Now that the Iranian Government Security Forces are conducting crowd control with sniper rifles, I guess it’s safe for the President to condemn the unconscionable repression as he did yesterday in his strongest statement ever. President Obama was eclipsed on Friday by a bi-partisan congressional resolution which felt that a stronger statement of position was necessary in the wake of violent government action against demonstrators in Tehran. France’s President Sarkozy had earlier condemned the Iranian repression in blunt terms, and the British government followed suit. The President and his team put forward the argument that his silence and mild rebukes of the regime were necessary so as to avoid the appearance that the U.S. was “behind” the ongoing and growing anti-government demonstrations.
Critics of the president counter that Ahmadinajad, Ayatollah Khatami, and the dictatorial mullahs who comprise the Guardian Council always used the U.S. as a rallying point whenever its internal policies were called into question, no matter what was said. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that Ahmadinajad has, over the past couple of days, charged the Obama government with interfering in its internal affairs. Ahmadinajad’s exhortation is both laughable and tragic as the Iran regime accuses the American press of a lack of “neutrality” in its reporting of the ongoing crisis. The “laughable and tragic” irony of all that, of course, is that the Iranian regime kicked out all U.S. and other foreign reporters and arrested others.
Some reports have it that twenty people have been shot to death by the Iranian militias known as “Basij” or by other government agents. With the conventional media being kicked out of the country and the Iranian government having pulled the plug on political news reporting web sites, United States media outlets like CNN, Fox News, and others have had to rely on other less conventional sources. Not surprisingly, the use of sources like Twitter and YouTube has re-ignited a long-brewing controversy which challenges traditional assumptions about news reporting. Traditional news reporters tout their own higher standards of reliable journalism but they are doing less of that now with YouTube and Twitter feeds currently being the only games in Tehran Town. In fact, CNN commentators Margaret Carlson and Howard Kurtz this morning discussed the reliability of Twitter and YouTube reporting in a feature this morning.
Some of the networks are screening the unfiltered video reports through producers whose job it is to verify the validity of such reports. Mr. Kurtz said that filtering was needed in order to determine whether the “reporters” were actually where they said they were and whether the events happened as described. There is some validity to these assertions as the cyber-media lends itself to propaganda purposes as easily as it does to legitimate information purposes. The savvy use of internet media by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda is an example of the subornation of media to propaganda purposes, but all media occurs within a specific context. Modern media audiences, however, are sophisticated and tend to resist all filtering, even that interposed by the traditional media. The bloody YouTube video of the young Iranian girl named “Neda,”shot to death by Iranian security forces, is horrific within any context and the conclusion that something horrible is afoot is hard to avoid. Moreover, the savvy media watcher is as much aware of context in traditional reporting as well as in its cyber versions. Few people would dispute that the major networks like ABC and the cable companies like CNN and Fox employ different “wraparounds” in their narratives accompanying video clips.
Yet, there is historical significance in the fact that media repression is more difficult in the age of computers. The Russians saw that in their invasions of Georgia, in spite of taking the first step of sabotaging Georgia’s computer networks before sending in the Russian troops. Currently Twitter and YouTube and cell-phone cameras may not be the ideal vehicles for political commentary but they’re all we’ve got when the whip comes down as it has in Iran.
Taken as a whole, the images are fuzzy and the audio cacaphonic, but you definitely get the picture. And you have to think that this new media spoke more eloquently and sooner than official sources on the New Iranian Revolution.