The other day I spoke with a former colleague based in Tehran. Someone with a knack for getting stupid foreign journalists out of Iran’s more logistical minefields. She’s had to switch phones regularly to avoid having his mobile connection blocked. It’s the first time I’ve spoken to her since election day.
“It’s going to be difficult to report from Iran without jeopardising yourself. Even me. I’m local, I have all the right papers. But I don’t know if someone will come for me tonight. I’m old. I saw this the first time round. It’s not paranoia when you know what’s possible.”
My friend begins to wax lyrical about the days before 1979. The days when a diva known as Googoosh gyrated her way into every man’s fantasy and children had Kanoon illustrating their books and stories.
I’ve heard my friend’s stories before. They sound just as good the twentieth time as they did the first time because I know the sparkle in my friend’s eyes as the wrinkles relax and the stress ebbs away as they recount jaunts and japes.
Foreign media have been pervented from reporting on the streets. Almost all of them are based in Tehran and whoever is left is probably at the Esteglal Hotel. They’ve been instructed to stay in their offices or hotels refreshing websites on crap internet connections, make phone interviews that get cut off mid-way, and watch state television.
I mention that a mutual friend, a British television correspondent, has been ‘invited to leave’ by the Iranian government ahead of Friday prayers.
“That’s because Khameni [the Supreme Leader] will be addressing a crowd at Friday prayers. He’s bussing in people from around the country in a show of force, to build up the numbers.
I honestly can’t say what’ll happen. My daughter comes back late at night from spending the day marching in the streets. My spouse does the same. I fear for them but I’m secretly envious. Hey. Work’s work.”
Work, in this case, is being a journalist’s odd job man. They’re called fixers. They organise everything from filming permissions to interviews with politicians. To doing the odd bit of reporting on the side. They make sure you have a discreet driver, find you contraband alcohol and dope, and might even fix you up with a prostitute. Or they report your activities directly to the authorities who facilitate your speedy and permanent exit from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I ask how Press TV has been doing. Press TV is an English language state-owned news channel. Like Russia Today without correspondents who look like they charge for your time by the hour.
“Press TV…I couldn’t believe my fucking eyes! The guy on the ground at a Mousavi demo was upping the numbers of protestors while the guy in the studio was trying to dumb it down. But he just kept going saying ‘you are not here to see this with your own eyes…there are thousands…it’s incredible’. I mean, I do a bit of reporting for them. I can speak very freely on Press TV. No problems whatsoever.”
“Yes. For now. If there’s a major crackdown, this could be the last time I could be speaking to you, my friend.”
“You know the Ministry said I should sue the shit out of [an American television network]. You know [female television correspondent]? I saw that bitch the other day in….”