Sanam Shantyaei is a journalist with more than a decade’s experience as a foreign correspondent and international news television producer. A speaker of French, Spanish, Italian and Farsi, Sanam has lived and worked in Britain, France, Cuba, Italy and Iran.
She’s currently based in Paris, where she covers international news for France 24. Sanam also has her own weekly flagship show, called Middle East Matters — covering socio-political, cultural and economic events.
Previously, Sanam worked for AFP news agency, and prior to that for Reuters for over 6 years, initially as a reporter/producer — covering international summits, political turmoil as well cultural, fashion and sports-related feature stories. In 2010, she moved to Tehran to establish and successfully run the agency’s TV operation as a senior producer/reporter.
What’s the most artistic thing about journalism?
We’re dealing with people who are used to being interviewed on a daily basis. Some of them are even “media-trained.” They’ve been taught how to boil down their response to 12 seconds. The art of journalism is to get the answers — without turning the interview into an interrogation.
In the world of international news, what’s most challenging as an Iranian journalist?
I believe it’s important for all journalists, regardless of their background, to make sure their own political bias doesn’t seep through. This is especially challenging as an Iranian journalist, who covers Iran, a country where politics have always been bitterly polarised. So at times, I do find myself under attack. But I was recently told, “if you’re being slammed from all directions, you must be doing something right.” This piece of advice has brought me a speck of peace.
How do you deal with criticism and attacks?
I turn to friends in my field and others in the public eye. We exchange stories, and by the end of the conversation, tears are more often than not, transformed into laughter.
What do you say to those who don’t trust journalists?
Today “fake news” is a global phenomenon, and there’s an increasing erosion of trust in media outlets. In fact, I’ve never encountered such levels of hostility in my 12 years as a journalist, some of it for the colour of my skin, and the topic that I cover: the Middle East. But I often tell people: shop around, watch, listen and read. Decide for yourselves who you can trust…
If you were asked to have a TV show for women in Iran, what would it be about?
A programme that encourages them to support, not slam their countrymen… But I don’t think that would be exclusive to women. I feel we’ve become a nation that thrives on criticism.
Is Western media honest about Iran?
It depends on the source… I believe ultra-right news outlets — especially those in the US — seek to sensationalise, fear-monger, etc. They are however, incessantly called out on social media for their bias, factual errors and at times their use of excessively emotive language. Then you have the likes of Channel 4 News, who manage to strike an admirable balance. At the risk of sounding biased, what I like about France 24 is that its Iran coverage is generally handled by Iranians, who speak the language, understand the society, as well as the nuances of the country’s politics.
When you hear negative news about Iran, does it upset you?
It’s never pleasant to hear or learn something negative about your country. But I appreciate fair reporting. Iranian people are currently going through extremely challenging times, and if anything, it’s important to depict that.
Which Iranian women in your field do you admire and why?
Every single one of them, because they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts.
What’s the dress code for a journalist?
I believe dress code is a matter of choice, as long as you keep it relatively respectable. I tend to bring my individual style to the screen; whether it’s bold colour-blocking, black-on-black, florals or braces with androgynous trousers… It also very much depends on what type of news you cover. I think a journalist that specializes in the worlds of arts, culture and fashion, can afford to be more creative.
Tell us a good memory of working in Iran…
I was sent to Iran to set up and run the Reuters’ television operation some years ago. During the recruiting process, I asked all candidates (cameramen/women) to bring me a DVD showreel of their work. One guy, who shall not be named, rocked up 45 minutes late with disheveled unwashed hair — with a bootleg copy of Titanic in tow. Without cracking a smile, he looked me straight in the eye and said: “Miss Sanam, if you like this film, we have the same taste and we have a future together… If you don’t, it’s already time to say goodbye.” He may have even quasi sang the latter part.
Neda Monem is a Tehran-based journalist, photographer and social media advisor. She covers arts, culture, society, tech and startups.