Middle East

Iran's Bitter Ballot

Media's Command Performance

The history of Iran has witnessed the rise and expression of numerous real heroes. These heroes have not belonged to a particular period, though their presence has been more marked in certain areas or at certain times. Many of these heroes have marked their names forever in history by engaging in manly and, at times, unequal—to the enemy’s advantage—contests.

In recent years, however, there are people in our country who come out victors only from battlefields where there is no contest. Victory in an arena with no contest does not, in this case, limit itself to a particular area. Cars made in state factories have taken over the market only in the absence of domestic and foreign competitors. Certain candidates for the Assembly of Experts win only if the number of candidates in their constituencies is the same as the number of representatives needed. Those who think of themselves as ideologues and theorists impose their ideas only when they hold the platform to themselves and avoid any form of debate.

Certain officials can consider their performance acceptable only if they have the national broadcasting media at their disposal. If, through oversight, they ever face the discourse of a dissenting peer or opponent, they can make up for it by then repeating their views exclusively on television and radio and thus gain an exhilarating sense of victory. The supporters of these champions are like themselves. They can send their candidates to an elective body like the city council only if the majority of opposition supporters do not even vote.

The theorists of this type of heroic behavior do not even refrain from clearly enunciating their views. If necessary, to protest against or justify the absence of competition in one constituency, they will compare elections to buying a kilo of pears at the market, saying that if you must buy a kilo of pears and that is all there is, then you will buy the kilo of pears.

This process has sadly spread to the national broadcasting body. Thanks to the lack of private television and radio in the country, the body has given itself an exclusive role, a position inevitably strengthened by the ban on satellite viewing. This has given its administrators the sense that they are the ultimate victors in the news and information arena. In the fourth parliamentary elections of 1371 (1992), biased news and publicity by Voice and Vision [Iran’s official radio and television network] against the left-wing faction, alongside the supervisory process, led to a right-wing victory. That experience may have prompted the illusion that people still turn to these media alone to receive news.

This writer does not intend to prove the claim by reformers that the actions of the state broadcasting body serve conservative aims but believes that even if true, it would yield the opposite of desired results. But one can confidently assume that in the transfer of news and information, the views dominating the state broadcasting body are decisive. On Sunday, the speaker of Parliament [the reformist Mehdi Karubi] leveled some strongly worded criticism against the Guardian Council and, recalling the comments of one council member about Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, he asked him, are you loyal to Islam? He also asked the authors of the constitution to come out and clearly declare their opinion on the scope of Guardian Council supervision. State television did not broadcast a single word of these comments by the Majlis [parliament] speaker in any of its news program.

Likewise it gave full and extensive coverage to statements by the Guardian Council secretary [Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati], which included accusations against the president and certain Cabinet members, but it only briefly reported the Cabinet response to these accusations and the rejection of remarks by Jannati.

Perhaps some will think that in this, like other contests, victory belongs to the party that is left alone in the arena. But the presence of numerous domestic and foreign news channels and media makes this supposition so unreasonable and unreal as to make it unnecessary to make much of an effort to refute it.

And yet concern for media that must be the most secure and credible source of news for the public in critical conditions makes any indifference to this behavior unjustified. Today, expedient supervision has meant that in two provinces where a deputy must be elected for the Assembly of Experts, only one candidate is approved, who, as the speaker of Parliament said, would win and enter the Assembly of Experts even if only his wife and children voted for him. But no type of supervision can limit the people’s access to news and information.

While any victory by Iran’s media in competition with the world’s media giants will remain a dream, if our national media are at least to take part in such a contest, a fundamental review of some of its practices is inevitable.