Who Cares About Minorities

Who cares about Iran?
Added: Thursday, 27 November 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

watch original V-Blog in German

In connection to my last v-blog where I spoke about our responsibility as 'media makers' towards the social and cultural environment that we help create and sustain, I have a story to share that highlights some of the dilemmas we face as journalists in the world today.

It was in May of this year when several news agencies all over the world reported on the wave of arrests that happened to 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran. The men and women were arrested without trial or the possibility of contacting their families for a long time. They are still being held today and their fate remains unclear.

When I related the happenings to a station chief at one of the TV stations that had not picked up on the story yet, I was asked to produced a 5-minute piece on the subject and run it by the news desk for approval. 2 days later I was in the office of the news editor, informing him of the recent arrests and handing him a DVD of the news story. Before taking even so much as a look at what had been cut, I was told two things: Firstly, "Who really cares about minorities?" and secondly "Who cares about minorities in Iran of all places?"

Pause. I stared right back at him and collected my thoughts. Of course I acknowledged the irreverent journalistic lingo he was using and it wasn't 'how' he was saying it that offended me. It was 'what' he was implying. Because what he was implying was that human rights violations against minorities are not newsworthy – not until there were, quite frankly, gruesome things to report.

I asked him about the Zimbabweans in South Africa. Foreigners, among them mostly Zimbabweans, had just been subjected to a wave of persecutions in South Africa. Were they not news worthy? Well according to this fellow they were, except that they had gone up in flames, been tortured and killed. That was newsworthy!

Okay, so how about Iran? I asked. Iran is not exactly an obscure subject, but even if it were, even if these persecutions had been taking place in the Sandwich Islands, were they not newsworthy? Nobody here is interested in Iran right now was his answer.

Of course I disagreed. But his mind had been made up and the story was not going through. I pondered long and hard on his response and it led me to ask myself so many questions about our role as reporters, as journalists. And these questions, among many others gathered through the experiences of countless media people, will certainly have to be explored. We need to think about our moral responsibility towards society and start by asking such questions as:

- When is something newsworthy? Once the ulcer festers and erupts? Once thousands, maybe even millions of people must die? Like they had to in Rwanda? Or can we, as journalists, identify and report on dangerous, alarming trends and happenings around the world before they warp into a fully-fledged genocide? Can we not, in the case of Baha'is, prevent an impending genocide from taking on massive proportions by alarming the world of the very things that could lead to that? Is it not our responsibility? Or are we simply reporters of fires and sensational stories, not worried about society or human life until it reaches spectacular proportions?
- And what is to interest us? Should we only care about what happens in our own country or in countries that directly influence our own lives? Or should we care about every human suffering, share and learn from the experiences of our brothers and sisters no matter where they live? And who decides what is "interesting" and what isn't anyway? Aren't we the ones who dictate which images and voices are broadcast and which are silenced? Aren't we the ones that create the interest in the first place?

Shocked as I am about my experience, I hope it will provide the inspiration for a much-needed forum, where media people like myself can share, exchange and actively work to change the nature of our work.

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