In Viennese Media Center, Iranian Journalists Dance Delicately Around Pitfalls

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Western reporters are working alongside Iranian media during numerous rounds of nuclear talks — the latest of which are taking place this week. What does their work tells us about Iran's culture?

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Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

NPR's Peter Kenyon has covered the nuclear talks with Iran for years now, from well-upholstered lobbies in Geneva to a tent in a Baghdad sandstorm. Through it all, he's had the opportunity to observe the Iranian media in action.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The nuclear talks have returned to the Coburg Palace in Vienna, a neoclassical pile dating from the mid-19th century. As a mere journalist, I rarely get farther than the lobby cafe. It's a good place to watch the various delegations come and go and to see the Iranian media do a delicate, wary dance - not so much with foreigners as with their fellow Iranians. Opportunities for awkward encounters abound. What to do, for instance, if you're a reporter for the Fars or Tasnim News Agency, linked to Iran's fearsome Revolutionary Guard, and you find yourself in a crowded media center full of expat Iranians working for, say, BBC Persian or Radio Free Europe. One thing I've seen them do is flee from an approaching camera. In this age of Instagram and Twitter, one photo with the wrong person seen by the wrong official back home, could mean no visa for the next round of talks. And it's not just Western media they have to worry about. Iranian journalists have told me they have no doubt that some of the reporters on the plane from Tehran are reporting not just on the talks, but on their colleagues, to some security or intelligence official back in Iran, but which ones? Don't assume it's one of the hard-line media representatives. It could just as easily be the friendly sort offering liberal views that they have to watch out for. It's an extra layer of pressure and pitfalls the Iranians have to navigate, in addition to the job we're all trying to do - figure out how these complicated talks are going with very limited public information to work with. Like many Iranians, the reporters I've met are educated, well-spoken and politically astute. And as another self-imposed deadline approaches, the talks will become even more secretive, casual or cagey comments from diplomats will be transmitted around the world as urgent developments, and the Iranians will race along with the rest of us to meet our deadlines. But they'll also have one eye always on the lookout for the faux pas that could land them in hot water back home. It calls to mind what someone said about Ginger Rogers. She did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Vienna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.