Originally published in Foreign Policy Association Blogs
The ongoing rivalry between Iran and the United States has always gone beyond the sphere of geopolitics to include the control of Iran’s airwaves and influence the Iranian public opinion. Voice of America/Persian News Network (VOA/PNN) has been at the center of U.S. efforts to provide the Iranian public with news and information otherwise banned due to Iranian government policies. Dr. Setareh Derakhshesh of VOA has been one of the key figures in American news media who has had a significant impact on the Iranian public opinion and on the dissemination of news in Iran with millions of viewers inside the country. Setareh’s huge following in Iran has given her star status among Iranians (her first name ‘Setareh’ literally means ‘star’ in Persian).
She is presently PNN Deputy Director, a new position created because of the enormous growth of PNN. As Deputy Director, Setareh will act somewhat as a Service Chief does in other VOA Divisions, responsible for day-to-day operating of the business. PNN news, programming, and operations will report to Setareh.
Setareh has also been a webmaster and managing editor for print media publications as well as a researcher and copy editor for a local network news affiliate television station. In addition to her work in the journalism field, Setareh is a well-respected University lecturer on international relations as well as French literature and culture.
Where were you born?
I was born in Iran. That’s where I came from via Paris where I went to college and lived for 15 years.
In what ways have you been influenced by your parents and other members of your family in choosing a career path in journalism?
I was raised in a family that was deeply involved in the political affairs of Iran and concerned about its future standing in the global community. Politics was the life I knew and with which I grew up. I drew my sense of identity almost entirely from being my parents’ daughter. My determination to become a journalist stemmed from a strong desire to seek the truth and play an active role by informing the public of important issues and giving it the means to voice its opinions and views.
Tell us about your education please.
In Tehran I attended Lycee Razi, a French high school (my mother is fluent in English, French and Russian; she was very much influenced in her upbringing by French culture and passed this influence on to me). I earned a degree in Law and an M.A. in political science at the Sorbonne. I also earned a Ph.D. in international relations (summa cum laude) at the Sorbonne.
Who would you name among some of your main source(s) of inspiration in your career in journalism?
I cannot say there is a main source of inspiration or a particular individual who has inspired me in my career. The most professional journalists stay true to the fundamentals of journalism which is neutrality and a mission to inform and enlighten. They present the news and information without an agenda, and they do so with objective depth and analysis. They allow their audiences to make up their own minds about a particular issue. Any journalist who practices these principles serve as inspirational for me.
In the course of your career as a woman working in a major international news organization, what have been some of the key challenges that you have encountered?
Thanks to my upbringing in an enlightened family, I have always looked at myself as a journalist, period. However one cannot ignore the fact that there are stereotypes about women journalists, especially if you are working in an environment where many people come from backgrounds where women don’t have equal rights.
You were tasked by the Voice of America to put together a new unit and a new program VOA-wide. Can you tell us about the new unit and the new program?
As executive editor and anchor for Voice of America’s special programs, I was asked in February of this year to serve as anchor and executive editor for a flagship, half-hour program that takes a comprehensive look at foreign affairs and global policies through in-depth, one-on-one interviews with world leaders and policy makers. The primary target audience is Iran, but the program is also distributed to all VOA services, TV, radio, internet, and VOA affiliates around the world.
You teach at Georgetown University. How long have you been teaching there and what subjects do you teach?
I have been teaching courses in French language and culture at Georgetown since1998. Primarily, I teach Reading Texts in the French-SpeakingWorld: Cultures and Literatures.
How do you think the Arab Spring will impact women’s social status in the Arab/Islamic world? Are you an optimist?
There is no doubt that the so called Arab Spring has changed and will change the dynamics of life in the Middle East – although each country has its own situation and circumstances. If this movement continues to evolve in the direction of expanding freedoms, women will benefit, as they are in fact playing a major role in the developments. On the other hand, I do worry that a shift towards governance by the Muslim brotherhood in countries like Tunisia and Egypt will mean more difficulties for women.
Ten years from now, what kind of an Iran do you envision in your mind?
It’s always dangerous to play prophet; however, given the social and political currents that are at play in Iran today, I am willing to venture that the country will make substantial progress, especially given the changes that we are witnessing in the entire area and the aspirations of people for freedom and a better life.