One can learn a lot about a country from simply reading its media, the news coverage and style can reveal a greater understanding of what information its people are being fed daily. There are stark contrasts between UK news output and US news, even when covering the same events, so I thought it would be interesting to see what I could learn from reading Iranian News sites for a week or so. To see if there was a similar level of coverage and how differently the big news stories were reported from within Iran compared to Western media.
In comparing online Iranian news coverage against the Western mainstream media it becomes quickly apparent that although the two are aesthetically close, their content output couldn’t be further apart.
It appeared the Iranian sites were attempting to mimic the glamorous “Hollywood” style which seems to grip Western and in particular US news sites. A slick production to display the serious headlines in all their glory together with trivial padding and “feel good” stories to fill in the gaps. This style sits better in the Western media where “celebrity news” which was once left to gossip magazines finds itself increasing present in the main news output of the mainstream media. The Iranian sites seem to try copy this style but there is something unsettling in seeing an update of the new Halo video game sat between stories of US drone strikes and Israeli evil.
Because it is the US and Israel which dominate Iranian international news output. In the seven days from 7th -13th October Western media was predominantly focused on the global spread of Ebola and the international efforts to stop ISIS gaining a stronghold in the Middle East. Iran was barely mentioned in Western media, even in the Middle Eastern news sections of the focus was on Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It is therefore somewhat strange that around 50% of the news on FARS NEWS, IRAN DAILY and IRNA was focused on either the US or Israel, and all of these stories were unsurprisingly negative.
It would be far too simple to say that it is pure anti US propaganda; the Iranian media I was reading claimed to be independent, unbiased and fair. Yet with each anti US story reported it became less and less about factual reporting and more about anti US headlines. Several stories regarding riots in the US over the killings of unarmed black teenagers were simply provocative headlines which linked to silent video footage or photographs of protesters. There was no reporting of facts or background which was being reported on in the West, it was nothing more than a slideshow of footage lifted from the internet to show the American people rioting against their own government. It is remarkable how many US news stories make it on to the home pages of Iranian news outlets, news which isn’t even main news in the US is for some strange reason deemed to be of great importance to the Iranian people.
Then on 9th October the Iran Daily published a story on its homepage which appeared to be from the cold war era of propaganda, a story so irrelevant and lacking integrity I was forced to double check that this was indeed front page news in 2014. The headline was “Russia, China capable of defeating US in nuclear war: Prof Fetzer”, the “news” itself was simply 3 paragraphs lifted from an interview Professor James Henry Fetzer had done with “Press TV”, and a stock image of five small naval ships. Iran Daily were keen to stress that Fetzer was an “Eminent American political commentator”, and that he believed “the actions of the United States were comparable of those in Nazi Germany”, and that Russia and China could defeat the US in nuclear war where “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS” of Americans would die. If this is the “news” being reported on by mainstream Iranian media how can Iran Daily be seen as a reputable news agency, when this article is nothing more than blatant propaganda.
The number of nuclear weapons stockpiled around the globe is well documented. Fetzer’s claims that Russia and China would be willing to go to nuclear war due to US actions in Syria and the Middle East at large are fanatical, much like his other statements which read more like the ravings of an anti US obsessive conspiracy theorist than an “Eminent American political commentator”.
That is because Professor Fetzer is an obsessive conspiracy theorist. He is anti US and Israel, having claimed their responsibility in several incidents from the assassination of JFK to the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers, even writing an article claiming Mossad death squads were responsible for the Sandy Hook school massacre. He is known for making wild allegations and claims against the US and Israel for which have been strongly criticized. He is not the “Eminent American political commentator” that Iran Today would have you believe.
Iran Media Propaganda: We Are the Best
When reporting on Iranian issues the output was almost always upbeat and positive, a stark contrast from Western media which often spends more time reporting on their own failings rather than successes, however this is not the case in Iran. “IMF hails Iran’s economic achievements”, “Iran plays key role in regional security” and “French envoy describes Iran as most secure regional country for foreign tourists” are just some of the headlines reporting foreign agencies or personnel showing support for Iran. The Iranian media seems keen on publishing any story which purports to show non Iranians being positive towards the state. It is only when you read the often short articles in any detail that a great deal of political spin has been supplied. Claims that a French envoy claimed Iran was the “most secure regional country for foreign tourists” came about as a result of the French government adding Iran to a list of “40 states which are dangerous for travelling”. The claims that Iran is the “most secure regional country for foreign tourists”, was an unofficial remark made by the French ambassador to Iran, and in no way an official view of the French government. It appears once you dig under the headlines in Iranian news the facts are often very different.
On the 8th October two stories made the BBC news site regarding Iran, one story was regarding President Rouhani addressing students at a university rally and the other reported on a fire at a weapons factory which killed two people. The story of the fire at a weapons factory main the home page of BBC news which offered a reasonably detailed report into the accident. FARS News and Iran Daily had no mention of the story, the INRA covered the story in one short paragraph with very little detail. The university rally was covered by FARS News, Iran Daily and INRA, however this was once again boiled down to a barebones report which conveniently missed the critical points raised in the BBC story. The stories the Iranian media chooses to share in English with the outside world are handpicked to cater to a non Iranian audience. In one sense this is because many smaller pieces of domestic news may hold little interest to those outside of Iran, but I cannot help but feel that the constant publication of pro Iranian and anti US and Israel stories is less about providing people with the news they are interested in and much more about providing the outside world the news that Iran wants them to hear.
Another example of this selective reporting regarded a conference in Cairo where International donors pledging $5.4 billion to help rebuild Gaza following its recent conflict with Israel. A BBC report covered this event in great detail stating the amounts pledged by various countries, amongst them the US pledged $212 million in new aid and European Union member states $568 million. In total Gaza received more money than they asked for, and complete support in rebuilding as quickly as possible with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying “The people of Gaza do need our help desperately, not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now”. The article is very much pro Palestine with all sides aiming to help rebuild and help as soon as possible. It is therefore very strange that both FARS News and the Iran Daily didn’t cover this story, but what is stranger is the way that it was reported by the INRA . There is no mention of which countries donated the $5.4 billion, no quotes from the US or Europe expressing their desire to rebuild. The INRA decided to cover this story with quotes from an unnamed Hamas spokesman and claiming political commentators in the region expressed doubt about a rapid reconstruction. All the positives of the BBC report were lost, the focus of the story was very much moved from the goodwill of the international community and onto the “strict rules” of the “Zionist enemy”.
This last week has shown me a lot about how the media output differs between Iran and the West, together with their similarities. Western media is far less inclined to publish articles celebrating its achievements, where as Iranian news appears to publish as fact when agency or dignitary makes a positive remark, in the same way Western media takes swipes at its own government for any mistake or failing. It is also impossible to see the obsession the Iranian media has with the US and Israel, an obsession which clogs up its site and degraded its integrity in the same way celebrity is now doing in the west.
Iran Media Propaganda: The Leader, A Sportsman?
However, the one section of the Iranian and Western media which is almost identical is the sport section, with coverage of the major football leagues, tennis and motorsport. In many cases the Iranian reports appear to be nothing more than subtly edited versions of articles in the western media, but on the whole the information presented in generally of the same general standard. Then on 13th October FARS News ran a sport story to remind its readers who was in charge, the third biggest sport story that day didn’t regard a millionaire footballer or shock tennis result but “Iran’s Supreme Leader goes 1st mountain hike after September’s surgery”.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin the Russian, skiing, Nicolas Sarkozy the French, jogging, Hazrat-e Ali Khamenei the Iranian, hiking.
Too many sportsmen around.
This article was written by Georges B. We thank him for his keen interest and observations on the Iranian media.[Albertine Ahmadi, October 2014]