BBC’s Iran protests backgrounders fail to ameliorate years of omission

As several commentators have noted, the recent protests in Iran have included criticism of the regime’s foreign policy priorities.

At the Spectator Douglas Murray wrote:

“…most early reports indicate that protesters began by highlighting the country’s living standards. Specifically, they complained about the government’s use of its recent economic bonus (from the lifting of sanctions) not to help the Iranian people, but to pursue wider regional ambitions. Iranian forces are currently fighting in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This from a power whose defenders still claim is not expansionist. […]

The nationwide demonstrations, which have not been led by any single demographic, class, or group, have included cries of ‘Leave Gaza, leave Lebanon, my life (only) for Iran’. Chants of ‘Death to Hezbollah’ (Iran’s terrorist proxy currently fighting in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria) have also been heard from Mashhad to Kermanshah.”

At Foreign Policy magazine, Dennis Ross noted that:

“Placards criticizing corruption are rampant, and some demonstrators have even chanted death to the dictator, referring to Khamenei. Protesters have also railed against the costs of Iran’s foreign adventures: One of the earliest chants was, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran.” […]

The protestors are asking why their money is spent in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza […] On Hezbollah alone, Iran is estimated to provide more than $800 million a year — and their costs in sustaining the Assad regime come to several billion dollars.”

One of the BBC’s early reports – published on December 29th; the day after the protests commenced – also noted those chants.

“There is also anger at Iran’s interventions abroad. In Mashhad, some chanted “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, a reference to what protesters say is the administration’s focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.

Other demonstrators chanted “leave Syria, think about us” in videos posted online. Iran is a key provider of military support to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

However, when the BBC later began producing backgrounders on the protests in Iran, that issue was downplayed.

In a filmed backgrounder published on January 2nd under the title “Iran protests: Why people are taking to the streets”, Rana Rahimpour of BBC Persian told audiences that:

“The protests started out of opposition to President Hassan Rouhani and his economic policies. People were angry with high inflation, unemployment and corruption. But it quickly became bigger than that, and protesters started calling for the downfall of Iran’s most powerful man: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They also called for an end to Iran’s involvement in countries like Syria and Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were not however informed what that “involvement” entails or how much it costs the Iranian people.

In a written backgrounder also produced by Rana Rahimpour and published on the BBC News website on the same day under the headline “Iran protests pose an unpredictable challenge for authorities“, readers found the same statement.

“Within a day, the unrest had spread to some 25 towns and cities, and slogans went beyond the economic, including calls, for instance, for an end to Iran’s involvement in Lebanon and Syria.”

An article titled “Iran protests: US brands Tehran’s accusations ‘nonsense’” that also appeared on the BBC News website on January 2nd included analysis by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in which readers were told that:

“When the protests started last Thursday, they were about the current economic crisis but as they spread, pent-up frustrations spilled out and politics became a big part of them.

President Rouhani has been widely criticised. He has disappointed voters who hoped he would do more to turn round an economy that has been damaged by years of sanctions, corruption and mismanagement.

Iran’s role in conflicts across the Middle East has also been criticised as it is an expensive foreign policy at a time when people in Iran are getting poorer.”

Another backgrounder – published on the BBC News website on January 4th under the headline “Six charts that explain the Iran protests” made no mention whatsoever of the vast sums of money shoring up the Iranian regime’s protégés and proxies around the Middle East.

Two and a half years ago senior BBC journalists covering the P5+1 deal with Iran assured BBC audiences that the vast sums of money freed up by sanctions relief under the terms of the JCPOA would be used by the Iranian regime to improve the country’s economy.

“President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.”  Jeremy Bowen, PM, BBC Radio 4, July 14th 2015

“In exchange it [Iran] will get a lot. It will get a release of the punishing sanctions. We heard from Hassan Rouhani saying as Iran always says that the sanctions did not succeed but he conceded that they did have an impact on the everyday lives of Iranians. There’s an estimate that some $100 billion will, over time, once Iran carries out its implementation of this agreement, will be released into the Iranian economy.”  Lyse Doucet, Newshour, BBC World Service radio, July 14th 2015.

Since then, the BBC has continued the existing practice of serially avoiding any serious reporting on the issue of Iran’s financing of terror groups and militias across the Middle East.

Given that long-standing policy of omission, it is obvious that BBC audiences are not sufficiently informed on the issue to be able to understand the full significance of those euphemistic references to “Iran’s involvement in countries like Lebanon and Syria”, its “role in conflicts across the Middle East” and its “expensive foreign policy” found in content supposedly meant to explain why Iranians have taken to the streets in protest.

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BBC News coverage of Iranian election touts ‘moderate’ Rouhani yet again

Predictably, the BBC News website’s extensive coverage of the May 19th presidential election in Iran included copious portrayal of the winning candidate Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate” and a “reformer”.

Iran presidential election: Five things to know“, Siavash Ardalan, 28/4/17

“…Iranian national politics is basically a power struggle between conservatives and reformists/moderates. […] Don’t forget that it was President Rouhani, a moderate, who was instrumental in helping strike an historic nuclear deal with world powers by convincing the supreme leader – considered closely associated with the conservative establishment – to reluctantly give his blessing.”

“The office of president and the executive branch can be reformist/moderate and has been for the past four years with Mr Rouhani at its helm.”

Iran election: Could women decide the next president?, Rana Rahimpour, 5/5/17

“Early on in the campaign the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, posted a photo of himself on social media which caused a flurry of comment.

He was out on a weekend walk in the mountains standing next to two young female hikers, both of whose hijab is far from what would be considered proper by the hardliners.

It was a clear message to young, modern female voters, that he was the candidate who was not overly bothered about the country’s restrictive dress code and other curbs on social freedom.

Mr Rouhani’s campaign video makes a point of praising Iranian women’s achievements in the worlds of both work and sport, and offering his support.

He is also the only candidate so far to have held a rally specifically for female voters.”

Iran election: Hardliner Qalibaf withdraws candidacy“, 15/5/17

“Mr Qalibaf called on his supporters to back conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi against the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who is seeking a second term.”

Iran election: Jahangiri withdraws and endorses Rouhani“, 16/5/17

“A reformist candidate in Iran’s presidential election has pulled out to smooth the path for the moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani.”

Iran election: Votes are counted amid high turnout“, 20/5/17

“Mr Rouhani is a moderate cleric who negotiated a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani wins second term as president“, 20/5/17

“Mr Rouhani, a moderate who agreed a deal with world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, pledged to “remain true” to his promises.”

“…supporters of President Rouhani who back his promises to steer the country toward moderation came out in big numbers too. […] This was a revenge of the people against the hardliners who intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs, and discriminated against women.

President Rouhani will now have a bigger mandate to push through his reforms, to put an end to extremism, to build bridges with the outside world, to put the economy back on track.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani gets big mandate but will he deliver?“, Kasra Naji, 20/5/17

“Friday’s vote in Iran was the revenge of the moderates. A rejection of those who had intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs.

In his campaign, President Rouhani promised to put an end to extremism, to open up the political atmosphere, to extend individual and political rights, to free political prisoners, to remove discrimination against women and bring under control all those state institutions that are not accountable. […]

He firmly placed himself in the camp of the reformists. Now, with his re-election, Iran is on the path towards change, with a renewed confidence drawn from the emphatic result.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani says voters rejected extremism“, 20/5/17

“Moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his re-election shows voters reject extremism and want more links with the outside world.”

“…supporters of President Rouhani who back his promises to steer the country toward moderation came out in big numbers too. […] This was a revenge of the people against the hardliners who intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs, and discriminated against women.

President Rouhani will now have a bigger mandate to push through his reforms, to put an end to extremism, to build bridges with the outside world, to put the economy back on track.”

Iran elections: Pro-Rouhani reformists in Tehran power sweep“, 21/5/17

“Iran’s re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani has received a further boost after reformists won key council elections in the capital, Tehran.”

BBC audiences are of course no strangers to that good cop/bad cop portrayal of Iranian politics. Ever since Rouhani was first elected in 2013, the corporation has been portraying him as a “moderate” and a “reformist”, while ignoring the fact that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, published a report in 2015 that found – among other things – that the number of executions in Iran has risen under Rouhani’s presidency. Last year Amnesty International reported similar findings.

Back in March the WSJ noted that Rouhani’s first term as president “hasn’t been moderate”:

“Witness the latest repression targeting the mullahs’ usual suspects. Tehran’s Prosecutor-General on Sunday announced it had sentenced a couple to death because they had founded a new “cult.” The announcement was short on details, but the charges could mean anything from running a New Age yoga studio to a political-discussion club.

The authorities have also detained Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter with the reformist newspaper Etemad (“Trust”), according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. […]

Mr. Mazandarani’s detention followed last week’s arrest of dissident reporter Hengameh Shahidi, who also faces “national-security” charges. Ms. Shahidi has been an adviser to Mehdi Karroubi, one of two pro-democracy candidates in 2009’s fraudulent election. Mr. Karroubi and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been under house arrest since 2011. Having hinted at freeing them during his campaign, Mr. Rouhani has kept mum on their cases since coming to office in 2013. […]

Historic Christian communities such as Assyrians and Armenians are afforded second-class protection under Iranian law, while apostasy by Muslims is punishable by death. Despite some early rhetoric about tolerance, Mr. Rouhani has been unwilling or unable to improve conditions for religious minorities.

There is also the status of some half a dozen U.S. and U.K. dual citizens who have been taken hostage by the regime while visiting Iran. These include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, both U.S. citizens, and Nazenin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who is serving a five-year sentence on secret charges.”

At the Telegraph, Christopher Booker writes of:

“…the ghastly farce of the Iranian presidential election, when again we were told that the victor, Hassan Rouhani, was a “moderate” against a “hardliner”. As I have reported many times, Rouhani is an utterly ruthless operator, who had presided since 2013 over a collapsing economy and what Amnesty International called “a staggering execution spree”, murdering and imprisoning so many dissidents that Iran has per capita the highest execution rate in the world.”

At Bloomberg, Eli Lake notes that:

“During his campaign, he [Rouhani] told voters that he would be a “lawyer” defending their rights. He criticized his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, for his role in ordering the executions of political dissidents. He promised gender equality and a freer press.

All of that sounds pretty good. And for those in the west looking for an Iranian version of Mikhail Gorbachev, it makes a nice talking point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Rouhani will deliver, or even try to deliver, on any of these promises.

There are a few reasons for this. To start, Rouhani delivered the same line back in 2013 when he first won the presidency. We now know that human rights in Iran have further eroded during his tenure. A lot of this has been documented by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. The organization noted in October that Rouhani supported a law that would essentially place all Iranian media under government control. The center also documented a wave of arrests of journalists in November 2015, following Iran’s agreement to the nuclear bargain with the U.S and five other world powers. In the run-up to Friday’s vote, 29 members of the European Parliament wrote an open letter urging Iran to end its arrests, intimidation and harassment of journalists in the election season.”

And yet, the BBC continues to spoon-feed its audiences with simplistic framing of Rouhani as a benevolent “moderate” and “reformer”. One would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information with the aim of enhancing their “understanding of international issues” could do considerably better.

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BBC Persian promotes falsehood in report on Elie Wiesel’s death

h/t Dr CL

A member of the public recently alerted us to an inaccuracy in an article concerning the death of Elie Wiesel which appeared on the BBC Persian website on July 2nd.BBC Persian Wiesel art

The final paragraph of that article tells readers that in 2014, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Elie Wiesel accused Israel of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. A translation of that paragraph (confirmed by a professional Farsi translator) reads as follows:

“Two years ago, Elie Wiesel, together with 300 Holocaust survivors, criticised Israel because of its attack on Gaza, and accused the Israeli government of genocide.”

Elie Wiesel made no such accusation and did not put his name to that statement advertised by IJAN (International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network) in the New York Times. In fact, the IJAN statement included direct criticism of Wiesel and was made in response to an earlier advertisement criticising Hamas’ use of human shields which was put out by Wiesel himself.

The BBC should be familiar with the facts behind that story: after all, it took it upon itself to amplify that IJAN statement extensively at the time. Clearly the falsehood promoted by BBC Persian requires immediate retraction and prominent correction.

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More spin than a centrifuge: BBC report on Khamenei nuclear deal speech

As has already been noted on these pages (see related articles below), the BBC News website’s portrayal of the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran announced on April 2nd has been based exclusively on the US administration’s presentation of its supposed terms. Not only have BBC audiences not been provided with details of the markedly different Iranian interpretation of the framework agreement; they have barely been informed of its existence apart from the following cryptic reference in an article by Barbara Plett Usher from April 5th:

“”Optics” went into play immediately. The Americans released a fact sheet describing details of what had been agreed.

“There is no need to spin,” Mr Zarif fired back on Twitter.

Senior US officials said both sides understood they would have different narratives, but wouldn’t contradict each other.

They knew Mr Zarif would present the framework agreement as one that “enables Iran the ability to access peaceful nuclear energy,” they said.”

On April 9th Iran’s Supreme Leader broke his silence on the topic of the framework agreement in a speech delivered at an event marking the Islamic Republic’s ‘National Day of Nuclear Technology’ and the BBC News website subsequently published a report titled “Iran nuclear: No guarantee of final deal, Khamenei says“.Khamenei speech art

The BBC’s account of that speech (transcript available here) amounts to the following:

“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has cautioned against seeing a preliminary agreement on his country’s nuclear programme as the “guarantee” of a final deal with world powers. […]

In a statement on his website, Mr Khamenei said “it is possible that the untrustworthy side [the six world powers who negotiated the agreement] wants to restrict our country in the details”.

“I have never been optimistic about negotiating with America. While I was not optimistic, I agreed with this particular negotiation and supported the negotiators,” the statement went on.

Mr Khamenei also echoed earlier comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in which he insisted that sanctions must be lifted as soon as a final deal was implemented.”

The BBC’s report also includes a summary of the terms of the framework agreement with a link to an EU statement on the topic.

The deal stipulates Iran must slash its stockpile of enriched uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon, and cut by more than two-thirds the number of centrifuges that could be used to make more.

In return, UN sanctions and separate measures imposed unilaterally by the US and EU will be lifted as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.”

Readers are not informed that Khamenei’s speech included the following statement on the subject of inspections to confirm compliance:

“One must absolutely not allow infiltration of the security and defense realm of the state on the pretext of inspection[s], and the military authorities of the state are not – under any circumstance – allowed to let in foreigners to this realm under the pretext of inspection, or stop the country’s defense development… Any unconventional inspection or monitoring which would make Iran into a special case, would not be acceptable, and the monitoring must only be as monitoring regimes taking place all over the world and nothing more.”

A link to the US State department’s factsheet is again promoted later on in the article – as has been the case in numerous previous ones – but yet again readers are not informed of the details (or existence) of Iran’s own factsheet. Under the sub-heading ‘Snap back’ the BBC states:

“On Thursday, the US state department repeated this view. “Under the agreed-upon parameters, sanctions will be suspended in a phased manner upon verification that Iran has met specific commitments,” spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.

It has published what it sees as the parameters of the agreement, one of which states: “If at any time Iran fails to fulfil its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.””

Again, readers are not fully informed of the content of Khamenei’s speech relating to the topic of sanctions and what bearing that has on the viability of potential ‘snap back’ of sanctions.

“Instant annulment of all sanction is one of the demands of our officials… This issue is very important, and the sanctions must all be completely removed on the day of the agreement… Should the removal of the sanctions be related to a process, the foundation of the negotiations would be senseless, since the goal of the negotiations was to remove the sanctions.”

The BBC’s vague portrayal of those statements amounts to:

“Mr Khamenei also echoed earlier comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in which he insisted that sanctions must be lifted as soon as a final deal was implemented.”

The BBC’s report includes some interesting ‘analysis’ from Kasra Naji of the BBC Persian service:

“Ayatollah Khamenei has decided to sit on the fence, for the time being. He says he will neither endorse or reject the agreement.

A lot of details will have to be dealt with, he says, before the preliminary agreement from last week will turn into a final agreement at the end of June – the deadline the two sides have set themselves for a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear problem.

But by not rejecting it, he has, in effect, consented to the premise of the agreement – that Iran would limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions. And that is a major step for the hardliners in Iran, including the country’s leader.”

In fact, Khamenei made it very clear that from his perspective there is to date no agreement to either endorse or reject:

“There are those who ask, why has the Leader not made his positions known concerning the latest nuclear negotiations? The reason for the Leader not taking position is that there is nothing to take a position about. The officials of the state and those responsible in the nuclear field say no job is done and there is no necessity… If the question is posed to me: ‘Are you for or against the latest nuclear negotiations,’ I would answer that I’m neither in favor nor opposed to it, since nothing has happened yet… All the trouble arises when the details will be discussed… the White House, only two hours after the end of the negotiations, published a few pages, which in most regards was contrary to the realities, explaining the negotiations… they were producing a statement which was faulty, incorrect and contrary to the substance of the negotiations.”

The bizarre reassuring spin put on Khamenei’s words by Naji according to which he “consented to the premise of the agreement” ignores the substantially conflicting views of the agreement presented in the various factsheets produced by parties to the negotiations as well as the fact that in this speech Khamenei clearly not only rejected the version of the agreement put out by the US State Department but also introduced ‘red lines’ on sanctions and inspections which do not conform to the version of the framework agreement promoted by the US and faithfully quoted and promoted by the BBC.

Following that exercise in spin, BBC audiences were pointed in the direction of the ‘real hardliners’:

“The deal was celebrated by many in Iran but was dismissed by hardliners who say Iran surrendered too much in exchange for too little.

Similarly, some in the US Congress have been sceptical of the deal, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed fervent opposition.”

The BBC’s treatment of this topic continues to avoid providing its funding public with the comprehensive information needed in order to enhance their “awareness and understanding“. This particular article from the self-declared “standard-setter for international journalism” actively impedes understanding by means of the selective omission of information mixed with redundant spin-laden analysis.

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BBC interview with Hamas official – for Farsi speakers only

Over the past few weeks a developing theme seen in BBC reporting relating to the recent violence and terror attacks in Israel has been that of a purported shift from a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians over land to a ‘religious war’ sparked by the issue of equal prayer rights for non-Muslims at Temple Mount and Palestinian claims that the status quo at that site is in danger.

As Dr Jonathan Spyer recently noted:

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion.””

In addition to dedicating  an item in a Radio 4 programme to the topic, the BBC has seen fit to promote that narrative on other platforms. In an interview with BBC News broadcast on television on November 18th, for example, the PNI’s Mustafa Barghouti claimed that:

“I think in this case Mr Netanyahu has been provoking the Palestinians, is trying to transform this conflict – which is a national liberation movement trying to get freedom – into a religious conflict. It’s not a religious conflict and we don’t want any people who pray to be attacked; this is unacceptable.”

In an interview with Fatah official Husam Zomlot broadcast on BBC World Service radio on December 5th, presenter Tim Franks asked:

Franks: “How concerned are you that the language of negotiation, the language of territory, the language of the United Nations may become redundant as we see increasing levels of anger and increasing levels of a more sort of religious nature to this war; to this conflict? Ahm…especially in light of what’s happened in recent weeks?”

Zomlot: “You’re absolutely right and this is a very alarming development thanks to the Netanyahu government. Not only the Netanyahu government have been murdering the two state solution via this phenomenal expansion of settlements everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory…state. But also they have been shifting the identity of the conflict from a national one that could be resolved to a religious perpetual confrontation.”al Zahar on BBC Persian

It is therefore all the more remarkable to find that an interview with Hamas official Mahmoud al Zahar by Siavash Ardalan which was broadcast on BBC Persian television on December 30th (BBC Persian website version here) has not yet appeared on the corporation’s English language platforms.

In that interview al Zahar spoke, inter alia, of Hamas’ relationship with Iran, stating that the strategic relationship between that country and the terrorist organization is based on the fact that:

“…more than anything else we believe in the concept of an Islamic Ummah including all nationalities and different branches of the Muslim Ummah from east to west.”

 A translated version of the voiceover of al Zahar’s statements in the interview can be seen below.

Clearly the subject of Hamas’ relationship with Iran and the points at which its religiously motivated ideologies also dovetail with those of theocratic regimes in the region is one which has considerable bearing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is of great significance to BBC audience members aspiring to enhance their knowledge of this particular international issue. It is also, however, a subject which the BBC has consistently under-reported and the failure to make this interview available to the vast majority of BBC audience members who do not speak Farsi perpetuates that policy. 

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BBC Persian spins results of ADL poll on antisemitism

On May 13th the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a worldwide poll on antisemitism. Readers can view the executive summary here and the interactive site here.

Three days later, BBC Persian’s Hossein Bastani came up with an interesting take on one aspect of the poll’s results which was promoted to visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Defying perceptions: Iranians ‘least anti-Semitic people in Middle East'”.

ADL poll on ME pge

Bastani’s article opens:

“A perhaps surprising result emerged from a recent opinion poll by an international organisation that fights anti-Semitism – that Iranians are the least anti-Semitic people in the Middle East and North Africa (with the exclusion of Israel).

According to the poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Iranian respondents scored the lowest (56%) in terms of holding negative views about Jewish people, while in other countries of the region, the figure ranges from 69% in Turkey to 93% in the Palestinian territories.”

What Bastani neglects to clarify to readers is that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) emerged as the most antisemitic region in the world according to the ADL poll, so whilst Iran did indeed poll lowest in that region with ‘only’ 56% holding antisemitic attitudes, it still came much higher than the average in any other region of the world.

ADL poll regional stats

Bastani then devotes five paragraphs to explaining to readers that “Iranian conservatives” do use what he terms “anti-Jewish propaganda” and, in line with previous BBC coverage (see ‘related articles’ below), implies a difference of attitude between the current Iranian president and his predecessor. In his next four paragraphs Bastani deflects audience attention from the supposed subject matter of his article – a poll on antisemitism – to the topic of criticism of the Israeli government.ADL poll Bastani art

“On the other hand, among those Iranians who are critical of the ruling conservatives, there are many who hold negative views of the Israeli government for different reasons.

For instance, they disagree with Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and oppose its stance on Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Bastani’s concludes that the poll shows that “a large part” (actually less than half: 44%) of the Iranian population is not influenced by the attitudes of its conservative leaders. However, he does not make any attempt to seriously address the issue of the 56% which, according to his theory, is influenced by those attitudes.

“Yet despite such criticisms, the recent ADL poll shows that a large part of Iran’s population is not influenced by the negative narratives presented by the country’s conservatives about Jewish people.

One may even conclude that because of their distrust of the ruling conservatives, many Iranians may simply reject “whatever” the regime says, including its propaganda regarding Jews.”

Finally, Bastani cherry-picks one particular poll question result in order to drive home a take-away point.

“Perhaps the most significant aspect of the recent opinion poll is the very low percentage of respondents in Iran who agree with the statement that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the ruling conservatives have been denying the Holocaust for a long time, only 18% of the respondents believe that the above statement is “probably true”.

This figure is particularly noteworthy when compared to 22% who agreed with the same statement in the United States.”

He neglects to inform readers however that whereas in the Americas, 77% of people have heard of the Holocaust, in the MENA region only 38% have heard of it and only 8% believe the historical account.

ADL poll Holocaust

The actual poll data for Iran shows that 30% of Iranians have heard of the Holocaust, 67% have not and 3% do not know. Of those who replied that they had heard of the Holocaust, 6% think it is a myth and did not happen, 57% think it did happen but that the number of Jews who died has been greatly exaggerated, 19% think that the Holocaust happened and that the historic accounts are fair and 18% don’t know.

By contrast, in the United States, 89% of those polled had heard of the Holocaust and 10% had not. Of those who have heard of the Holocaust, 1% think it is a myth and did not happen, 6% think it did happen but that the number of Jews who died has been greatly exaggerated, 89% think that the Holocaust happened and that the historic accounts are fair and 4% don’t know.

Bastani’s transparent attempt to paint Iran as a country with more liberal attitudes towards the Holocaust than the United States is therefore inaccurate, misleading and redundant.

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Does the evidence support the BBC’s touting of “less hardline Iranian stance” on nuclear issue?

From September 5th until September 9th inclusive, the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Iran’s Rouhani shifts responsibility for nuclear talks“.

The article relates to the recent move by the Iranian president in which the foreign ministry was given the responsibility of conducting negotiations with the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme in place of the Supreme National Security Council which has held the role up to now. 

Nuclear talks article

The article repeats Iranian claims regarding the intentions of its nuclear programme three times, presenting those claims on an equal footing with IAEA findings.

“Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful ends” (photo caption)

 “Western countries fear Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons – a claim it denies.”

“Iran has refused to obey, saying it intends to enrich only for power station fuel or other peaceful purposes.”

The BBC report implies that Rouhani’s move indicates some sort of shift in Iranian policy, describing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as a “political moderate” (for more on ‘moderation’ in Iran, see here) and informing readers that:

“Correspondents say the change could herald a less hardline Iranian stance in the talks.”

Of course the practice of quoting unnamed sources denies BBC audiences the ability to make their own judgements regarding the reliability of the information provided. The article also includes a side-box of analysis by BBC Persian Service correspondent Bozorgmehr Sharafedin.

analysis nuclear talks article

However, this BBC article neglects to make it sufficiently clear to readers that whilst Rouhani’s foreign ministry may now be running negotiations with the P5+1, that certainly does not indicate any kind of change on the much more important issue of Iran’s nuclear programme itself.

“Seyyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a member of the Majles Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, clarified this week that shifting the responsibility for the nuclear talks to the Foreign Ministry does not mean handing over the nuclear dossier from the Supreme National Security Council to the Foreign Ministry. He said that the council will remain in charge of the nuclear dossier and the nuclear decision-making process, while the Foreign Ministry will be in charge of implementing those decisions and negotiating within the framework of the decisions made by the council. Hosseini said that transferring the responsibility for managing the negotiations to the Foreign Ministry is intended to let Iran speak with a single voice on its foreign policy when addressing the international community.”

The BBC’s article also does not inform readers of the possible motivation behind Rouhani’s move (which it is difficult to imagine was carried out without the knowledge and approval of his superiors). Rather than heralding “a less hardline stance”, this move should be examined within the framework of attempts to get the West to reduce the sanctions on Iran which have had a detrimental effect on its economy in the last two years in particular.

“Oil revenues have halved due to the sanctions, causing the value of the rial to plunge and inflation to soar to above 40%.”

Indeed, Rouhani showed no sign of accommodating any shifts in Iran’s stance on the nuclear issue in a recent address.

“Iran will not give up “one iota” of its nuclear rights, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said in a speech to clerics, Mehr news agency reported on Tuesday. […]

“Our government will not give up one iota of its absolute rights” on the nuclear issue,” Rowhani said, repeating a mantra frequently used by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Neither does the BBC bother to remind its readers that Rouhani has previous experience on the issue of avoiding sanctions:

“He agreed temporarily to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment in 2003, but not because he intended to comply with UN resolutions or the agreement reached with the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his French and German counterparts (the E3) on October 21, 2003. He did so as a tactical move that spared Iran from sanctions while not impeding overall progress towards its nuclear goals.”  

During the time that this article appeared on the BBC News website, two additional items presenting a soft portrait of the new Iranian president and his administration ran concurrently – see here and here. The ‘Rouhani the moderate’ theme adopted by the BBC is clearly impinging on the BBC’s ability to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for their understanding of this particular international issue and it is disappointing to see that lessons in media objectivity which should have been learned after over-enthusiastic responses to the ‘Arab Spring’ appear to have gone unlearned. 


BBC continues to portray a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime

Back in June we filed the BBC’s eager presentation of Iran’s then newly elected president Hassan Rouhani as a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’ under the heading “A BBC theme to watch“. Since then we have seen the BBC obliged to correct the erroneous claim that remarks made by Rouhani at an Al Quds Day parade alluded only to territories gained by Israel during the Six Day War, with that claim previously having been defended on air by the BBC Persian Service’s Rana Rahimpour

An article appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on September 6th – titled “Iran foreign minister Zarif tweets happy Jewish new year” – once again promotes the notion of a moderate, accommodating new Iranian regime, using the ‘evidence’ of a couple of Tweets sent by the Iranian Foreign Minister as the base for that claim. To underscore that theme, the report includes a side box of ‘analysis’ by Rana Rahimpour which includes the decidedly far-fetched claim that:

“Furthermore, this rare instance of Iran’s foreign minister using Twitter to respond to the daughter of a senior politician in the US, a country with which Tehran has had no diplomatic relations for three decades, means Iran is attempting to distance itself from the radical views of the last president.”

analysis Rahimpour

The day prior to the appearance of this article, the BBC published another report on the subject of purported Rosh HaShana greetings in Tweets from the Iranian leadership in which it bizarrely claimed that between 25,000 and 80,000 Jews currently live in Iran. This latest report repeats the same claim.

Zarif article

The BBC’s September 6th article states:

“Mohammad Javad Zarif told Tasnim news agency that he sent a tweet saying: “Happy Rosh Hashana”.

In a Twitter exchange that followed, he also distanced himself from the Holocaust denials of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

It goes on to say:

“But in an interview given to Tasnim and published on Mr Zarif’s Facebook page, the foreign minister confirmed he sent the “Happy Rosh Hashana” message because of Iran’s Jewish community.

He then had a response from Christine Pelosi, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, who said: “Thanks. The new year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir”.

He replied: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”

He was referring to Mr Ahmadinejad who, during his presidency, frequently claimed the Holocaust was a lie.

“We have condemned the killing of Jews by Nazis as we condemn [the] killing and crackdown on Palestinians by Zionists,” Mr Zarif told Tasnim.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel comments and Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme helped contribute to Iran’s increased isolation in recent years.”

Zarif’s attempt to place the onus of what he revealingly terms “perceived” Holocaust denial solely upon the shoulders of Ahmadinejad is of course tactical and cynical, but interestingly this BBC article fails to inform readers of that fact – and not for the first time. Readers may remember that a recent backgrounder on the subject of Al Quds day written by another staff member at the BBC Persian Service similarly attempted to downplay the Iranian regime’s propagation of Holocaust denial right from its apex

“When a person expresses his objection to the myth of Holocaust and announced that he does not believe it, they throw him into prison. They sentence him to prison for denying a fictitious event. Even if we assume that the event is not fictitious, even if we assume that it is a true story, is it a crime to deny a true historical event? If a person is not convinced of the truth of the Holocaust and he denies the story or expresses doubt about it, he is thrown into prison. This is what they are doing in the European countries that claim to be civilized.”

Moreover, the BBC appears to have no qualms about repeating Zarif’s comparison of the actions of the Nazis to “[the] killing and crackdown on Palestinians by Zionists” without pointing out to audiences the antisemitic nature of that comment. 

Courtesy of a video from 2006 posted by Ha’aretz, we see that Zarif is no stranger to using the Holocaust to advance his all too apparent agenda. 

The BBC’s presentation to its audiences of tactical moves by the Iranian regime as a sign of its “seeking warmer ties with the West and Israel” would be naive and puerile enough at any time, but whilst that same regime continues to imprison and execute political dissidents, to provide backing for Bashar Assad and assorted terrorist organisations and whilst the BBC tones down Iranian rhetoric threatening Israel  and the US in the event of Western action in Syria, such ‘analysis’ can only be seen as either dire ineptitude or politically motivated design. 

Related articles:

BBC Persian Service promotes antisemitic Holocaust denier Atzmon

BBC Persian Service promotes antisemitic Holocaust denier Atzmon

h/t Adam Holland (via Twitter) & others  

You might think that an organisation which has as its motto the phrase “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation” would refrain from promoting the opinions of an antisemitic Holocaust denier, but that is not the case. 

We have previously documented here examples of the BBC’s vigorous groupie-style promotion of Gilad Atzmon, especially on the World Service – see here, here and here – but on July 30th 2013 the BBC reached a new low by broadcasting an interview with Atzmon on its Persian Service.

Atzmon BBC Persia

Atzmon is of course no stranger to the Iranian regime’s Press TV and yet for some reason best known to itself, the BBC – which prides itself upon being a source of “accuracy, impartiality, independence, seriousness” in parts of the world in which local media cannot be relied upon  to exhibit those qualities – apparently sees nothing problematic in promoting the vile opinions of a man securely in the pocket of the regime which so recently harassed its local employees and blocked its broadcasts.

It is bad enough that the BBC promotes Atzmon in English language broadcasts, especially given that anti-racists in Britain are trying to oppose the spread of his hate speech.  But it is even more reprehensible and irresponsible on the part of the BBC to go to the trouble of translating his racist opinions into Persian for promotion in a part of the world which has been spoon-fed with anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial for years by its own repressive regime.