By Simona Siad
Journalist Maryam Aghvami has an addiction that can only be cured by one thing.
“I am crazy about journalism. It’s a passion for hearing people’s stories. It’s sort of an addiction,” she says laughing.
“You can’t do anything else when you are a journalist. You love what you do and you search for stories and I am fascinated with the freshness of news everyday. Everyday is different.”
Born in Tehran, Iran, in 2001, Aghvami gave up her home and life there and made the move to Canada. As a journalist, she says, she knew she had to leave.
“Being a journalist and being a female journalist is not easy in Iran, and I wanted to experience working and living in another country,” she says.
“I wanted to live in a free and democratic country and, despite the fact that it hasn’t been easy to settle down, integrate and find employment in the media, I think I have made the right choice.”
Before coming to Canada, Aghvami worked with the Reuters news agency in Tehran and covered the Iranian presidential and parliamentary elections. She was also a producer, translator and office manager for German Radio and TV (ARD) and a producer for documentaries on Iraqi and Afghan refugees.
Despite her impressive resume, like so many international journalists before her, she struggled to find work in Canadian media.
“The immigration process was really smooth, finding employment was not so smooth,” she says. “The reality of life and the process of job-finding hit me hard when I knocked on almost all the [media] doors and got no answer."
It ended up being CBC who offered Aghvami her first contract job as a translator and interpreter. She started working on a documentary on Iraq and then was hired as an associate producer for various department in radio and television, including for shows like The Fifth Estate and The National.
When her contract at the CBC ended, Aghvami found freelance work at the History Channel. She now works as a reporter and journalist for Voice of America’s Canadian office and does freelance work with Canadian and American television and radio stations.
But if newsrooms and TV stations are supposed to reflect the diversity of its people, than Aghvami argues it’s something Canada needs to work on.
“I have been trying to convince Canadian media leaders that we need to reflect, especially in Ontario, the diversity of our cities,” she says. The best thing is to let internationally trained journalists come to our newsrooms, be trained by our journalists, so that this gap is filled.”
Now she can help make that happen with her new position as president of Journalists in Exile (JEX), a Toronto organization that brings together journalists who were forced to flee their homelands due to harassment and persecution while practising their profession.
“My dream is to build a bridge between Canadian media and international and exile journalists so that they can integrate into the media market,” she says. “I think that the global and international knowledge of immigrants and their communities can promote the concept of a diverse and real multicultural Canada.”
While barriers still exist in newsrooms across Canada, globalization is making the world increasingly smaller every day, and Aghvami believes helping international journalists integrate into the Canadian media workforce is needed now more than ever.
“It’s a daily challenge, but we will get there. It’s a long-term process proving that you have the ability to work as a journalist in Canadian media, but we cannot afford to give up.”