Monday, June 1, 2009

An Insider's View on How Journalism Works in Iran

Author and reporter Azadeh Moaveni, writing for Time magazine this morning, explores the difficulties for journalists reporting from Iran:

This loss of nuance can be seen in the recent case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, whose story has been told by the Western media as that of a reporter shut down while in pursuit of the truth. The real story is far more complicated.

Iran's record of dealing with journalists is certainly stained – the Committee to Protect Journalists has called the country's Supreme Leader one of the world's worst enemies of the press, and several journalists and bloggers have died while in state custody.

But to work in Iran you must understand the system through which journalists gain access. This system is complicated and demands much from those it oversees, and anyone who has reported successfully there has been complicit with its entrenchment. I've reported in Iran since 1999, and written two books that openly describe what I've faced along the way. The authorities assigned me a minder, whom I called Mr. X in my books, charged with monitoring my activities and occasionally bullying me into not working at all. Our relationship over the years has been excruciating at times, but I've tried to keep sight of what he represents — a troubled government composed of both pragmatic and hard-line factions.

The latter believe that at heart all journalists are essentially spies, and the fact that they still allow so many foreign journalists to visit and operate out of Iran is no small step for a country that just 30 years ago was executing the Shah's officials on rooftops. Iran is not a Western democracy. Its newsworthiness is precisely what makes it such a dangerous and complicated beat for reporters. In such an atmosphere, practicing anything but the utmost caution is naïve. Those who flout the system do so primarily at their own expense.

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