BBC does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

The BBC News website published numerous reports concerning the death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8th and a common feature in all that content was the promotion of the notion that Rafsanjani was a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’.

Iran’s ex-President Rafsanjani dies at 82:

“In recent years, our correspondent says, he has been a central figure in the reform movement that has been trying to have a moderating influence on Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei.”

Obituary: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

“Seen as “pragmatic conservative”, Rafsanjani was a leading member of the Iran’s religious establishment who gained popularity in later life among the country’s moderates. […]

He went on to be openly critical of Mr Ahmadinejad and became a key supporter of his reform-minded successor, Hassan Rouhani.”

Ex-President Rafsanjani a ‘most influential figure’ in Iran:

“…in recent years he has been instrumental in pushing a line of moderation in Iran, influencing…a moderating influence in Iran. And in recent years again he became gradually a top figure in the Iranian reform movement. So his death is going to leave a big hole in the reform movement and that moderating influence that they were trying to push.”

Iran former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani dies aged 82

“…but his political allegiances later shifted towards reformists…”

Iran loses force for continuity with Rafsanjani’s death:rafsanjani 

“At the same time his death has left a big hole in the confidence of the moderates and the reformist movement in Iran. […]

Although he began politically as an Islamic hardliner, Rafsanjani had increasingly moved to the centre of Iranian politics in the last two decades, and in recent years, he became a champion of the reformists and a strong moderating influence, gaining huge popularity.”

Iran Rafsanjani death: Huge crowds at ex-president’s funeral:

“But over the decades, the wily politician who held almost every major position in government became known for his pragmatic approach to Iran’s theocracy.

He pushed for a greater rapprochement with the West and more social and economic freedoms.

His credentials gave him the courage and the clout to speak out. The reformists he backed, including the current President Hassan Rouhani, have now lost a key ally in their incessant struggle for power against the hardliners.”

Iran Rafsanjani funeral underscores political divisions:

“Some were chanting opposition slogans, and others carried placards emphasising Mr Rafsanjani’s links to the moderate and reformist camps. […]

“The circle became too closed for the centre,” said another, using a quotation from Persian poetry to underline the growing distance in recent years between Mr Rafsanjani and Iran’s hardline political establishment.”

BBC audiences are of course no strangers to similar framing of the current Iranian president as a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’ even though Rouhani’s record does nothing to support the employment of such portrayals. As the Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman noted:

“Then former Iranian president Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani died on Sunday at age 82. Western media once again sold us a story of how this was a “big blow to moderates and reformists,” as CNBC reported. Rafsanjani was the “most influential supporter” of reforms among the Islamic establishment. Now the non-existent “reformers” have another excuse why there are no reforms. […]

Reading news about Iran it almost seems every western news agency and major media outlet receives talking points from some unseen super-news media word database. “When writing about Iran there are two political parties, the reformers or moderates and the hard-liners, use these key words when describing everything. […]

The reality in Iran is that the choice is not between reformers and hard-liners, but the extreme religious right and the extreme nationalist religious right. There are no liberal leaders in Iran.  There are only militarists, theocrats, nationalists, extremists, the extreme right, the populist right, the fundamentalists, the fundamentalist right, the Inquisition leaders, and floggers and executioners. […]

Every time journalists parrot this “moderates” story they feed a false regime-supported narrative.”

At the Wall Street Journal Sohrab Ahmari writes:

“Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the original Mr. Moderation. Western observers saw the former Iranian president as a sort of Deng Xiaoping in clerical robes: a founder of the Islamic Republic who was destined to transform the country into a normal state. Rafsanjani, they thought, was too corrupt to be an ideologue.

Yet Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82, consistently defied such hopes. His life and legacy remind us that fanaticism and venality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a lesson in the persistence of Western fantasies about the Iranian regime. […]

Khomeini’s death in 1989 occasioned Rafsanjani’s worst political misstep. Thinking he could puppeteer events behind the scenes, Rafsanjani successfully promoted his archrival, Ali Khamenei, as the next supreme leader. But Mr. Khamenei, far more assertive than Rafsanjani had imagined, soon consolidated power.

The regime’s Western apologists framed that rivalry as a genuine ideological conflict between the “hard-line” Mr. Khamenei and the “pragmatic,” “moderate” Rafsanjani (along with others, such as current President Hassan Rouhani). President Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the same fantasy: Rafsanjani had accumulated vast, ill-gotten wealth—here’s someone with whom we can do business.

Yet Rafsanjani never failed to follow the “Line of the Imam,” not least in foreign affairs. […]

Still the illusions die hard. Minutes after Rafsanjani’s death was announced, the New York Times’s Tehran correspondent tweeted that it “is a major blow to moderates and reformists in Iran.””

While the BBC is clearly not alone in having bought into the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘reformists’ within the Iranian political establishment, one would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information which will build their “understanding of international issues” could do considerably better.

Related Articles:

Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant

 

 

 

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant

Just over a year ago we posed the following question on these pages: “Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?“. That question was prompted by the fact that at the time – nearly two years after Rouhani’s election – the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran had just published a report which found that the number of executions in Iran has risen under Rouhani’s presidency.

On April 6th 2016 the BBC News website published an article titled “Amnesty highlights ‘disturbing rise’ in global executions” which has the following fifty-eight words to say about the country which, according to the quoted report, had the second highest rate of executions in the world in 2015.executions art

“Iran executed at least 977 people in 2015 – the vast majority for drug-related crimes – compared with 743 the year before, according to Amnesty.

Those put to death, the group found, included at least four people who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they had been convicted. This, it said, violated international law.”

Although no mention of it is made in this BBC report, additional organisations have raised questions regarding Iran’s dubious use of charges concerning drug-related crime and the lack of due process for those detained on such charges. According to the organisation ‘Iran Human Rights’:

“…Iranian authorities have carried out more executions in 2015 than any other year in the past 25 years.”

A recent report from the same NGO notes that:

“Since the election of Hassan Rouhani in June 2013, at least 2162 people have been executed. A comparison between the 2.5 years after Hassan Rouhani’s election and the 2.5 years before his election show an increase of 43% in the number of executions.

Although it is the judiciary which issues and implements death sentences, neither President Rouhani nor members of his cabinet expressed any dissatisfaction about the large number of executions. On the contrary, on the few occasions when President Rouhani or Foreign minister Zarif made statements about the death penalty they have defended Iran’s high number of executions.”Iran elections

Nevertheless, as recently as late February the BBC was still telling its audiences that Rouhani is “Iran’s reformist President” and describing him as heading a “reformist camp”. A BBC profile of Rouhani last updated in February 2016 tells audiences that ‘Mr Rouhani says he wants to steer Iran towards “moderation”‘ and another profile dated August 2015 states that:

“Although he was seen as part of the establishment, Mr Rouhani’s promises to relieve sanctions, improve civil rights and restore “the dignity of the nation” drew large crowds on the campaign trail.” [emphasis added]

Towards the end of that profile, however, readers learn that:

“Mr Rouhani had pledged to help free reformist opposition leaders, held without trial since 2011, but hardliners have stood firm and they remain under house arrest.

He also promised to usher in an era of more freedoms in the country where human rights abuses are rife. However, few believe there has been much improvement here, and in some areas the situation may have worsened.

There are still many journalists, and opposition activists in jail, and the number of executions carried out in Iran has soared.”

Clearly then the BBC knows full well that in the nearly three years since his election, Rouhani has done very little to justify the “reformist” and “moderate” labels it regularly appends to him. The question which therefore must be asked is why does the BBC continue to employ such editorial framing given that it clearly hinders the corporation’s obligation to enhance its funding public’s “awareness and understanding of international issues”?. 

 

BBC News frames Iranian elections as victory for ‘reformists and moderates’

Those getting their news about the recent elections in Iran from the BBC will have learned of a sweeping victory for what the corporation terms “reformists”. Readers of the BBC News website’s February 28th article titled “Iran election: Reformists win all 30 Tehran seats” were told that:Iran elections

“Allies of Iran’s reformist President Hassan Rouhani have won a landslide victory in Tehran, in the first parliamentary vote since Iran signed a nuclear deal with world powers.

With 90% of the votes counted, the pro-Rouhani List of Hope is set to take all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital.”

Analysis from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet informed readers of this article and a later one that:

“This stunning election result will make a difference in Iran’s engagement with the wider world.

President Rouhani’s hand has been strengthened in parliament to help open his country to greater trade and investment. That will help him, and others in his reformist camp, to deepen the dialogue with the West, which began with negotiations on a landmark nuclear deal.”

Oddly, though, little column space was given to serious discussion of the topic of what exactly those “reformists” aspire to reform in their country.

“Reformists, who want better relations with the outside world and more freedoms at home, were hoping to gain influence in the conservative-dominated bodies.”

“Reformists and moderates say they are targeting greater foreign investment which, our correspondent says, will create jobs for young people.”

And audiences found the term “moderate conservative” used in this article and a subsequent one to describe a man implicated in the 1994 AMIA bombing and the murders of Iranian dissidents.

“Early results gave former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative, and Mr Rouhani the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics.”

The BBC is of course not the only Western media organization to be reporting on the Iranian elections in this euphemistic manner. The Wall Street Journal, however, has unpacked some of that journalistic framing.

“Western media are nonetheless describing the results as an “embarrassing defeat” for the regime’s hard-liners and the moderates’ “best nationwide electoral showing in more than a decade,” as the Associated Press put it. Of particular note are the results in the capital, Tehran, a national barometer where on Sunday it appeared that candidates on the moderate list had swept all 30 seats in the Majlis.

Some moderates. Consider Mostafa Kavakebian. The General Secretary of Iran’s Democratic Party, Mr. Kavakebian is projected to enter the Majlis as a member for Tehran. In a 2008 speech he said: “The people who currently reside in Israel aren’t humans, and this region is comprised of a group of soldiers and occupiers who openly wage war on the people.”

Another moderate is Kazem Jalali, who previously served as the spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Majlis and is projected to have won a seat. In 2011 Mr. Jalali said his committee “demands the harshest punishment”—meaning the death penalty—for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the pro-democracy Green Movement that was bloodily suppressed after stolen elections in 2009. Those two leaders are still under house arrest.

As for new Assembly of Experts, many of the “moderates” projected to have won seats were also listed on the hard-liners’ lists, since the ratio of candidates to seats was well below two. The winners include Mohammad Reyshahry, a former Intelligence Minister believed to have helped spearhead the 1988 summary execution of thousands of leftists; Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, another former Intelligence Minister believed to have directed the “chain murders” of the late 1990s; and Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabainejad, a fierce opponent of women’s rights who has called Israel “a cancerous tumor.””

Since Rouhani’s election in 2013 the BBC has consistently portrayed him as a “reformer” and a “moderate”, managing in all that time to avoid uncomfortable topics such as the 2015 UN report which found that the number of executions in Iran has in fact risen since Rouhani came to power.

Licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how exactly such editorial framing meets the corporation’s obligation to enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”. 

 

BBC amplification of Iranian regime charm offensive misleads audiences

BBC audiences could not have failed to notice the dominant theme promoted in the headlines of the plethora of multi-platform reports produced by Kim Ghattas during her recent visit to Iran.Ghattas Iran filmed

Iran to work with rivals for peace – VP Masumeh Ebtekar  (BBC News website, 18/8/15)

‘Iran Nuclear Deal Will Promote Peace’ (‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8 15)

Iran VP Masoumeh Ebtekar: Nuclear deal ‘will help promote peace’  (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran nuclear deal a step for ‘global peace’ (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran Vice President: “We will promote peace and stability” (‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8/15)

All of the above reports were based on an interview with one of Iran’s twelve vice-presidents, Masumeh Ebtekar. With the BBC not having had a permanent correspondent in Tehran for six years, Ghattas’ visit obviously presented a rare opportunity to provide audiences with an up-close, unembellished portrayal of a theocratic regime notorious for its human rights abuses which has recently featured heavily in the news and to enhance their understanding of the country and its influence on the region.

However, not only did almost half an hour of blatant regime propaganda go largely unchallenged in any meaningful manner by Ghattas but the ‘peace’ theme promoted in Ebtekar’s well-spoken charm offensive was amplified in the headlines the BBC chose for those reports.

When Ghattas raised the topic of Iran’s support for Assad and Hizballah – one of the obvious contemporary examples of Iran promoting anything but regional peace and stability – she not only allowed her interviewee to dodge the real issues but provided her with a platform for the promotion of crude propaganda.

Ebtekar: “You know Palestine has always…the issue of Palestine has always been a legacy for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s always been supporting the oppressed against the oppressor. It’s always been supporting a cause which is just and deals with a nation which is now oppressed because it has no home.”

Ghattas: “But we’re talking about Syria.”

Ebtekar: “Yeah but Syria is part of that. It’s part of the movement to support Palestine in a sense. It’s part of a general approach in the region to support the Palestinian nation, to resist; it’s part of the resistance. It’s important, I think, that a lot of the equations in the region take shape on the basis of the resistance movement and that is to resist occupation, to resist oppression.”

Ghattas noted the civilian death toll in Syria and the Assad regime’s use of barrel bombs against its own people before adopting her interviewee’s terminology:

“How does that fit into the issue of resistance and what do you tell those Syrians who are suffering today?”

Again, she allowed Ebtekar to dodge the real issue.Ghattas Iran audio

Ebtekar: “I think that what has happened in the past few decades in this part of the world, it has created many reasons for nations like the Syrian nation or the Lebanese nation to feel threatened by the policies of the Zionist regime. They have been increasing their settlements; they have been pushing forward in different areas, occupying many of the lands belonging to the Palestinians. So it is considered as an imminent threat and that is a reason for resistance and that is a reason for governments like the government of Syria to stand up in the face of that.”

In addition to failing to challenge that whitewashing of the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, Ghattas made no attempt to relieve viewers of the misleading and inaccurate impressions created by her interviewee in relation to ‘increasing’ settlements or ‘occupying’ lands. Later on when Ghattas asked if any of the funds freed up by sanctions relief will be funneled to the Assad regime, she allowed Ebtekar to fob viewers off with talk of “environmental challenges” and “green technologies”.

Kim Ghattas’ failure to cut through any of the slick replies to her questions means that this widely promoted interview obviously did nothing to advance the BBC’s purpose to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”.  Rather, it actively misled BBC audiences by herding them towards ridiculous notions such as the idea that hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been killed by their own government and millions more forced to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere because of Israel.  

The idea that a regime which produces violent anti-Israel propaganda videos and includes officials who state openly that “[o]ur positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan” is a force for regional stability and peace is plainly risible. Nevertheless, the BBC chose to amplify that absurdity, selling out Syrians, Israelis, Iranians and many more along the way. 

Sadly, given the BBC’s record of reporting on Iran in recent months, there is nothing remotely surprising about that.

Related Articles:

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Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

Since his election in June 2013 the BBC, has consistently portrayed Hassan Rouhani as a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’, with the BBC’s profile of the Iranian president stating:Rouhani

“Mr Rouhani says he wants to steer Iran towards “moderation”.”

Another profile tells audiences:

“His campaign slogan “moderation and wisdom” continued to be a theme at his inauguration in August.

Despite being very much part of the Islamic Republic’s establishment, his promises of reform, of working to ease sanctions, of helping to free political prisoners, of guaranteeing civil rights and a return of “dignity to the nation” drew large crowds when he was on the campaign trail.”

Whilst the BBC has never actually got down to discussing the nitty-gritty of Rouhani’s interpretation of ‘moderation’ and ‘reform’, two recent reports indicate that his agenda does not include human rights.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, published a report last week which includes examination of the ‘right to life’. Mr Shaheed found that the number of executions in Iran has risen under Rouhani’s presidency.

“At least 753 individuals were reportedly executed in 2014 (the highest total recorded in the past 12 years). This includes the execution of 25 women and 53 public executions. Nearly half of all executions — 362 — were for drug-related crimes (not including those drug related offenses that were also committed in conjunction with homicide crimes), which do not meet the internationally accepted threshold of “most serious crimes” required for use of the death penalty. In at least four cases the families of homicide victims provided pardons only after authorities implemented the death penalty by hanging. In these instances, authorities ceased the execution and lowered individuals after a period of suspension.”

He also found that minors were executed.

“The revised Islamic Penal Code, which came into force in June 2013, also provides capital punishment for juvenile offenders (unless the offender is found to lack the mental capacity to understand the nature of the crime or its consequences). Regardless of the revision, juvenile executions continue. Reports indicate that at least 13 juveniles may have been executed in 2014 alone.”

Another topic addressed in the report is freedom of expression.

“At least 13 journalists and bloggers have been arrested or detained since July 2014.31 As of December 2014, 30 journalists were detained, despite the release of at least eight journalists since July 2014 upon completion of their prison sentences.32 Charges include vaguely worded “national security” crimes, such as “propaganda against the system,” “assembly and collusion against the system,” “insulting the Supreme Leader,” and “spreading falsehoods with intent to agitate the public consciousness.” In September 2014, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death sentence for Mr. Soheil Arabi, a blogger convicted of sabb a-nabi (insulting the Islamic Prophet) for comments he allegedly posted on several Facebook accounts. He was also convicted of “insulting Government officials,” “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the system.” In its reply, The Government claims that Mr. Arabi “injured [sic] public religion sensation.” “

Persecution of Bahais and Christians is noted in the report and – in contrast to the BBC’s recent whitewashing of the issue – it also presents a grim picture of women’s rights in Iran.

“Recent legislative attempts made by the Iranian Parliament appear to further restrict the rights of women to their full and equal enjoyment of internationally recognized rights.”

report on the death penalty in Iran was also issued last week by ‘Iran Human Rights’. That report notes a 10% increase in executions in 2014 compared to the previous year.

“Moreover, a comparison of the execution rates in the 18 months before and after the election of Mr. Rouhani shows a significant increase in the use of the death penalty after Rouhani’s election. There has also been the highest number of reported juvenile executions since 1990. In addition, Iranian authorities continue execution for non-violent civil and political activists.” 

It is clearly time for the BBC to explain to audiences why it continues to describe the current Iranian president as ‘moderate’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the BBC whitewashed the issue of women’s rights in Iran

This is what Freedom House had to say about the status of women in Iran in 2014:

“A woman cannot obtain a passport without the permission of her husband or a male relative. Women are widely educated; a majority of university students are female. They are nevertheless excluded from most leadership roles. Women currently hold just 3 percent of the seats in the parliament, and they are routinely barred from running for higher office. Female judges may not issue final verdicts. Women do not enjoy equal rights under Sharia-based statutes governing divorce, inheritance, and child custody, though some of these inequalities are accompanied by greater familial and financial obligations for men. A woman’s testimony in court is given only half the weight of a man’s, and the monetary compensation awarded to a female victim’s family upon her death is half that owed to the family of a male victim. Women must conform to strict dress codes and are segregated from men in some public places.”

These are excerpts from the UN Secretary General’s review of human rights in Iran published last month:

“…women only account for 16 per cent of the labour force. According to the Global Gender Gap Index for 2014 of the World Economic Forum, the Islamic Republic of Iran ranked no. 137 out of 142 countries. Furthermore, men earn 4.8 times more than women. With regard to women in ministerial positions, the Index ranked the Islamic Republic of Iran no. 105 out of 142 countries, and there are few women in managerial or decision-making roles […]. The draft comprehensive population and family excellence plan, reportedly currently being considered by parliament, would further restrict the participation of women in the labour force. Preference for employment opportunities would be given, in order, to men with children, men without children, then lastly to women with children. Furthermore, teaching positions in higher education and research institutions would be reserved for qualified married applicants.

According to article 1117 of the Civil Code, a husband may prevent his wife from occupations or technical work deemed incompatible with family interests or his own dignity or that of his wife. The law may even prevent women from pursuing artistic activities. 

…child marriage remains prevalent in the country. The legal age of marriage for girls is only 13, and some as young as 9 years of age may be married with the permission of the court. In 2011, about 48,580 girls between the age of 10 and 14 were married; and in 2012, there were at least 1,537 girls under the age of 10 who were reportedly married.

…laws continue to allow for marital or spousal rape and discriminate between men and women with regard to the spouse’s ability to initiate and complete divorce. A woman is required to prove that a significant threat has been made to her life in order to be able to file for divorce. Such laws make it difficult for women to escape domestic violence and to protect themselves from any real and immediate risk to life or integrity.

Nationality laws in the Islamic Republic of Iran do not grant women equal rights when transferring their nationality to their children.

Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran are required to observe Islamic dress code in public places. The parliament reportedly recently approved a plan “on the protection of promoters of virtue and preventers of vice”, which would increase checks on improper veiling. […] The morality police strictly monitor all public places, including vehicles, and take action against those who do not adhere to the morality codes. Women who appear without an Islamic hijab risk arrest and imprisonment of between 10 days and two months, or a fine of up to 500,000 rials. Approximately 30,000 women were reportedly arrested between 2003 and 2013, with many others subjected to expulsion from university or banned from entering public spaces, such as parks, cinemas, sport facilities, airports and beaches.”

This is the opening paragraph of an article titled “How Iran’s feminist genie escaped” which was published in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and in its ‘Magazine’ section on March 5th – in decidedly embarrassing proximity to International Women’s Day:Iran feminism art

“Iran’s 1979 revolution may have put an ayatollah in charge – but for women it had plenty of positive side-effects… in education, in the workplace, and even in the home, discovers Amy Guttman during a ride on the Tehran underground.”

Later on in the article, readers are told:

“Farah talks of the major changes Iranian women have experienced in the last 30 years […] On Tehran’s metro, I’m getting a spontaneous, unprompted lesson about gender equality in Iran.

Farah tells me it all began, not with imports from the West, but with the 1979 revolution. A confluence of access, education and a bad economy created a society where women now have independence, careers and husbands happy to help around the house with chores and children.

The revolution, Farah says, was very good for women.”

The article continues:

“The revolutionists supported women coming out of their homes to demonstrate. They used women to show their strength, but they never anticipated these women also believed in their right to exist outside the home,” Farah remembers.

Iran’s genies were let out of the bottle. The same genies have gone on to become active members of theological schools and hold positions as judges and engineers. […]

There’s no greater evidence of women in the workplace, than where we’re sitting, surrounded by women on their way to work. It’s another outcome the Ayatollah hadn’t expected, but with Iran’s economy battered by the revolution, women had no choice but to join the workforce.

“It forced men to acknowledge that their wives could go out and earn money,” Farah says. Growing up, Farah only remembers affluent families allowing girls to work outside the home. Now, she says, “Nearly all boys prefer to marry a girl who has a permanent job and good salary. Often the women work harder, and longer hours than their husbands, so they do more of the housework – cleaning and preparing meals.””

Of course the rosy picture painted by Amy Guttman’s sole source for this article – whom she economically describes as “my guide Farah” – is clearly at odds with the reality presented in reports such as those above. So who is Farah and why is her portrayal of the status of women in Iran so different from the accounts of numerous human rights organisations?

Amy Guttman is a freelance journalist and in addition to this article and the very similar audio version (from 11:22) made for the February 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, her visit to Iran also prompted pieces for other media outlets. In one of those articles she correctly notes that:

“British, American and Canadian tourists must be accompanied by a guide at all times in Iran.”

Those guides must be approved by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. In other words, the sole source for the BBC’s multi-platform promotion of the notion that the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was “very good for women” is a regime approved minder.

And yet that fact did not prevent the organization which likes to describe itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism” from commissioning, publishing and broadcasting this cringingly transparent regime propaganda which whitewashes the serious issues faced by women in Iran. 

 

 

A soft view of Iran through the BBC’s Doucet filter

The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet recently accompanied the EU’s Catherine Ashton on a visit to Tehran and following that trip produced an article titled “Four days in Tehran” which appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 17th. Doucet art 4 days Tehran 

In that article Doucet lists “seven surprises” about her visit. Number four reads:

“The bazaars are bustling, and in places, bursting full of people and goods for sale. But many people lamented the high prices caused by sanctions. In some cases, they’ve tripled. Cheaper versions can be found on sale.

But some goods are in short supply, including spare parts and some much needed medicines. And government handouts to ease the suffering are being cut back which will also add to the hardship.”

In other words, readers are nudged by Doucet to view a shortage of “much needed medicines” as being connected to the sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community as part of the attempt to prevent it from reaching military nuclear capability. That theme is of course not new; it has been promoted by other media outlets – not least the Guardian – regardless of the fact that, as was pointed out by Potkin Azarmehr as far back as in December 2012:

“Not only medicines are excluded from the Iran sanctions list but the German government has even made special provisions for banking transactions for medicine exports to Iran, this was even published in Iranian dailies.” 

And there is another aspect to the shortage of medicines story too.

“Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Ahmadinejad’s health minister at the time, was not saying what the Western media were regurgitating, she kept publicly complaining that the $2 Billion in the annual budget, allocated to import medicine with,  was not received by the health ministry.

It was a bizarre situation in which, Iran’s health minister kept repeating the medicine shortage was nothing to do with sanction and yet the Western media kept repeating, sanctions were causing the medicine shortage in Iran!

Islamic Republic’s first female health minister, Marzieh Dastjerdi,  finally paid the price for her outspoken remarks and was unceremoniously sacked by Ahmadinejad. Now 18 months after, the Islamic Republic’s Article 90 Majlis Commission, has endorsed her claims. The allocated $2 Billion with subsidised currency rate which should have gone to the Health Ministry to import medicine with, was instead being used to import luxury cars.”

But that is not the only thing Lyse Doucet forgot to tell her readers. “Surprise” number five reads thus:

“Tehran skies are dotted with construction cranes. Some Iranians, with access to hard currency and the right connections, have got even richer under sanctions. There seems to be the finances to build new apartments, but was told not many Iranians have funds to buy them.”

But cranes are not only used to build new apartments in Iran; another much more sinister use has been found for them too.

“One of the Iranian regime’s preferred methods of execution is public hanging from a construction crane. […]

In 2012 the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center reports that 522 people were executed in Iran. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, 670 people were executed in Iran in 2011. In Iran, offenses that carry the death penalty include homosexuality, adultery, and “enmity against God.” Fair trials for these offenses are unheard of. A significant number of victims are publicly hanged from a construction crane, which is an especially slow and painful method of execution.

Unfortunately, the cranes used for these hangings are primarily supplied to Iran by Western and Asian companies. Any company that exports cranes to Iran is directly aiding the regime in its cruel persecution of dissidents and other innocents.”

Doucet’s sixth “surprise” was:

“The ferocity of the hardline backlash when Baroness Ashton, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, put human rights on the agenda. Suspicion still runs deep that negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme are a pretext to meddle in Iran. But the bravery of Iranian human rights activists, and the readiness of President Rouhani’s administration to begin to take the lead on human rights issues was also notable.” [emphasis added]

Quite how Doucet’s assertion that Rouhani’s government is taking “the lead on human rights issues” can claim to square up with the facts is unclear.  Nearly two hundred people have been executed in Iran since the beginning of 2014 alone according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and some 600 executions have taken place since Rouhani’s watch commenced at the beginning of August 2013.

Also on March 17th Doucet hosted an “ask me anything” session relating to her recent trip on Reddit. 

Doucet tweets reddit

There too, the double theme of Rouhani the ‘reformist’ and the burden of sanctions was promoted by Doucet:

“Women’s issues have always been at the heart of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution. There have been advances in some areas including access to education including at University level, information and access to birth control, availability of some jobs, but not others. Women are still barred from many high level positions. Many women are hoping for greater freedoms after last year’s election of the reformist President Rouhani. But, like most Iranians, they are also just hoping that sanctions will be lifted and their daily lives will improve…”

Reddit question

The UN Secretary General’s March 2014 report on the situation of human rights in Iran is somewhat less enthusiastic than Doucet with regard to “advances” in women’s rights.

“[…] no woman has been named to the Cabinet, thereby continuing women’s underrepresentation at the highest decision making levels. The World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report 2013, ranked Iran at 130 out of 136 countries, three placed below last year.  According to the report, Iran has the lowest female representation in the labour forces and the lowest estimated female income in the region.” […]

“Laws that permit gender discrimination and promote violence against women continue to be introduced in Iran. The revised Islamic Penal Code, which came into force in June 2013, retains provisions that are discriminatory towards women. For instance, it values women’s testimony in a court of law as half that of a man’s, and a woman’s life half that of a man’s. The Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran provides for the marriage of girls at age 13. However, with the permission of a competent court, girls can be married at the age of nine. The 2013 Family Protection Law reportedly allows for full or temporary marriage and legalizes polygamy. The Unsupervised or Ill-Supervised Children and Youth Protection Bill, which was adopted by Parliament in September 2013 and came into force on 23 October 2013, allows a marriage between a child and legal guardian, when a child has reached maturity, and marriage with the guardian is in his/her best interest. This would mean that a girl as young as nine can be married to her guardian, which is a threat to her physical and mental integrity and runs counter to fundamental human rights guarantees stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a State party.” […]

“Women’s economic participation and employment have decreased. Only 14.5 per cent of the female population is economically active, of which 16.8 per cent are either unemployed or seeking jobs. During its review of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed serious concerns about restrictions on access to university education, including bans on female and male enrolment, limited quotas for women in certain fields, as well as gender segregation in classrooms and facilities. The Committee also noted with concern the low participation of women in the labour force, which has been further declining, and the possibility for a husband to prevent his wife from entering employment upon receipt of a court order under the Family Protection Law.”

Now, what is it again that the BBC purpose remit promises audiences?

“BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to provide internationally respected news services to audiences around the world and they can expect the BBC to keep them in touch with what is going on in the world, giving insight into the way people live in other countries.”