Public Relations in Iran! Here is the opinion of Shameem Abdul Jalil, President of the Institute of Public Relations and director of Corporate Communication Public Bank of Malaysia

I had met Shameem in 2004 when she represented her Institute at the World Pr Festival in Trieste. We haven’t seen each other since, but I remember very well her enthusiasm and desire to change. I have just received this article she wrote for the New Straits Times. Take a look and express your point of view..

Printed in NEW STRAITS TIMES on December 2, 2006
By Shameem Abdul Jalil
I was both excited and anxious to attend the Third Iran
International PR Conference in Teheran on Nov 12-16. Some friends
advised me to skip the country, whispering that it may not be safe.
Why not wait for another conference in London or Washington, they
However, the attractive invitation to speak and seemingly
interesting program were difficult to resist. The Iran calling
through the Kargozar Public Relations Institute, which is Teheran’s
oldest PT institute, was strong enough to land six of us in the
small delegation to the conference with the theme “Transparency,
Social Responsibility and accountability”.
As we boarded the Iran air plane, someone whispered: “The United
States does not sell any aero plane spare parts to Iran, you know.”
My stomach turned. What’s that supposed mean? Never mind, I consoled
myself. Many of my Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese friends have flown
Iran air and spoke well of their experience. Que sera sera.
The economy class was spacious and comfortable, the stewardesses
courteous, helpful and beautiful. The take-off by the Iranian pilot
was efficient and we comfortably cruised the skies even at some
turbulent points.
Seated in front of me was a beautiful Iranian woman, Zahrah, with
two gorgeous baby girls who kept me awake throughout the flight.
After about eight hours, we landed at 5:30 a.m in what I found to be
a very peaceful Iran. The weather was cold. Autumn was coming to an
end and winter creeping in.
My first impression of the Iranian man was formed when I met the
charming, pleasant-looking Haidi, the tour guide employed by
Kargozar Institute, who met us at the airport. “Salam and welcome to
Iran.” he said without a handshake.

From then on, we were introduced to everyone Persian, much to our
delight. We learnt that Iran known as Persia till 1935, became an
Islamic Republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown
and the Shah was forced into exile.

According to Professor Ehsan Yarshater, the suggestion for the
change of name came from one Iranian ambassador to Germany who
thought it was fitting that the country be called by its own
name “Iran”. This would not only signal a new beginning and bring
home to the world a new era in Iranian history, but also signify the
Aryan race of its population, as the name “Iran” is a cognate
of “Aryan” and was derived from it.

We had an official welcome ceremony at the Azad Islamic University
hosted by its head, Dr. Jasbi, who supports the important role
public relations plays in Iran’s progress and development, at its
huge main campus of over one million students.

We were then taken for a six-hour drive through Iran’s scenic
countryside to the beaches of the Caspian Sea. Along the way we
stopped to sample delicious Iranian cuisine at two restaurants,
including special kebabs, briyani rice, lots of yoghurt and salads.
Our visit to a serene highland amid greenery and waterfalls called
Masauleh (meaning the pious one) was unforgettable. Here we met
mostly elderly Iranians producing simple handicrafts for sale. They
spend much time “communicating with God”, according to Ali Tangshir,
our incredibly disciplined “caretaker” who checked on every little
detail to ensure our comfort. We brought that peaceful feeling out
of Masauleh as we waved them goodbye.
Our two-night stay at Aseman Hotel in Isfahan, known as “Half of the
World”, was too short but most memorable. We were treated to the
best lamb briyani dinner by the mayor of Isfahan who reminded us
that “public relations begins and ends with people”. On two
occasions, helpful Iranian passers-by helped us speak to the cabman
and negotiated a good fare for us to be driven into the city.

One can find almost everything in Isfahan- good food, friendly
people, shopping malls, beautiful architecture, beautiful girls with
make-up on their faces walking together, young men taking the bus to
college, Chinese and French businessmen and tourists, and even a big
Armenian Christian church.

The conference proper clearly showed the rich Persian culture
heritage and Iranian modernity.
Conference sessions were opened with “in the name of Allah the most
merciful and most benevolent” and a recital of the Holy Quran.

The session chairman, Dr. Hesamudin Bayan, a top scholar, took the
delegates through a most interesting conference.

We met and heard from Iran’ well spoken scholars in various fields
such as Dr. Isa Jalil and Dr. Mitra Hajizadeh, who spoke on the
psychology of public relations; Dr. Abolfazl Beheshti on the role of
think tanks in public relations: Dr. Ali Akbar on public relations
in the third millennium to name a few.

I had a marvelous experience when the hall of about 600 participants
loudly sang the Selawat Nabi (Praise of the Prophet) at the end of
every five Quranic and Hadith quotes read as part of my presentation.

Mehdi Bagherian, secretary-general of the Kargozar Institute, and
his team worked very hard to put the international conference
together where foreign participants from countries such as Malaysia,
Australia, France, India and Arab nations experienced Iranian
generosity and classic hospitality seldom seen before.

We signed a collaborative agreement between Kargozar Institute and
the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia for greater co-operation
and negotiated for Datuk Hamdan Adnan’s book Government Relations:
Persuasion, Personality and Power to be translated to Persian for
Public relations learning in Iran.

In Iran air on the way home, we agreed that this is the Iran we
never saw through media reports. Today we pray that Iran will
continue to prosper in peace and harmony with the world, and the
world with Iran, and that more global citizens will have the
opportunity to see the real peaceful Iran.

* The writer is director of corporate communications, Public Bank,
and president of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia.



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9 Replies to “Public Relations in Iran! Here is the opinion of Shameem Abdul Jalil, President of the Institute of Public Relations and director of Corporate Communication Public Bank of Malaysia

  1. Dear Sir/Madam

    I like to join this PR professionals and also like to share their experience in various fields of Public Relations. Hope in future I may get articles,activities of PR and other relevant information. Any other guidance will be welcomed.

    With Best regards

  2. Hello there Toni,

    Just as you ‘brought’ me to Trieste, now you’re throwing me to the world through your blog and spin debate ! How are you Toni? I can see that you are working very hard to take the PR/Communication profession to greater heights. Am quite flattered to find that you have taken my New Straits Times story on Iran on to your blog and started a dialogue going. It is something that the world is keenly looking at, hence relevant.

    O no, there is no need to apologise about the China-Iran corelation or for anything at all. I enjoyed reading the views posted. To this ordinary PR practitioner, she shared what she saw , based the code of PR ethics of the truth ,nothing but the truth.

    Intended originally for my Malaysian friends, but thanks to you Toni, other than on your blog, I have received many, many letters from PR people from many parts of the world expressing their opinions to me on Iran . somewhat in similar vein of peaceful hopes for Iran and greater understanding and tolerance all round. We each have our versions of interpreting intentions and actions but let’s not read too much into the action of others more than we should as oftentimes then we may not be fair to others and make grave mistakes ourselves. Like you, I am committed to contribute the little that I can to the Peace cause in all my professional efforts. We continue to work together and uphold our Professional ethics to respect human rights, to speak the truth, without prejudice.

    Let’s do a programme in Kuala Lumpur . 2007 is Visit Malaysia Year. Write me with your ideas on how we can promote peace in this world today and I will humbly serve. Till then, have a great weekend Toni and I do look forward to hearing from you.


  3. Catherine,
    I tend to agree with your comment. I was so stunned to learn what had happened during my China trip many decades later and probably used this association somewhat too harshly on Shameem. If this is the impression you (and also Shameem, from whom I have not heard) with your thanks to her, I add my apology.

  4. Thank you so much for reproducing this article – it was fascinating to read and the little gem that I took from it was this:

    We were treated to the
    best lamb briyani dinner by the mayor of Isfahan who reminded us
    that “public relations begins and ends with people”.

    And only by building good relationships between people can we hope to bridge differences, understand cultures and organisations and value the diversity of the world around us. One story can be told in many ways – and there is a tendency in the West to be resolutely stubborn about our version of a tale. It may be that Toni’s comments regarding the percentage of spin to be had throughout Shameem’s journey are completely justified, but who among us doesn’t do our best to be a good host? When I have guests, I clean my house, put out fresh flowers, cook the most suitable meal, hope the boys don’t argue or the cat produce one of his ‘treasures’ from the garden. I do this not because I am denying that occasionally the boys quarrel or the cat is less than hygienic at times, but because I want my guests to be at home, experience our life as it is the majority of the time and provide an environment where we can relax and get to know each other, hear different perspectives or simply enjoy each other’s company. There may well be aspects of the Iranian story that many people don’t agree with – but by experiencing and understanding what exists outside the versions we have been presented with, perhaps we can move a little closer towards a discussion on our various points of view. Thank you Shameem.

    PS – And Brian’s ‘piano recital’ experience did make me grin.

  5. and, by the way, read this piece which has justcome out:

    Copyright 2006 British Broadcasting Corporation
    All Rights Reserved
    BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political
    Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring

    December 27, 2006 Wednesday

    LENGTH: 295 words

    HEADLINE: Iran: Presidential Office warns “unethical”, “pro-government” websites


    Text of report by Iranian Fars News Agency website

    The Public Relations Department of the Presidential Office has issued a statement concerning the improper atmosphere created in the sphere of news dissemination. The statement says: While announcing its disavowal of any unlawful and unethical conduct, the government invites all people to help foster a fraternal and friendly atmosphere, and rational debate.

    Fars news agency quotes the Public Relations Department of the Presidential Office as saying: Thanks to God’s blessing, the pleasant climate of freedom, free flow of information and exchanges of opinion that exists in the Islamic Republic, which is one of the major achievements of the great Islamic revolution and the noble people of Iran, warrants everyone today to safeguard this divine gift. The government, too, as the guardian and heir of the lofty aspirations of our great nation, considers itself dutybound to foster a climate of harmony and sincere exchanges of opinion.

    Nevertheless, at times one observes that certain news and non-news websites, contrary to the Iranian nation’s general culture, fail to observe piety, ethical norms and Islamic manners. And even more regrettably, some of them behave as though they are either government supporters or enjoy government support.

    The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran while announcing its disavowal of any unlawful and unethical conduct, invites all people to help foster a fraternal and friendly atmosphere, and rational debate. It hopes that thanks to observance of principles by all those who support the country’s progress, there would be no need for intervention by responsible organs for defending the rights of citizens.

    Source: Fars News Agency website, Tehran, in Persian 0607gmt 27 Dec 06

    LOAD-DATE: December 27, 2006

  6. Dear Shameem,

    Your piece on Iran reminded me of a three week journey I had made to China in 1972 as a member of a delegation of the Italian Socialist Party.
    We were in the full midst of the cultural revolution and we had approached that experience with a full open and sympathetic mind.
    It was not difficult for the Chinese to put together a series of meetings in some Communes and in the major cities which convinced us that we were looking at possibly the most interesting social experiment of those times.
    When I returned to Italy I wrote four full pages of enthusiastic impressions for the Avanti, the official daily of what then was my party…..
    It was not long before I realised that I had been somewhat misguided and that in my trip I had left in Europe my critical self .
    If one read those articles today they would be difficult to explain.
    Only a few years ago I was traced down by my then interpreter who confessed that all the translations he had done for us were not in fact literal of what our interlocutor of the moment (politician, bureaucrat, farmer….) was telling us while responding to our questions. Rather they were ‘political’ adaptations and he had given us –as a typical public relations professional (so he justified himself after 30 years..)- the answers he believed would be the best for us to hear…..
    I felt somewhat relieved of the embarrassment I had been carrying along with me over so many years, and realised I had simply been ‘spinned’ and convinced myself that, other than being overly naïve, I had done little harm (the newspaper did not have such a wide circulation anyway….a good alibi).

    In recalling this episode I obviously imply the possibility that you also might have been spinned by out Iranian colleagues although I have no doubt that what we read today in most western media about life in Iran is a distorted effect of the ‘war on terrorism’.
    One of my better colleagues, the Italian professional Marta Fiore, was in Teheran more than a year ago, visited our colleagues there and returned, like you, with a favourable impression.
    I could not go to their first congress two years ago but I spoke with Larissa and James Grunig who did go and they also returned with a favourable impression.
    This year I could not attend because of my NYU course in those same days.

    I don’t know what all this means of course, except that I remain somewhat doubtful that -notwithstanding the historical and cultural traditions of the country which, not inferior to the Chinese, well surpass those of many western countries- the discrimination against women, the stubborn denial of the holocaust, the negation of student rights all conjure to make me think that the practice of public relations in that country today is not a simple task.
    But reading your piece made me firmly commit not to lose the next opportunity to go and see for myself.
    Thank you Shameem.

  7. About a year ago one of my partners was deeply involved in pr support for a fundraiser for the Iranian Encyclopedia, being created over many years at Columbia University in New York. I worked in the background on the project, and we caought on very early in the project that there’s a huge difference between the culture, for lack of a better word, and the politics, for lack of a better word, in Iran.

    Part of the fundraiser dinner was presentations to people making great cultural contributions relating to Persian culture, and for our purposes, we were looking at the history of the Persian Empire, not just the geography now marked as Iran on a map.

    I did get to photgraph an Iranian-Canadian woman, and we took her portrait at the Royal Ontario Museum, deep in the back rooms where thosuands of artifacts are displayed. I think of Canadian history are going back a couple of hundred years, but here I was photographing people with Persian artifacts a couple of thousand years old.

    Today, just as I try to remain conscious that America is not the White House, I know enough to remember that Iran is not the politicians.

    Thanks for reprinting her story.


    PS — I did spend the longest hour and a half of my life on this project, though, sitting in the front row, the afternoon after the dinner, at what I thougt was a piano recital. It turned into a 90 minute lecture on the history of the Persian language, delivered in Persian.

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