Iran’s Crisis in the Western Media
By Gary Smith
The media presentation of the recent36has been almost totally one-sided.
It seems that the battle lines and areas of the current confrontation with Iran are being drawn up by the media. In the virtual word of media hype and opinion, it is obvious that the recent Iranian elections are deliberately being manipulated and distorted by the Western media. This exploitation has also extended to the online world, taking advantage of sites like Facebook and Twitter for propaganda purposes.
While the ostensible subject of the present media attention is the legitimacy or otherwise of the elections and the always dominant question of democracy and human rights, the media interpretation and presentation of the Iranian situation is in reality not concerned with issues of fairness and legitimacy.
Even a cursory analysis of mainstream Western media reveals that what is of significance is the creation of a certain stereotypical image or a view of government of that country.
One can see this even in small but significant details – for example, the Iranian government is constantly referred to on news channels like CNN as the regime in Iran. This term implies a host of negative connotations that, with repetition, tends to create a stereotypical impression of the Iranian government and its rulers. This attempt at shifting public perception of Iran’s government principles is yet another form of exploitation by Western media.
The need to convey the image of a corrupt leadership in Iran suits many Western objectives in the region. The reason for this media frenzy to present Iran as an inhumane dictatorship is simple – it conforms to and supports the present policy directives from the United States and other countries.
The need to convey the image of a corrupt and fanatical leadership in Iran suits many Western objectives in the region. This is a story that we have become well acquainted with in the last few years – a pattern in which Western media sources support and even generate biased views about certain governments in the regions that are in line with Western propaganda.
One need only refer to recent reports on the attitude generated about Iran to find sufficient reason for the present media stance. For instance, Western support for Iranian "dissidents" speaks volumes about the intention of the West in the region. As one recent article states, the Obama administration is going ahead with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, which is in essence the continuing of a program that became controversial under president Bush.
This also relates to the question of interference in the affairs of the internal politics of other counties.
There is certainly more to these elections than meets the eye. As many pundits point out, the elections are more about internal power politics than about purely democratic principles. It is clear that there is a power struggle underway in the internal political echelons of the country.
Recent reports indicate that Rafsanjani has been lobbying fellow members of the powerful Assembly of Experts, with the intention of possibly replacing Khamenei. The fact taht this may mean a dramatic shift in power within the theocratic system once again provides insight into the reasons for the intense perssure from the media to demonize the current "regime."
Iran, like every other democratic country, has its own internal political strife and it would be naïve to expect the democratic process in this country to be unblemished and without controversy.
This is the nature of democracy and politics.
America is certainly the last country in the word to cast stones as it too has been mired in allegations of questionable electoral process in the past. The reality is that democracy is never a clean black or white process and power always plays a role. This raises the obvious question as to why the recent Iranian elections has been dramatized and distorted by Western media to the extent that it has.
Simplistic View of Elections
The moral accusations being leveled at Iran come from a country that overthrew a democratically elected government in 1953.
The fact that a simplistic view of the elections has been promoted in the media is evidence enough that the intention is to create propaganda and to avoid a clear and analytical interpretation of recent events.
An article by Bill Van Auken entitled “The Propaganda War Against Iran ”succinctly summarizes the present situation with regard to the role of the Western media.
He suggests that, “The US media, led by the New York Times, is continuing its concerted propaganda campaign against Iran over charges that the government stole the June 12 presidential election”.
The author goes on to analyze the recent media distortions and states that, “There is not even a semblance of objectivity in the media coverage, which parrots the charges of the opposition headed by defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.”
Van Auken also notes that the media presentation of the recent36has been almost totally one-sided with all blame for the violence being placed at the door of the Iranian government, and not an ounce of blame directed at the opposition.
Furthermore, the point is also made that very few of the Western news outlets draw the necessary connections with the larger regional issues. The media has conveniently forgotten to remind their viewers and readership that “the US is waging two wars, on Iran’s eastern and western borders, both aimed at establishing American hegemony over the oil-rich territory.”
Once again, it seems, we are in a strange, virtual landscape that we encountered prior to the Iraqi war, where facts are distorted and edited to suit certain political agendas of certain countries.
The irony of the media allegations against Iran should also not be forgotten. We should remember that the moral accusations that are being leveled at Iran come from a country which “overthrew a democratically elected government in 1953, propped up a brutal dictator, the Shah, for more than a quarter of a century, and has carried out covert CIA operations in the recent period involving the use of special operations troops on Iranian soil,” says Van Auken.
The Internet's Role
As a result of the increased activity in response to the election, Twitter rescheduled its maintenance period.
The media and propaganda war has als o taken a new turn in the Internet; in particular with regard to affecting viewers’ perceptions through social and networking sites. The extent of possible media cover now includes making use of networking sites such as Facebook , YouTube and Twitter. These sites are also being used to generate a stereotypical image, albeit derogatory, of the Iranian government and society. It is perhaps more than coincidence that Twitter decided to change its scheduled maintenance services as a result of the elections in Iran. Twitter has become a very active source of views, mostly opposed to the election results.
As a result of the increased activity in response to the election, Twitter rescheduled its maintenance period. This is interesting in terms of the role that alternative media sources play in conveying news and information. But what is perhaps even more interesting in relation to the way that news is being manipulated is the claim by the US State Department that is was responsible for Twitter’s decision to stay online.
The Australian Broadcast Company reported that the US State Department claimed that the US government had requested Twitter to delay maintenance plans because of the site's use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election.
Was this an attempt to increase the negative perception of the elections via networking?
It is difficult to determine the impact that sites like Twitter have had on the negative or positive perceptions of Iran during the elections. However, while there are allegations of interference and manipulation of this media from both sides what is clear is that social sites have been used to a certain extent to create a negative perception of the Iranian government and that this had added to the media-generated groundswell of negative response to that country in the West.
A site with visual impact like YouTube certainly has been successful in promoting a very biased and negative view of the elections. The impact of this site is underlined by the news exposure that hundreds of videos of the riots have been posted online.
In an interview with CBS, the head of news and politics of YouTube, Steve Grove, provided some insight into the way that YouTube was being used as conduit of anti-Iranian sentient. He refers to the courage of those Iranians who were prepared to “take a risk and to upload this footage” and to “raise pressure internationally”.
This is a very laudable sentiment but should we not also be asking whether it is possible that, under the guise of well-intentioned heroism, there might be those who would exploit this medium to augment and exacerbate the already negative image of Iran to Western audiences?
There are also two sides to this storyand the propaganda war from both sides seems to have moved onto the networking sites. While there are reports that the Iranian authorities banned access to sites like Facebook, implying a denial of free speech, this is countered by Iranian assertions that the FBI ordered the disruption of Internet servers that host Iranian Web sites in the wake of Iran's election fallout.
The point that is ebbing made is not the Iranians elections were without fault and possible illegal intervention, but rather that Western media has used the elections to stimulate and generate increased hostility and resentment towards that country and its government, which can only result in a decrease in harmonious relationships and an increase of suspicion and hostility.
——————————————————————————– Gary Smith is a freelance journalist based in South Africa. His career background includes English literature, journalism and academic research. Smith is a member of the Futureshock and e-Cottage Consortium – a company that combines the skills of writers, designers, business marketers and artists. He is also the Co-Editor of the South African Writers Network (SAWN). Smith is currently completing his PhD.
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