By Morad Vaisi, RFE/RL
When two earthquakes struck within 10 minutes of each other in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province on August 11, officials said they would move quickly to respond.
An earthquake victim near damaged houses in an earthquake-stricken Iranian village of Azerbaijan on August 13.
"Rescue and relief teams have been dispatched to the site and the rescue operation is in progress," Hassan Ghadami, the head of Iran's National Crisis Management Organization, announced within hours of the disaster.
In the days that followed, however, the resounding message coming from comments sent to RFE/RL's Radio Farda and on social media was that the Iranian authorities had badly miscalculated the seriousness of the situation on the ground, and were slow to provide much-needed information and moral support.
Much of the criticism has focused on the muted reaction by senior officials -- including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who left Iran on August 13 to travel to Saudi Arabia for an Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit on the situation in Syria.
The trip, coming at a time of national crisis, struck many Iranians as callous.
"Ahmadinejad!" asked one Radio Farda listener. "Now that people have lost their lives in [East] Azerbaijan Province, was it really worth it for you to leave the country and walk on a red carpet in Saudi Arabia and talk about Bashar al-Assad?"
Iranian media ignored the quake and instead provided coverage to Syria and other issues.
cartoon by Mardomak
Ignored By Media
Others criticized the dearth of coverage on Iranian state TV and radio in the early days of the crisis.
In the first house after the earthquake, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) focused its news coverage on Syrian developments and, to a larger extent, on the Ramadan celebration of Al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny.
Even two local channels in the Azeri-speaking regions of Iran, Sahand and Sabalan, aired prayer and religious ceremonies live after the earthquakes.
Two days after the quake, Iranian state TV increased its coverage, critics say.
One Iranian singled out the head of IRIB, Ezzatollah Zarghami, for criticism: "Mr. Zarghami, it is shameful that you broadcast the news of the earthquake after four hours and you let it go that easily. Two hundred-fifty people have perished!"
The comment echoed the thoughts on many Iranians' minds -- how could the media be so slow to act in the face of disaster?
"The government currently needs to distract people's attention from whatever they feel bad about and try to draw their attention to a world of colors and candy," says Mohamad Javad Akbarein, an analyst and journalist based in Paris.
"Furthermore, the regime has no capacity and energy left to deal with unexpected events and crises," Akbarein adds. "The country is already center stage to all sorts of catastrophes and calamities that are, in fact, mostly created by the regime itself."
Copyright (c) 2012 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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