Monday, June 22, 2009

The End Of Objective Journalism: The Iran Election And The Corporate Media

In my last post I had pointed out how the Western corporate media has abandoned any pretence of journalistic objectivity in its coverage of the Iran presidential election. And as the days pass and more protest marches are reported from Tehran, we can see how major news outlets have stooped to brazen propaganda aimed at discrediting the election result.

It is not uncommon for election results to end in charges of fraud by the losing party that trigger mass demonstrations and even armed clashes. Just last April, elections in Moldova ended in violent protests, with the losing party claiming fraud and the winning one saying it was the victim of an attempted coup.

In November of last year in Nicaragua, nationwide local elections in which the opposition claimed irregularities led to confrontations involving thousands of people armed with bats, rocks, machetes and guns.

Last July, charges of election fraud led to mass rioting in the capital of Mongolia. There is no record of the corporate media becoming particularly exercised about any of these events.

But the corporate media uses a different yardstick while reporting Iran. Relying mainly on 'tweets' from 'citizen journalists' who are partisan at best, leading newspapers and channels – many of who do not even have a reporter on the scene - have not even bothered to report, much less analyse, the vote totals, which are readily available by both city and province and refute the claims made that the ballots were rigged to give Ahmadinejad a 60 per cent margin across the board.

Besides, they have simply ignored commentary from prominent analysts of the region who have suggested that the claims of a rigged election are not supported by the evidence. Mind you, these are men whose motto is “USA First” and they would willingly give an arm and leg to see the Ayatollahs out.

These men include chief military strategy and Middle East analyst for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Anthony Cordesman, former chief Iran analyst on George W Bush’s National Security Council Hillary Mann Leverett, the and her husband Flynt Leverett, a long time CIA analyst and National Security Council (NSC) staffer, who together wrote a column entitled 'Ahmadinejad won. Get over it', and George Friedman, the head of the Stratfor private intelligence service.

All of them said Ahmadinejad retained substantial popular support in Iran, particularly among the rural poor and more oppressed social layers, and warned against 'Iran experts' who based their analyses on wishful thinking and contact with a more affluent, English-speaking minority in Iran.

Of course, the US has intense interests in Iran, with the country fighting wars on its eastern and western borders. There is, moreover, the long history of hostility between the two countries, stemming from Washington’s previous domination of Iran and its oil wealth through its dictatorial client regime under the Shah, and the revolution that brought that regime to an end.

But given these interests and this history, conscientious coverage of Iranian politics calls for not only objectivity, but also sensitivity to Washington’s intervention in Iran’s affairs and attempts to influence its politics.

The coverage, however, exhibits no such objectivity whatsoever. Instead, it typifies a presentation of Ahmadinejad's victory over Mousavi as a “fraud” without providing a scintilla of proof to back it up. Instead, the corporate media is uncritically repeating the insistence of the Mousavi camp that it is so.

It is sought to be portrayed that Mousavi won, in some cases, by a 2-1 margin precisely in the areas - the wealthier suburbs of Tehran, Shiraz and elsewhere - that are now the centre of the election protests.

Indeed, the New York Times has actually demanded a new election, portraying Iran's Guardian Council’s call for recounting ballots a “cynical gesture.” The newspaper is not interested in correcting vote fraud, but rather in bringing pressure to bear within the Iranian state to effect a political coup.

In this context it is particularly instructive to remember the corporate media's attitude toward the disputed 2006 presidential election in Mexico, when the conservative candidate Felipe Calderon - with just 36 per cent of the vote and amid substantiated charges of gross electoral fraud - claimed victory over his left-nationalist opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

There was no call for a new election then, and the corporate media was largely indifferent to the evidence that the election had been rigged. While the massive crowds that took to the streets of Mexico City were comparable to those seen in Tehran, there was only disdain for the protesters.

On July 7, just five days after the contested vote totals were announced, the New York Times haughtily editorialised: “Mr Lopez Obrador has occasionally furthered his political career by inviting supporters to take to the streets... but he should resist inciting mass protests, which would harm Mexico’s stability and add to his image as a less-than-committed democrat.”

In Mexico, the victim of vote fraud was told to stand down in the interests of “stability,” while mass protests by his supporters were portrayed as a threat to democracy - the exact inverse of the newspaper’s approach to the Iranian events.

Why the difference? In Mexico, the candidate favoured by Washington won, and in Iran, the White House seeks not stability, but destabilisation.

And therein lies a tale.

(Based on a WSWS report by BV Auken)

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