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Bastani: Web holds some promise for Iranian journalism

The International Journalists' Network (IJNet) interviews Hossein Bastani of Rooz online

Rooz is a daily news site first published in May 2005 by Iranian journalists working in France. The online portal provides news, analysis, and firsthand reports on Iran, in Persian and English.

To mark the site's 500th day of publication, religious activist Taghi Rahmani wrote this: "One special feature of Rooz is that while it is published outside Iran, Rooz strives to respect the issues, red lines and political considerations of those inside the country. This respect for others is a special trait of Rooz. Another feature is that Rooz brings out a new issue every day and its special arts section every weekend."

A number of well-known reformist activists, lawyers and journalists are regular contributors to Rooz Online. They include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, attorney and women rights activist Mehrangiz Kar, and journalists Massoud Behnoud, Ahmad Zeid Abadi and Omid Memarian. Many more, especially from the younger generation of journalists, report daily from Iran under pseudonyms.

IJNet recently spoke with Hossein Bastani, a member of the site's editorial board, about issues facing Iranian journalists and the future of the press in Iran. Translated from Persian.


Hossein Bastani
(Photo : Gérard Rouy, Club de la Presse)

IJNet: What is the difference between today and the Khatami era for the Press in Iran?

HB: During Khatami's presidency, most of the pressure on the press came from the judiciary branch not the executive branch. This pressure was to such an extent that nearly 100 newspapers were shut down and even Khatami's own vice president, Abodllah Nouri, was arrested and spent four years in prison. However, now, during the era of Ahmadi Nejad, even though there are a lot of clashes between the government and the press, most of the charges against the press come from the executive branch. Most of these intimidation tactics are manifested in not extending the press credentials of journalists or not allowing certain newspapers or journals to be published (mainly by the Ministry of Intelligence). In the past year, the same ministry has accused journalists of having ties to foreign governments. There has been a new trend in harassment and intimidation tactics on Iranian journalists.

IJNet: Recently the Association of Iranian journalists said in a declaration that nearly 243 journalists have left Iran for various destinations abroad. Why do you think so many have left?

HB: Most of those who have left have some kind of judicial case and some of them have spent time in prison. The fact that they have a case means that the judiciary can call upon them anytime and ask them to come to court or send them to prison. Therefore, those with cases live constantly in fear and therefore prefer to leave Iran rather than live under mental pressure. Another reason that most international reports ignore is that Iranian journalists who are freed on bail know that if they stay in Iran this bail may for one reason or another increase and they are kept like a "hostage" and they have to live under stress the rest of their lives. A journalist may be courageous enough to keep writing critical reports, but he/she would not want to use his mother's house as bail and endanger her only asset. Others, who have left Iran and were not under direct attack, have left Iran due to the oppressive atmosphere in the press. There are those who have been employed and unemployed 10 times; in such an atmosphere where there is no job security it is impossible to go on. Before leaving Iran I was interrogated several times, imprisoned, and in the course of seven years worked in 14 different dailies, one shut down after another.

IJNet: Have there been any training opportunities for Iranian journalists in recent years?

HB: Most of the journalists in Iran are graduates of different journalism colleges in Iran. But those and others who are in the field soon after they start their jobs in journalism or the media cannot increase their knowledge in the field, because in order to get more training you need security in your job, and that does not exist for most journalists working in Iran-or at least for those who are independent and/or critical of the government.

IJNet: If there should be a course online for journalists in Iran, for example ... what kind of course would Iranian journalists benefit from most?

HB: It seems that due to extreme sensitivity of the government regarding any kind of relations with foreigners, any kind of training would endanger journalists in Iran. The benefit of such courses or training is not clear at the moment when it comes to their well-being and security. In my opinion, the most important training would be how to develop their knowledge and skills on the web.

IJNet: Can you tell us how many journalists are currently in jail in Iran?

HB: At least seven journalists are in jail under drummed-up charges. Their charges stem from working against Iran's national security to spying, creating friction among ethnic minorities, to others. I know some of these journalists personally and all these charges are ludicrous.

IJNet: What do you think the future holds for Iranian journalists?

HB: Unfortunately the picture is very gloomy unless the government decides to loosen up its grip on the press, but in general the Internet is a space where Iranian journalists can have a voice and write articles without being reprehended.

... Payvand News - 7/13/07 ... --

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