By Azadeh Karimi and Ali Eshtyagh
Mansoureh Pirnia is one of Iran’s pioneering journalists and most well-known writers. During her career as a journalist in Iran, more than 1,500 Pirnia interviews, articles and commentaries in Kayhan Daily, Kayhan International (the English-language newspaper), and Zan-e Rooz (Women Today, also part of the Kayhan publishing group), were published.
In the mid-1970s, Pirnia became Kayhan’s correspondent in the U.S. During that time, she also gained an MA in international communications from American University, a private research university in Washington, D.C.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Pirnia and her husband, Dariush Pirnia, left Iran and settled in the U.S. She continued her collaboration with Kayhan London. The following is an interview with Mansoureh Pirnia on the occasion of Kayhan’s 75th anniversary.
How did the public respond to you as a female reporter?
To be honest, I wasn’t given differential treatment because I was a woman. Men were very supportive of women’s roles in society. Once, I traveled to the city of Dezful in Khuzestan Province to interview Sheikh Khalifa al-Kashi, who had 37 wives and 74 children. This was at a time when we were trying to work with the government to change family protection laws and get rid of polygamy. The Sheikh and his family were extremely welcoming. His children, who were also living in the Sheikh’s harem, treated me as an honored guest. They were very gracious and hospitable. I didn’t feel out of place as a modern, city-dwelling woman and a journalist.
On another occasion, I traveled to Qom to report on the marriage of a nine-year-old girl. This was during the period when we were trying to raise the legal age of marriage for girls. Walking through the alleys of Qom, I met many women who were wearing the hejab and carrying their children in their arms. They told me that they knew me and read my articles. Zan-e Rooz had become extremely popular among the Iranian people. Our society was opening up. People were happy about the social changes that were taking place. The road had been paved for women to enter public life.
What were some of your earliest and most important interviews?
My interview with Mrs. Yousefi, the lieutenant governor of Khuzestan Province. She was the first woman ever to be named to a senior government post, and she was appointed by Mr. Abdolreza Ansari (Minister of Labor and later Interior Minister). I interviewed Mr. Ansari and Mrs. Yousefi at the time. That interview – published in Roshanfekr – launched my career as a serious journalist. I was only 18 or 19 at the time.
Where do you think the original Kayhan newspaper, founded by Dr. Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, would be today if the Revolution had never happened?
Kayhan would have undoubtedly become a global publication. And I don’t mean only Kayhan International, but also the Farsi-language daily as well. There are over 100 million Farsi speakers in the world. Kayhan Publishing would, in all likelihood, have expanded to include a radio and television station as well as an Internet edition. It would have reached a large audience.
Do you have a special memory of your time at Kayhan?
I have kept my old Olympia typewriter from my days at Kayhan. I’ve carried it with me wherever I’ve lived. The Kayhan label and inventory number (2686) is still on it. I’ve kept it all these years.
I opened Kayhan’s U.S. office in the National Press Club building in Washington D.C. before the Revolution. Our aim was to set up a news center for Kayhan in the U.S. I had this typewriter with me then. It is my most precious piece of Kayhan memorabilia.
I remember that one day, they brought over 200 of these typewriters to our editorial offices. Everyone had to be trained on how to use them. Dr. Mesbahzadeh told us to put our pens down and start using typewriters. It took me a while to get used to it. In the beginning most of us continued using pen and paper, except when Dr. Mesbahzadeh was around.
If one day they open a Kayhan museum of journalism in Iran, or anywhere else for that matter, I’ll donate this to it.
What is your favorite piece among all the interviews and articles you published in Kayhan?
I covered Queen Farah’s visit to Kurdestan and West Azerbaijan. It was the first time I was able to file a live report via a telephone link with Kayhan’s editorial team while traveling on a Cessna aircraft. We were traveling in high altitude above a mountain range. That was my first piece of live reporting. It was quite exciting for me as an Iranian journalist to use the latest technology to cover the news. I received an award for that piece.
Among all my interviews, one in particular stands out.
The Shah survived an assassination attempt in February 4, 1949, after which he refused to grant an interview to any Iranian reporter. He was extremely cautious. One day I went to Mehrabad Airport to report on the Shah’s trip to Dorud in Lorestan Province, where he was supposed to inaugurate a sugar factory. I asked Dr. (Asadollah) Alam [Prime Minister from 1962 to 1964] if I could interview the Shah, since it was United Nations Day, and when he reminded me that he wasn’t giving interviews, I insisted.
The Shah agreed to be interviewed by me. Mr. Alam motioned me to approach the Shah. The article’s headline was: “We are witnessing a weak U.N.” The Shah was right, in that the U.N. was unable to fulfill its role – and that holds true even today. The article was a big hit with readers. And that interview broke the ice between the Shah and Iranian journalists. After that, the Shah regularly held news conferences.
How do you view the role of Iranian women in the international media today?
There are currently 27 or 28 prominent Iranian women journalists in the world. I recently wrote a book entitled “Daughters of Persia: Pioneering Women of the World.” It partly covers the role of exceptional Iranian women, from Ancient Persia through the Pahlavi Dynasty. In another part of the book, I highlight the lives and progress of Iranian women in various countries around the globe. They are a source of great pride for the international Iranian community.