Iran Front Page (IFP) was officially launched at a gathering dubbed Iranian Media and the International Community in Tehran on August 20, 2014. One of the speakers at the event was Dr. Sabah Zanganeh, a veteran diplomat who quit politics a few years ago and began to offer counselling to private-sector players on cultural and economic fronts during his retirement years. In his speech, Dr. Zanganeh described Iran as a land of culture and civilization which continues to draw global attention to date. He called on the private sector to step into the realm of media, citing the fact that state-run media cannot be as successful as their private peers in interactions. He also offered congratulations on the launch of such a move in the form of Iran Front Page by veteran journalist Mahmoud Askarieh. The following is the translation of the speech Dr. Zanganeh delivered at the get-together:
It is an honor to be at a gathering which is at the center of an independent, constructive and vital push. As it was said earlier after leaving office as a member of parliament I was appointed as deputy director of the Islamic Republic News Agency. Dr. Kharrazi was to vacate the position, and I was offered the job, but later the then minister of culture and Islamic guidance asked me to take charge of the Cultural Department of his ministry which has since turned into two departments which separately deal with cultural and media affairs.
There were certain difficulties associated with that job. At the same time one had to deal with cultural questions which normally require patience and media affairs which are part of a fast-paced current. I feel duty-bound to recall the patience Mr. Khatami exercised back then. As part of my job, I had to sign off on applications for establishment of printing houses and oversee the distribution of paper to publishers of magazines and newspapers. [The Iran-Iraq] war was still in progress and we did not have much foreign currency at our disposal. Thanks to the support we received, we were able to raise some money.
Two big institutes whose owners were bitterly opposed to the then minister of culture applied to set up their own printing houses and I would not approve their applications. In a graceful way that was typical of him, Mr. Khatami criticized me and asked me why I had not approved their applications. “We don’t have any foreign currency to give to them,” I responded. “Don’t worry about it. They will handle that part of the job themselves. Just give them the opportunity to speak their mind,” he said.
The concentric circles behind me can provide an example for our society. Throughout history Iran has been at the center of cultural and civilizational circles, not just in the immediate vicinity of its borders but in places as far as China in the east and Mauritania and Morocco in the west. These cultural and civilizational circles required efforts to cement the Persian literature in these regions. The impact is still evident.
As a result of a decline in political power and other historical factors, the circles shrank both politically and economically. But the Iranian-Islamic culture maintained its influence. The question is: Why haven’t we been able to ride the wave of these concentric circles in our media? One of the most natural areas for our media to exploit is the cultural foundation which has its roots in history. But, Iranian media have not fully tapped into this valuable legacy at their disposal.
Active or passive presence of Iran? In recent decades Iran has always been at the center of world news. Before the revolution Iran always drew attention as an oil-rich country. After the revolution, what placed Iran under the spotlight was varied. But Iran had a passive presence rather than an active one. In other words, the name of Iran came popping up, but Iran was never there to reflect its own realities. Why did this happen?
It seems we are at the center of a storm, but we don’t have the tools to describe the developments unfolding around us. Just like a person who is being tossed around in a swirling vortex. Those who are away see the waves and can describe what is going on, but the person who is caught in the middle is unable to describe what his condition is like.
I wish Mr. Askarieh luck. I want to ask a few questions here: What percentage of Iranian media knows foreign languages? As a person who seeks to embark on a new journey, how much do you know about widely-spoken languages in the world? Can your fellow journalists directly follow cultural developments of other countries and prepare a response in a foreign language? What percentage of Iranian media coverage is dedicated to foreign news?
As I said Iran is at the center of the concentric circles of its own culture and civilization. What percentage of Iranian journalists are on the ground in regions where the Iranian civilization has a foothold to provide us with news? Of course, some people have taken measures to contribute to that cause. For instance, Mr. Doaei has always worked toward that goal and has set up representative offices in Europe which have been able to reflect the cultural, media and social issues of the country. Iran Institute has made efforts in this regard too. But how successful have other media outlets been in this regard?
What percentage of Iranian authors, analysts, journalists and news website owners can have their articles published in foreign newspapers and magazines? To find answers to these questions one need to work out statistics. Have we prepared our personnel to analyze things or publish articles in foreign media?
Media are one of the fundamentals of this important question which gives Iran a chance to play a role on the international stage. What percentage of the stories that are related to the culture circle comes directly from Iranian media? As you know, a great volume of our news stories are prepared by others. We just make small changes before making them available to our audience. For instance, we change the word Sunni rebels into ISIS. But we never get into the depths of what is happening in their societies from an Iranian perspective, so we have to contend with what they provide us with and add as little as possible in the way of dressing up.
How much have we trained in remaining unbiased in reporting news stories and in our reporting? How much have we trained in developing social depths and remaining close to civil society? I think the step IFP has taken is a sign of good things to come. I hope it will stay on its intended course.
Once I asked whether it was necessary to have an external TV or radio service in addition to Al-Alam Magazine, everyone responded “yes”. But as the notion came closer to becoming a reality, everyone said it should be run by the government. That was how Al-Alam, Al-Kawthar and other state-run services emerged. Naturally the global audience can easily spot signs that a medium is run by a government. That stains its reputation and results in the audience to turn their back on it.
It seems Iranian society is mature enough to be able to use this transformative move to make a difference on the world stage. Let me offer congratulations on this auspicious move. By the way, it was great to see my friends, old and new, at this event.