Saturday, February 21, 2004

Working as a journalist here in Iran is a surreal experience.

A staple of broadcast journalism is the “vox pop” – accosting people on the streets and asking them what they think about a particular subject.

On election day, many of the programmes I work for were asking for voxes so I went down to a nearby polling station with my translator, Negar, to listen to the vox of the populi.

Being able to interview people openly in public places is unusual enough in Iran. But the paranoia of the authorities over it would be laughable, were it not so serious for the ordinary Iranians who have to deal with the invasions of their privacy every day.

As soon as I took out my microphone and started talking to people, a plainclothes intelligence officer sidled up alongside. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t stop us, he didn’t take notes…he just stood there, as if poised to step in should anyone dare to criticise the regime. It was all extremely bizarre – but because we’d been rigorous beforehand in ensuring we had the right accreditation, everything was above board. On any normal, non-election day we’d have been hauled off to the nearest police station – or at the very worst subjected to the breathtakingly pointless questioning and permission checking that makes you want to tear your hair out. For the elections, though, we had our special papers – and no one could stop us.

As the day went on, the constant shadow of the authorities began to feel almost normal. Men in sunglasses followed us from a distance whenever we went. To be fair, I would have been very surprised if they hadn’t.

At one point, we turned up at a polling station to do some lives on our videophone, only to find it virtually deserted. As we set up the camera, the police officer on patrol herded up a gaggle of women in black chadors and made them queue outside – to make it look like the Great Iranian Public was itching to cast its collective vote.

At the polling station, I met two sisters who were a dream for me. Not only did they speak good English but they were also poles apart politically – one conservative, the other reformist.

I made them the centrepiece of my election day report, which you can hear here. It’s a .wma file, is 400Kb in size and is 3’18” long.


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