Sunday, 11 December 2011
US, IRAN AND THE MEDIA
In the past three decades, but especially in the past three years, the US media has devoted more news stories on Iran than on any other Muslim country. The focus has been mostly on Iran's nuclear program that has the potential of becoming a nuclear weapons program. For about every one hundred articles published on Iran's nuclear program, the US media, including the New York Times, runs just one article on Israel existing nuclear weapons arsenal.
Both the US and UN have asked Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Israel has refused, a story that has received very little coverage in the media. Whereas Iran has permitted International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, Israel has refused, but there has been very little coverage of the latter and a great deal of the former. Whereas the US has pledged to help Iraq build a nuclear program, that story has received almost no media attention, while the focus is how to destroy Iran's nuclear program that poses a potential threat to Israel's security and would make Iran the dominant regional nation, something that many Arab countries do not want.
The US media adopts the position that Iran's nuclear program is 'polarizing', neglecting to point out that is the position of the US and its close allies, not a position that the rest of the world shares. In short, the US media, as Edward Hermann and many other critics have repeatedly pointed out, is reflecting the official US government position on Iran. Yet, it presents its position as 'objective journalism', instead of disinformation or propaganda. While it is understandable that the large media outlets use varieties of government agencies, from CIA to Justice Department, to make sure that they have their facts and interpretation right, what is blurry is the degree to which the story is news as it occurred or news manufactured to serve a policy objective.
Let us take the latest issue of the CIA drone (RQ 170 Sentinel) that was spying over Iranian air space and which Iran shot down. When the government in Tehran announced that it had shot down the CIA drone, the US immediately denied that was the case. On 8 November 2011, when Iranian TV actually showed the plane, the US declined to comment, while some media outlets doubted the plane was real, arguing it was a model.
The most that some US officials would admit is that a plane may have drifted off from Afghanistan to Iran, a story that no one who knows about precision-guided drones takes seriously. For the CIA and Pentagon to admit that they had sent a spy plane inside Iran would mean that US had violated Iranian air space, a charge that Iran has made. Naturally, the Russians and the Chinese immediately asked Iran's permission to examine the plane, prompting fears by US experts that US technology was now in the hands of rivals. On the one hand, the US does not admit that Iran brought down the plane, and on the other, it is concerned that Iran and its allies will find out secrets about the non-existent plane.
To counter the embarrassing episode of the drone, the US government and media pointed to a UN report on Iran's nuclear program, a report released on the exact day as Iranian TV showed off the CIA drone. That Iran has a nuclear program and that it may be used for nuclear weapons is an issue that the UN has debated and considered, as it has done so under immense US pressure, but it has nothing to do with the CIA spy plane violating Iranian air space. However, the US government and media had to pull out all stops, after the recent announcement by Iran and Hezbollah caught a number of agents spying on behalf of the US. American intelligence experts have admitted that RQ 170 drone operations in Iran are the most secret CIA surveillance.
The pattern of disinformation extends to the bizarre Iran-Mexico plot, about which we have heard practically nothing since mid-October from the US government or the media. In October 2011, the US Justice Department announced that it had foiled an Iranian plot, with the complicity of Mexican drug lords, to kill the Saudi ambassador in the US.
The media took this story exactly as the US dished it out and ran with it, presenting it as indisputable fact. That much can be forgiven if the media had made an effort to rectify its shortcomings. On 23 November 2011, the New York Times published an article questioning the credibility of Mansour J. Arbabsiar, who was arrested charged, and allegedly confessed. Nevertheless, the newspaper still leaves the impression that the plot was probably real. One must wait for the trial, but if the US government had hard evidence of an Iranian assassination plot, why has it not produced the hard evidence to embarrass Iran at the very least. It will be interesting to see if anything results from this story and if the media will look into again and try to get to the bottom of it.
The US pattern of disinformation regarding Iran is understandable because the US had openly declared itself an enemy of Iran, a nation that must abide by eliminating its ongoing nuclear program, accepting integration with the West under the patron-client terms that the West offers, forging a pro-West government that makes its peace with Israel, and following pro-West policies. Given that is the goal, the US government has to follow a certain policy pattern and then try to implement measures, such as intelligence gathering by any means including violating Iranian air space, as well as massive disinformation that the mainstream media carries out, which in turn is fed to the rest of the world's media and passed on as 'objective journalism'.
Does Iran engage in propaganda and media disinformation? Of course it does, and like the media in all countries that tend to be on the side of their nation, Iran is no different. As a society that does not claim to be 'open', and under a three-decade long 'Cold War' that the US has launched, one would expect Iran to behave as it does in propagating through the media. There is a private and publicly-owned media in Iran, but subject to government oversight by a special court. Iran spends a great deal of resources on propaganda, but it lacks the kind of credibility that the US has around the world.
Because Iranian propaganda is much more crude and ideologically-driven, the Western and non-Muslim reader immediately tends to doubt stories that may have some degree of truth to them. That Iran is an "Islamic Republic" entails that its media would be heavily tilted in that direction and stories would lose appeal with non-Muslims and especially with Westerners not used to direct or abrupt type of reporting. Therefore, one does not expect from Iran 'journalistic objectivity' that the US media claims and tries to sell to the world. On the contrary, the expectation is that the Iranian media would be at similar journalistic standards as in the rest of the Middle East, including Israel. Given its limited resources, lack of expertise, and global networking, it is simply impossible for the Iranian media to rise to the level of US media effectiveness. In the final analysis, however, countries are judged by their actions, and not propaganda. US actions toward Iran speak for themselves, as do Iranian actions against the West.