Something dramatic is happening in Iran – And it has nothing to do with sanctions or missiles. The Iranian people are taking to the streets and making their voices heard to demand change – To demand an end to the autocratic regime which has denied them their rights for decades. These public displays of discontent are especially dramatic in a country which severely punishes dissent. They are desperate voices begging to be heard. Sadly, it appears that few media outlets are listening.
Instead, coverage from Iran this week has been dominated by geo-political developments. In The Guardian, Patrick Wintour reports on the fallout from an Iranian missile test, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said violates a United Nations resolution. Wintour claims that the missile test could prompt the UK and France to conclude “Iran’s broader behaviour as so dangerous that their support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal can no longer be justified.” The aftermath of Tehran’s missile test is also a focus in Reuters, which quotes Iran’s military spokesman vowing to continue such behaviour “for defence and the country’s deterrence.”
Further examples of Iranian aggression have also made international headlines this week. Another Reuters report notes that Iran’s navy launched a new destroyer, liable to exacerbate tensions “with arch-enemy, the United States.” Meanwhile, in the UK’s Telegraph, Con Coughlin reports that “Iran is using teams of hit squads in Iraq to silence critics of Iranian attempts to meddle in Iraq’s new government.” And in the Washington Post, Erin Cunningham reports that Iranian anti-corruption courts established recently to stave off popular criticism of the government, has handed down several death sentences.
There is clearly an enthusiastic interest in reporting Iranian military posturing, domestic brutality and similarly reprehensible behaviour. Yet, at the same time, the global media appears to be suffering from a case of cognitive dissonance. Because while Iranian violations make headlines, their inevitable consequence, the desperate public calls for change, have apparently fallen on deaf ears.
The task of reporting these brave protests taking place in Iran seems to have fallen almost solely to Sam Stevenson in UK’s Daily Express, who leads with the stark headline, “THOUSANDS of Iranians stage ‘DEATH TO ROUHANI’ protests in defiance of ‘ROTTEN’ regime.” Stevenson reports that mass demonstrations have taken place following walk-outs at steel and sugar works, and now in schools, sparked by unpaid salaries and poor conditions. Most interestingly of all, the virulent target of the protesters’ anger is clear. Crowds have chanted “down with Khamenei” and “death to Rouhani,” going as far as to proclaim “Even if we die, we will get our rights.” This is the voice of an angry and desperate people, clearly prepared to go to extreme lengths to replace the despotic theocracy in Tehran.
And the protests reported by Stevenson are no isolated event. The local Al-Arabiya reported recent protests by steel workers in Ahwaz, which lasted for weeks. Again, the target of these demonstrations was clear, with crowds chanting “Leave Syria and think about us” and “death to this deceitful government.” And the Ahwaz protests followed hot on the heels of demonstrations at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Mill, which have been equally vociferous and critical of the government. In short, there is a clear pattern, an unmistakable trend – It is a popular call for regime change.
The only question is, when will the global media give it the coverage it deserves? What will it take? Will it need pitched street battles for the media scribes and cameras to turn their heads and acknowledge what is unfolding? Certainly, there is every chance that Iran’s leaders will resort to violence if necessary. In Stevenson’s Daily Express piece, head of Iran’s judiciary Sadegh Larijani, made a not-so-veiled threat, saying “We must deal with those who want to disrupt the order of the country, under the pretext of pursuing the demands of workers.” Tehran would surely think twice about such tactics if the full force of the media glare were focused on Iran.
This week was another reminder that there is a real media appetite to cover Iranian aggression, whether it is missiles, hit squads or beheadings. But the time has surely come for journalists and editors to connect the dots. They must begin to acknowledge that the Iranian public is angry, despairing and demands change. Failure to give voice to these cries of desperation could have equally desperate consequences.