of more than a million after “150-year-old censorship in Iran was ended.”
60 years of journalism
Bolouri started his career as a journalist around 60 years ago and still introduces himself as a journalist: “I was disappointed on numerous occasions. Even during the first few month of the 1979 revolution in Iran, I faced several problems, which made me quit my job for 5 months. But I love my career so passionately that I returned to it quickly.”
“Journalism is a profession and one must learn this profession by experiencing it and through the trial-and-error method. It is like swimming, one cannot learn it by themselves and they need to practice constantly under supervision of a skilful trainer. Education is like a light that shows the way and shows the right from the wrong, but practical experience is the main factor in learning journalism.” he stated. “That is what makes a journalist’s perspective different from an ordinary person’s perspective.”
He believes that a journalist knows how to look at an event from various angles, and knows how to study and observe the case quicker than others, instead of only see what’s happening.
He repeats his focal point and says: “practice and writing is the only method to teach journalism. I met many university graduates who actually learned the real work at newsrooms.”
Journalism keeps me alive
Passion and patience are two recommendations by this veteran journalist. He states: “if someone does not love this profession and is not passionate about journalism should avoid entering this sector. Although it is not a well-paid job, I feel alive in this career. After 60 years of working as a journalist I learned quite well that in this career you have to be passionate about journalism and you will learn something new every day.” Mohammad Bolouri is still active and energetic at the age of 75 and still his eyes were shining like a child when he talks about journalism. He loves journalism. He reads, writes and will always call himself a journalist.
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.