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.

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 does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

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. 

Related Articles:

 More BBC whitewashing of ‘Al Quds Day’

More BBC whitewashing of ‘Al Quds Day’

On August 1st 2013, the BBC News website published a ‘guide’ to Iran’s ‘Al Quds day’ events – held this year on the following day, August 2nd – on its Middle East page. The piece was written by Siavash Ardalan of the BBC Persian service. 

Al Quds Day article

In the article’s first paragraph we yet again see a euphemistic description of the event:

Its overarching theme is support for the Palestinians and fierce denunciation of Israel, and is as much an expression of policy as ritual.”

In fact, both in Iran and elsewhere, the overriding characteristic of this ‘happening’ is calls for Israel’s destruction and displays of support for terrorist organisations dedicated to that cause – especially Hizballah. That – by any conventional definition – is rather more than “fierce denunciation”. 

The original declaration which initiated Al Quds day included these words: 

“Israel, the enemy of mankind, the enemy of humanity, which is creating disturbances every day and is attacking our brothers…, must realise that its masters are no longer accepted in the world and must retreat. They must give up their ambitious designs, their hands must be severed from all the Islamic countries and their agents in these countries must step down.

Quds Day is the day for announcing such things, for announcing such things to the satans who want to push the Islamic nations aside and bring the superpowers into the arena.

Quds Day is the day to dash their hopes and warn them that those days are gone.”

Ardalan informs readers that:

“Jerusalem Day rallies are a must for Iranian politicians. Any politician who hopes to establish their credentials has to be seen and hope to be heard delivering a tirade against Israel. It confirms their loyalties and reiterates their identification with what has become an unshakable tenet of Iran’s foreign policy.

Al Quds Day, London, 21st August 2011

The official stance is that Israel is, as a matter of moral principle, illegitimate. However, it does not follow from this that Iran is under the obligation to take direct and pre-emptive action to destroy Israel. This will happen in due course, the rhetoric goes.

Iranians are well-practised in how to express this idea in short soundbites that are broadcast non-stop during the day of the rallies on state radio and TV. Iranian politicians have particularly become skilled at this. The sentences express a moral outrage over Israel’s existence as well as its actions but fall short of requiring that Iran does anything too harsh about this “moral violation”.” [emphasis added]

Of course some might be of the opinion that Iran’s long-standing supply of funds and weapons to its proxies in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon rather contradicts the eccentric, passive picture which Ardalan is trying to paint. He goes on:

“President Ahmadinejad, however, tried introducing a new element to the traditional narrative: Holocaust denial. His attempts failed and the Supreme Leader, who shares Mr Ahmadinejad’s denial but keeps it low-profile, along with Mr Ahmadinejad’s political rivals, did not allow for this deviation.” [emphasis added]

Ardalan’s claim that Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial was kept in check on Al Quds day itself  is purely cosmetic nit-picking considering that Iran held an International Holocaust Cartoon competition in 2006 and a Holocaust denial conference the same year, with subsequent similar events and a website of Holocaust cartoons launched in 2010.

Ardalan goes on: [emphasis added]

Al Quds Day Rally, London, August 21st 2011

“The idea behind Jerusalem Day rallies was to gather all fasting Muslims every year on the last Friday of Ramadan to show their opposition to the existence of Israel. However, Jerusalem Day did not develop beyond an Iranian experience.

Iranian leaders may have initially been motivated by the desire to further an anti-Israeli drive. However, the need to consolidate and project Iran’s leadership and influence in the Islamic world as well as intimidating opposition forces inside remained as an incentive to keep the tradition alive.

Jerusalem Day did not achieve the former. As it turned out, whatever leadership and influence Iran wields in the Islamic world has little to do with the rallies on Jerusalem Day. Apart from these annual rallies in some Western and Asian capitals, usually organised and financed by Iran, the ritual never took root among Muslims at large.”

Whilst it may indeed be the case that the attraction of Al Quds day is limited, Ardalan’s rather transparent attempt to play down the spread of the event to other countries and the involvement of non-Shiia and non-Muslim groups is all too obvious.

In this year’s Al Quds day event in Berlin some 900 people took part.

“Police officials told The Jerusalem Post that roughly 900 Islamists marched along the Kurfürstendamm shopping strip, calling for the abolition of the Jewish state.

Supporters of Hezbollah and Iran blanketed the area with Hezbollah flags and chants declaring “Zionists are fascists.” […]

Despite the EU’s decision in late July to outlaw Hezbollah’s military wing, yellow Hezbollah flags featuring the AK-47 rifle were waved at the march. […]

According to German intelligence reports from 2012, there are 250 active Hezbollah members in Berlin and 950 across the Federal Republic.”

BBC audiences would not have found any mention of that event in the ‘Europe’ section of the BBC News website. Neither would they find any BBC coverage of the march – complete with racist placards – held in London on August 2nd, despite the fact that it commenced outside the BBC building in Portland Place. 

London, August 2nd, 2013

That rally was as usual organized by the Iranian regime-linked ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’ – a registered charity whose chair, Massoud Shadjareh, has been quoted and promoted by the BBC on numerous occasions over the years. The event was also supported by  various non-Shiia bodies and non-Muslim organisations such as the ‘Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign’, ‘Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods’ – one of the founders of which, Tony Greenstein, has appeared on BBC programmes – and the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ – members of which are also to be found not infrequently as guests of the BBC.

In contrast to the curious little local custom – odd, but harmless – which this BBC article tries to make Al Quds day out to be, it is in fact a well-organised, well-funded vehicle for promoting racist hatred and glorifying terrorism.  BBC audiences are entitled to expect to read the truth about it rather than Ardalan’s insipid, almost anthropological, whitewash.