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.
An interview with the Iranian journalist OmidMemarian
Journalists must distance themselves from politicians and power16 March 2012
By Niki Azad
Translated by: Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info--Can a journalist be both a political activist and a social activist? Does not political and social involvement affect the journalist’s impartiality? How can the journalist deal with his social and professional responsibility? How are journalists under dictatorship categorised? What is the true story behind the professional journalism? Khabarnegaran.info has interviewed Omid Memarian, MA graduate of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to find the answer to some of these questions.
We have always heard criticism about journalists being political activists or having tendency to a political party. Do you find a border between journalism and political activism? Can someone be both a journalist and a political activist?
I believe these two are two different career and profession. Therefore one cannot adopt both careers at the same time. We may witness such an overlap in Iran because none of these two careers are full time jobs. In Iran, for economic or other reasons — that we all are familiar with them— journalism is the second-shift job for people. That can be generalised to politicians as well because we do not enjoy a coherent political organisation to support activists. Such affiliation to a political party can distort their independence in reporting and analysing. It is against journalistic ethics to fight for empowerment of a political group. Violation of journalistic ethics is the main concern in this path, specially if it is reporting at political desks.
How do you draw the framework of reporting? When you are reporting the state of poverty in a society, it means you are taking side and are showing reaction to the current situation. Can a reporter adopt the stance of impartiality when facing such phenomenons? And also cases about justice?
The subject that I raised is not hinting that journalists and reporters must be indifferent to humanitarian concerns. Journalists’ career must be based on humanitarian values. Taking sides, quoting officials and common people, providing information, and all sorts of informative strategies in journalism are rooted in humanitarian values. Working within media comes second. Values like justice, human rights and democracy are good examples. These elements come before political tendencies.
Political parties in Iran are able to communicate with their target audience by common means. Some political movements are practically out of picture and the media does not even mention them. Some newspapers and magazines, on the other hand, are tribunes and stands of some particular parties. How do you evaluate this side of the story?
These are facts that we are facing with them. However, such facts have distorted people’s trust to newspapers.
Why is it so?
Because political movements always face ups and downs, corruption, wrong policy making, and many other upheavals. If there is no such a thing as an independent media and an independent party, they cannot adopt an impartial stance about a matter. How can people of such a society trust media? I believe despite numerous obstacle to remain impartial, media must define the basics of journalism and distinguish them from their affiliation to a particular political party. Journalists must put their personal interest aside.
Many journalists justify such a shortcoming by bringing the ruling dictatorship in the country to the picture. Since we do not enjoy free parties in Iran, we cannot differentiate politics from journalism easily.
We must distinguish them in academic and professional definitions and discussion. Raman Selden is the author of A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory says if you repeat a discourse language wise you can create a mind process that can turn into a practical process. If we mention the independence of media from politics repetitively, we earn such independency in years. And consequently we can earn people’s trust.
These measures can be effective gradually and can decrease the government’s threats to media. If we take these measures and give this policy some time, we can empower our media and highlight its values. I do not approve people who are members are a political party and work as journalists at the same time that they run a political campaign. There is a lot that we can discuss journalism in Iran theoretical wise.
Don’t you find special social atmosphere in Iran an obstacle for journalists to play their impartial role?
Iran is not really different from other countries. Why should we separate Iran from the rest of the world? If we take a look at the American press at the time of ratification of the US constitution law until a decade after that, we see a similar condition to what we have in Iran. However, the American society, government, media, press and political parties learned the lesson and differentiated and consequently separated the media from political parties. Fox News – one of the most viewed private cable networks in the US – is an example of this kind. It has rightist and conservative tendencies but it is not an organization affiliated to republicans. CNN and MSNBS are other good examples. They are far against liberal ideologies – either in economics or cultural and social policies – still they are not democrat party’s news agencies. That is the reason why the harshest criticisms against the democrats are coming from such news networks. But we must bear in mind that the American political parties have other means to broadcast their views.
Yes. I am not trying to compare Iran with the US. My point, basically, is that we must pave the way. However, we may reach a different destination. But we should not stop the journey.
Here I raise a question about imprisoned journalists. They are in prisons for covering some sensitive issues. Under what category do you classify them?
The Iranian society does not enjoy an order or a fair hierarchy in its political and civil society. Bureaucratic structures in the country lets the government overstep the borders and find themselves higher than laws. At some points reporter may interfere to show a vivid picture of the problem or a clear picture of the violation of the law only for people’s interests.
Such a situation is turning into a tradition in the Iranian journalism. I separate the journalists who see such news coverage as their responsibility not as a means for gaining power, from politicians that abuse their position only to guaranty their political power. I find the first a common sense under influence of a politically powerful spotlight. I personally respect such mind-set as a prominent value in the journalistic society in our country.
However, the second case is only abuse of the journalistic arena and its capacities. The first case scenario also includes those journalists who are imprisoned only for feeling responsible and reporting the facts that people had to know. Such sense of responsibility and taking action against unjust ruling atmosphere and violation of citizens’ freedom is the main power that keeps the society moving. The second case scenario – even if it involves a responsible politician – will end in the fall of media and has no result except for corruption.
According to new journalism regulations — you mentioned some of them – journalists must remain independent of the organization or institute that they are reporting its news. How can a journalist keep its relations and ties with an organization, at the same never be influenced by their policies and also keep the ties with the rivals of that organization realistic and free of conflicts?
This is not a new concept in journalism. Independent media in a society are playing the roles of eyes and ears of the society. Such eyes and ears must not give up their grace and people’s trust for the interest of a few political parties.
A free and democratic society enjoys various political bodies like parliaments and political parties, private sectors and civil communities. Media and press is the 4th column of democracy. Media should not be a subcategory of another section and must keep its independence.
Imagine I am a journalist who covers government news. After a long time I build good ties with politicians and high ranked officials. However, it should not be an excuse for me to twist facts, ignore some negative news and distort the truth in favour of the government.
As I stressed before, commitment is the basically fundamental value in journalism. Politicians come and go. Media is the only tribune that can guaranty the democracy is the free media.
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.