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.
The 18th International Exhibition of the Press and News Agencies
Press Exhibit or Media Platform to Launch Missiles22 November 2011
translated by Rose Arjmand:
khabarnegaran.info-The 18th edition of Tehran International Exhibition of the Press and News Agencies had been held in the Iranian capital Tehran under three main mottos of “economic jihad, promoting quality, and media refinement. The exhibit, which was labelled as an international venue hosting several media and news agencies from across the world, served as a good arena to observe the potentials and capacities of the national news agencies and press as well.
The Press Union of the Islamic World was also established on the sidelines of the international event. Iran hosted the first meeting of the union while it closed down its national press union. The Association of Iranian Journalists received its permit from Iran’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affair and started its work legally. Yet, following the unrest in the country after Iranian presidential election in 2009, the association was shut down on warrants from Iran’s Public Prosecutor and Tehran’s Prosecutor General.
Iranian journalists do not have any specific bureaucratic reference to report their problems in their career and profession. The Association of Iranian Journalists always received many criticisms during its active days. However, no one questions the reasons for its existence or the Iranian journalists’ need to such an association.
According to the 5th edition of Press Exhibit Bulletin “the Press Union of the Islamic World did not receive its permit from the Iranian Ministry of Labour and Social Affair, instead it received its permit from Interior Ministry’s Article 10 Commission of the Parties Law”. A speculation is raised that the Press Union of the Islamic World is founded to counter the Association of Iranian Journalists. Secretary of this union told the Press Exhibit Bulletin that the Press Union of the Islamic World aimed to promote “religious and revolutionary media”. It is obvious that the process this union went through to receive its permit and its main aims do not let it find a position in the Iranian media society; unless, sooner or later, there is nothing left of the Iranian media society except for its religious and revolutionary media.
A part of the press exhibit was allotted to international media. This part was supposed to give eligibility to the label of “international” that the exhibit was carrying. Name and flags of more than 30 countries were seen. Their booths were smaller than domestic press booths and they were not comparable to Iranian press in terms of the number of presented publications. Each country presented only a handful of publications and they did not even much fame in their own countries let alone at international scale. They could be compared to Iranian local publications and there were not much point for Iranian press and media to initiate much interaction with such publications. Some countries did not even bother to bring their latest works. A couple of clerks from each publication, who seemed to be too tired and bored to care about journalism, brought some old edition of their publication. Why did they attend such an exhibit if they did not have much to share in term of journalistic experience?
The final section of a corridor in the exhibit was allocated to local publications in Iran. Each province in the country had a booth and provincial department of culture and Islamic guidance ran them. The local publications were keen to participate in the exhibit and the rivalry was quite heated among a few of them. That spirit was really missing in international section of the exhibit. Still some provinces were way below the standard level of an acceptable publication. One could see that such booths were held only to cover some bureaucratic burden and journalism had no share in those booths.
Touring around the press exhibit made me think about price tag too. Prestigious and popular newspapers like the Etemad (Trust) and the Shargh (East) newspapers which both are affiliated to the reformist parties of Iran are selling 0.6 dollars and two days a week they sell their daily up to 1 dollar. The Iran Newspaper, which is the official newspaper of the government of Iran, is sold at the price of 0.2 dollars. Readers may wonder how can such newspapers play a fair game on newsstands. The Etemad and Shargh newspapers are published in 16 pages while Iran, Jaam-e Jam (published by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting –IRIB) and Hamshahri (published by the Municipality of Tehran, are published is at least 30 pages. Which newspaper can attract a non-regular reader? Will the free daily win the game or the affiliated newspapers? How long should readers buy the daily only to support the newspaper and how long should publishers ask for their readers’ support or how long will people pay a dollar a day to support a 16-page newspaper?
The exhibit has a separate section for news agencies. It was easy to spot the crowd in front of booths of political news agencies and news websites. Compared to magazines and newspapers, news websites and news agencies were the winners in attracting people. It worth to note that all of the news website, except for one of them, were completely affiliated to conservative political parties. They distributed printed news bulletin among the visitors. The bulletins did not enjoy much of professional page layout and news design, instead the extract from the context were a libel on rival news agencies. The exhibit was a perfect model of dominance of politics over aesthetic journalism. The exhibit was a trench to hide in media disguise and shoot news and analytical bullets to aesthetic journalism. All of the participants came prepared to treat media and press like a platform to launch missiles to the trench of the enemy. The dominance of revolutionary ideology was quite obvious in the section for news websites and news agencies and presenters of each booth were not passionate journalists but guerrilla fighters who resorted to shooting as the only solution to achieve their cause. Booth decoration and design were the only aesthetic elements this exhibit. A fellow so called journalist who was presenting the booth of a conservative news agency said that decoration of some those booths cost over 50,000 dollars. I, personally, believe purposeful writing can lead in production of a good text; and a good text, apart from its inclinations and aims, can fit some certain criteria. Writing is the main target and a journalist’s target is to produce a high quality newspaper.
Journalism is not a tool; it is a target and achieving such a target leads cultural, scientific and social promotion of a society. However, in today’s world of media, writing is a tool to win over the rival political party. One of the news websites was distributing an introductory brochure reading: “media today’s world has achieved the role of gun machines in yesterday world.” If such a notion is going to become the dominant mindset in Iran and in the world, we better forget about our demand of having media.
In the large booth of Iran newspaper – affiliated to a conservative party in Iran, a middle aged man, who is wearing religious turban, grabbed a microphone and started lecturing in favour of the government in the country which is in hands conservatives. If anyone criticised him over supporting the government, they would have been labelled as followers of “sedition” movement. The neighbouring booth, which was the booth of Fars news agency – another news agency affiliated to the conservative parties, was holding a round table and loudspeakers were set to reproduce louder audio of the experts talking. The clergyman lecturing in the booth of the Iran newspaper left the booth and three massive bodyguards surrounded and escorted him outside the venue. Men of politics received numerous invitations and interview requests from presenters of other news agencies and news websites. Such interviews are normally set to be published online in a matter of few minutes.
I met a poetic journalist too. The poet realised people tend to read books less and lesser than yesterday, so he used media tricks to publish his works more easily.
It was almost 8 o’clock in the evening and I still was wandering in the exhibit wondering if I could get to know this strange environment or not. The booth of Jaam-e Jam newspaper is crowded. There must be something going on! The booth presenters are distributing promotional items like bags. The exhibit is over, but the show still is not over and political games are still going on. Politics has always affected our journalism.
Talking about politics, I do not really mean the political war among conservative parties, I mean politics. Will we see a day that journalism is based on aesthetic elements? Will we be able to write about our problems free of any political tendency? Will we be able to work in journalism venue and do not prepare ourselves for a fight? Will we see a day that journalism is all about writing and reflecting the truth rather than initiating a war? Will we see a day that we worry about “how to write” rather than “what to write”?
One of conservative news agencies was distributing bulletins reading: “the exhibit loses its popularity every year. I remember years ago when the exhibit was crowded and full of positive energy. I am not having flashbacks to 10 years ago. Even four or five years ago, things were much better than today. The organisations in charge of the exhibit are distancing themselves from journalism and do not have much interest in the concept of journalism any more. To be fair, we must mention the visitors who do not welcome the exhibit as warm as they use to do in previous years. The little crowd that comes to the exhibit is honest about their will. They are looking for promotional items.”
Those who pretend to be a part of the journalistic environment in Iran and those who are controlling the media ambiance in the country are clearly talking about shutting the rivals’ tribune. They do not even try to hide their intention or cover their vicious plans. And of course we must forget all about an independent newspaper. Yesterday when reformists were confronting conservative or today when conservatives are confronting fellow conservatives, media was the main victim in between.
I did not enjoy my tour around the media and press exhibit.
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.