Eight months after the June 12 presidential elections in Iran, coverage by Western media like yours prompts us to pose the following questions based on common standards of journalism.
1. Most journalists who travel to Iran stay at hotels located in affluent north Tehran, but you convey their observations as “demands of the Iranian people.” Thus in the lead-up to the 2005 presidential elections, international reporters claimed that candidate [Mostafa] Moein led his opponents in voter surveys. He actually finished fifth, with 13% of the ballot total.
Is it professional journalism to generalize from the attitudes and preferences of north Tehran residents, who constitute hardly 5% of Iran’s population? Do you know that Iran has 1,200 other municipalities? Is this honest and responsible reporting?
2. On June 28, 2009 an obscure blog posted a photo of a young woman identified as Taraneh Mousavi, who allegedly died in government detention after sexual abuse for protesting the election results. Her burned body was discovered in the wilderness, according to the blog. Shortly after the blog post appeared, the unverified “news” swept over Western media as fact. Iranian reporters’ efforts to identify the alleged victim’s background, address, employer, school, family, or friends or even find another photo of her were unsuccessful. Yet Western media hype soon made her a martyred poster girl at protest rallies. On July 21, Republican Representative Thaddeus McCotter publicized her story in an impassioned speech on the House floor with a large photo. Do you think it is professional journalism to magnify a dubious story of such gravity from an un-sourced blog post?
3. On June 20, 2009, a real young woman named Neda Agha Soltan was suspiciously shot to death near — not among — protestors in Tehran. Two hours later video clips featuring her final moments, as she lay next to a doctor named Arash Hejazi, spread worldwide through the Internet. Two days after the incident, the BBC interviewed Hejazi in Britain and other international media quoted him as an eyewitness blaming Iranian security forces for Neda’s death. Inconsistencies in Hejazi’s account were not questioned.
Since the Iranian government was struggling to calm the public and the opposition sought to whip up excitement, in your opinion which side could expect to gain from murdering Neda? Why did Hejazi travel to Iran five days before her death and return to the UK the day after? How credible is the story when an assassination on a quiet street prompts passersby to move closer to film the victim up close instead of fleeing the scene?
Did you consider such skepticism before you publicized the story? Was your conduct professional?
4. During the post-election unrest in Iran, BBC Persian and The Voice of America, which are funded by their respective governments, encouraged the protesters. VOA actually instructed its audiences to set neighborhood trash bins on fire and otherwise create chaos.
How could you justify [as legitimate protest] illegal actions that are supported by hostile foreign powers? Could your coverage be described as professional conduct by “informative” and “objective” media?
5. As street demonstrations quieted on June 15, 2009 in Tehran, some protesters attacked a Basij station where government weapons and ammunition were stored. They threw explosive devices and climbed the building in order to seize it. In your country, what is police response to such provocation?
On December 30, 2009, some demonstrators set fire to public and private properties, police cars, and banks. The Paris-based leader of Mujahedin-e-Khalq boasted to the Associated Press that her group played a leading role in the disturbances. A US-based group named Tondar also took responsibility for the clashes and directed its zealots to kill Iranian security officials. The same group earlier took responsibility for an April 13, 2009 mosque bombing in [the southern city of] Shiraz that killed 14 worshippers. In your opinion as a media professional, why are these terrorist groups able to operate from Western countries freely?
Why do you think Abdolmalek Rigi, the ringleader of the Jundollah terrorist group, was interviewed as a hero on Voice of America television? He is proud of assassinating scores of civilians and government officials, hostage taking, armed robbery, sabotage, and bombings in Iran. How is it possible to justify double standards at Washington’s official broadcaster?
You know that for 31 years deep distrust has divided our nations and governments. As media professionals, should we deepen or help clear up the misunderstandings?
Do you want to inform U.S. lawmakers and officials about Iran’s realities or present untrue coverage that pleases the opponents of better relations?
We are editors of six leading news websites that are regarded as independent in Iran, and a majority among us are often critical of the Ahmadinejad administration. We are writing this letter not in defense of the government, but rather to explain current realities in Iran.
We ask you to think about our statements and your Iran coverage during the past eight months. Have you been conscientious and objective as journalists?
The original appeal
نامه سردبيران سايتهاي خبري ايران به سردبيران سايتهاي خبري آمريكايي
was published by Alef on 2 March 2010.