Monday, April 23, 2007

Frances Harrison & BBC: Let Iran Be

Image from "A Very British Coup" -- a documentary about British and BBC involvement in the 1953 Coup in Iran

Knowing, as we all do, that different media outlets possess and extoll different political outlooks, it would seem unfair to criticize any one particular journalist merely for doing his or her job. But the fact is that journalists include their own idiosyncracies in their reporting and certainly with feature stories, choose their own topics.

Which brings us to Frances Harrison. The BBC has foreign correspondents all over the world -- most of whom do not speak the language of the countries they are based in -- and most of them, as evidenced by their reports, appear to be quite happy to comply by the Blair-BBC standards: a nouveau colonialist-imperialist attitude that openly aligns itself with whatever administration is in power in the US.

Harrison's reporting -- especially that which appears on the BBC News website, which like most stories on the site, tends to gloss over details like sourcing and in-depth anaysis -- is lacking at best, biased at worst.

Take for instance her latest news story about crackdowns on hejab and attire in Iran. The story itself is simply not news: the authorities have been harrassing Iranians over their attire and outward appearance for decades now. But scroll down to the bottom and read Harrison's fascinating criticism that "even foreign tourists are being cautioned" about their dress. This sentence is pure presumption on the part of Harrison and her editor at the BBC that allowed it to be published.

You see, all women in Iran -- be they citizens or tourists -- are required to abide by hejab. If Harrison is not biased, then why doesn't she provide some basic background or poignant analysis of the situation? If she is biased, then why does the BBC not reprimand her for it? If the BBC is biased, then why does it complain about its treatment in Iran?

But even more telling of Harrison's journalistic credentials is her tale of "one foreign journalist" who "was stopped and the police complained the photograph in her press card was indecent, even though it was taken by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance." Either this is Harrison herself or a friend of hers -- but in either case, what is the point of it? To demonstrate that "foreign journalists" or "foreign tourists" deserve special treatment in Iran? On what basis? This kind of colonialist-imperialist attitude is simply not professional and certainly not becoming of a quality journalist.

It is also poignantly reminiscent -- as Harrison's Iranian husband has failed to inform her -- of the grievance most Iranians had about the monarchy's special treatment of foreigners in Iran -- it's the kind of attitude that offended Iranians about the Shah and contributed to his popularly-led ousting. Perhaps it should lead to Harrison's ousting, too.

Yes, we all know that reporting from Iran is not an easy task -- especially for a woman -- due to the difficulties in obtaining press passes and various permits. But this does not apply to the BBC: it has been reporting from Iran (and openly involving itself in Iranian politics) for decades, has a protocol and a line of command to turn to, and has the authority to make a stink if one of its journalists is put in harm's way -- something that isn't even a threat in Iran. Frankly, it's just not a credible excuse for shoddy, biased journalism.

The Western public's main and for most, only, source of information on Iran is from journalists -- and the public's perception from these journalists is that of an Iran that is volatile, backwards, corrupt and ignorant. This is inaccurate and not conducive to positive international relations. Either Iran should oust all of these Western journalists or individual journalists and editors should rightly accept a more realistic burden of responsibility for their work.

Besides, these foreign journalists' talent for biased and negative portrayals could do some amazing and much needed work on soiling the all-too-shiny reputation of their own Western governments and societies. Chip-chop!

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