About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Iran reporting a travesty of journalism

For three weeks now, Western media have covered the elections and resultant demonstration in Iran with unparalleled zeal. But the reporting has been a one sided affair without even the slightest attempt to show balance. The partisan way they have covered the opposition to the complete exclusion of the government side is a travesty of journalism.

It is difficult to separate Western media reports on Iran from the official policy of Western governments. Often, opinion is presented as news. Journalists in news channels like BBC, CNN, Sky (not to mention Fox) sound more partisan than the foreign ministry spokespersons of their governments. Their reports make Pravda, the former Soviet Union state medium, look like a paragon of independent journalism.

The partisan coverage of the Iranian election is just an event in the overall process of undermining the distinction between official Western government policy and Western media reporting. This fusion of government and media has reinforced an attitude of ‘us’ against ‘them’ in the rest of the world and partly explains the increasing global cultural polarisation.

In spite of its many weaknesses, Iran has the most democratic government in the Middle East after Israel. The governments of the West who are condemning Iran have excellent relations with some of the most brutal regimes like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. The journalists who have joined the chorus of condemnation know (or ought to know) this.

Clearly, therefore, the West is not seeking to correct the democratic deficit in Iran. It is seeking regime change ‘ at any cost. Contemporary experience shows us that all secular governments in the Middle East tend to be autocratic. Every move towards democracy tends to produce a theocracy. This was the case in Palestine when Hamas beat Fatah and Algeria in 1990 when the Front for Islamic Salvation won the election. By being hostile to such outcomes, the West stands opposed to democracy in the Middle East.

I am always suspicious of Western, especially American, pretentions at promoting democracy in other countries. Except for Japan and West Germany, there are no examples of US involvement in other countries on the side of democracy. On the contrary, the US has always intervened to remove democratic governments and replace them with its favoured dictatorships ‘ in Iran in 1953, Chile in 1974, Congo in 1960, etc.

Indeed, since 1950, America has always used its military and intelligence services to invade, bomb or carry out clandestine missions in other nations. In none of these cases has democratic government come as a direct result. Instead, often democracy has developed in opposition and resistance to American interference ‘ Greece in 1974, Portugal and Spain in 1975, Indonesia in 1997, Chile in 1990 and Nicaragua.

During the campaigns, I supported Hossein Mousavi because incumbent President Mohamed Ahmedinejad seems too belligerent. US President Barrack Obama, has extended an open hand to Iran. Rather than take advantage of it, Ahmedinejad has responded with a clinched fist. Secondly, he has been denying the Jewish Holocaust and calling for the annihilation of Israel. By courageously stating that these positions are not good for Iran, Mousavi demonstrated better common sense.

The biased media reporting on Iran is detrimental to the democratic aspirations of the people of that country. There is considerable discontent in Iran. However, because the charge is largely carried with fanatical and partisan zeal by Western media, this has inadvertently furnished Iran’s rulers with the perfect excuse to crack down on demonstrators by projecting them as agents of America. This way, Western media are undermining the democratic legitimacy of local opposition. This is especially so given previous US involvement in undermining democratic government in Iran.

In their enthusiasm to support the opposition, BBC, Sky and CNN presenters have turned a video of a young girl who was shot and killed during the demonstrations in Iran into an instrument of their propaganda. I have seen them cry over her fate. Yet during the same week, an American Drone killed 30 innocent people during a bombing raid in Pakistan. There was not a single show of sympathy by the very same presenters.

The current media campaign against the Islamic Republic shows an attempt to undermine the institutional integrity of the Iranian state. For instance, when the opposition reported electoral fraud, the matter was taken before Guardians Council. It ruled that although there was fraud, it was not sufficient to alter the final outcome. In spite of this, the West has been literary calling for another election.

Just nine year ago, similar crisis faced the US; Albert Gore got a majority of the popular vote but lost the state of Florida with only 345 votes to George W. Bush. There was evidence of massive rigging. During the stand-off, the media fed us with a balanced menu of the debate. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush, Gore said he disagreed with the ruling but would abide by it. Most people felt it was an honorable thing to do for the sake of stability although the judges ruled according to the political party affiliation of the presidents who appointed them. Why are we not seeing similar reporting on Iran? What is good for America should be good for Iran too.

The attempts to undermine the stability of the regime in Iran are not good for anyone. Indeed, these efforts cannot succeed without unraveling the Iranian State. If that happens, it will add Iran to the list of failed states, a factor that may turn it into a breeding ground for terrorists. The people seeking to undermine stability in Iran are the ones who argue loudest that failed states are dangers to global security.

The Iranian opposition should be left to pursue their struggle without too much overt international interference. That will produce a better and more durable change. Pretentious Western support for democracy in Iran, which is a disguised form of trying to impose a client regime on it, is antithetical to the democratic aspirations of Iranians. The democratic opposition in Iran should be given space to define its own agenda, design its own strategies of struggle, argue its own case and articulate its own agenda.


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