Taghi Amirani's documentary on journalism and censorship in Iran, “”, aired on U.S. public television (PBS) last Thursday, September 23. It will be repeated at local PBS stations, including Tuesday the 28th at 10 pm on KCET in Los Angeles (listed under its old title “Most of the News That's Fit to Print“. Check your local listings. Here are his replies to an email interview. — J. Javid
Iran has been struggling with censorship for decades. Was there a particular event which drove you to make this documentary?
I had been looking for a subject for my first documentary back home for a while. Shargh newspaper caught my eye at the newsstands in Tehran in February and after meeting its amazing journalists it became clear that this had to be it.
I was looking for something positive to make a film about, and the young talented journalists at Sharghare the most inspirational group of Iranians I have met. I was keen to show Iranians in a different way to the usual portrayal in Western media.
In the process of making this film, you have come across many journalists working in a very difficult situation. In fact Iran has been given the infamous title of the world's worst offender of free speech rights. What gives these journalists hope? What makes them dare?
A love for Iran and a firm belief in peaceful non-confrontational and gradual move towards democracy, without outside interference.
What did the journalists you interviewed have to say about the Khatami era, which is about to come to an end next spring with new presidential elections? The initial high hopes, and the eventual crackdown?
They're grateful that Khatami's election triggered the birth of the reformist press but that's as far as it goes. They no longer see a connection between him and them and have no allegiance to him. They say the reformist press is in retreat but will be back.
What do you make of the existing Iranian press, the legal newspapers and magazines? How diverse are they? What are some of the popular ones?
I am afraid I am not an expert on the full range of Iranian press. My focus was on Shargh only. However, I noticed a good range of sports and movie magazines and quite a few newspapers. I didn't get to read any of them.
We hear a lot about “civil society”, and how we need it in order to create a democracy. How important is the role of journalists in the effort to build a civil society? Are people paying attention or are they too busy with the basic hardships of everyday life?
Newspaper circulation has dropped dramatically. They say people don't turn to papers for news. Those who can turn to the internet. However, it's in the social affairs arena that Shargh journalists believe they can play an effective role. Build a civil society from grass roots up. Cultural reform right across the society. Evolution, not revolution.
Tell us one good story from your trip.
Can't pick one. I would say the time I spent with the Shargh team, the entire shooting trip, was the most stimulating, invigorating and inspiring time I have had as a filmmaker. Making some films change you and give you hope. “” was definitely one of those.
What do you want your viewers to take with them after seeing your documentary?
Pride in some intelligent, brave and committed young journalists who are the future of Iran.