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A dedicated journalist

29 Apr 2009 17:032 Comments
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By MANI DJAZMI in London

[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.

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2 Comments

Anonymous said...

It is a very touchy and sentimental narrative that connects the reader to the soul of dedicated reporter, Roxanna Saberi. Regrettably, however, it misses the mark and conveniently ignores the real issue--the intimidation and terror tactics used by regime to silence in-dept and cogent reporting on the Islamic regime's criminal acts and atrocities the result of which is the conviction of Saberi on phony spy charges and her eight years jail sentence and mysterious death of another bloger while in jail on March 18, 2009.

Ironically, in spite of these facts, other pieces presented by one of the reformist's movement apologists, is also nothing but political rhetoric, justifying Saberi's conviction as being a "Victim of Iran's power struggle" within the regime. That too, failed to express condemnation of the entire regime's hardliner or otherwise for their wrongdoings, particularly when Iran's 1998 chain murders--the Serial Murders of Iranian dissident intellectuals happened during a the reformist presidency of Mr. Mohammad Khatami. Again, for some mysterious reasons, such presentations at your blog, fail to demand the immediate release of the "victim"--Roxana Saberi and punishment of the perpetrators or condemnation of regime's actions.

One can't help noticing how the Islamic regime intimidation and terror tactics has effectively worked so well that even a journalist reporting from London England, was so intimidated that he would be not be forthcoming to state the obvious--the real fact behind her conviction. I am afraid, such gibberish arguments, playing with words to present a delusional political argument or raising readers' sentiment about the victim doesn't work anymore. Perhaps, what you might need to do is to encourage your readers as well as your contributors to express their disapproval and even their outrage against the criminal acts of the perpetrators, because you don't know who would be next!

Such repeated omissions are shameful, particularly when for a "number of years," MANI DJAZMI was very keen to meet Roxana Saberi, yet, he failed to illustrate the examples of the Islamic regime's atrocities and its violation of human rights, especially women's right in Iran, notwithstanding even his tacit expression of condemnation thereafter.

Finally, if you haven't noticed it by now, the issue before you, is not how nice and dedicated Saberi was, but rather protection of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression that you all seem to ignore for political expediencies. Surely, Mr. DJAZMI would have his self-serving excuse--he wants to go back to visit his family in Iran again, so he doesn't wish to be hunted down by the regime for criticizing them. But, one wonders what could be yours--Self-censorship, and surrender to Mullahs?

An observer.
April 29, 2009 7:14 PM

tehranbureau / May 1, 2009 3:55 PM

Anonymous said...

Mr. Observer....you raise many valid points and I think many agree with you, myself included. There is a big picture here and it is about freedom of the press and of the people of Iran to express themselves. These are important issues and I hope for improvement in these areas to the benefit of the Iranian people.

As an American who knows Roxana, I also think Mr. Djazmi's article has a place. I see many articles with blog postings by people who do not know Ms. Saberi that criticize her as being a pushy, arrogant American who didn't know her place in Iran and acted foolishly. (Most of these from Americans.) Mr. Djazmi's article is consistent with the Roxana that her friends know and I think it is important as well that people see her as the "nice and dedicated" person that she is. It is also good for people to see the respect that she engenders from her peers and the respect that she has shown to the Iranian people.
April 30, 2009 1:10 AM

tehranbureau / May 1, 2009 3:56 PM