On November 30, 2012, Radio Zamaneh held its first conference in Amsterdam, kicking off a planned series of debates on issues concerning Iran. The first conference was called From Online Freedom to Offline Democracy: Media Activism: Do Words Lead to Results?
The conference was divided into two parts: a Persian-language panel moderated by Zamaneh Editor-in-Chief Mohammadreza Nikfar, and then a series of talks and debates conducted in English along with musical performances by Iranian artists.
The panel in Persian included freelance journalist Mahindokht Mesbah, human rights advocate Sohrab Razzaghi, writer and cultural critic Abdee Kalantari, and head of BBC World Service’s Asia Pacific region, Behrouz Afagh.
The panel took a critical look at the function of the media and their relation to society, examining whether they are open to all issues and voices in society or if they are restricted by prejudices, ideological preferences, the power structure and technical and professional necessities.
In the final part of the panel discussion, the audience was given a chance to participate in the debate. Shirin Ebadi, the human rights activist and Nobel peace laureate who was also a conference participant, called on the media to be more sensitive about the choices they make in informing the public.
Media and Social Action
Three panels, mediated by Zamaneh collaborators Kiana Karimi, Shazoda Samarghandi and Lida Hossaini Nejad, were held in English during the second part of the conference, and their topics of discussion were Social Media, Traditional Media and Social Movements.
Ali Bangi, director of ASL19, and Mahmoud Enayat, director of Small Media, Nazanin Ansari, director of Kayhan weekly, Kamran Ashtary, the managing director of the Arseh Sevom website, Behrouz Afagh and Shirin Ebadi spoke on the importance of social media in Iranian society and on how the traditional media and social networks work hand in hand and can no longer be spoken of in isolation.
While Ebadi stressed that social movements happen on the streets and not in the virtual world, Kamran Ashtary pointed out that social media cannot accomplish miracles but they can create a space for discussion, which is a necessary step toward change.
Human Rights Violations and the Issue of Negotiations with Iran
Shirin Ebadi praised the European Union’s decision to boycott Iranian satellite programs, stressing that sanctions on Iran should be aimed at restricting the actions of the Islamic Republic without harming the people of Iran.
Ebadi also said the EU should not limit its relations with Tehran to the issue of nuclear negotiations and she called for more of a focus on the state of human rights in Iran. Ebadi emphasized that human rights must remain a primary topic of discussions with Iran.
The Responsibility of the Media
Bijan Moshaver, the chairman of Zamaneh’s Board of Directors, opened both sections of the conference. He gave an overview of media suppression in Iran, declaring that it’s the solemn duty of media outlets outside Iran to inform the public. He further emphasized that Radio Zamaneh is committed to disseminating information about human rights issues in Iran.
Leon Willems, the director of Free Press Unlimited, commended the efforts made by Radio Zamaneh and all of its former and present organizers.
The conference was brought to a close by Zamaneh Executive Director Arjen de Wolff, who spoke of the media’s social responsibilities and duty to reflect the truth.
Iranian musicians Azadeh, Farjam, Sahand and the Mezrab group entertained the audience with their one-of-a-kind performances.
The top Dutch daily Volkskrant reported on the Zamaneh conference, interviewing three of its guests: Shirin Ebadi, Abdi Kalantari and Kamran Ashtary.