Events of the last week in Iran have been widely reported by the world press. Not long before, the press also reported on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. Were these two distinct events reported in a similar manner or were they treated as different and unique events? Let’s take a look at each and see what we can find.
1) Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
Based on the coverage I’ve seen, both governments were cast as being in the wrong and both protest movements as in the right. In the case of China, the government sent in tanks and used live ammunition to break up a protest movement that was alleged to have turned violent. Most of the reporters in the world press were located in or near the same area, and their reports reflected what occurred in that vicinity. Analyzes of this event in most cases pointed to the government as the culprit and the demonstrators as being victims and responding in a suitable fashion. Is this an accurate assessment? The Chinese government attempted to confiscate film of the event from foreign sources but those attempts were successfully evaded in most instances.
In Iran, the government has sent most of the world press home but there were many first hand reports from the scene of the demonstrations. In this case, the reporters were scattered in several different areas. The government was portrayed in most media as having stolen the election and the protesters were seen as defending their candidate and trying to overthrow a tainted election. The government has recently tried to shut down Twitter in an attempt to limit coverage and communication by the protesters.
2) Was the violence committed by both governments labeled as violations of human rights while the violence committed by the protesters cast as legitimate or de-emphasized?
Based on what I’ve read, I think this is a fair assessment for both situations. If attacks were committed on both sides, then they should both be reported. If the attacks are overwhelmingly from one side, that should also be stated but not to the exclusion of attacks from the other side.
3) Were government limitations of world press freedom to report on these demonstrations seen as evidence of government weakness, moral inferiority, corruption, etc.?
I think most would agree that this is how those restrictions were cast in the world press. Some might believe this is a legitimate claim while others might that these governments have the right to limit reporter’s freedom during violent or anti-government demonstrations or uprisings. My personal opinion is that when governments restrict the press’ ability to cover a story, they will rightfully come under fire by that press for trying to hide something. I believe that limiting press freedom does indicate government weakness. This is true not only in China and Iran, but also during the Bush administration when they also attempted to limit press coverage in certain military zones. I believe the vast majority of people would and did take it in this way.
Let’s look at specific press coverage in Iran from major media sources. In this video, George Friedman of Stratfor gives his evaluation of the Iranian election. This was one of the more objective analyzes I could find.
Now let’s look at similar coverage from major media. Stories of the Iranian election and subsequent demonstrations were reported from the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The London Times, The Times of India, Cape Argus (Cape Town, South Africa), Bangkok Post, and The Jakarta Post. I linked to these various websites to provide a broad example of world media coverage.
Was the election actually manipulated in Iran? Let’s hear from the Iranian National Guard: “Statistics provided by Mohsen Rezaei in which he claims more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 170 cities are not accurate – the incident has happened in only 50 cities.” Iran Guardian Council spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, responding to complaints by a candidate defeated in the June 12 election.
Hmm… seems suspicious to me.
Do world press analyzes always take the side of the demonstrators, or do they present both sides accurately? Is it just a case of demonstrator abuses being “buried” deep within the story, or are these instances deliberately excluded?
Thanks to Allen for suggesting this topic and contributing to the post.