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Boston University: Covering Iran: Journalism and Truth under Siege

26 Oct 2010 19:4911 Comments

Witnesses to last year's upheaval come to Boston University.

[ press release ] With the United States and Iran hurtling toward confrontation, journalists who have spent years inside the Islamic Republic will gather at Boston University on October 26, 2010, to try separating Iranian fact from fiction. The day will feature two gripping films shot in Iran during the explosion of protest that followed last year's disputed election. Journalists who covered the protests, including Nazila Fathi of The New York Times, will discuss what they saw, how they covered it, and why Americans have such a distorted view of Iran.

In the afternoon, a panel of specialists will discuss ways of reshaping U.S. perceptions of Iran in the hope of avoiding war. Among them will be Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, who founded Tehran Bureau and has built it into a global platform for Iran-related news.

Other guests at the conference include the filmmaker Sadeq Saba, who is director of the BBC Persian Service, and Jason Rezaian, the only remaining American journalist accredited to work in Iran. Morning and afternoon discussions will be moderated by Stephen Kinzer, a Boston University professor who recently visited Iran and is the author of Reset: Iran, Turkey, and American's Future.

This day-long event, sponsored by Boston University College of Communication, is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Boston University Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary's Street.

The day will begin with a screening of The Election That Shook Iran at 9:30 a.m., and conclude with a screening of For Neda at 4:30 p.m. A light lunch will be served without charge between the morning and afternoon sessions.

For further information please contact Lauren Glaser at Boston University College of Communication at leglaser@bu.edu.

Morning panel: Eyewitnesses to an Uprising

Moderator: Stephen Kinzer, author of All The Shah's Men, and Reset: Iran, Turkey, and American's Future.

All four panelists covered Iran's 2009 presidential election and the upheaval that followed.

Sadeq Saba is chief of the BBC Persian Service. Born in Iran, Sadeq studied law and politics at Tehran University and the London school of Economics. Sadeq Saba joined BBC Persian Service as a producer in 1990. He was the BBC Iranian affairs analyst for over a decade prior to joining the BBC Persian television. He travels to Iran regularly and has covered three presidential elections and other major events in the country. Most recently, Sadeq traveled to Iran to present the acclaimed television series A Taste of Iran. Sadeq has interviewed major politicians including Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, who was a candidate in Iran's 1996 presidential election, and the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Reese Erlich's history in journalism goes back 42 years. He first worked as a staff writer and research editor for Ramparts, an investigative reporting magazine published in San Francisco from 1963 to 1975. Today he works as a full-time print and broadcast freelance reporter. He reports regularly for National Public Radio, CBC, ABC (Australia), Radio Deutche Welle and Market Place Radio. His articles appear in The San Fransisco Chronicle and Dallas Morning News. His television documentaries have aired on PBS stations nationwide. Erlich's book, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, co-authored with Norman Solomon, became a best seller in 2003. The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of US Policy and the Middle East Crisis was published in 2007. Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba was published in 2009. His new book is Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire. Erlich shared a Peabody Award in 2006 as a segment producer for Crossing East, a radio documentary on the history of Asians in the US. In 2004 Erlich's radio special Children of War: Fighting, Dying, Surviving, won a Clarion Award presented by the Alliance for Women in Communication and second and third place from the National Headlines Awards. His article about the U.S. use of depleted uranium ammunition was voted the eighth most censored story in America for 2003 by Project Censored at Sonoma State University. In 2002 his radio documentary, The Russia Project, hosted by Walter Cronkite, won the depth reporting prize for broadcast journalism awarded by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared September 14, 2010, to be "Reese Erlich Day" in honor of his investigative journalistic work. The resolution read, in part, "Investigative reporters are under attack in the U.S. and around the world. Mr. Erlich exhibits the finest qualities of such reporters willing to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Nazila Fathi began her work with western media, including TIME Magazine and The New York Times, in 1992. She was based in Tehran as the reported for The New York Times from 2001 until July 2009, when she was forced to leave the country because of direct threats against her. She traveled to cover Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. She continued to cover Iran from Toronto until the summer of 2010. She is currently a Nieman fellow at Harvard University. Ms. Fathi was the only reporter for an American publication who was based in Tehran consistently since 2001. During her years in Iran, she covered events that led to the election of the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, in 1997, and later the reform era which ended in 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as president. She covered the uprising after the 2009 election. She has extensively written on social, political and cultural issues and covered several devastating earthquakes in Iran. She has been a guest speaker at numerous panels and a commentator for television and radio news shows on CNN, BBC, PBS and National Public Radio. Her pieces have been published in Foreign Policy and The New York Review of Books. She also translated a book by the Noble peace prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, called The History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, published in 2001.

Hooman Majd is an Iranian-American writer based in New York. He has served as an advisor and translator for two Iranian presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on their trips to the United States and the United Nations, and has written about those experiences. Majd has also had a long career as an executive in the music and film businesses. He was Executive Vice President of Island Records, where he worked with a diverse group of artists including U2, The Cranberries, Tricky and Melissa Etheridge; and Head of Film and Music at Palm Pictures, where he executive-produced James Toback's Black and White and Khyentse Norbu's The Cup (Cannes 1999). Majd has had his short fiction published by Serpent's Tail (London) and Bald Ego (New York). His first non-fiction book on Iran, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ, was published by Doubleday in the Fall of 2008, and his new book The Ayatollahs' Democracy was published by Norton in September 2010. Majd was born in Tehran, Iran, and was educated in England and the United States.

Afternoon panel: Searching for Truth in Today's Iran

Kelly Golnoush Niknejad is the founder and editorial chief at Tehran Bureau. Born in Iran, Golnoush moved to the United States when she was 17. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Writing and a law degree with an international and European focus. Following her initial news work in Southern California, where she covered courts, and Massachusetts, where she was a general assignment reporter, Golnoush earned two Master's degrees in journalism from Columbia University, focusing first on print and then politics and government. She is the associate producer of the Emmy-winning A Death in Tehran, a Frontline documentary about the Iranian election made in collaboration with BBC Two; and Frontline's Showdown with Iran, a film about U.S.-Iran relations since 9/11. Golnoush has also reported for The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, TIME Magazine, Foreign Policy, California Lawyer, and The National in Abu Dhabi, where she was a diplomatic affairs reporter. She launched Tehran Bureau in November 2008 and entered a partnership with PBS/FRONTLINE in September 2009. Golnoush is on the board of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association and on the founding board of the International Association of Iranian Journalists, which will be launched soon in Paris, France.

Trita Parsi is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian and Middle East politics. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations. Parsi was born in Iran but moved with his family at the age of four to Sweden in order to escape political repression in Iran. His father was an outspoken academic and non-Muslim who was jailed by the Shah and then by the Ayatollah. He moved to the United States as an adult and studied foreign policy at Johns Hopkins' School for Advanced International Studies where he received his Ph.D. He founded NIAC to provide a non-partisan, non-profit organization through which Iranian Americans could participate in American civic life. NIAC is a vocal proponent of dialogue and engagement between the US and Iran, which Parsi consistently has argued would enhance our national security by helping to stabilize the Middle East and bolster the moderates in Iran. Parsi has followed Middle East politics through work in the field and extensive experience on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations. He is frequently consulted by Western and Asian governments on foreign policy matters. Parsi has worked for the Swedish Permanent Mission to the UN, where he served in the Security Council, handling the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan and Western Sahara, and in the General Assembly's Third Committee, addressing human rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iraq. Parsi studied for his Doctoral thesis on Israeli-Iranian relations under Professor Francis Fukuyama at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. In addition to his Ph.D., he holds a Master's Degree in International Relations from Uppsala University and a Master's degree in Economics from the Stockholm School of Economics. He has served as an adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He is currently an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and has served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is fluent in Persian/Farsi, English, and Swedish. Parsi's articles on Middle East affairs have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Jane's Intelligence Review, The Nation, The American Conservative, The Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera.

Jason Rezaian is currently the only American reporter permitted to work in Iran. Since 2001 he has made numerous trips to the country, and has been living in Tehran since May of 2009. His work focuses primarily on the Iranian society and the issues it faces domestically and internationally, attempting to make the Iranian experience accessible to the American public. His work has appeared in Time, Slate, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Tehran Bureau and The San Francisco Chronicle. He has also served often as adviser and guide to other journalists and filmmakers embarking on projects in Iran.

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I wonder why other scholars and prominent persons such as Dr. RAMIN AHMADI, Prof. ABBAS MILANI or Dr. HASSAN DAEI are not a part of this and such panels.

Seeing some of the names mentioned here leaves me wondering if all aspects of the reality of Iran are going to be covered, and not just certain strains and sides.

Davood / October 7, 2010 5:14 AM

The event is clearly focused on the issues involved in covering news from Iran and media representations of the country. Almost all of the participants are working journalists or scholars with a particular focus on the media. With the arguable exception of Ahmadi, this is simply not true of the three persons you name, who are clearly more concerned with geopolitical issues and "what to do" about Iran (though, of course, there is some overlap in all these matters). Three questions then:

(1) Why would you look for Ahmadi, Milani, and Daei to be included in an event specifically devoted to "Covering Iran"?

(2) What are some of the other "such panels" from which you feel they have been excluded?

(3) What are some of the "aspects of the reality of Iran" that you fear will not be adequately addressed in these two particular panels as a result of the absence of the three gentlemen you name?

Dan Geist / October 7, 2010 7:55 AM


Thank you for answering the question.

Soon they'll be asking why John Bolton wasn't invited to speak about a retrospective of Sa'adi's works.

B / October 7, 2010 6:25 PM

"Dr. Hassan Daei"? Since when Daei has been a Dr.? Since when he has been taken seriously by anyone other than the MKO and the extreme neoconservatives like Michael Rubin and Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes who help him attack Dr. Trita Parsi - the true Dr. - and publish his rants and baseless attacks? Since when Daei has been a scholar or journalist for that matter?

Ramin Ahmadi? Since when he has been somebody other than one promoting himself and his wife Roya Hakkakian? What happened to the huge funds that he received from the State Department to document human rights abuses in Iran, but all he wanted to do was listing the well-known cases that anyone knew about it and all could be found in articles, rather than those involving thousands who had been executed?

Asghar Taragheh / October 7, 2010 7:11 PM

Ramin Ahmadi is an activist focusing on human rights in Iran. He is not an expert, analyst or journalist. He is a full-time medical doctor. Whether or not one agrees with his personal politics, the focus of his Iran-related work fits neither the "Eyewitness to an Uprising" nor the "Searching for Truth in Today's Iran" categories of the upcoming Boston University event.

Abbas Milani is a more complicated case. Mr. Milani has become somewhat of a controversial figure in many policy-related circles -- particularly among government officials. He was a key intellectual architect of the Bush administration's Iran policy, yet now seeks to distance himself from it with pointed criticisms of the policy he once advocated. Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Milani's current work has become increasingly scrutinized by policymakers since the contested elections in June 2009 because his policy recommendations are strikingly similar to the positions advocated by activists. Whether or not one agrees with these positions, it is the responsibility of objective experts to process the feedback from activists into dispassionate analysis. Mr. Milani's policy prescriptions blur the line between expert and activist -- something policymakers find both dangerous and disingenuous.

Hassan Daileslam's case is a no-brainer. He has ties to the Mojahedin -- a group repeatedly designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, and a group widely recognized to have zero support inside Iran. Human Rights Watch, one of the world's most prominent human rights organizations, has labeled Daileslam's organization a dangerous cult. Rather than provide clarity and understanding to the "Journalism and Truth Under Siege" theme of Boston University's event, Daileslam and his group contribute directly to the siege itself.

Ali / October 8, 2010 12:22 PM

The poster for the event screams of journalistic bias, don't you think?

Pirouz / October 21, 2010 9:51 AM

You are sharp. The poster, indeed, unfairly characterizes the entire Green Movement as LIPSTICK WEARERS. I mean, she's not wearing a lot of lipstick, but I agree, even a little is WAY too much. We must find an image that epitomizes the panel topic "Eyewitnesses to an Uprising" with 100% neutrality.

Let's run through some possible alternative images, and you tell us whether they qualify or not:

* Mir Hossein Mousavi. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* Mehdi Karroubi. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* Sayyed Ali Khamenei. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* Neda, dying in the street. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* Basiji, just hanging out, not hurting a living soul. Neutral image or screaming of bias?
* An average Iranian...

Well, you'll need you to help out with that last one. How do we make sure we identify the perfectly neutral, unbiased image of the perfectly average Iranian that will make you happy and content? Wait. Maybe...maybe it's you! Is that what you were getting at? Yes. It's YOUR picture that belongs in the poster! Pirouz--the average Iranian. It's screaming obvious.

Nard / October 21, 2010 12:54 PM

The regime in power in Iran has never allowed any journalist who would tell the TRUTH the way it is to report from Iran. The only TRUE REPORTERS in Iran are those ANONYMOUS BLOGGERS.

Also, this panel includes some of the Islamist regime REFORMIST faction LOBBY and APOLOGISTS.
Couple of examples:

Homan Majd: Regime official translator
Trita Parsi: Paid regime lobbyist in the US.

NPR should be aware that the Islamist regime so called REFORMIST faction is NOW completely discredited. Their ROLE in toning down the Iranians UPRISING against the barbaric regime into a political show is now well understood by majority of Iranians.

Maziar Irani / October 26, 2010 12:09 AM

Hi Nard
A savvy sarcasm works wonder.

persianTraveler / October 26, 2010 2:09 AM

They should have invited the only true iran scholar in this area who is completely marginalized by Harvard and that is dr kaveh afrasiabi

faraneh / October 26, 2010 7:13 AM

It is very unfortunate to see Trita Parsi on this panel. Trita Parsi and his organization (NIAC) have been illegally and secretly lobbying for the IRI regime against the interest of Iranian people in the US for many years.

There are numerous documented facts which clearly show how Trita Parsi and his organization (NIAC) have been collaborating with the IRI regime against the interest of Iranian people. You can find more details at:

Ali / October 27, 2010 5:35 PM