DOUBLE STANDARDS IN IRAN REPORTING
By Florian Zollmann
[This interview published in August 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.luz.de.]
Threat scenarios, obscure videos of alleged sabotage acts, tanker seizures and mutual threats fill news reports. No one wants a war in the Persian Gulf but no one seems able to stop it. In the interview, journalism researcher Florian Zollmann criticizes Iran reporting.
With an unclear background, an oil tanker burned in the Gulf of Oman at the beginning of June 2019. New incidents in the region occur almost daily.
The world seems headed for a war in the Persian Gulf since the US cancelled the nuclear agreement with Iran. What role do the media play? We spoke with journalism researcher Florian Zollmann (42), program director at Newcastle University in England and director of propaganda studies.
Supposedly no one wants a war in the Persian Gulf but no one seems able to stop it. How do you see and judge the reporting?
The threat scenarios developed by the US government are repeated in the media along with ideological assumptions. Lead media like “Spiegel” speak of a “US-Iran conflict. A world conflict implies two sides. The community of states agreed in principle over the authority of the nuclear agreement with Iran signed in 2015. The Trump administration unilaterally cancelled this agreement a year ago. According to the facts, the Trump administration could be described as the aggressor.
Are the historical backgrounds considered?
Hardly. Many Iranians remember how the US and Great Britain carried out a coup in 1953 that overthrow the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the Shah. Mossadegh had nationalized the Iranian oil industry that was run by the British Anglo-Iranian Oil company. That was an essential reason for the coup. Under the Shah, the Iranian oil industry was controlled by British and US firms. The enormous Iranian oil industry was nationalized again after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Could Iran’s refusal to integrate these resources in the global “market system” preferred by Washington and the West have anything to do with the conflict around the nuclear deal? These important facts are hardly considered by the media.
Are there two standards here?
Yes. There are only seldom references to the following aspects. Iran signed the Nuclear Test Ban treaty whose Article IV allows the use of nuclear energy for peaceful objectives. Nevertheless, extensive sanctions were imposed on Iran by the US that inflicts tremendous suffering on the Iranian population. A number of states in the region possess nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan. Unlike Iran, these countries are not publically condemned even though they refused to sign the Nuclear Test Ban treaty. There are hardly any voices in the media demanding inspections of the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) for the military nuclear programs in Israel, India and Pakistan or that these countries be subject to sanctions until they open themselves to IAEO inspections.
Many research studies show the media prefer opinions of office holders to options from civil society. Journalists give a higher news value to politicians from so-called elite nations. Uploading statements in the news from politics and the economy is relatively inexpensive for media organizations. Commercial pressure and the personnel shortages forced by cuts in editorial staffs in the last years encourage this process. Studies demonstrate journalists in the lead media interact in networks and in different ways with representatives of power structures through their common work. This leads to nearness between politics, the economy and journalism that can also influence the reporting. Of course, there are also examples of serious journalism…
Your criticism has at least echoes of the right-wing discourse on the “system media” and the “lying press.”
My criticism is based on academic theories that show the media deficiencies in reporting about politics, workers, women, ethnic minorities and migrants. As I describe, the conclusions of many studies indicate how commercial pressure, newsworthiness, editorial cuts, property structures and pressures affect the output of the media.
Let us return to the starting point. Demonizations occur in the Iran reporting. In contrast, reporting about human rights in Saudi Arabia is not on the agenda.
German politics and economy have an interest in trade relations with Iran and their opinions have a deescalating effect… Nevertheless, the reporting in the last years has demonized Iran. George W. Bush saw Iran as part of his “axis of evil.” This caricature was adopted in the media. That Iran has not attacked one country militarily in the last 100 years is mostly unmentioned in the media. The domestic political repressions should certainly be condemned. However, the situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia, one of the closest allies of the West in the region, is just as bad as Iran.
Militarily, Iran is active abroad – from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and with the militia in Iraq. Leading representatives of the government fantasize Israel’s destruction again and again. Should there be reports about that?
Such statements and Iran’s support of militias in other countries should certainly be condemned. The point is not whitewashing Iran. The point is no double standards should be applied.
At the beginning of the month, Great Britain – a country that wants to leave the European Union – seized an Iranian tanker – at US request – because EU sanctions against Syria were violated. Should Iran be subject to EU sanctions? Why was the media excitement over the confiscation of a British tanker by Iran last Friday so much greater?
I am not a legal expert and therefore cannot give any enlightening information about the legal situation. Double standards are applied here. The indignation over the seizure of a British ship by Iran appears far greater. This indignation corresponds to a long history of conscious escalation. People recall the 1964 US entrance in the Vietnam War. At that time, the US government claimed Vietnamese ships attacked the US Destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. This episode was manufactured by the US as a reason or justification for war. Previously, US Special Forces carried out covert sabotage actions against North Vietnamese installations. North Vietnam’s actions served its defense. Hardly any historians today would deny that. At that time, however, the US press supported the US entrance in the war.