Tuesday, October 11, 2005

And the annoying propagandists

A while back, with fanfare and much criticism, the U.S. sponsored Radio Farda began its work of wooing the young and the restless in Iran with a pledge of

the same seriousness of purpose and adherence to RFE/RL's surrogate mission of promoting democracy, covering local and relevant international news, and living up to our Professional Code, embodying the highest journalistic standards of accuracy and objectivity, as have the programs of our Persian Service.

The problem of course is that there doesn’t appear to be such high standard of accuracy at work or much of a professional code.

Some months ago, quite a few of us were furious with the broadcasters for the role they played in throwing Arash Cigarchi to the wolves.

And it just seems to me that they have been unwilling-- time and time again—to present simple and elementary “facts” without shortsightedly spinning all for some perceived petty advantage. Let’s look at a discussion of death penalty as an example.

The headline of a recent broadcast reads:

نود و هفت درصد اعدامهاي جهان در سال 2004 را چین، عربستان سعودی و ایران به اجرا گذاشتند. مصاحبه با دو فعال حقوق بشر

97 percent of (world’s) executions in 2004 took place in China , Saudi Arabia and Iran. Interview with two Human Rights activists.

What you are seeing here, of course, is a free rendition of the Amnesty International Facts and Figures on Death Penalty.

Note what the report actually does state:

During 2004, at least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries and at least 7,395 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries. These were only minimum figures; the true figures were certainly higher.

In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.

In the world of today, it is not that difficult figuring out who is killing whom or what country has the highest prison population rate in the world (pdf). But that’s not the point here.

What we need now more than ever is a candid and probing look at a host of issues that will shape the future of our globalized life. We are facing many intractable problems. And mere spins or public relation campaigns are not going to make any of them disappear overnight.

So we can observe these wild mood swings at work if we look closely at some of the blogs or the many news outlets covering Iran (and to some extent the broader Middle East)

It is either you are a bunch of zombies/ terrorists/ automatons wanting to wage Jihad, or destroy and ruin [what’s left of the] Western civilization, or you are millions of highly talented, intelligent, educated saints who can do no wrong and are simply being deprived of an easy, opulent lifestyle by a bloodthirsty, irrational regime.

Now think about it.

It seems to me that Iran has become the one country in which all the rapists, thieves, murderers, hooligans and smugglers, drug peddlers or cop killers among a host of other mischief makers have vanished overnight.

No one is responsible for much of anything, apparently, since everyone is a glorious freedom fighter always being set up, and falsely charges, or the victim of concealed motives and a puppet in those hidden hands that perpetually frame the innocent.

It is terribly odd, given that for a society plagued by a crisis of legitimacy where it has become difficult for even family members to trust one another, it might be obvious that what is actually needed--more than ever-- is honesty and transparency in order to help overcome the obstacles in our path.

And that is not exactly the same, of course, as dangling illusions or further encouraging false hopes or merely validating obscene expectations.

Sober, judicious presentations of challenges ahead, I think, might actually do the trick. Democratic life, however understood or defined, is hard and messy and offers no magic solutions. There are no easy outs.

And every once in a while, it might be best to pitch truths for a change. It’s our last best hope long term.

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