Iran: Quo vadis?

By Giorgio Cafiero

02/15/2023

Over the past five months, Iran has been roiled by protests which have changed the public perceptions of the country and generated more interest in national developments. The global media has been giving close coverage to the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. Amid a stringent internet blackout rolled out by the government, international audiences have been seeking to identify authentic voices inside Iran as well as honest narrators abroad who portrayed the uprising and its different ramifications persuasively.

One of these chroniclers is a young journalist whose consistent reporting on the protests, and the broader Iranian affairs, has stood out and earned him plaudits.

Currently based in Minnesota, Kourosh Ziabari is a noted journalist whose life began in the Iranian city of Rasht in 1990. As a prolific writer with an impressive career in media, Ziabari has traveled to numerous continents to interview hundreds of diplomats, thought leaders, and politicians. He has been widely recognized for his work, winning the Chevening Award from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Professional Excellence Award from the Foreign Press Correspondents Association (AFPC), and many others. The thirty-two-year-old Iranian journalist has also been a silver medal winner of the Prince Albert II of Monaco and United Nations Correspondents Association’s Global Prize for climate reporting.

At the time of the protest movement in Iran that started in September 2022 with the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, Ziabari had been completing a Dag Hammarskjold Fund for Journalists fellowship covering the United Nations. He questioned the UN authorities daily on their response to the crackdown on the protesters and the crippling internet restrictions that cut Iranians off from the outside world.

Kourosh Ziabari is a U.S. correspondent for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times

Ziabari has questioned UN officials on their response to the ongoing crackdown by the Iranian government on the protesters across the country

An early start 

Although many journalists discover their passion as adults, Ziabari began pursuing his dream of being a top-tier journalist when he was a young boy living in northern Iran. His father ran a publication which exposed him to the media world early on in life. By the tender age of eight, he picked up the pen and began writing professionally. In fact, those consuming his articles had trouble fathoming the idea of someone so young being capable of producing some pieces.

“I started drafting stories and articles as an elementary school student,” Ziabari told Man & Culture Magazine (M&C). “My father would proofread them and eventually they got published. There were so many calls coming in from readers who’d say that these articles couldn’t have been written by a nine-year-old child and they were disputing the authenticity of these articles.” Early on there were some in Iran who accused his father and owners of other media outlets publishing Ziabari’s work of fabricating the articles. But soon everyone came to understand that Ziabari truly authored these pieces, and before long many Iranian dailies began publishing his writings.

Ziabari was not even a teenager when he started writing for major dailies in Tehran. By age 17 he became a regulator contributor to Iran’s longest-running popular science magazine, Daneshmand. Today, he is a correspondent for Hong Kong-based Asia Times, and he writes for countless think tanks and media outlets including Middle East Institute, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, The National Interest, The New Arab, and Al Monitor

Iran is one the world's oldest continuous civilizations with historical and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC
A tough path 

Despite his many years of success, Ziabari told M&C that journalism is a difficult industry to stay in. The challenges are such that many journalists abandon their dreams and find other forms of employment. But there is a fire burning inside Ziabari that keeps him going, even during the toughest times.

“It’s only because of my sincere and genuine passion for journalism and for what I’ve been doing that I’ve been able to survive so many difficulties and hardships which have emerged over the years,” Ziabari told M&C. “Without this dedication and without my heartfelt passion for journalism I wouldn’t have been able to move ahead and weather these storms.”

As a native of Iran, reporting on so much tragedy, suffering, and cruelty in his home country comes with many emotional tolls. Setting aside personal feelings and objectively looking at cold facts can be, to put it mildly, taxing. 

“Journalism and reporting on such a volatile and complicated setting as Iran have never been easy,” explained Ziabari. “You’re dealing with a sociopolitical context that involves much sophistication. The government is not receptive to investigative and critical reporting. Then, there is so much context and nuance that you must be aware of. At the same time because of the multiplicity of the voices and because there is so much diversity in the coverage, you might face backlash. You might be subject to trolling and abuse online.”

Not only does he face harassment online, but Ziabari also must worry about real life threats to his safety and that of his loved ones.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) established the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 when he overthrew the Pahlavi-dynasty

As one who closely follows Iran discourse, he notices that many voices are simply committed to advancing some narratives while sideling and marginalizing anyone with differing views and analyses. “Journalism as a discipline requires the practitioners to refuse to be activists; rather, we are taught to be communicators, facilitators, and messengers,” Ziabari told M&C. “If we fulfill our collective objective conscientiously, we can be part of the solution and simplify the many dilemmas our world is facing. As soon as we put our personal or corporate interests above our intellectual responsibilities and become the party to any conflict, our professionalism would be compromised, and we cease to be journalists.”

During M&C’s interview with the young Iranian journalist, he explained that throughout much of life his he has experienced exclusion and knows what it feels like to suffer from discrimination. “This is why I endeavor to make my reporting as inclusive, representative, and colorful as possible. I believe it is my mission to ensure authentic voices are not stifled no matter the hierarchies, and that debate is encouraged and those who have valuable insights to contribute to the conversation are not left behind.”

Looking ahead, Ziabari understands that his career in journalism will not become easier with time. As long as he continues reporting on Iran, he will have to deal with all the toxicities. But Ziabari is committed to principles, not political agendas. His quest to remain true to these principles is a struggle, though one that he will continue indefinitely.

For people worldwide who care about Iran, the work of Ziabari is immensely valuable and worth following closely throughout the future of his career. 

Not only does he face harassment online, but Ziabari also must worry about real life threats to his safety and that of his loved ones
The Grand Bazaar of Isfahan, Iran
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