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Oct 2010 firstname.lastname@example.org
The state of British journalism is something for which it is often difficult to find anything praiseworthy. The press in the United Kingdom is largely owned and controlled by what can best be described as a mafia clique consisting of various powerful corporate interests, themselves manipulated by the security/intelligence apparatus of the British State and its age-old ruling establishment (largely unchanged in its political and social structure since feudal times).
Domestic news reporting is bad enough, it seems, but at least there is a measure of adherence to standards because the public has better access to information about events which they can readily confirm for themselves if they want to. Foreign reporting, however, is different in that it is far easier for the press to distort the news because the public is more dependent when it comes to learning about events taking place in other countries. This was certainly true about Iraq, where the British government purposefully misled the public about the non-existent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction which could be launched against western allies at 45 minutes notice . The role of the newspapers and efforts of journalists like Con Coughlin, in serving as the mouthpiece for elements in the UK¶s military and security institutions is acknowledged by many. Mr. Coughlin is also a supporter of the µPeople¶s Mujahedeen¶ ± a terrorist organisation included
on the US State Department¶s list of such groups. The Marxist movement, with its own cult of the leadership, has been involved in hundreds of shootings and bombings both before and after the Iranian Revolution and allied itself with Saddam Hussein during his invasion of Iran. Many in the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, as well as several Tory MPs are also fans of the People¶s Mujahedeen with Lord Waddington and Brian Binley amongst the most enthusiastic. It is ironic that unelected British parliamentarians support terrorists as a pro-democracy group .
Brian Whitaker, who directs much of what is approved and published about the Middle East on the Guardian¶s Comment is Free (CIF) section, declared in April 2009 an intellectual war against Islam as both a religious and political phenomenon, claiming it was incompatible with his notion of the principles of democracy . A bigoted Islamophobe, who has also championed the peculiar sect of the Bahais, he and Simon Tisdall represent another side to the ³liberal´ Guardian newspaper ± namely, that of the neo-imperialist and old orientalist tradition within the British establishment which is really no different to the neoconservative ideology in the United States. It should come as no surprise that the colleagues of Michael Ledeen at the ³Foundation for the Defense of Democracies´, some of the most fanatical neconservatives, are among the Guardian¶s Iran contributors. Ledeen is known for twice declaring that Ayatollah Khamenei had died according to his µreliable sources¶ . Unlike reporters like Jonathan Freedland who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, Whitaker and Tisdall are supportive of the Zionist State and in his book ³What¶s really wrong with the Middle East?´ Whitaker takes the side of Israel, and blames adherence to Islamic tradition among the Arabs and Persians for the failure of peace in the region and its perceived lack of political, social and economic progress.
Martin Fletcher is an associate editor with The Times of London, the oldest British newspaper owned by media moghul Rupert Murdoch¶s Newscorp, is perhaps better known for his work on Northern Ireland. However, The Times has consistently taken an anti-Iranian, pro-Israeli / proSaudi line and is a strong defender of western interventionism in the Middle East. It was following the controversy regarding the Iranian presidential election of 2009, that he became an obsessed anti-government writer authoring over 100 articles on the subject. It is the response to the election and its aftermath that would serve to define the journalism and ethics of Mr. Fletcher, as well as Messrs Coughlin and Whitaker, and serve to highlight just how free/independent the British press is on matters where there is a concerted foreign policy agenda being waged.
1. Denying the outcome of the ballot box
On election night in Iran, June 12th 2009, opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi announced just one hour after the polls closed that he was the ³definite winner´. His campaign team claimed that ,based on their estimations, he would secure up to 65% of the vote  ± in the affluent northern suburbs of Tehran he did in fact win by that margin. Mousavi¶s pre-emptive move would lead Iran into a state of political turbulence for nearly a year and presage the series of unfortunate events that were to follow. The international media, with no love for Ahmadinejad and his government and upon seeing mass demonstrations held in Tehran, would conclude fraud had taken place and that the election had been stolen. Among all the news outlets in the world, the Anglo-American media ± headed by the likes of the BBC, CNN, VOA, the New York Times and Washington Post among others - would promulgate this story as if it were an established fact. The BBC would even take photos from an Ahmadinejad victory rally held on the 14th of June and claim that the mass of people present were Mousavi supporters . Within hours of the election result, Christopher Booker of The Daily Telegraph, like Con Coughlin an avid supporter of the People¶s Mujahedeen, would dismiss the election as a ³loathsome charade´ without making any reference whatsoever to the results themselves at a provincial and district level .
Martin Fletcher and Con Coughlin, in particular, would go on to devote considerable time and effort to smearing the outcome of that election and the legitimacy of the duly elected government of Iran in the process, openly siding with the opposition and now moribund ³Green movement´. The satirical British political magazine, Private Eye, would report just how desperate Mr Fletcher was to get his news stories from Iran published, ordering his Iranian assistant to seize a motorcycle so that he could bypass heavy traffic on the streets and get back to his hotel . Mr. Fletcher asserted in an article that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "had almost certainly been voted out of office" but had been re-imposed because of " a coup d¶état by a hardline regime that can steal an election with impunity, and then brutally crush the opposition.´ He continued by concluding that the Iranian government was thus "illegitimate" and ruling by "diktat" alone  and that ³it has lost its last shred of legitimacy. Those Islamic and revolutionary values it claims to champion turn out to be lying, cheating and the wholesale beating, butchering and incarceration of its own people for daring to protest.´ 
He had previously cited a number of ³reasons´ why he thought the election was ³rigged´ and ³stolen´. One of these was his own argument from personal incredulity: ³The idea that he won with 63 per cent ran contrary to every manifestation of the public mood before polling day, defied electoral logic, and was simply incredible.´ Another was that apparently the official figures
showed that support for Ahmadinejad varied little, both within Iran and among expatriates , such that 70% of votes cast in the UK were for the incumbent. This fable had been put out by Dr Ali Ansari of St Andrews, a supporter of Mir Hussein Mousavi, who would also author the (in)famous ³Chatham House report´, published just one week after the poll, and which strongly intimated that the official figures were highly implausible and likely to be entirely fraudulent in nature . Chatham House, formerly the Royal Institute of International affairs, is essentially the think-tank of the British establishment and includes many former civil servants. The truth, however, is that over 80% of ballots cast in the UK, and throughout Western Europe, were, as expected, for Mousavi . The deceitful statement was referred to the UK¶s Press complaints commission who ruled that The Times should remove it from their online archived article . Even so, Dr Ansari¶s report, which was riddled with false assumptions and elementary statistical mistakes, was regarded as the definitive scholarly verdict on the election by much of the British media. No mention was made of the fact that Mousavi had won in 46 districts and 2 provinces across Iran, including the capital city Tehran, and that some of 46,000 ballot box tallies showed him picking up >90% of the vote ± mostly in ethnic and Sunni areas of the country such as Baluchestan. The superficial analysis put out by Ansari and two graduate students was deemed to be sufficient grounds to dismiss the outcome of the election altogether.
Another piece of ³evidence´ used in support of rejecting the ballot box was a blatantly fraudulent ³Ministry of Interior memo´ put out immediately following the election that claimed to have the µreal¶ results showing that Ahmadinejad had come third with less than six million votes cast in his favor ± this was greeted by Coughlin as being entirely plausible . Mir Hussein Mousavi¶s office did not claim responsibility, although his official website tried to suggest the tallies for the two main candidates had been swapped round . It was meant to confirm earlier ³leaked´ internal surveys published in Newsweek that the incumbent was heading for a humiliating defeat . It was used by filmmakers Marjane Satrapi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, both claiming to represent the opposition abroad, to announce that the election was invalid and that a ³green revolution´ , bearing all the hallmarks of similar color revolutions staged in the Ukraine and Georgia, was now underway in Iran and which deserved the support of the E.U. In some respects, this µgreen uprising¶ resembled the orchestrated street protests of 1953, backed by foreign intelligence agencies (as part of Operation Ajax), and which overthrew the popular premiership of Dr Mossadegh, a secular nationalist leader, and restored the Shah¶s repressive dictatorship.
A spanner was thrown into the works, however, when it was announced that a scientific preelection telephone poll conducted by US-based Terror Free Tomorrow had predicted Ahmadinejad a 2:1 lead, reflective of the official result . Mr. Fletcher dismissed it, while Coughlin made no mention of it whatsoever. Likewise, when 3 post-election surveys of the Iranian public conducted by the likes of World Public Opinion and Globsecan produced results entirely congruent with the official data , this was also deliberately ignored. Coughlin would then perversely insist that the election was ³exposed as rigged´  simply because his friends in the British establishment had said so ± this was indeed the explanation he gave when I asked him. The phone-based Globescan survey was taken just one week after the date of the election and so is likely to be the most accurate. In parentheses are the official figures given for each of the four presidential candidates beside the ones obtained by the survey:
Ahmadinejad: 56% (63%) Mousavi: 32% (34%) Rezai: 2% (2%) Karroubi: 0% (1%) Refused: 10%
The surveys also showed just how unaffected the majority of Iranians were by the aftermath of the election ± one of the biggest lies propagated by the British broadsheets was that the election unrest had completely changed the relationship between the government and the people for the worse. In fact, the polls showed that 80% of Iranians regarded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their legitimate president while 75% agreed that Ayatollah Khamenei had done the right thing in lending his support to the result of the election. While it is easy to dismiss this as the views of a frightened people living in a police state (which isn¶t rue in any case), the survey also showed that 75% of Iranians thought it was inappropriate for members of the Guardian council, a legislative and electoral watchdog, to declare their choice of candidate.
Other journalists, notably Roger Cohen of the New York Times and Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, also chose to reject this scientific methodology and data in place of their own µinterpretation¶ of the events. Mr. Peterson would claim that ³they literally created
this election result, it seems, out of nothing.´ . Mr. Cohen, who described the election as
a ³tragic joke´, has used misleading information on expatriate votes among Iranians living in Scandinavia to claim that the Iranian people had been a ³defrauded and denied´ by their leaders .
Likewise, he falsely asserted that the proportion of the vote for Ahmadinejad had been relatively uniform when in fact the results showed great variation. It is difficult to know how to explain these antics ± it cannot simply be that journalists like Fletcher, Coughlin, Booker, Peterson and Cohen were not bothering to examine the available evidence. Rather, they were doing their level best to distort and deny it outright and so lie to the general public about the situation.
2. Rape, lies and no videotape
The violent aftermath of the election was witnessed in the ugly scenes of street battles fought between protesters and police ± buses were burned and rocks pelted at police who in turn resorted to fiercely beating back the riotous elements among the crowds. Mr Fletcher would describe this behavior as ³savage brutality´ on the part of the security forces while, bizarrely, claiming that all of the protesters were entirely peaceful, eschewed violence and did absolutely nothing to provoke a response. The fact that a compound belonging to the Basij militia was attacked and set on fire and the Reuters photo of it printed in The Times itself didn¶t seem to matter .
Iran¶s supreme political and religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, appealed for calm in his June 19th Friday prayer sermon but many in the opposition interpreted it his statements as a signal to crack down harder on them should they resume demonstrations. Over the course of the past year, it is reckoned perhaps 107 persons have died , while the government confirms 48 deaths. The Iranian government insists it was about half this but it is difficult to independently verify for sure. It should be noted that riots in Thailand and Kyrgyzstan earlier this year were met with zero tolerance ± martial law was imposed and the military fired live ammo directly at protesters. The Western media and governments, however, were largely silent about this brutality and repression.
Writing in September of 2009, Martin Fletcher announced that he had received a ³report/brief´ which claimed that at least 373 protesters had been killed by security forces as part of a wave of state repression, with a further 56 missing . But in June of 2010, he comments on the anniversary of the election that only 100 protesters were killed ± in line with other sources. Clearly, his information was not as accurate as he had presented it to be. The report also detailed cases of rape, torture and egregious human rights abuses. As Homa Homayoun would write in The Times: ³this shows just how far a regime that claims to champion Islamic values is prepared to go to suppress millions of its own citizens.´  None of these reports, of course, have been
corroborated and supported by anything other than rumour, hearsay and gross exaggeration: no explicit and graphic photos were ever produced, neither were the sources of the information ever checked and verified. Despite the harrowing accounts and attention to detail, there is little reason to believe any of this to be factual. Mr Fletcher also remarked on the case of a certain woman called ³Bahareh Maghami´ who too had been ³savagely raped´ . But it is clear that ³Miss Maghami´ may be nothing but a story placed on a website hosted in Germany whom Mr. Fletcher is just using to throw more dirt . It seems anyone can post any story of horrific rape in Iran and it will be accepted as being the gospel truth by the western media.
While there is no doubt that several of the demonstrators were detained and abused in prison ± the Kahrizak detention centre near Karaj was closed down and a probe held to determine the cause of the deaths of four inmates. The government stripped accused officials of their immunity and tried and sentenced them to death by hanging ± although they were later pardoned by the families of the victims. But the stories about rape, first brought up by defeated presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, were investigated and found to be untrue. Opponents of the Iranian government seized upon Karroubi¶s words and attempted to use it as a slur to suggest that any claim of the regime to be in any way ³Islamic´ was a nonsense if it allowed sexual crimes like rape to take place. Martin Fletcher would also indulge in promulgating these stories emanating out of Iran and the expatriate community, citing the case of a boy called ³Ardeshir´ who had purportedly been brutally sodomized according to a ³psychologist´ who was treating him  - the point from all this being that a regime which condemns homosexuality itself practices and uses it against its opponents.
Indeed, most of Fletcher¶s information on Iran is not first-hand at all, but is instead gleaned from dubious Internet sites and bloggers, such as London-based political activist Potkin Azarmehr, whom Mr. Fletcher mentions in a couple of his articles. However, he alone cannot be faulted for the use of flawed sources. The Guardian¶s CIF section, under Whitaker¶s supervision, also devoted piece after piece to the myriad of alleged horror stories emanating out of Iran as part of a crusade of disinformation. One of them was particularly grisly: a µdoctor¶ in Tehran apparently reported that pregnant women were being shot in the streets with bullets penetrating the foetus, and that the regime was recruiting Arab street thugs from abroad to quell the unrest  ± it is a popular myth among the Iranian critics of the Islamic Republic that the government is alien in nature and its leadership subservient to Arab (taazi) interests. The Guardian did, however, include the caveat that it was ³unable to independently verify his account.´ Quite why Mr. Whitaker felt he should include unverified reports says a lot about his newspaper¶s adherence to
standards.As well as the opinion pieces, CIF would run ³live blogs´ on events in Iran ± where any rumour or story, irrespective of whether it had a single iota of truth to it, would be posted. A more sober analysis of the situation on the ground was offered by Farnaz Fassihi who provided an insight into the fierce street battles fought between the Basij and groups of Mousavi supporters who both used all manner of available household weapons to confront each other with .
Perhaps the most famous case of ³regime barbarity´ put out in the early days of the post-election crisis was that a young woman, called Taraneh Mousavi (bearing the same surname as the defeated opposition candidate), had allegedly been raped, murdered and her body burnt for participating in an opposition demonstration. However, this story was always disputed because much of it didn¶t make any sense. Finally, one of the people who had initially broken the news, Omid Habibinia, admitted that he had been deceived by two of his sources and that the whole story was a complete fabrication released for propaganda purposes .
3. Neda: the cause célèbre
Perhaps the most famous person to emerge from the election aftermath was a 26 year old woman named Neda Agha-Soltan. Dubbed the ³Angel of Freedom´, her death would be filmed and broadcast on the Internet within minutes. The media would devote a macabre interest in the death and life of this woman, raising her profile to near mythical status. The story put out by the British and American press, as well as Iranian opposition websites abroad, was that Neda was a green supporter and protester who had been ruthlessly murdered by a Basiji militiaman acting on a shoot-to-kill policy sanctioned by the authorities in the first weeks of the unrest. However, as with the Taraneh Mousavi case, much of the information surrounding her death - a woman was actually slain in this case - again does not make sense when subjected to close examination. Miss Agha-Soltan, it should be remembered, was not shot while in the act of any demonstration ± the shooting incident happened in a side street at least a kilometer away from where the protests were occurring. Moreover, the unassuming young woman was neither a political activist nor had any affiliation to a civic organization ± she is filmed not wearing any green band or clothing as with many other Mousavi demonstrators. She was known as a student of Islamic philosophy with musical interests and who had a desire to become a tour guide. If she intended to take part in any protest, she was certainly not any different from the hundreds of thousands who also did. And,
unlike some of the more riotous elements among the demonstrators who also lost their lives, Neda did absolutely nothing to provoke any hostility from the security forces, let alone being shot at. Yet we now have begun to hear that she was a high-profile ³natural leader´  of the protest movement, ³committed to the overthrow of Ahmadinejad´ whom the Iranian regime had every reason to fear. And if that isn¶t enough, we are also told,as reported by Coughlin¶s Daily Telegraph how she was prepared to be ³shot through the heart´  in her pursuit of freedom and democracy for the Iranian people. Of course, all of this is utter nonsense that only the most naive of individuals cannot see through. There are several points that the ³investigative documentaries´, such as ³Neda: An Iranian Martyr´ put out by the BBC in cooperation with Tehran Bureau¶s Kelly Niknejad (a staunch supporter of the green movement), failed to account for or delve into in any way. The BBC ± as ever the voice of the British State - conspicuously failed to properly investigate the death a G20 summit protester, Ian Tomlinson, at the hands of British police in the city of London. A letter sent by the Iranian embassy in the UK to the Provost of Queen¶s college , which has posthumously awarded a scholarship in Agha-Soltan¶s honor, for what it is worth correctly states that Neda had a camera trained on her for a full 20 minutes before the incident took place ± this, along with other important observations made by independents , does give the appearance of the incident being a pre-rehearsed and staged scenario. The letter goes on to the mention the fact that the doctor, Arash Hejazi, who is seen trying to save her, is a publishing student at Oxford Brookes university and had arrived just two days prior to Neda¶s death and left the day after anxious to tell the story to the British media of an innocent woman being shot by a Baseej militiaman. The media has since accepted his testimony uncritically, in particular Martin Fletcher, who milked his story for all it is worth and wrote that ³Whenever it (Iran) claims moral superiority over the West it will be haunted by the image of Neda Soltan.´ Indeed, Dr Hejazi changed his story early on ± he had initially claimed that the assailant was a rooftop sharpshooter who took aim at her heart , but later said that Neda was shot by a man on a motorcycle . Anyone with even a measure of circumspection would be suspicious of Dr Hejazi¶s actions and motives as well as his possible involvement with British intelligence which regularly approaches Iranian students and residents in the UK to serve as informers in Iran. Yet, he is hailed as the man who heroically tried to save a bleeding and dying Neda Agha-Soltan.
Mr. Fletcher also reported the stolen/lost ID card of a certain Abbas Kargar Javid, posted on the Web, and who it is alleged was the basij militaman responsible for Neda¶s death ± in doing so he risked inviting vigilante-like retribution against Mr. Javid . Also, a video of a semi-naked man being accosted by demonstrators was published. However, there is no hard evidence that links any member of the Baseej force with the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan. These two pieces of information were both produced after several months had passed, indicating that they were most likely dug up among the myriad of video footage and documents taken during the early days of the unrest. Moreover, other witnesses present at the scene deny that there was any security presence at the time of the shooting. Mr. Fletcher¶s attention to µaccuracy¶ would also be further exposed when he had printed in The Times a photo of an Iranian woman living in Sweden whom he claimed was Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman purportedly sentenced to death in Iran for conspiracy to murder and adultery . As with all propaganda, the truth matters less than the message being conveyed. Neda had become the icon and symbol for a political movement and the ³struggle for freedom´ in Iran. That she herself was not a political activist or demonstrator did not seem to matter ± her life and death would be elevated to the status of that of a modern myth. Naming her "Times person of the year", Martin Fletcher expressed hope that her death would herald the triumph of the opposition and predicted the demise of the ruling regime . Con Coughlin would declare that her death marked the beginning of a ³stiletto revolution´  and that ³the day will surely come that the death of Iran's Angel of Freedom will be avenged´. Meanwhile, over at the Guardian, Brian Whitaker and his immature lackey, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, would also give their attention to the Neda story with the latter helping to produce another propaganda movie on the subject for HBO. Among the CIF articles, the opinions expressed would become almost farcical: Timothy GartonAsh, an eccentric British academic and supporter of American neoconservatism and critic of Islam, would state that ³eventually, in Iran there will be statues of Neda Agha-Sultan, the young woman shot in one of the early mass demonstrations, and memorials to the martyrs of this struggle for freedom, as there are now memorials to the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war´ . But to most Iranians, the suggestion that the victims of the post-election unrest be equated with the war veterans and heroes who saved the country from Saddam¶s invading hordes, who had raped and pillaged Iran with the support of western governments, is a profound and egregious insult.
4. Bad journalism or professional mendacity?
There can be no doubt that much of the (mis)information on the events during and following the election in Iran were completely distorted by these three individuals and the newspapers they work for. But is this more a case of bad reporting ± journalists willing to publish anything to outdo each other in hysteria and sensationalism? It appears, however, that this was an orchestrated campaign and crusade of deception serving the purpose of delegitimising Ahmadinejad¶s re-election and paving the way for the possibility of military action or more covert destabilization against Iran in the near future ± after all, waging war on an elected government is hardly likely to be ³just´ in the perverse moral universe of press propaganda. Keeping this option open is therefore very important for the UK/US governments. There exists also a desire to take revenge on the Iranian nation and its revolution for asserting its own independence and frustrating nefarious schemes in the region instigated over the past 30 years. In Messrs Fletcher, Coughlin and Whitaker are three professional liars and shameless propagandists/stooges for whom ethics and standards in journalism mean little at all.
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