Unsurprisingly, the US-Iran spat is dominating headlines. And why not? It is turning into a tale of ‘will they-won’t they,’ making for an entertaining spectacle. It will likely provide the media with attractive soundbites for weeks to come. Firstly, Iran’s President Rouhani threatened Washington with the “mother of all wars,” before US President Trump responded with a characteristically bombastic tweet of his own. But just at the point where it seemed US-Iran relations were in a sharp downward spiral, Trump surprised everyone this week. At a press conference, he openly entertained the idea of meeting with Iran’s leaders. And while some in Tehran have poured scorn on the suggestion, Iran’s leadership has yet to rule it out.
All of which has left the media licking its lips. Speculation is rife as Washington and Tehran appear to vacillate between the brink of war and a respectful handshake. Will Iran close the Straits of Hormuz and provoke the United States to the point of conflict? Or can we expect similar historic images as the recent Trump-Kim summit in Singapore? The situation is highly unpredictable. From a media perspective, it has the makings of the kind of drama that sells itself. And with more chapters to come, there are plenty of column inches to be written before the saga comes to an end.
Make no mistake. This is the kind of news that has the twists and turns to grab public attention. The media has every right to give it prominence. However, journalists, correspondents and editors also have a duty not to take their eye off the ball when it comes to painting the wider picture, providing the crucial context which allows readers to truly understand the situation. In this respect, they simply must not lose sight of Iran’s everyday reality.
A quick glance at recent developments paints a pretty clear picture of Iran in 2018. It is a regime which continues to oppress minorities, denigrate women and deny basic rights to so many of its citizens. Last week, Iranian courts confirmed prison sentences for eight members of the Baha’i religious minority on unspecified charges. The Baha’i community has suffered decades of discrimination at the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. At the same time, Iran’s judiciary reportedly sentenced a man to death for the ‘crime’ of selling access cards for satellite television, deemed “corruption on earth.” Another Iranian court ordered the public flogging of a man who allegedly drunk alcohol as a teenager twelve years ago. Iranian ‘justice’ is seemingly better suited to the Dark Ages, not the twenty first century.
And it doesn’t end there. Iranian women were detained within the last month, after they posted videos of themselves dancing in public, considered by the country’s courts as a crime against morality. Of course, Iranian women are not free to dress as they wish either, instead forced to wear a hijab in public. Meanwhile, human rights groups also noted that Iran’s authorities have recently increased prison sentences and intensified other restrictions against Iranian students exercising their right to peaceful protest.
All of this is just a snapshot of recent events in Iran. Each incident is shocking in its own right. Together, they expose a deeply repressive state with no regard for basic freedoms. And if talks are to take place between the United States and Iran, readers and viewers across the world must be in no doubt over the nature of the regime Washington is considering engaging with. The public must be made aware that Iran is not only a destabilizing military power with nuclear ambitions. It is also a serial human rights abuser with zero intention of changing.
By making these topics part of their coverage, the global media would not only be exercising journalistic accountability. Highlighting such abuses would see them become part of the public debate. As such, the media would be increasing the chances that Iranian repression will be given the attention it deserves in any future bilateral talks that might take place. After all, surely helping promote the fundamental rights that every human being should expect, is exactly what media responsibility is all about.