FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 22, 2009
'Citizen journalists' help Iran protest news get past government restrictions
Read Iran reports with an eye toward news-gathering restrictions. Pay attention to sources and the "dateline" (city) at the top or any details at the end about where reports originated. Are government restrictions effective?
The daily drama in Tehran is of special interest to Iranian-Americans and scholars here who focus on that country or region. Look for their voices.
Identify other signs of electronic era journalism. How does this newspaper reflect the popularity of web use, blogs, Twitter and e-mail?
The world's hottest news location right now is also the toughest for professionals to cover. Nearly all foreign journalists had to leave Iran last week, limiting mainstream media reports about daily anti-government rallies by students and hundreds of thousands of older adults. Most journalists who traveled to Tehran, the capital, for a June 12 presidential election were given one-week visas (travel permits) -- and all extension requests were denied after massive crowds began protesting a result they see as rigged.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line critic of America, was declared the overwhelming winner of a new term -- angering supporters of a reform candidate named Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims he won. The earliest protests were organized partly via Twitter, a short-message social network. The California firm that owns Twitter even delayed a maintenance shutdown because "events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network," co-founder Biz Stone wrote in a blog. "It made sense for Twitter . . . keep services active during this highly visible global event."
Amateur videos and professional reporting are distributed by the BBC, a British broadcast service that still has a Tehran bureau. Iranian residents are filing reports to the Associated Press, NBC, the New York Times and other media. Even they face severe restrictions, however, as the government threatens to arrest reporters doing street interviews or videotaping protests. "The government is trying to do everything it can to curtail the free dissemination of information," says Hossein Ziai, Iranian studies director at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Editor says: "Visa extensions have been denied across the board. Some reporters have considered staying on without visas, working under the radar. . . . [But] this is a fairly efficient police state; the chances of anyone eluding arrest long enough to see how the story plays out are slim." -- Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor
YouTube's role: "YouTube is acting as a critical platform for citizen journalists. By using YouTube, Iranian citizens are having their voices heard, their faces seen and their story gets told around the world without filtering. The real story of this election is being told by the citizen." -- Scott Rubin, company spokesman .
Professor says: "What is going on is extremely interesting. It seems to me to indicate the power of something I call civic technology." -- Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard University Center for Internet and Society
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