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Small Media interview with Rieneke van Santen

Iran: The Road Ahead

On October 21, Small Media attended Iran: The Road Ahead – Zamaneh Media’s festival celebrating the riches of Iranian civil society, arts, and culture. Small Media attended to present its latest work, and to contribute to the important conversations taking place within Iranian civil society today.

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On October 21, Radio Zamaneh hosted its ten-year anniversary celebration Iran: The Road Ahead at Pakhuis de Zwijger in the heart of Amsterdam, attracting friends and partners from around the world. Founded in 2006, Radio Zamaneh began broadcasting as a Persian-language radio station, with the aim of providing high-quality independent news, and a channel for marginalised voices unable to secure representation in the Iranian media.

Over the years Radio Zamaneh’s mission has expanded, as have their capabilities. Nowadays, the organisation undertakes a wide range of initiatives to support the practice of citizen journalism in Iran. At The Road Ahead, Radio Zamaneh officially revealed its transformation into Zamaneh Media, with their new branding reflecting the incredible evolution the organisation has embarked upon.

Small Media joined a number of other inspiring freedom of information organisations at Zamaneh Media’s celebrations, including Article 19, United for Iran, Nogaam, and Iran Academia. In addition to sharing our latest research with attendees, it was a fantastic opportunity for us to get involved in some of the most important debates around Iran today.

At the event, Small Media’s Programmes Manager Azadeh Pourzand moderated a panel on Digital Advocacy in Iran, where she was joined by representatives from Article 19 to discuss the opportunities and risks facing digital activism in Iran today. She was also a panellist in the discussion on domestic political challenges in Iran, where she spoke about the path forward for Iranian civil society in the post-sanctions era. Commenting on the panel, she said:

I very much enjoyed engaging in an analytical, interactive, and forward-looking discussion about the status of civil society and human rights in light of the upcoming elections in Iran. The panel covered important topics such as the discourse and practice of human rights advocacy in the post-nuclear deal era, and the importance of highlighting the initiatives and experiences of marginalized people such as ethnic groups and LGBTQI. The panel also addressed the domestic fragmentations within the ruling elite in the Islamic Republic, their implications in terms of the upcoming elections, and the impact of these internal struggles on the lives of ordinary Iranians.

Small Media’s Research Manager James Marchant also spoke at the event, offering attendees a sneak peek at an upcoming research project that will be unveiled in the next few months. It’s under wraps for now, but it’ll be made public on our website in the coming months. Stay tuned!

The Domestic Challenges in Iran panel at Iran: The Road Ahead

We caught up with Zamaneh Media’s Director Rieneke Van Santen after the event, to ask her a few questions about how it all went, and to learn more about the past, present, and future of Zamaneh Media. Here’s what she had to say:

Small Media: Please can you tell us little bit about Radio Zamaneh and its work?

Rieneke Van Santen: Radio Zamaneh is an independent Persian media organization, which was founded in 2006 with the aim of providing independent information to Iran and to support human rights, democracy and press freedom in Iran. It started off as a radio station, but quickly moved to predominantly provide online news and analysis. Over the years we have moved into three main areas of focus: providing independent reporting and professional journalism; education through e-learning; and facilitating citizen reporting. In addition to covering news, Zamaneh is known for its analytical reporting especially on minority issues such as the Iranian LGBTQ community. We operate from exile with a small team in Amsterdam, but in collaboration with a core editorial team and hundreds of additional reporters all over the world.

Small Media: How was the event? Were you happy with how it turned out?

Rieneke Van Santen: It was a rush! From the beginning, we wanted to make sure that this event would go beyond the traditional setting of panel discussions that you usually see at conferences. So although we wanted to discuss the issues regarding Iran that we think are important, we also wanted people to have fun and make sure that it would also be a celebration. We therefore chose the format of a festival with panel discussions and presentations but also art, cinema and music. Arts and culture have always been an important focus for Zamaneh, so this made complete sense to us.

We also wanted to include other Iranian human rights groups to present their projects, and provide visitors with information about their areas of expertise. I feel like there aren’t enough opportunities for European-based groups that work on Iran to do this, and so the goal here was also to help strengthen the Iranian human rights community, and introduce the great work all these groups are doing to a wider audience.

Small Media: What was the outcome of event for Radio Zamaneh and participants?

Rieneke Van Santen: I heard so many great stories from visitors, especially on the casual and friendly vibe of the event as well as the excellent organization, for which I should give all credits to our amazing team. Unfortunately the live stream could only cover the panels in the main hall and not the presentations or the activities in the other rooms. Especially the small sessions hosted by Small Media, JoopeA, Article19 and the presentation by Wageningen University on the case of Lake Urmia received many positive responses. Many follow-up meetings were initiated between participants and visitors, so regarding my aim of bringing the community together it was a success!

There are always things that can go better of course, which we will take into account for a next time. Overall I believe everyone had a great time. Up to 300 people connected and hopefully gained new insights on Iran and the road ahead. In addition we had over 1,000 people viewing the live stream, and we will be sharing a compilation of the event with our audience in Iran as well, making sure that it reaches our in-country audience. The main purpose of this event was to inform and create discussions within the diaspora and international community, but we of course want to include our audience in Iran wherever we can, since they are the sole purpose of our work.

Small Media: What is the future of Zamaneh Media? And why the change in name?

Rieneke Van Santen: Zamaneh has moved to full online activities years ago, yet the name Radio Zamaneh remained. During all my years at Zamaneh I felt this name does not do justice to our current work and our aims and goals for the future. So together with the board and editorial team we decided this ten year anniversary is the perfect moment to move into a new decade as Zamaneh Media. We still make radio programs, but they are published in the form of online podcasts and our audience can listen via the mobile app and the website.

Much more important however is our multimedia approach to telling a story, covered throughout all of our online platforms handling platform independent content. This means we adapt storytelling and the content to the means we are using. Sharing content on Telegram of course deserves a different approach than publishing a multimedia piece on our website or building a topical dossier of radio programs. The name Zamaneh Media covers all those aspects.

For the future we strive to remain a unique player in the independent Persian media sphere with regards to providing in-depth analysis and the personal stories behind the headlines. We will continue building dossiers on topics that are underrepresented in mainstream media. We want to become better at serving our audience with new media solutions that fit into contemporary ways of how the people in Iran access and share information. Working with tech and Internet freedom partners, such as Psiphon, allows us to do that.

In addition, we will continue building on the success of Zamaneh Tribune, our citizen reporting platform, by implementing new participatory projects to strengthen civil society and promote democratic processes as well as provide coaching and education on related issues, for instance gender mainstreaming for civil society organizations. One of the new projects starting next year that I am personally very excited about is an ‘artist for change’ campaign through which we aim to raise awareness against the death penalty for minors and non-violent crimes in Iran.

Small Media: What are differences between Radio Zamaneh and Zamaneh Media? Whats vision for Zamaneh Media?

Rieneke Van Santen: Our vision remains the same as it was founded in 2006: to be a voice to the voiceless. The main news portal will stay radiozamaneh.com – we want to make sure our audience can still find us. Radio Zamaneh however, is just one of the platforms of Zamaneh Media and forms the integrated participatory media model together with Zamaneh Academy, Zamaneh Tribune, and our outreach through social media and mobile. Our core business remains professional journalism, but through education and citizen reporting we are able to explore other areas of work that contribute to developing press freedom, democracy and human rights in Iran. Also, these other endeavors strengthen our reporting. So we train people in journalism skills, and provide them with a platform for blogging and reporting. The top stories then get featured on radiozamaneh.com. In this way, we are able to expand our network of reporters, offer a platform for all voices to be heard, and be a unique player in the Persian media landscape.

The night finished as all good nights should – with cake! Happy birthday wishes to Zamaneh Media!
The night finished as all good nights should – with cake! Happy birthday wishes to Zamaneh Media!