Hossein Shariatmadari is chief editor of Kayhan, a newspaper that supports Iran's regime. He was once jailed and tortured by the Shah of Iran's intelligence service for his pro-revolution writings and activism. Four years into a life sentence, the shah's regime fell and all political prisoners were freed.
Hossein Shariatmadari is chief editor of Kayhan, a newspaper that supports Iran's regime. He was once jailed and tortured by the Shah of Iran's intelligence service for his pro-revolution writings and activism. Four years into a life sentence, the shah's regime fell and all political prisoners were freed. Tom Bullock/NPR
Kayhan openly backs Iran's government and the conservative line of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Kayhan openly backs Iran's government and the conservative line of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Tom Bullock/NPR
Tehran is a safe city. But the image of violence and the story of violence have saturated Iran's capital. The billboards, murals, speeches and chants, some calling for "Death to America!" and others promoting martyrdom, hit you in the face. Read Steve Inskeep's Reporter's Notebook.
Iran is a complicated nation; it is isolated and yet active in the world, ruled by religious tradition yet modern in many ways. In this series, NPR listens to what Iranians are saying, from those in coffee shops to those who hold power, examining Iran's politics, economy and controversial nuclear program.
Depending on which newspaper they read, Iranians may be getting very different perspectives on world events. NPR talks to two journalists at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum – one who edits the conservative Kayhan, which backs Iran's regime, and another who has worked for numerous reformist publications, all of which have been closed by the Iranian authorities.
When you reach the office of Hossein Shariatmadari, chief editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, the first thing you see are pictures of men now dead.
More than a dozen black-and-white photos hang in a row in the newspaper's lobby. They are of former newspaper employees killed in the Iran-Iraq War.
Shariatmadari is quick to note that Kayhan — which means "universe" or "cosmos" in English — and its staff "defend the ideology of the Islamic Revolution."
When asked about whether Iran's conservatives are united ahead of the upcoming presidential election, Shariatmadari objects to the label.
"I disagree with the word 'conservative' and also with 'fundamentalist,'" he says. "They make us sound like the Taliban."
"We are 'principalists,'" he says — his term for hard-liners who have held ultimate power since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It's a revolution that Shariatmadari joined: He was a student activist in the 1970s, printing leaflets denouncing the Shah of Iran. He caught the attention of Savak, the shah's intelligence agency.
"I was arrested by Savak and sentenced to life. I was tortured. They pulled my nail ... [and used] electric shock," he says.
He was freed when the shah's government fell.
Now, he edits an edgy newspaper full of sarcasm for perceived enemies, including the United States.
Take a Kayhan article about Robert Gates, the U.S. secretary of defense. It claims he made a derogatory statement years ago about Iranians.
Gates and others have been quoted at various times saying there are no Iranian moderates.
Kayhan reinvents that statement as a headline that has never been attributed to the defense secretary: "Gates Says A Good Iranian Is A Dead Iranian."
Shariatmadari says the U.S. and Iran can get along only if one country gives up its identity — which he says Iran will never do.
He predicts that Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will win re-election this year and dismisses speculation that other hard-liners might defeat him.
Maybe somebody will oppose him, he says, but nobody serious.
In this summer's campaign, Ahmadinejad will have many advantages, including the power of hard-line newspapers such as Kayhan.