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'The Horizon Looks Bright': An Iranian journalist looks toward the future

By Fariba Amini, Persian Editor, The International Journalists' Network (IJNet)
Noushabeh Amiri is a reporter for Rooz, an independent Iranian news site based in France.

Noushabeh Amiri is a reporter for Rooz, an independent Iranian news site based in France. Amiri left Iran with her husband, who was also a journalist and who was detained from 1982 to 1988.

Recently, she wrote an article on the recent U.S. visit of President Ahamadinejad, in which she argues that the insult to Iranian journalists has been far greater than any directed at the president. She, like many colleagues in self-exile, has faced many ordeals in her long career as a journalist.

She spoke to IJNet candidly about the state of journalism in Iran and her hopes for the future.

IJNet: Tell us how your journey began.

NA: I had worked for Kayhan newspaper but an interview I had done with Ayatollah Khomeini about women and their role in society was not welcomed and subsequently not published; I was then fired. For several years, I could not pursue my career. After my husband was released, we both were jobless until we founded a film magazine. I was its editor-in-chief. I always had an interest in being a film critic; this magazine lasted for 12 years.

After Khatami came to power, I worked for newspapers such as Toos, Jame'eh and Neshat. Again, we were harassed and threatened, even blacklisted. The fundamentalists working closely with the Intelligence Ministry continued to interrogate us regularly, and finally the magazine was closed down. It took another two years before I was allowed to use my pen. I began working for the journal Asia; I was in charge of its interview section. Sometime later, its editor, Iraj Jamshidi, was arrested and detained. We were told that the authorities were ready to come to our house.  On August 6, 2003, we left Iran and landed in Paris. It was there that I asked myself, what I am I going to do here and now? With a few colleagues, we started Rooz online [in May 2005], which presently has more than 300,000 viewers.

IJNet: How have things changed for journalists since Ahmadinejad's administration took over?

NA: Things have been bleak. During Khatami, though we encountered many obstacles, and journalists were scrutinized and some arrested, there was relative freedom of the press and I was able to function as a journalist. Now, the situation has drastically changed for the worse. 

IJNet: Did you have difficulty working as a woman reporter at any time?

NA: No, I cannot say that as a woman I encountered problems more than my male colleagues did. The existence of patriarchy is of course part of our society. It exists on all levels. With Ahmadinejad's ascendance to the presidency, the idea that a woman's place is in the house, and that she should be obedient, and that her role is to be a good mother and a wife, is widely promoted. Nonetheless, with women being active on all fronts, it is not going to happen.

IJNet: Are journalists being trained in Iran and are there any special colleges?

NA: I went to the school of journalism myself and studied at the university, becoming a professional. That college still exists today. However, even if there are journalism schools and students who are interested in entering this field, there are no good professors to train them. Many of the old folks have left. Many are not allowed to work in an atmosphere that a journalist needs - an open environment where they can do good reporting. I used to work for Kayhan and that is where I learned firsthand about the field, but now Kayhan is equivalent to the Ministry of Intelligence.

IJNet: Do you think online courses are useful given current conditions with regard to training opportunities for Iranian journalists? And if so, in which area?

NA: Yes, I must say with my own experience in Rooz online, I have seen how much we have attracted readers and young journalists to write for us either under their real names or under pseudonyms. The Rooz experience has proven that online journalism is extremely important, especially for those countries where the press and media are controlled. I have done extensive interviews with many personalities myself, and have discovered that more and more readers go online to read our stories. Though we are filtered, as most online Internet sites are, there are ways around it. Ironically, in Iran, corruption and prostitution are not filtered but "ideas" are!

I think online courses on reporting about politics, women, human rights and social issues are extremely important to have. This will help a society that is on the rise and wishes to flourish at all levels. We can use all kinds of courses but I think the areas I just mentioned are the more crucial ones.

IJNet: How would you like to see the future of journalism in Iran? In what area would you like to see changes take place?

NA: On the one hand I would like to see a trend towards greater freedom of speech and on the other hand more basic training in the field. Since the revolution and afterwards, the profession of journalism has been impacted in a negative way. Newspapers and journals have lacked good reporting, and journalists have been in need of more training that they have not received. The flow of information was halted and newspapers did not have good reporters. Young people who are interested in the field of journalism, particularly women, lack the necessary means to learn. A good reporter should not be politicized. A good journalist should not become a social activist.   The two do not mix well and the combination is harmful. I am looking forward to a day when political parties can have their own outlets and independent journals can function independently. It is only then that I would want to work for an independent press.

IJNet: In your article, you were critical about Ahmadinejad's trip to New York. Please elaborate on this.

NA: I do not think Ahmadinejad represents the majority of Iranians. There were clear indications that there was fraud in the elections. If [Ahmadinejad] were a true elected leader of Iran, I don't think he would have even gone to Columbia to encounter such insults, but the fact is that I don't see that these insults were addressed to the Iranian people. I certainly do not feel insulted. The matters brought up in New York are the same issues and dialogue or lack thereof in Iran. My question is, why he has the right to go and listen, take their questions, but Iranians inside Iran do not enjoy the same freedom? His replies to many of the questions were false. If this regime were not a replica of a dictatorial and irresponsible regime, the president of Columbia [University] would not have dared attack him the way he did. 

IJNet: As you may know, we are a journalism network and provide information and services to the community of journalists around the world. What do you think we could to for Iranian journalists?

NA: You can help them in many ways. You can give them advice and be a support system. Right now in Rooz online, we have over 25 journalists who have very little means to support themselves and their families. You can provide them with the necessary tools to express their views and be a voice for those in Iran who are restricted and cannot communicate as freely as they want.

IJNet: Are you optimistic about the future?

NA: Yes I am. I am not saying that this future is right around the corner, but the horizon looks bright. We have gone through many sweet and sour moments but at the end, we have been able to overcome dark moments in our history. This time, we have tremendous human potential, a generation that is bright, witty, and eager to learn. I think the change will be forthcoming though it will not happen immediately or even quickly.

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