If there's one way I can define our work in the Mezrab, it is that we allow people to tell their own stories. This can be a song, a story, a personal film or anything else that connects the personal you with an audience. The reading of weblog posts is a perfect fit with this philosophy. In essence it's a very Persian artform. Driven from government controlled media outlets, Iran's internet users have flocked to the anonymity of the internet, where the most secret and sacred thoughts and observations can be penned down, protected by a pseudonym. One of the major ways of getting the true stories out of Iran and similarly oppressed countries is to read the blogs and the twitter feeds.
One of the voices that we read in the Mezrab from the internet was that of Amina, a gay Syrian blogger, who openly defied the oppressive regime of Assad. Her story, exciting and brave, was picked up by Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the BBC and many other respected news outlets. As I thought the Syrian situation is especially relevant to Iran I translated one of her posts for Zamaneh. Then she disappeared. According to an update by her cousin she was arrested by the Syrian secret police. One week after an international campaign to locate her and secure her release, it's been proven that the blog was in fact a hoax. All posts were (probably) written by an American man called Tom MacMaster.
That such a hoax was possible is not a surprise, there's billions of internet users with all the tools that they need to set up such an operation. That it went on for so long says a lot about how journalism functioned in extraordinary circumstances, reporting from countries where the standard rules of journalism don't seem to work. Some are more lax about their sources (and don't mind that they don't prove adequately who they are, as coming forward would put their life in danger) and grateful for even the little bit of information that comes out of certain countries. Al Jazeera had camera crews covering Tahrir square in Cairo, why can't we cover events in Iran in the same way?
While the speed with which the Amina hoax was disproven shows the power of the internet (in different countries people were working to uncover the truth, both professional journalists as well as "amateurs", all the time sharing information with each other in a "wikipedia" spirit of selflessness) this whole episode reminds us that we need to think about the state of journalism and writing in itself. It shows that while every person with an internet connection can write a story and publish it online, there is much added value with the existing media, it is to uncover the untruths and propaganda and to provide fresh thoughts and analysis on the facts that are out there. Also, existing media can distribute basic journalistic skills that we need to navigate a media landscape in which every neighbour and friend is a medium, and some government controlled media of many countries are propaganda tools. I'm very happy that our Iranian exiled media is doing just that: building skills and foundations, giving a stage for not just facts but also analysis:
Radio Zamaneh has e-learning courses for various levels that hundreds of aspiring journalists have already followed.
The association On File gives journalists with a non-Dutch background a home to network and access to various courses. (not Iranian, but a lot of Iranians have been welcomed by this lovely crowd: http://www.onfile.eu/ )
Tehran Review's Shervin Nekuee and Ali Mohtadi discuss the need of a "Green" medium with journalistic pioneer Mehdi Jami:
Iranian Progressive Youth supports academic thought by creating an essay writing contest. The winners are presented this Tuesday (Tomorrow) at 16.00 in Leiden. Info here: http://iranpy.net/articles/1248