Iran Front Page (IFP) was officially launched at a gathering dubbed Iranian Media and the International Community in Tehran on Wednesday August 20. One of the speakers at the event was Dr. Mohammad Mehdi Forghani, a veteran journalist and prominent journalism professor at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabai University. The following is the translation of the speech Dr. Forghani delivered at the meeting:
First of all, let me greet all those who have gathered here for this event. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take up a few minutes of your time. I would like to offer congratulations to Mr. Askarieh on the latest of his innovative moves which is expected to be unveiled later tonight.
I know him for almost 38 years now. His willingness to take risks and sail into uncharted territory is his outstanding quality, something which is not so common these days. That is the quality I have always stayed away from. Naturally, I am a conservative person. Over the years, the people I know have asked me: “Why don’t you launch a newspaper or a magazine?” I have never done that because as the name uncharted waters suggests stress and anxiety come with the territory. He [Mr. Askarieh] has launched Safheyeavval [name of a magazine Mr. Askarieh has launched in the 1990s] and embarked on many other journeys. This latest push is meant to paint a better picture of Iran for the world public opinion.
I think what is going to be unveiled tonight is a symbol of the age we live in, an age which has been dubbed as the age of communications, an age in which media reign supreme.
Let me shift to another subject which is worth mentioning. I think what is going to be unveiled tonight is a symbol of the age we live in, an age which has been dubbed as the age of communications, an age in which media reign supreme. Willingly or unwillingly, we all live in an environment eclipsed by the media.
Jean Baudrillard has argued that all human knowledge comes from media, either directly or indirectly. In other words media have conquered our lives. Of course, such pervasive presence can be used for both positive and negative purposes. The presence of media in our lives is not always black and white. They are not necessarily an ailment, neither are they a cure. In some cases, they emerge as an ailment and in others as a cure. Depending on who is running them and what policies they follow, media can serve different purposes.
The website which is going to be launched later tonight is the result of what was thrust onto the world stage by communications technology, especially after the 80s. I believe, just like every other civilizational product, new technologies do have the potential to be used for negative goals. There are positive uses as well, just like the site which is going to be launched later tonight.
For decades we have complained about the hegemony of global media which are also known as mainstream media. We have complained about their monopoly, about the fact that they file reports containing millions of words on a daily basis without mentioning the Third World and if there is any mention of the Third World it simply involves things which are taken there from nearby countries to be processed.
Initially these technologies made cracks appear in the prevailing discourse of media. As time passed those cracks grew wider and wider. This is a great achievement. Media, whether within a country’s national borders or at an international level, have rivals. Although these rivals are mostly pressed for cash and lack a cohesive structure and strong human resources, they are very competitive.
Gaza provides a perfect example.People took to the streets in cities in the US, Britain, France, Spain and some other countries to condemn Israeli crimes and protest against their governments. The end result was not what the mainstream media covered. In those protest rallies participants even criticized the mainstream media for censorship.
How did the public learn about what was really happening? Governments were unable to censor the news that spread through social networks. As a result, cohesion developed in the court of public opinion. Never has the Israeli government been under so much pressure in the court of public opinion. Similarly, Western governments have never been under so much pressure at home to do something to stop this bloodletting and savagery.
That means each and every international citizen has been empowered. Sometimes an eye-witness account a person shares with others on a blog can not only compete with what Jean Baudrillard describes as hyper-reality but overshadows it to a large extent. We saw that happen during the wars in Iraq and Syria and in Arab countries swept by the Islamic Awakening and more recently in Gaza.
This is a positive phenomenon, it has some negative aspects too. It gives everyone a chance to speak, but who answers for what is published remains unanswered. It is also unclear how truthful the things which are published are. It is unclear how accurate the stories are and how much of a role personal hostilities have played in its content. These are two sides of a single incident. We need to make efforts to improve the positive aspect.
As Mr. Askarieh said he has received no government aid and that is what is important. We so badly need to get the private sector involved in these activities.
What is going to happen [the launch of the IFP website] is an auspicious move. As Mr. Askarieh said he has received no government aid and that is what is important. We so badly need to get the private sector involved in these activities.
Over the decades, in our country state-run media including print media have prevailed. When independence, freedom and pluralism are talked about in international communications and journalism, private media are being referred to.
I don’t want to imply that the government-run media cannot or should not exist. What I am saying is that private media should be given more room to focus on realities. Government elements should not trample them. We hope to see more such activities in our country and a more robust private sector on the media stage.
It seems that in local and global media spheres which are full of excitement we need a code of conduct more than ever before. I believe ethics are conspicuous by its absence in our society and in the international community today. Media should develop the code of conduct in question and remain committed to its provisions. However, one should not forget that such a thing cannot happen in vacuum. It should be part of a wider professional journalism structure.
Although journalism made its debut in Iran 180 years ago, journalistic professionalism is still absent in the country. There are some principles which should be worked into a comprehensive system of media rights. Professional independence is one of these principles. Any such system should cover the definition of professional journalists, their salary, and the terms of their insurance and retirement, etc. It should also guarantee their right to investigate and freely publish information, news and opinions.
Economic independence is of the essence too. In the absence of such independence a journalist’s performance might get dangerous.
A former student of mine who works for a news agency called me a few days ago and said he wanted to interview me on the phone. As part of the first question he asked he said he had heard reports that in the West journalists are encouraged to buy the shares of companies to minimize their financial dependence on the media company they work for. Is it true that such a practice gives them more independence, he demanded.
In response I said, the definition of a professional journalist is clear. A professional journalist is one who makes a living through working for an agency. When a person becomes a stakeholder in a company and the dividends that firm pays become the main source of his income, he cannot be viewed as a professional journalist. Such attitudes are becoming more and more mainstream these days.
A supreme media council that would protect the professional and social responsibilities of journalists on the one hand, and supervise their performance on the other should be created.
Professional and economic independence which brings about job security, specialized training, and a code of conduct should all be part of the package. A supreme media council that would protect the professional and social responsibilities of journalists on the one hand, and supervise their performance on the other should be created.
As a person who has been involved in journalism for more than four decades, I should tell younger journalists that in the absence of ethics journalism is a crime. When we are not committed to the truth, when we don’t make efforts to keep away from insults, slander and bribery, and when we don’t act in keeping with professional ethics, we are doing injustice to our fellow citizens. We need to be committed to global ethics and add our own cultural values to the universal convention.
In the absence of such criteria it would be difficult to determine when a journalist is serving his community and when he is committing treason. So let’s make a call for creation of an ethical movement in the journalistic community. That is the thing that should happen.
All of us should know how important this code of conduct is. We should also know that any profession which has its own code of conduct is viewed as more significant. You can’t expect journalists to answer for their conduct and abide by professional ethics without ensuring their professional rights.
I hope we can join hands and help realize something that has eluded us over the past 180 years. Thank you very much.