Raul Juste Lores is a Brazilian journalist and Beijing Bureau Chief of Folha de Sao Paulo. He has recently taken a trip to Tehran, where he met and interviewed several Iranian bloggers and civil society personalities such as the Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Why is a chief bureau of a Brazilian newspaper in Beijing interested in Iranian bloggers?
Actually I cover Asia, but not Middle East. Due to the elections in Israel, a colleague was there and my newspaper wanted someone else to go to Tehran to cover the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. It was a great opportunity and I accepted inmediately.
In any country, bloggers can give you a fresh idea about what the youth is thinking — and in Iran, where 70% of population can be considered pretty young, blogosphere becomes more important.
You have interviewed several bloggers in Iran. What were their social/political background? What were their concerns, hopes and projects?
Most were middle class in Tehran, unfortunately I couldn't travel to the countryside, although I talked to one or two bloggers from other cities by chat. Anyway, they represent an urban, middle class and young generation where the internet is their territory of freedom, or at least the freer one. I've interviewed a conservative blogger as well, it was interesting to realize that religious conservatives are using the same platform.
I wish I had the opportunity to know more about bloggers from other groups. What I've seen is just a small fragment. Most of them really look like young people everywhere in the world: idealistic, full of projects, web-addicts, dreamers. But in Iran they tend to be much more politicized and interested about world news — they created their own way to break the isolation of the country after so many embargos and sanctions.
How do you evaluate the citizen media impact on the Iranian society?
It is a very big impact. In countries where all the media belongs to, or at least, is strongly regulated by the government, blogs can be an important alternative to spread news, to give voice to different sources, to express different points of view and criticisms. Many blogs are more focused about humour, jokes than political and intellectual issues, but it is the same everywhere.
How much of the Iran you discover was similar to the image of Iran you had in your mind?
The tension in the air is very similar to the one I had imagined. To see so many women covered in dark, long chadors… Nature is so full of colors, don't you think? The idea that someone can be put in jail because he/she is doing something pretty normal in the rest of the world. Also, the society is very, very conservative, sexism and the lack of equality of rights between men and women go well beyond the religious laws, even the so-called modern and liberal ones are definitely conservative.
On the other hand, Iranian youth has managed to live as best as it is possible, so somehow they break many laws, they have fought for their space against so many prohibitions. In a word, they are far less accomodated than young people in many other countries. Thay have to fight for things others take for granted.
How do you compare the Iranian blogosphere and the Brazilian and/or Chinese ones?
They have a bigger political role than in Brazil, because in Iran you don't have as many outspoken actors in civil society like in my country (free press, strong NGOs, many political parties, etc). Iranian Blogs can work as good opinion polls, or termometers of what a good portion of Urban Iran is thinking. In this way, they are closer to the Chinese blogosphere, they defy the rhetoric of the official media, they spread news that the governments think they can just block. They are more horizontal, from the bottom of the society to the top. Certainly the leaders in both countries are really aware and pay attention about what is discussed in blogs.