Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Iran and Simpson's world view

While Western political elites and their stenographers at the BBC continue to infer electoral chicanery in Iran, the sober evidence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidential election victory is all there in rather obvious pre-election poll data.

Quite simply, Ahmadinejad had a 2:1 base support lead across the country, with relative exceptions amongst parts of the educated and business classes. Even within Mousavi's own Azeri ethnic grouping, support for Ahmadinejad was still consistent with this recorded ratio.

Iranian officials have declared their intent to recount some disputed votes. This is welcome. But it doesn't invalidate the more fundamental truth of Ahmadinejad's consistent support base, a lead which foreign observers have conveniently ignored or mistakenly thought certain to go to Mousavi:

"They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The shock of the “Iran experts” over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking."

It's been helpful to read this kind of calm analysis. Where, one wonders, is the production of such qualitative information from the BBC?

Instead, we've seen World Affairs editor John Simpson amble around Tehran in his white suit talking of "organised chaos" at the count - actually, there was the most civilised movement of people polling in the background - and imply serious manipulations as a section of Iranian citizens took to the street.

We can always rely on the BBC to feed us unreliable inference rather than informed analysis. A mature non-western electorate returns an 'unstomachable' candidate, and BBC reporters fall immediately into default mode suggesting strongly that the self-same 'official enemy' has done the dirty. Quite how Ahmadinejad has managed to do so on such a massive scale remains unexplained, unexplored.

Simpson conducts his to-camera pieces describing dissent on the street behind him. But what does this, in itself, tell us about the actual election? Where is the evidence that cheating took place? Many viewers are very keen to see the proof. Yet, we find no apparent obligation from the BBC to do that most basic of journalistic things: investigate.

Instead, we have Simpson's loaded conjecture:

This was not, of course, the result the West was hoping for. But political chaos and public disorder in Iran is not what any outside government wants either.
The election choice was basically between the openly anti-Western Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who made it clear he wanted to end Iran's isolation and talk to the Americans.
It would certainly not have been an easy relationship, even if Mr Mousavi had become president. Iran will always be a difficult country for the United States, Britain and other Western countries to deal with.
Even the Shah, who lost his throne because he tried to westernise Iran too quickly, was a difficult man to do business with.
Iran is an important regional power with an historical sense of having been held back by the West; its interests are bound to clash with those of the West from time to time.

It's not just the blatant pro-western bias in Simpson's output, but the acute poverty of information, as though the viewer can be palmed-off with this patronising view of a backward-looking Iran and a 'disappointed West'. Here's a viewer's letter to Simpson (noted at Media Lens) pursuing the point:

Hello John,

A regular reader of BBC online news, I've just read your article (dated yesterday, titled 'Difficult moment for Iran - and world').

The fourth paragraph runs thus...

Even the Shah, who lost his throne because he tried to westernise Iran too quickly, was a difficult man to do business with.

I nearly choked on my coffee reading this. Maybe I'm way off base here, but as I understand it, the Shah's downfall had more to do with the fact that (according to a 1976 Amnesty International report), Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran.".

He was a totalitarian dictator installed during the 1953 Anglo-American overthrow of Iran's democratically elected president Mohamed Mossadeq.

Why do I, a software developer who was only a child during the Shah's reign, need to explain this salient fact to a senior BBC journalist whose field of expertise is supposed to be knowledge of world affairs and incisive analysis ?



Whatever the outcome of the electoral imbroglio, one thing we have learned from the BBC this week is that Simpson's and his peers' 'worldly-wise' dispatches are neither impartial or usefully revealing. Many of us already suspected that rather staid truth.


No comments: