Hannah Kaviani

The discussions related to the historic U.S.-Iranian nuclear pact that took effect last year constituted one of the biggest foreign policy stories to reverberate around the globe in recent years. Radio Farda reporter Hannah Kaviani covered the pact from conception through implementation. Broadcasting in Farsi, she hustled to generate objective and unbiased news on the story for Farda’s audience in Iran. In doing so, the young journalist gained many admirers for her solid work on a very complicated issue.

 

Q&A

You’ve been a broadcaster/journalist with Radio Farda for more than eight years. What have you learned in that role?

“Being a journalist at Farda has always been challenging, especially given the fact that we don’t have direct access to the society we cover on a daily basis (Iran). Radio Farda is not allowed to have a bureu in Tehran, unlike most of RFE/RL’s services. Additionally, Iranian officials don’t talk to us, and they persecute people (ordinary citizens or experts) who do so.  So getting the story right is a daily challenge not only for me but for my colleagues as well. My time at Farda has brought to light the importance of the free flow of information.”

Have you had any mentors along the way who have helped you grow professionally?

“Given the fact that I didn’t come to Farda from a pure journalistic background, certainly I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues in Farda and throughout the company. Also, my field work has given me huge opportunity to meet and learn from many veteran journalists who cover my fields of interest.”

What would you tell someone about Radio Farda who is thinking of working there?

“I would say Farda is shaped by a very diverse group of people from different backgrounds and ideas. This makes it exciting and challenging at the same time. The same goes for RFE/RL in general. And this big group of people is trying to offer objective, unbiased and free information to those who are looking for it. So if you want to take up the challenge and be part of this, welcome!”

You spent 18 months in the field reporting on the negotiations that led to the landmark U.S.-Iran nuclear deal that was signed last year. What was it like covering that story? I know you were traveling a lot to cities such as Geneva, Munich, Vienna, Lausanne and New York to cover the negotiations.

“Covering the Iran nuclear talks was a great opportunity for me, as I have been following this story since its early years. I’m thankful to my supervisors who trusted me (as the youngest journalist at Farda) and opened the doors to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Throughout my time in the field, I had to learn many new things.  After covering the 2009 protests and the rise and fall of the Green Movement in Iran, I somehow stopped using social media (Twitter) for professional purposes. But once again in 2012-13, I started benefiting from Twitter and built a good network of journalists and experts who helped me a lot at the height of the coverage.”

You’ve pointed out that the Iran nuclear talks accounted for an event where every word in your reporting made a difference. For example, you had to constantly remind yourself about the difference the words “deal,” “agreement” and “understanding” can make. Please elaborate.

“Exactly. In this process like many others, every word counts. I had to really educate myself on many different levels such as technology, economy and diplomacy to make sure every word that I use is correct, and I am not giving false information in one way or another. Also, since the nuclear issue was a very big story for Iranians, and many ordinary citizens cannot necessarily keep up with the complicated nature of it, in each report from the field I had to try and tell the story in a way that both the truck diver and the university professor listening to it understand what I’m talking about.”

What other foreign policy issues have you covered besides the U.S.-Iran nuclear pact?

”I also partly work on Middle Eastern matters, especially those that involve Iran. As Tehran decided to join the talks on the Syrian crisis, we at Farda decided to follow it partly on the ground, and I traveled to Vienna a few times for it. But since the talks have been suspended, I’m not following it in the field. I’ve also covered the Munich security conference in recent years. Otherwise, I’m busy in Prague with the daily tasks of a journalist and broadcaster.”

Why did you choose to major in politics at Azad University in Iran?

“I was in school when the reform movement in Iran led by former President Mohammad Khatami began. And I was in high school when the height of this movement was underway. Plenty of newspapers and books were suddenly available, and I guess that’s when I became more interested in society as well as politics, and I ended up studying politics at University.”

To what extent has your college coursework assisted you at Radio Farda?

“Although I’ve had to learn about aspects of journalism during my time as a reporter, I think coming from a different – though related – background widens my horizon in this line of work. It gives the possibility to maybe find different angles in the stories that we hear about on a daily basis.”

After college, you interned with the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). You also worked in Iran on projects sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). What did you learn in those experiences and have they made you a better journalist?

“I think any working experience and actually life experience is useful for your work as a journalist because you are reporting about people for people. My working experience back in Iran, at the time that I was still at college, taught me many different things. In the case of one of my assignments, when I had to carry out surveys for UNHCR and then UNICEF, it truly opened my eyes to the conditions faced by Afghan refugees living in Iran.  Later, when I was at SWP, I had the privilege of working with late Dr. Johannes Reissner, who taught me a lot about an analytical approach toward Iran and its foreign policy and how think tanks abroad work and function.”

What led you to RFE/RL? What convinced you that this was the right path?

“The time that I joined Farda was not a perfect time in Iran. It was in the middle of the first term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which for me was filled with dark days and oppression. That’s when I went to Berlin through a program of the German Foreign Ministry. During my time there, I was contemplating the idea of going back to a university, probably this time outside of Iran. But at the same time I was applying to programs and potential employers. When Farda’s offer came, I had to make a very big decision to come to Prague due to the fact that by joining Farda I was not able to go back to Iran anymore. But my life and the sociopolitical conditions in Iran somehow forced me to impose a self-exile on myself at the age of 23 and join Farda for the good cause of giving information to those who are restricted and don’t have easy access to the free flow of information.”