Iran: writing under a pseudonym to remain independent
The Iranian news website Khabarnegaran.info has just published an article by Nikki Azad entitled “Journalists who worship the government,” which criticizes the lack of neutrality of certain Iranian media since Hassan Rouhani became president. Nikki Azad is not the writer’s real name. Khabarnegaran’s journalists use pseudonyms in order to be able to speak their minds.
Created in 2009, Khabarnegaran is an independent news site run by journalists based in Iran. It covers the day-to-day life of Iranian journalists and the constant harassment and abuses to which they are exposed, and is now one of the leading sources of information about journalism in Iran. The site’s staff agreed to use pseudonyms in order to be able to write freely and avoid additional harassment.
“Journalists who worship the government” condemns the tendency of many journalists to idealize the new administration. It quotes journalists such Ali Asgar Rameznapour and Jilatous Banyaghoub, who accuse the Iranian media of being far too accommodating. Rameznapour was forced to flee abroad. After being jailed, Banyaghoub was banned from working as a journalist for 30 years.
Iran is one of the world’s most authoritarian countries towards journalists and freedom of information. The regime uses censorship, surveillance and harassment to maintain its grip on the media and keep itself in power.
The High Council for National Security and other regulatory authorities such as the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Tehran prosecutor’s office ban naming political dissidents, imprisoned journalists, or journalists who have fled the country. Without the anonymity that Khabarnegaran’s journalists use to protect themselves, they would not be able to publish an article mentioning the names of Rameznapour and Banyaghoub
A total of 20 journalists and 22 netizens are currently imprisoned in Iran.
Journalists who became devotees of power institutions (Extracts)
Translated by : Mehrdad Safa
A cursory glance at Iranian newspapers would simply reveal their policy.
Reformist newspapers are filled with photos of the newly elected President and his cabinet, often accompanied by admiring reports and articles. The number of their critical articles is seen as almost nil. Newspapers affiliated with conservative parties are, on the other hand, filled with hateful, slanderous reports.
What functions do journalists serve in the midst of changes in political power? Are they supposed to admire power institutions or incite hatred? Or to enlighten public opinion and closely monitor the functioning of governments?
How closely do Iranian journalists adhere to journalism ethics and standards, especially in time of political power changes? Do they apply different self-made principles to certain periods? Should they, like other journalists around the world, adhere to certain well-established principles?
We ask a few experienced Iranian journalists, both inside and outside Iran, about these issues.
Journalism must be free of infatuation, violence
Admiration and flattering have become so widespread in some reformist newspapers that has raised the objection of politicians and ordinary people to this trend. Conservative newspapers affiliated with the state, on the other hand, are now speaking in a more aggressive tone. “I am talking more specifically to journalists. A monotonous atmosphere prevails that doesn’t let us criticize Mr. Rouhani. Once again, we will be defeated because of idolization, mostly done by the media,” a Facebook user wrote in his page.
“The main function of a journalist is to transfer information, and it should be faster, more detailed and more comprehensive than others,” says Reza Veysi, a Radio Farda reporter.
“A journalist is not supposed to admire or incite hatred against those in power. It may be a practice of political propagandists, but certainly not of journalists,” he adds.
Professional restraint as a way of countering flattering, hatred “Political changes have always been accompanied by changes in the tone of newspapers in Iran,” says Iranian journalist Ali Asghar Ramezanpour.
“This is a part of journalism destiny in Iran. With President Rouhani coming to power, conservative dailies have adopted a sharper tone. Reformist newspapers have adopted a more outspoken tone. These changes, due to the innate manner of journalism in Iran, will come with two transformations: rhetoric and polemic arguments, and violent language,” Ramezanpour explains.
“And the first evident case of these two features is the journalism of the Constitutional Revolution,” he adds.
Ramezanpour believes that journalism is an inseparable part of the sociopolitical setting, and cannot be seen in exclusion.
“We have to educate and inform Iranian journalists about their behavior, so that we can sway away from partial tone,” he says. “But let’s not forget that it is rather impossible to do this without enabling political parties and freedom of speech,” Ramezanpour stresses.
“The Iranian journalists have learnt from history that an impartial journalism will bring out two undesired effects. One is that they cannot attract thrilled audience looking for openness. The other is that they will be excluded from team-makings of power institutions, which hide their political programs behind the media,” he explains.
Journalist’s monitoring of political power
“It’s been a while that I’ve been looking at the flattering tone of fellow journalists who admire government authorities and those in power. I wonder myself isn’t a journalism supposed to monitor those in power,” says Iranian journalist Jila Baniyaghoob, who has been imprisoned by government authorities and sentenced to a 30-year writing ban. “Some of my fellow journalists think that they have to always exclaim hurray for the president who they have voted for; that they have to always admire his behavior and works. They act like they’re the public relations practitioner of the President or one of his ministers,” she criticizes.
“I wish to tell them it’s over. You voted him the President on the election day, and now you’re a journalist. People expect something different from you in the media,” she explains.
Baniyaghoob criticizes her fellow journalists in Iran for their admiration of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is rarely criticized in the media.
“For example when UN human rights higher commissioner asked Zarif about the situation of human rights in Iran, he somehow questioned the Ahmad Shahid’s report on human rights in Iran,” she explains, “however, almost no one asked Mr. Zarif that is really Iran free of human rights violations.”