A dedicated journalist
29 Apr 2009 17:03
[Tehran Bureau] notebook: What is it to be an Iranian journalist in Iran? Are you the seeker of truth's light amid the shadows of mis-information? Are you an abuser of the position with your own agenda? Or are you, as a football reporter from one of the tabloids once boasted to me, there merely to start and spread rumours?
I don't know enough Iranian journalists in Iran to answer the question. I suspect that these categories are three among a few. After all, in a country like Iran, which is a bubbling cauldron of stories, why should the shades of its reporting philosophies be any less colidescopic?
One journalist whom I have wanted to meet for a number of years is Roxana Saberi, whose arrest in January 2009, trial and imprisonment in Iran on espionage charges are widely documented. Saberi, who was born to an Iranian father and Japanese mother, grew up in America but moved to Iran in the early part of this decade. She's a freelance journalist and her work came to my attention for the first time in 2006. She had done a report for a radio programme called World Football on the BBC's World Service. It was about women's football in Iran. Like Roxana, I have also reported on Iranian football for World Football so my ears pricked up when I heard the report. My first reaction, as a self-absorbed, paranoid freelancer, was 'why didn't they ask me to do it?' But those thoughts were quickly replaced by interest and surprise -- interest in what the report was about and surprise at how well it was put together.
Radio in Iran, leaving aside news bulletins, largely consists of rambling pieces of what can best be described as lift music followed by poetry. Playes, discussions and features haven't yet made it on to the production radar. But Roxana's feature was textbook stuff: interesting interviews, nice voices and lots of atmos. It 'took me there'. Frankly, a lot of BBC journalists could have done with listening to her feature as a training exercise. It was certainly not what I expected to come out of Iran.
"Her packages were a great fit for World Football because we loved those kind of pieces," says the programme's producer at the time, Mike Geddes. "I think we were a good fit for her because we had the freedom to run pieces for six, seven, eight minutes and that suited her creativity."
I remember her accent as being more American than anything so I was curious to learn who this reporter was. When I heard the presenter, Alan Green, say her name off the back of the piece I was startled. I wondered if she was one of those privoledged Iranians who was rich enough to have private English classes. I now know that she wasn't. Mike Geddes says that when he first came across Roxana, she was just another freelancer pitching an idea:
"She emailed me and suggested a package on women's football. She was very professional and very hardworking -- the two pieces she did for World Football were excellent and she put a lot of work into them. It was really a pleasure working with her.
"On a more personal level I was always struck by her dedication and commitment to telling women's stories, something which I guess is not always that easy in Iran. She was always very passionate about uncovering the individual stories and showing what challenges people were living with."
It was this passion, creativity and professionalism which stayed with me, even though I never heard any more of Roxana's work. I was determined to meet her the next time I went to Iran and find out who this person is. That opportunity came in March of this year when I went to visit family for Nowrouz, the Iranian new year. I called her mobile a number of times but it was always switched off. Oh well, I thought, perhaps she's gone away for new year.