At first glance, it seemed that the global media had actually done what it so rarely seems to do – Place the international spotlight on popular protests carried out by ordinary Iranians, dissatisfied and disillusioned with their government. In the cold light of day, the public was voicing its’ anger against its’ leaders’ economic mismanagement, misplaced priorities and general disregard for the population.
For months, protests aimed at the Tehran regime have taken place on an almost daily basis. Yet, they have been almost entirely ignored by the international media, effectively dismissed as an irrelevance.
However, few media outlets could so casually disregard the events of 25 June. Large crowds took to the streets of the capital Tehran. In solidarity with the marchers, traders closed the Grand Bazaar, a hotbed of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. If ever there was a barometer of popular feeling against the Tehran government, this was surely it. And the situation was compounded just days later, when protests in the southern Iranian city of Khorramshahr turned violent, as police clashed with protesters.
Something significant was happening. And to their credit, the global media did not ignore it. The situation was reported across the world. However, on closer inspection, the coverage itself was curious at best and downright misleading at worst.
The Tehran protest and disturbances during the following days were clearly a natural continuation of public anger displayed towards the government. It had been preceded by open criticism of the Iranian government’s foreign military adventures and by a campaign of public dissent from women fed up with being forced to wear the hijab.
And yet, to read much of the international media, it appeared that the events of 25 June had nothing to do with the Iranian government’s actions. Instead, the biggest protest to hit Iran’s capital since 2012 was portrayed as a simple cry for help against economic distress, with little or no mention of those the protesters themselves held responsible.
The BBC matter-of-factly stated that the protest was “against rising prices and the plummeting value of Iran’s currency, the rial.” NPR concurred that Tehran was “racked by protests this week over a plunge in the value of the country’s currency, the rial.” You could have been fooled into thinking that the protesting crowds held nobody to blame.
As for the protests in southern Iran, CNN concluded “The protests broke out due to a clean water shortage that has affected the city and nearby Abadan.” Meanwhile, Associated Press opened its reporting with the statement, “Gunfire erupted as Iranian security forces confronted protesters early Sunday amid demonstrations over water scarcity.” Once again, the regime which has manifestly failed to deal with the water crisis, was let off the hook.
In fact, if you really wanted to deduce the culprit behind the woes of the Iranian people, you may well have assumed it was the fault of US President Donald Trump, who recently re-imposed sanctions against Iran after withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal.
The Guardian’s report carried a sub-headline, reading “Country [Iran] steels itself against US sanctions threat amid clashes at mass rally over currency.” The Independent was equally forthright in placing blame, opening its report with “Huge protests have erupted in Iran in response to the soaring cost of living and plummeting value of the rial, following Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.” It was as if Iran’s government bore no responsibility, was barely an actor in the unrest playing out in its own country.
The Iranian people though, are not so blinkered. They well understand the forces at play which are responsible for their plight. Tellingly, at the 25 June protest, the crowd chanted “death to Palestine,” in reference to the Tehran government’s widespread financial support for the likes of Hamas. It was barely reported in the media, despite the fact that it represents the searing resentment Iranians feel towards a regime which appears to place the good of others above that of its own citizens. Many Iranians can no longer look on in silence as the government continues to wantonly increase its military budget, while their own everyday economic settings rapidly deteriorate. Unlike the global media, Iranians know where to point the finger.
With the protests having quietened for the moment, the media has a chance to reflect. And journalists and editors at some of the world’s most prestigious publications, should be in no doubt. Their coverage of 25 June and the days which followed, was not only a distortion of reality, but seriously let down the very protestors at the centre of their reporting. For the sake of both media fairness and the very future of Iran, this must not continue.