The media became “weapons of mass deception” in the war on terror. That’s the opinion of Danny Schechter, executive editor of Mediachannel.org, who hung the label on U.S. media for its uncritical repetition of government sources of information leading up to the disastrous war on Iraq. Now it’s Iran’s turn.
An editorial titled “War Drums on Iran” in The Nation (February 15, 2007) lamented that, “Day after day, major media repeat pronouncements from the White House or unsourced leaks from the field with only the barest hint of scepticism… Scepticism, when it is voiced, comes only later, after the headlines and television news stories have had their impact, and usually only because someone of national standing has spoken up.”
Alternative points of views can be found. The New Internationalist (March 2007) presented a positive picture of the country in the belief that, “Iran is routinely demonized in the West, and its people are lost behind the stereotype of the mad mullah or the veiled woman.” In 2009 BBC Television aired a distinguished three-part programme called Iran and the West and an insightful four-part series called A Taste of Iran.
The Berlin Film Festival is to honour jailed Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi with screenings of his movies and a panel discussion on censorship in Iran. Dieter Kosslick, the festival’s director, said that prior to his imprisonment Panahi had been invited to sit on the 2011 jury to decide the Golden Bear prize for best film. In December 2010 he was sentenced to six years in jail in Iran and banned from leaving the country, shooting films, or scriptwriting for 20 years. “We are going to use every opportunity to protest against this drastic verdict,” said Kosslick.
Recently, former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave “evidence” for the second time to The Iraq Enquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot. Its remit is to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Blair used his appearance to demonise Iran as “a looming and coming challenge” and to urge tougher measures against the country. We can guess what they might be.
Of course, even if Blair had known that the evidence for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) had been fabricated, he would not admit it. But what is truly pernicious is to repeat the same provocations about Iran, a country whose recent history and geographical position preclude it seriously considering nuclear warfare. It is far more likely to be trying to solve its energy problems, while playing the West at its own game of geopolitics – which, of course, is lèse-majesté.
The renewed build up to a “let’s get Iran” position harks back to the deceptions and lies practised under the George W. Bush Administration. Western sources may “suspect” that Iran plans to develop nuclear weapons: the enrichment programme can make both nuclear fuel for power stations and the warheads of nuclear weapons. Suspicion is not evidence. Tehran insists that its atomic programme is aimed only at generating electricity. Either way, “bombing Iran back to the Stone Age” is neither a sane nor a moral option.
Iran needs to address the questions raised by its nuclear programme and its human rights record. But if an attack on the country is to be avoided, those responsible for the mass media in the West must continue to offer persuasive alternative opinions and to challenge those who seek the country’s destruction. By doing so, they will help prevent the spread of misinformation, reduce public confusion, and forestall the horrendous incursions we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.