How To Become A “Tehran-Based” Journalist And Keep Your Job

Hamid Yazdanpanah
Jason Rezaian is, by his own admission, one of the only “foreign” journalists currently permitted to work in Iran. As we all know since the 2009 elections, the Iranian regime has been loath to allow any foreign journalists access to the country, however Mr. Rezaian has had no problem in this matter.

Indeed Mr. Rezaian has spent a considerable amount of time in Iran, and seemingly continues to enjoy a close relationship with the state; as he concedes in this commentary he wrote for the New York Times: “Last night I rode with some of them in a back of a truck plastered with the incumbent’s photos. These were members of the Bassij, the youth militia — young men in their 20s who are the new generation of the Islamic revolution.”


Also, by his own admission he has no desire to take a political stance on the situation in Iran. “Despite having an opinion, very few of those commenting seem to have it in them to actually take that leap (yours truly included).”

Yet Mr. Rezaian has not taken a neutral position in his reporting over the last few years, indeed he continues to advocate for very specific policy goals, whilst appearing to be willfully ignorant of the appalling human rights record of the Iranian regime. A simple scan through his blog, reveals articles entitled Come Visit Sunny Iran!, Visit Beautiful Iran!, The perfect time for a trip to Iran?  Rezaian sounds less like a journalist and more like a travel agent, placing Iran in an enticing orientalist lens whilst glazing over anything that has political significance.

In responding to comments by a critical reader regarding Iran’s human rights record, Rezaian dismissed the concerns, “This person had a great point; one that begins to unravel when you hold it up against other country’s outlandish records of capital punishment (think Texas.)”

Apparently Rezaian has no moral qualms with continuing a close relationship with the only government in the world which continues to execute minors, systematically discriminates against women and religious and ethnic minorities, and continues to execute individuals in public.

Rezaian’s promotion of all things Iran is less of a surprise when checking out his background. According to his bio he is the marketing director for his father’s Petaluma-based Persian rug business. Over the last few years he has written a number of articles decrying sanctions against the regime,  specifically the effects on the rug industry, these articles include: Let’s Trade With Iran, U.S. sanctions floor Iran carpet industry, Sanctions Pull Rug From Under Iran.  Rezaian again finds absolutely no problem with his self-interested “reporting”, and finding moral ground to take a stand on the issue of Persian rugs, however he seems reluctant to report on the thousands of young Iranians incarcerated or their political beliefs.

According to Rezaian, all things about Iran can be overcome by increasing “cultural and economic ties” with Iran. Although this may be great for the rug business, Rezaian seems incredibly obtuse to the realities on the ground facing Iran.

There is hardly any doubt as to how Rezaian continues to be the only foreign journalist licensed to operate from Tehran. Instead of covering a wide range of stories such as the ongoing protests in Iran, the effect of subsidy cuts on the population, or even day to day affairs of the people, he chooses a favorite target of the Iranian regime, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, MEK.

In discussing the State Departments review of the designation of the MEK Rezaian states, “With their designation as a terrorist organization currently under review, the larger issue is not just whether the MEK is engaged in terrorism at the moment, but that if the organization is further legitimated by U.S. policy makers, it will prove to be yet another disastrous read by the U.S. government.”

Without a hint of irony or even the appearance of journalistic neutrality, Mr. Rezaian openly advocates for skirting any semblance of due process or evidentiary basis for the designation of terrorist organizations, but instead offers the criteria of what would please Tehran. Either Rezaian truly does not understand how the rule of law is meant to work in this country, or he is simply pushing for the same policy that Tehran has demanded as one of its preconditions to coming to the negotiating table, which is to maintain the MEK as a terrorist organization.

“While many argue that the Iranian regime is too repressive to allow opposition, I would venture to say that there are still thousands, perhaps millions, of Iranians completely willing to speak openly about their attitudes on the 2009 election — but good luck finding a single person who is pro-MEK,” he asserts.

It is no surprise that in all his travels, Rezaian claims he has yet to encounter anyone in Iran who supports the MEK; none is to be found in the back of Bassiji pick-up trucks, or at Ahmadinejad Rallies. If he had bothered to report from any of the notorious prisons in Iran, he would be sure to find a number of MEK supporters on death row.

About the Author: Hamid Yazdanpanah has a JD from Mcgeorge School of Law, and is a blogger focused on issues in regards to Iran