An examination of the media furor over Iran’s legal crusade against former US marine Amir Hekmati, who was convicted of spying for the CIA after visiting the country to see his grandmother for the first time, reveals that it can largely be divided into two camps: those suggesting Hekmati got off easy when his original death sentence was converted into a 10-year prison term, and those wondering why he was arrested in the first place.
Take al-Arabiya: while using an AFP piece on the Iranian court’s decision, the news site picked a headline that painted Iran in a positive, even magnanimous, light: “Iran court overturns former US marine’s death sentence.” The Guardian, which used an AP article, similarly focused on the overturned death sentence, as did Voice of Russia. Both noted that Hekmati was “convicted of espionage.”
Radio Free Europe, on the other hand, titled its article “Iranian Court Sentences Former US Marine To 10 Years In Prison,” focusing on Hekmati’s secret trial on charges both his family and the US have consistently denied.
The International Business Times, while noting in the headline that Iran had eased Hekmati’s sentence, devoted several paragraphs to the ex-marine’s side of the story, quoting both his family and a US congressman as decrying the “grave misunderstanding” and “false allegations” that had landed him in jail.
Which brings us to Iran itself. Not unexpectedly, the mainstream Iranian press depicted the court’s decision as an act of mercy; PressTV went so far as to assert that the “CIA spy” had “escaped” the death penalty to serve a mere 10 years. Fars also used the term “CIA spy” to describe Hekmati in its headline, but took a more neutral tone, noting in the title of the story only that he had been sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the headlines can tell us about Hekmati. But, what do they tell us about the media outlets themselves? Especially about those that voice the Iran choir – depicting the jailing of an innocent foreigner as a spy’s great escape at the behest of a merciful government.