Iranian Youth and Women “Democratized” the Media
For almost a decade, Iranians have been ubiquitous online. Persian is now the fourth most popular language in online blogs. There are an estimated 75,000 Iranian blogs. Many Iranians frustrated with the lack of self-expression have used the virtual world to express themselves, to articulate their passions and this past summer to relate, and reveal to their reactions – their opposition to their leadership.
Millions of Iranians had gone to the polls to vote for a new President. After the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, millions of voters took to the streets to protest what they believed was a fraudulent election. Those desperate to have their votes counted and their voices heard embraced social media like never before, becoming at one point the sole outlet for news escaping from a closed government. Emerging from the round-ups and riots that shook the nation, I found a political and social sea-change taking place: unprecedented, direct communication and information that flowed over and around any effort to suppress it. One particularly telling email from Iran read: “Forward this to your friends. You are the media.”
Let me tell you that one of the most remarkable and under-reported stories in Iran has been the strength and character of it’s youth and it’s women’s movement. Since 1995, as an NPR Producer I made sure their stories are told in more ways than one. Whether it was working with my colleague Jacki Lyden who travelled to Iran many times or by interviewing leading women’s rights activists in their native Persian, public radio listeners heard about the invincible power of Iranian women and youth. It is evident by their stories that the women’s movement in particular has not only gotten stronger and more organized it has also emboldened a younger tech savy generation of youth to take the front lines and demand their rights.
So this past June, as international reporters in Iran continued to be sent out of the country or arrested after the disputed elections, there was no other way to get the story out to the world. For a time, we did turn to social media on our blog and on our radio program as a way to convey the news out of Iran. For NPR, this was the first big story where we saw a convergence across radio, web and social media. The roar of these voices, were emblematic of a country and a generation’s desire for change.
Today in March of 2010, tech-savy Iranians continue to channel their frustration across social media although they are much more cautious and subtle. And the story of a nation in search for justice is still very much in the making. In the unprecedented global access of communication this past summer, Iranian protestors found an intensely human network of unmet friends and comrades-in-spirit; and as the government’s crackdown intensified with warrantless arrests and unofficial detentions, a new fear was born for the social media age: when the enemy you fight is silence, each message to cross the wire could be the last.
Finally, as a journalist, what have I learned from the Iran election experience and the social media expression explosion? This experience has strengthened my resolve that we are entering a new paradigm in digital news. It is imperative that communities interact, collaborate and engage with the media. Social media has met social unrest. Real time stories by citizens in crisis have been informing journalists in unthinkable ways. News organizations are scrambling to understand this new media landscape.
Many of us journalists will practice civic journalism, the belief that journalism must be participatory in nature, allowing the public to engage in issues important to their communities. The architecture of news has shattered and the Iran election was a real example of that. The era of digital news will be like no other. And as I navigate through this new public media calling, I have the Iranian youth and women to thank for enhancing my digital storytelling frame of reference.
(1) Comments •
You are so eloquent and on target with your observations sis. The world is operating on a new paradigm, and we need forward-thinking women of your caliber to lead us there. I’m glad to be on the periphery of this ride, as I witness your transformation. With much love, Mani
Posted by Mani Farhadi on 04/09 at 02:40 AM
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