Response to Mr. Ali Raadmand regarding Benazir Bhutto Article and observations on Journalistic Ethics
Dear Mr. Ali Raadmand,
I would like to say that I welcome critics, feedbacks, and observations coming from fellow readers and that I have been blessed to get a great deal of positive comments and interesting suggestions and encouragements from many dear readers like yourself. I would have certainly been happy to respond to you individually by email in regard to your interrogations ( since my email is available at the beginning of each article I write) but since you have chosen to express your concerns publicly I have no other alternative than to respond to you through another publication. I am willing to discuss this issue further on with you publically in return but I do not intend to argue back and forth eternally through further publications relative to this particular subject. This is not because I am not open to debate but as you may understand given the volume of emails I get on a daily basis it is virtually impossible for me to answer everybody individually and on a regular basis.
First allow me to say that I believe that I am entitled to having an opinion as much as you have the right to disagree with it. My article was nothing else than a personal observation which I personally marked with an asterix (*) at the beginning with a foot note for further precision given the sensitive issue I was tackling and the fact that I wished to convey my immediate reaction regarding this tragic event without involving payvand's editors which were kind enough to publish it.
Second I think that you misinterpreted my article both in its intentions and in the form. You seem to confuse Irony with mockery in relation to my observations of Mrs. Bhutto's assassination.
I think or at least hope that we both agree on the fact that Mrs. Bhutto's death is a dramatic event and also that my comparison of her death to that of members of the Gandhi clan or the Kennedy's is not unusual and in my opinion even seems pertinent given the violence of the gesture and the political nature of her death. Indeed If in the future we were to learn that the assassin of Mrs. Bhutto was a former lover or that the crime was committed for any other reason, that will not change the nature of her death which was and will have a political twist to it given her own Public Person as a dual former Prime Minister of Pakistan. That would continue to be true today regarding the death of the Kennedy brothers even if one day we are to learn that Oswald was not the real assassin or that the true circumstances surrounding the assassination of the former US president was entirely different from what we have read in history books to this day. As for John-John Kennedy, his accidental death was of interest to the Media ONLY because he was the son of the former President of the United States and not because of his good looks. Why? Simply because anyone in the Public Eye is subject to love, hate, or even indifference ( a rather misleading term which I will develop further on). Whether they desire it or not whatever they DO or NOT DO, SAY or NOT SAY is subject to scrutiny by not only the press but also the public. It is up to the journalist to feel free to report such news based on whether he or she feels it is relevant or important to do so. Up to the publisher/editor to decide if they should publish it based on their editorial policy. As far as the journalist is concerned this is where personal ethics get into the picture on what he or she considers as a threshold between a "Free Press" with a mission to inform, convince and educate its readers if possible and a "Tabloid Press" that thrives upon suppositions, rumors, slandering and unverified scandalous news all of which are aimed towards its one and only goal: TO SELL.
An honest Journalist ( which I would like to think I am or at best try to be as well as I am sure other contributors and colleagues) can be criticized or praised for reporting or not reporting something but cannot be accused of distorting the truth. If they do they are indeed accountable and can even be sued for that. It is however the right of ANY person, journalist or not, to HAVE AN OPINION otherwise I truly don't know why we should continue to write anything. If I have an inner conviction as to what may be the truth and offer arguments to sustain it, I am not breaching anyone's freedom of thought. I have the right to suggest it as being what I think is the Truth but that does not mean that I am correct in my assessment. That is very different from let's say accusing someone of a crime or theft.
I expressed myself in regard to the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto as any observer of international politics would do and does ( and also insisted that I was an outsider and not a Pakistani and that my comments were not aimed or intended in hurting her family or supporter) like lets say any journalist would do and does for example :the great Walter Conkrite ( I am not comparing the quality of my writings to his extraordinary talent) did when he announced the death of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Or when columnists reacted to the death of Elvis Presley the King of Rock'n Roll. I don't think in any of these cases the journalists in question breached Journalistic ethics or the right to the freedom of speech or opinion of their readers, viewers or listeners?.
In the case of Mrs. Bhutto, I never claimed that her death was not tragic, nor did I claim that she committed suicide. I did however suggest that she made a fatal mistake and that was to underestimate her enemies and maybe her own invulnerability. In a sense my choice of the term "Foolish" was in my rhetoric at least a praise in disguise, if you will, for her undeniable physical courage but regret that it did not serve her interests nor that of her supporters some of whom lost their lives in the course, or of many others who now have to look for a new leader or role model to defend their rights.
No one needs to be an expert in International politics or on Pakistan to realize that the War on Terror is a reality. Pakistan's leadership is a partner of the United States in its declared War on Al Quaeda ( regardless of whether we agree with this policy or not). The War in Iraq and Afghanistan added to the political instability of nearly all the regimes in power clearly hinted that any moderate leader with the most noble intentions ( as was the case of Mrs. Bhutto ) in wanting to restore or establish democracy in her country would be faced with strong opposition, resistance and death threats be it from Al Quaeda members or even, as Mrs. Bhutto suggested herself, people who are at different levels of responsibility in Prime Minister Musharaff's government and particularly the security forces. The bottom line is that SHE KNEW the risks she was taking BUT had a choice between indeed struggling from a safe and secure position in exile ( very much like De Gaulle did during WWII in London) and wait for a better opportunity, or as she did in a way fight side by side with her followers and take the risk of winning or losing ONE BATTLE but definitively NOT WINNING THE WAR . So yes she indeed committed a fatal mistake. Her death has only delayed the hopes of Democratic Pakistanis in achieving their just goal for a fully Democratic Pakistan. If I should pursue the military metaphor, which High Ranking commanding officer would accept to fight a battle and risk his own life in a bid for sacrifice knowing that he has other cards to play in order to win the War ? Unless there is no other alternative as for General Custer at Little Big Horn you indeed can choose to die bravely with your men. Otherwise if I have to be the devil's advocate and look at things coldly even Napoleon was comfortably seated on a mountain cliff watching his troops get massacred in Waterloo. Why ? Because he is the man who gives the orders and makes the important decisions in a battle. Does this observation on my part mean in any way that War is a good thing ? If you are the aggressor and or a Tyrant you hardly care for those you send to death. If you are aggressed your goal on the contrary is to try and keep as many alive in order to resist the enemy as long as possible. Who can claim that War is not Cruel ? It is one of the most decadent ways of solving differences but when you get involved in a War then you have no other alternative except to win if you're an optimist or lose if you are a pessimist.
We call them Great Leaders yet Alexander and Caesar never fought side by side with their troops except in very rare occasions to boost their men's courage knowing that they could win the fight. This is Called Strategic thinking. It is Cowardly, it is Cynical and it is Sadly how most battles in History were won including by Persian King Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae that cost the lives of thousands of Persian Troops and only 300 Spartans. Only History will say if Mrs. Bhutto's death like that of the 300 Spartans was determinant for the cause of democracy in Pakistan. I very much doubt that Mrs. Bhutto's 19 year old son has the necessary experience to do a better job despite his very responsible and mature response in that "The Best Vengeance for her mother's death is to See a Democratic Pakistan". I share his opinion but I am wary on his chances of indeed achieving this in a near future. I pray indeed that that Pakistan's history will prove me wrong in describing Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's death as "Foolish" but in the meantime I will stick to this opinion all the more that I do not consider that my observation can be regarded as an insult to her memory but a on the contrary as a genuine concern for what she stood and fought for that is a Democratic and Peaceful Pakistan.
Now in regard to your critics regarding my coverage of the gathering in Paris of family members and loyals of the Pahlavi clan for the anniversary of the death of Princess Leila Pahlavi.
Contrary to your accusations I do not claim that Leila Pahlavi's Death was more or less tragic than that of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's nor that Princess Leila Pahlavi's life style, heritage or contributions ( if any) were superior or inferior to those of Mrs. Bhutto. You seem to want draw inaccurate conclusions on my behalf between two people whose lives and death happened on very different circumstances. I could also accuse you for being Cult Driven towards Mrs. Bhutto in turn by failing to see that she was not flawless or capable of making a strategic mistake that was partially responsible for her own death.
I am afraid that the popular saying applies to all of us and that is: In Death We Are All Equal !
I have however adopted a personal ethic ( Which you are not forced to share) when dealing with such news and that is to try at best to distinguish between reporting and slandering!.
I know that you offered your arguments in our previous correspondence, I respect them but simply do not share them. That's All. The Death of Princess Leila or her alleged "destructive lifestyle" were not of my concern but the fact that people at least those who cared for her or loved her have been paying their respects over the years to a person who lost her life in dramatic circumstances. Unlike you ( which again is your perfect right) the claims that she killed herself or not due to drugs ( Anti Depressors are not illegal drugs but prescribed. Also death brought upon taking anti-depressors with alcohol is alas a very common incident, sometimes interpreted as a call for help in moments of solitude or distress ) is not something I wish to judge. Leila Pahlavi did not choose to be born into Royalty no more than her siblings. That her elder Brother has chosen to enter the political Arena is not for me to judge (which doesn't mean I do not have an opinion about it). Her tragic death would have certainly meant nothing to anybody except her friends and family if she were not the daughter of the Shah, no more than the death of Khomeini's son had a historical significance ( be it a footnote in wikipedia or historical books) to those who saw in him the prolongation of the Ayatollah's biological and or political legacy.
But I think that your critics in regard to my article on Princess Leila is a good opportunity for clarification if needed as to why I do cover what is considered as news relative to Royalty and Iran's former Royal Family, the Pahlavi's but also the Qajars when I come across such news.
Firstly I would like to insist ( not necessarily to you but to those readers who may think so) that I have absolutely no family connections with : The Shah and the Royal Family, nor am I affiliated to any political organization and last but not least I am not an Aristocrat nor ever claimed to be one ( Qajar or Pahlavi). I don't think that I have any common genes with Ayatollah Khomeini either ( but you never know do you ? ). I am neither related to Mrs. Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mr. Reza Badiyi, Mr. Shaun Toub, Mr. Ramin Karimloo, Mr. Darius Khondji, Miss Bahar Soomekh, Mr. Omar Khayyam, Mr. Hakim Abol Qasem Ferdowsi Tousi, Mr. Sadegh Hedayat, Mrs. Forough Farrokhzad, Mr. Mushrif-ud-Din Abdullah Saadi, Mrs. Vanessa Redgrave, Mr. Fardin, Mrs. Googoosh, Mr. Sattar, Mr. Clint Eastwood, Mr. Kirk Douglas, Mr.Gerald Butler, Mr. Burt Lancaster, Mr. Sergio Leone, Mr. Cary Grant, Miss. Audrey Hepburn, Mr. Aref,Mr. Abbas Kiarostami, Mr. and Mrs. Makhmalbaf, Mrs. Catherine Deneuve, or Mrs. Juliette Binoche, Mrs. Marjane Satrapi, King Cyrus and King Darius the Great, King Xerxes, or the 300 Spartans. But ... I have bumped into my fellow colleague Tintin and his friends Milou and Capitain Haddock when they walked on the Moon years before Niel Armstrong. ;0)
Although I do not feel offended by your remarks ( Why should I ? ) However allow me also to be "bugged" in return by one of your comments:
I have seen good and educational articles from you about cinema with an Iranian twist. If I write today it is because of the good, the chance for change I see in you and many other good people who attach themselves to a cult of personality instead of viewing the world objectively. Good people constantly reexamine their own values and correct where necessary.
I thank you for suggesting that I am a good person, but what allows you to give yourself the right to change me as a person nearly like a Preacher who wants to convert you to his or her religion ? What allows you to suggest that I am cult driven towards the Pahlavi Kings or Family or that I may be a Pro- Monarchist or Anti Monarchist ? Pro Republic or Anti Republic?
Were I a "Shaholahi", a "Hezbollahi", an "MKO" or even a "Secular Republican" I would be affiliated to one of their parties and would even try to be paid for what I write. This IS NOT the Case. I do regret this at times especially towards months end when I have to make ends meet and pay my rent ...
So the least I can say to defend my point of view, is that YES I DO HAVE AN OPINION on what I write and send for publication. I am fortunate enough to express it on payvand as well as in any other media that respects the basic rights of a writer and freelance journalist I am as well as the opinion of the author as long as it respects humanistic values and journalistic ethics. That you wish to lecture me on journalism is of your concern not mine.
But back to the question of News Relative to Royalty or Film Stars: In nearly all democratic countries where the press is free and particularly in one of the most secular and republican countries in the world that is France, News relative to Royalty remains extremely popular and this popularity increased even more after the French Revolution itself. You can blame it on Nostalgia for a long gone past or any other reason but you cannot deny this reality. Be it magazines like Point De Vue Images Du Monde, Le Soir Illustré, or newspapers from leftwing magazines like Liberation or le monde to Right Wing like Le Figaro all cover Royalty ( European, Middle Eastern, Asian ) and of course Hollywood news.
Also the rhetoric I have come across ( Albeit Very Rarely given the success of such news amongst readers both inside and outside Iran) which consists of saying: "we are totally indifferent to Royalty news" is NOT true. Those who usually claim that "they are indifferent" actually mean " We do not like Royals". That is perfectly OK with me, but then don't claim you are "indifferent" cause "hatred" IS NOT "indifference" otherwise you would not even bother to react. So this justifies any interesting Updates on their whereabouts.
It seems to me that we are still inhibited about our collective past as if we fear to see some truth about ourselves or that the knowledge may make us repeat the same mistakes when in fact it should be the contrary. Historians claim that it takes approximately 30 years that is one generation for the Truth or at least truthful elements on an era to surface and allow some objective distance to evaluate and understand it.
Iranians seem to still debate on such simplistic grounds such as "The Tabas
earthquake was provoked by the SAVAK" or that "The Bam Earthquake was the fault
of the SAVAMA" ? ...
Again as I said I am not a political activist or member of ANY political group whatsoever.
But I absolutely do not see any contradiction in reporting about the Former Empress of Iran inaugurating a gala for Dior in Paris or when she Meets One of France's most popular Stars like Alain Delon or that Iranian Diva Googoosh greets the Pahlavi Family at Madison Square Garden in NY. Nor do I feel guilty to cover the fact that an Iranian Artist like Marzieh performs at one of the most legendary Music Hall's L'Olympia in Paris which is a first time performance by any Iranian artist to date. Does that mean that I am supporting Regime Change in Iran either by the Monarchists or the MKO ? Or that I am claiming that the SAVAK is better than the SAVAMA ! Of course Not !
But why should I censor myself if I have a photos of Princess Shams with Mrs. Bhutto's mother as I did in my article Benazir's Foolish Death ? This photo was published on nearly all the Iranian online magazines including the Iranian.com and Irandokht.com non of which can be suspected of pro monarchist sympathies. After all its informative and would never have been found on a non Iranian website including the BBC or CNN because their readership is not necessarily Iranian and they would not know Princess Shams. But YOU DO !
If someone in Khomeini's family or Rafsanjani, Khatami or current President Ahmadinejad happens to be an actor or ends up by meeting a famous non Iranian or even former Iranian celebrity I will be more than happy to report it. If I don't its because I have not come across such a case or do not know about it. Interestingly Khatami was seen recently during a State visit to Italy shaking hands with an unknown Italian lady THAT was NEWS for the Iranian Press as a rather innocent gesture was presented as scandalous. So go figure what is considered as celebrity News in Iran ? It seems they are concerned by what they think they saw and what they actually saw.
Maybe they should first verify if the news regarding the Ayatollah seen on the Moon is True.
I suggest them to send me to the Moon and I will be happy to Inform Them and You !... ;0)
You may argue that I am NOT supportive of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Well I will be honest about that. NO I AM NOT supportive of the Islamic Republic of Iran because by all accounts it is disrespectful of the basic rights of Iranian citizens and that many of my fellow Iranian colleagues back home see their right annihilated and newspapers shut down. Iran has a poor human rights record according to all reliable Human Rights organizations worldwide so I cannot possibly claim the contrary. Political correctness in this case would seem more like Hypocrisy
But I hold no resentment for any individual who may think the contrary. I will simply not share his or her opinion and offer my arguments to justify my point.
As far as Arts and Artists are concerned, indeed one of my major goals have always been to bridge cultures and when I can find common ground between Iranian Artists and those of the Diaspora or even beyond the Persian community. There is a HUGE potential and Pool of Talents in the Iranian Diaspora Community who each in their own way, sometimes even unintentionally are bridging their own Persian/Iranian Heritage with the rest of the World and in nearly all fields of the Entertainment industry. I am sure you have had the opportunity to read my interviews or coverage of Ramin Karimloo in The Phantom of the Opera, Iranians directors in Hollywood, or Stuntman Darren Shahlavi in 300, Music Maestro's like Monika Jalili and her NoorSaaz band ( all of whom are not Iranian but sing and play Persian Instruments) or Ghassem Talebzadeh's concert in Paris to name a few and of course many reports on Marjane Satrapi's successful and critically acclaimed film Persepolis. In nearly all cases you will notice that I try to present what I see as representative of what is being done in the Iranian Diaspora rather than the Arts World in Iran. That is not because I resent covering that news but because It is already being done on a vast scale by journalists and correspondents in Iran, some of whom write for payvand and who I am sure you will recognize. Having Left Iran since 1980, I find it difficult to write about artists or Artwork which I cannot see firsthand except for films. I do follow closely what is being done in Iranian Cinema and I also see some very encouraging signs in terms of international co-productions as the announced project of films involving French Stars like Juliette Binoche or Egyptian Hollywood Legend Omar Sharif. But I refused for instance to comment on a major television drama Zero Degree Turn which can be partially seen on youtube. Interestingly it was widely commented in the Western Press but I refused to do so to date because I have not been able to see the film in its ENTIRETY. If someone can send me a reliable DVD Copy of it I would be more than happy to review it. The production seems first class and the actors seem to play their parts well and with sincerity but that does not mean that the movie's message is not ambiguous as to the tragedy of the Holocaust nor can I claim the contrary since I have not seen it yet. I would have expected to read more comments by some of our fellow Iranian colleagues about their views in regard to these series or even on Marjane Satrapi's ( SONY PRODUCED) movie Persepolis ( Which was openly and unjustly attacked by the Iranian officials even before it was even released at Cannes ) than read some of the absurdities I read on payvand ( I do not hold it against the editors) but also nearly on every Iranian website in relation to the movie 300 ( Which was of no interest other than create a stir in public imagination) and about Hollywood as a nest of conspiracy.
What I have always found disappointing in the Iranian press regardless of where it is published ( but that is changing thanks to the Internet and websites like payvand) or whether it is right wing or left wing is that in our collective mindset we have a tendency to generalize and see ourselves as a collective homogenous lot. As if a community is not composed of individuals or that people do not or cannot have different opinions ?
On a final note my dear Mr. Raadmand I hope I have answered your questions and to your objections in regard to my observations on Mrs. Bhutto's death and in regard to my articles on Art and films in general. If My lengthy Response does not satisfy you, I am sorry about that but please spend your energy on something more useful than giving me lessons on Journalism or preaching to change my opinion simply to satisfy what you consider as being your ideal Mindset. HAPPY NEW YEAR !
VIVE LA LIBERTE
VIVE payvand ;0)
Farewell to Wadi Bua (Benazir Bhutto) By Fatima Bhutto (payvand)
About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is international Correspondent for OCPC Magazine and contributes to the IC publications of The Middle East.
... Payvand News - 01/10/08 ... --