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Filtered News Is Good News During Tehran Summit

  • Frud Bezhan

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joins leaders from Nonaligned Movement (NAM) countries, including Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, at the summit in Tehran on August 30

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joins leaders from Nonaligned Movement (NAM) countries, including Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, at the summit in Tehran on August 30

As leaders of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) were settling in for their two-day summit in Iran, capping off a week of events intended to showcase Tehran's global voice, they might well be remarkably unaware of goings-on in the country itself.

That's because the country's media, dominated and heavily filtered by the state, has been ordered to forgo real news in favor of glowing reports on its international guests.

A three-page directive issued by Iran’s Culture Ministry and obtained by RFE/RL gives precise instructions on what the country's media outlets should be covering during the event and, perhaps more tellingly, what they should not.

They shouldn't: write stories that undermine the summit; give voice to opposition political groups; write stories about human rights in Iran; cover Western allegations against Syria; raise concerns about security in Tehran; report on warnings about bad weather, natural disasters, energy cuts, or crime.

Can-Do's

Media are left, however, with ample room for coverage that ensures the protection of Iran’s "national interests" and reinforces the country's "growing role in international affairs."

They are free to publish stories that hold the country and its leaders in a "positive" light and that highlight Iranian hospitality and its Islamic traditions, for example. And they are expected to reserve special coverage for stories that support Iran's controversial nuclear program, to condemn the West's "unlawful" sanctions, and to criticize Israel, which the document refers to as the "fake and Zionist regime."

An image of one of the three pages of the directive from Iran's Culture Ministry to media on coverage during the Nonaligned Movement summit.

An image of one of the three pages of the directive from Iran's Culture Ministry to media on coverage during the Nonaligned Movement summit.

Other recommendations include placing emphasis on messages by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, highlighting the importance of the NAM as the second-largest international organization after the United Nations, emphasizing the prominent role that Iran will play in regional and international affairs as head of the NAM, and the technological and scientific progress Iran has made despite "terrorist attacks."

VIEW all three pages of the Iranian Culture Ministry's directive here, here, and here

The directive is part of an all-out effort by Iran to use the NAM summit to pull off an international image makeover.

Hailing Successes

Before the weeklong gathering opened on August 26, police sealed off roads and closed shops near the conference center housing the event. The authorities also announced a five-day public holiday in an apparent effort to encourage residents to leave Tehran and ease the capital's notorious traffic and pollution problems. Road signs and lampposts were repainted and marked with doves of peace, and many roads received paving touchups.

Iranian media appear to have responded under direction, claiming the NAM summit as a triumph and promoting the country's new position as the head of "the world's second-largest international organization" after taking over the NAM chairmanship from Egypt this week.

The attendance of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, the first visit by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has also been portrayed as a victory.

And the controversial participation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who made the trip despite reservations by Western countries and used the venue to deliver implicit warnings to Tehran, has been warmly received by Iranian officials.

Written by Frud Bezhan, with contributions by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Homayoon Shinwary
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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