By Majid Mohammadi, New York (Source:
Supporters in a pre-election rally
(photo by Shahram Sharif)
not surprisingly given the ballot results, there were two distinct narratives
running through western media coverage of the recent Iranian presidential
of these narratives ran for a week or thereabouts right up until election day,
the international correspondents had arrived in Tehran by then, and were filing
stories highlighting the Iranian voters' enthusiasm for various candidates, and
also the warm welcome the government had extended to foreign media.
Iranian authorities presumably wanted to try to prove there was such a thing as
"theocratic democracy". They were keen to see a strong turnout and a lot of
media coverage in order to demonstrate their own legitimacy and strong electoral
support for the government's policies and hard-line stance against the West.
part, foreign reporters and their outlets were excited to have an opportunity to
report from inside the Islamic Republic and to see stereotypical images of Iran
and Iranians so challenged.
much more than just President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the narrative ran.
Correspondents instead conveyed a hopeful mood in a country of diverse opinions:
first time in more than a decade, Iran was given a human face.
point, there were no complaints from the Iranian authorities about the role
played by foreign media. Nor were there any allegations that foreign governments
were trying to interfere with the vote or political campaigning.
trouble began when Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by a huge margin the day
after the election, and opposition candidates alleged massive irregularities and
results were announced in huge blocks of votes and in percentages, as opposed to
the region-by-region breakdown given in previous elections.
began building on the streets after the leading reformist candidate Mir Hossein
Mousavi asked the Guardian Council, which adjudicates on electoral matters, to
declare the result invalid.
reporters who had been expecting a close-run vote were shocked to find
themselves reporting on rallies and demonstrations instead. Mass arrests
alongside a state-organised media and cell-phone blackout added to the
heightened sense of concern.
Iranian government wanted to pretend that the 40 million people who participated
in the election had backed the regime. It did not want to see a mass protest
action on the streets of Tehran, with complaints of stolen elections beamed
around the world by the visiting press corps.
to Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, up to three million people came out
onto the streets of Tehran on Sunday, June 14. Taken by surprise, the
authorities and ordered foreign journalists to stay in their hotels and to make
plans to leave as soon as possible.
international media's collective narrative changed, and it did so just as
official Iranian pronouncements shifted to claims that the protests were neither
spontaneous nor home-grown; that they were in fact led by the West, the United
States and Britain in particular.
remain in their hotels and later to leave the country, western journalists were
left reliant on so-called citizen journalism and the likes of Twitter, Facebook,
YouTube and other social networking sites, making verification a constant
the massive and immediate demand for images and clips, there was no quick or
easy way to check sources and verify information, and media outlets were left
broadcasting things as they came in. Equally, internet chat rooms and bloggers
were awash with claims that an official picture taken at a pro-Ahmadinejad rally
had been doctored using Photoshop to make it look far bigger than it actually
softly-softly approach taken by western leaders - who were all too aware of how
a hasty intervention in the dispute could play into the hands of the hardliners
and help undermine the protestors - meant that the media soon became overly
reliant upon unverifiable information and other chatter to fill their schedules.
mainstream media had spent the first few days after the election trying to
project different sides of the story: A number of media outlets in the United
States and Europe questioned the claims of ballot-rigging made by opposition
candidates, and when there were protests against western based Persian-language
media outlets such as BBC Persian TV, participants were given time to air their
Persian-language media based in the West were slow to suggest that Iran's top
senior religious leaders were complicit in dismissing if not actually covering
up the alleged election fraud.
Persian Service did not directly focus on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei or his office until Friday prayers of June 19, when he warned
protesters to stay off the streets and said opposition candidates would be held
responsible for any violence.
As is the
case in Iran's state-run domestic media, Khamenei was portrayed abroad as the
most powerful person in the country, but with no real responsibilities. It
seemed as if nobody wanted to suggest the Supreme Leader had played any role in
the election or bore any responsibility for the results or the events that
did not stop the Iranian authorities from accusing the Persian services of the
BBC and Voice of America of interfering in the country's internal affairs.
the opposition press banned, journalists arrested, websites filtered, text
messaging blocked, cell phones shut down and foreign reporters ordered out of
the country, the government continued to blame western media for the unrest, as
if they were the advance guard for some grand international conspiracy.
the author: Majid Mohammadi teaches humanities and sociology. He is the
author of more than two dozen books on Iran and has a particular interest in
political Islam, judicial reform, and social movements.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a
project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net)
the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across
the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and
engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where
writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the
country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic
society that is Iran today.
... Payvand News - 07/06/09 ... --