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The Western-Iranian Propaganda War

Media coverage of the last NAM summit in Tehran highlighted the propaganda war between the West and Iran.

By Shahab Uddin and Shayan Arkian

In the run-up to the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in Tehran, several Western nations exerted significant pressure on member states to cancel their attendance at the summit or to only send lower-ranking representatives. After this effort ostensibly failed (all NAM member states participated with, among others,2 kings, 27 presidents, 8 leaders and over 25 foreign ministers as well as the Secretary-Generals of the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference), the Western media began to report on the speeches of the most important participants in a very distorted and incomplete way. The Iranian mass media acted in a similar manner; however, the major difference here was that the distortion in the Iranian case was mainly owed to technical difficulties.

The Western media's wave of stigmatization started with reports regarding UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon's serious concerns about the human rights situation in Iran. The Iranian state television channel Press TV also reported on these differences in opinion, but added information about Ban-Ki-Moon´s condemnation of Western provocations against Iran. Furthermore, one could hardly read about the UN Secretary General's praising words for the Islamic Republic: for example relating to the constructive and helpful cooperation of the Iranians with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, the visit by the Secretary-General was portrayed in the West as if he only put forward a bundle of demands, and that the Iranians did not have anything to criticize in response.

A similar pattern can be detected with regard to statements by the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The notion conveyed to Western audiences was that during the first state visit by an Egyptian president to Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Morsi had positioned himself ostentatiously in opposition to Tehran by condemning Syria. Admittedly, Syria is seen as Iran's ally but who in Tehran was really hoping that Morsi would revise his well-known anti-Assad position so that one could speak of a snub for Iran or even a scandal? That was not enough – the ARD (German public television channel) exaggerated the whole affair to the extent that there were false reports about the departure of the Syrian delegation from the entire summit. In reality, the Syrian delegation only left the conference hall during Morsi's speech and was present for the presentations of the remaining 119 member states. This indicates that Morsi's position on Syria was unique, standing in contrast to India's – the most important founding member of the NAM and a likely future world power.

Besides his criticism of Syria, Morsi made Iran-friendly statements. Apart from the fact that the Egyptian president preferred to visit China and the Islamic Republic of Iran before his first official visit to the United States, Morsi suggested – in contrast to Western depictions – that in the run-up to the summit, Iran should be included into a Syria action group along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. This was a clear affront against the US, which has always lobbied against the inclusion of the Islamic Republic into any efforts to resolve the Syria crisis. Significantly, the Egyptian president and the Iranian regime agree on most issues: Morsi criticizes Israel because it has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and demands a structural reform of the United Nations Security Council. Morsi even called Iran a strategic partner for Egypt.

In contrast to that, the Iranian media – apart from the technical difficulties with the translation of Morsi's speech – mainly displayed the Egyptian Islamist's favorable statements and paid less attention to his more critical articulations. With regard to the translation problems, Tehran at least acknowledged the mistakes – in contrast to the prevalent mistranslation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech according to which Iran allegedly wants to wipe Israel off the map. The latter statement is despite its global political relevance often repeated by Western media. In this context it is also worth mentioning that Iran has in the public relations realm acted against its interest in the past: an example of this was the so-called “interview of the century” with ZDF (German public TV channel) news anchor Klaus Kleber, speaking to the Iranian president. Despite hiring their own interpreter, there were instances of mistranslation to Iran's detriment. In this regard, nothing new is coming out of Iran.

Khamenei and the US

With regard to the reception of the NAM summit in the West, the question arises of why the focus was almost exclusively on the Egyptian president and why core statements by the Iranian host were not even mentioned. Instead, a sensational article, "Alone amongst 120 countries", in Der Spiegel stressed that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, only mentioned “freedom of speech” once in his speech while the word “Zionist” allegedly appeared eleven times (it was actually nine times). If this is deemed to be relevant for the reports about the summit it should be added, applying the same method, that the word “justice” was mentioned six times, “freedom” nine times and “truth” 16 times. Additionally, Ayatollah Khamenei, for the first time addressed the US government directly in public and – in the face of American-Israeli disagreements (for example concerning the Palestinian and Iranian issues) — recommended a change of alliances in the region.

For the Western press, it was not just about the deliberate stigmatization of Khamenei and the highlighting of Morsi's critical words. Apart from Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and North Korea's head of state Kim Jong-un, who both made Iran appear even more as a threat, Western media barely mentioned any other participants and omitted the bilateral treaties Iran signed with other states at the sidelines of the summit. It might be surprising for many that Iran is portrayed as isolated even though representatives from over 120 countries would not have travelled to Tehran if that was true. The summit by itself symbolized a diplomatic success. Acknowledging that would make considerations about a change in strategy when dealing with Iran appropriate. Had the Islamic Republic been really isolated politically in recent years, there would not have been so many years needed to discuss whether to implement a military strike against Iran or not. The hesitation is also related to the fact that Tehran maintains many strong inter-state relations, which means that a war against Iran can only be fought through the implementation of further sanctions and the alleged isolation of the Islamic Republic.

What is crucial now is how many people will hear about the perspectives of over 120 participating countries at the NAM-summit. Surely, the NAM summit's final declaration, which was withheld from the Western media's audiences, speaks for itself: the non-UN sanctions against Iran were condemned, Iran's right to its nuclear program, however, was affirmed. Moreover, the NAM-summit spoke out against the occupation of Palestinian territory and called for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it was an Iranian exaggeration to speak of standing ovations by the leaders of the non-aligned states after Khamenei´s speech.

*[This article is based on “Die Westlich-Iranische Propagandaschlacht um den NAM-Gipfel in Teheran.” It was originally published in German by Irananders, and translated into English by Manuel Langendorf].

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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