A soft view of Iran through the BBC’s Doucet filter

The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet recently accompanied the EU’s Catherine Ashton on a visit to Tehran and following that trip produced an article titled “Four days in Tehran” which appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 17th. Doucet art 4 days Tehran 

In that article Doucet lists “seven surprises” about her visit. Number four reads:

“The bazaars are bustling, and in places, bursting full of people and goods for sale. But many people lamented the high prices caused by sanctions. In some cases, they’ve tripled. Cheaper versions can be found on sale.

But some goods are in short supply, including spare parts and some much needed medicines. And government handouts to ease the suffering are being cut back which will also add to the hardship.”

In other words, readers are nudged by Doucet to view a shortage of “much needed medicines” as being connected to the sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community as part of the attempt to prevent it from reaching military nuclear capability. That theme is of course not new; it has been promoted by other media outlets – not least the Guardian – regardless of the fact that, as was pointed out by Potkin Azarmehr as far back as in December 2012:

“Not only medicines are excluded from the Iran sanctions list but the German government has even made special provisions for banking transactions for medicine exports to Iran, this was even published in Iranian dailies.” 

And there is another aspect to the shortage of medicines story too.

“Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Ahmadinejad’s health minister at the time, was not saying what the Western media were regurgitating, she kept publicly complaining that the $2 Billion in the annual budget, allocated to import medicine with,  was not received by the health ministry.

It was a bizarre situation in which, Iran’s health minister kept repeating the medicine shortage was nothing to do with sanction and yet the Western media kept repeating, sanctions were causing the medicine shortage in Iran!

Islamic Republic’s first female health minister, Marzieh Dastjerdi,  finally paid the price for her outspoken remarks and was unceremoniously sacked by Ahmadinejad. Now 18 months after, the Islamic Republic’s Article 90 Majlis Commission, has endorsed her claims. The allocated $2 Billion with subsidised currency rate which should have gone to the Health Ministry to import medicine with, was instead being used to import luxury cars.”

But that is not the only thing Lyse Doucet forgot to tell her readers. “Surprise” number five reads thus:

“Tehran skies are dotted with construction cranes. Some Iranians, with access to hard currency and the right connections, have got even richer under sanctions. There seems to be the finances to build new apartments, but was told not many Iranians have funds to buy them.”

But cranes are not only used to build new apartments in Iran; another much more sinister use has been found for them too.

“One of the Iranian regime’s preferred methods of execution is public hanging from a construction crane. […]

In 2012 the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center reports that 522 people were executed in Iran. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, 670 people were executed in Iran in 2011. In Iran, offenses that carry the death penalty include homosexuality, adultery, and “enmity against God.” Fair trials for these offenses are unheard of. A significant number of victims are publicly hanged from a construction crane, which is an especially slow and painful method of execution.

Unfortunately, the cranes used for these hangings are primarily supplied to Iran by Western and Asian companies. Any company that exports cranes to Iran is directly aiding the regime in its cruel persecution of dissidents and other innocents.”

Doucet’s sixth “surprise” was:

“The ferocity of the hardline backlash when Baroness Ashton, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, put human rights on the agenda. Suspicion still runs deep that negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme are a pretext to meddle in Iran. But the bravery of Iranian human rights activists, and the readiness of President Rouhani’s administration to begin to take the lead on human rights issues was also notable.” [emphasis added]

Quite how Doucet’s assertion that Rouhani’s government is taking “the lead on human rights issues” can claim to square up with the facts is unclear.  Nearly two hundred people have been executed in Iran since the beginning of 2014 alone according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and some 600 executions have taken place since Rouhani’s watch commenced at the beginning of August 2013.

Also on March 17th Doucet hosted an “ask me anything” session relating to her recent trip on Reddit. 

Doucet tweets reddit

There too, the double theme of Rouhani the ‘reformist’ and the burden of sanctions was promoted by Doucet:

“Women’s issues have always been at the heart of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution. There have been advances in some areas including access to education including at University level, information and access to birth control, availability of some jobs, but not others. Women are still barred from many high level positions. Many women are hoping for greater freedoms after last year’s election of the reformist President Rouhani. But, like most Iranians, they are also just hoping that sanctions will be lifted and their daily lives will improve…”

Reddit question

The UN Secretary General’s March 2014 report on the situation of human rights in Iran is somewhat less enthusiastic than Doucet with regard to “advances” in women’s rights.

“[…] no woman has been named to the Cabinet, thereby continuing women’s underrepresentation at the highest decision making levels. The World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report 2013, ranked Iran at 130 out of 136 countries, three placed below last year.  According to the report, Iran has the lowest female representation in the labour forces and the lowest estimated female income in the region.” […]

“Laws that permit gender discrimination and promote violence against women continue to be introduced in Iran. The revised Islamic Penal Code, which came into force in June 2013, retains provisions that are discriminatory towards women. For instance, it values women’s testimony in a court of law as half that of a man’s, and a woman’s life half that of a man’s. The Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran provides for the marriage of girls at age 13. However, with the permission of a competent court, girls can be married at the age of nine. The 2013 Family Protection Law reportedly allows for full or temporary marriage and legalizes polygamy. The Unsupervised or Ill-Supervised Children and Youth Protection Bill, which was adopted by Parliament in September 2013 and came into force on 23 October 2013, allows a marriage between a child and legal guardian, when a child has reached maturity, and marriage with the guardian is in his/her best interest. This would mean that a girl as young as nine can be married to her guardian, which is a threat to her physical and mental integrity and runs counter to fundamental human rights guarantees stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a State party.” […]

“Women’s economic participation and employment have decreased. Only 14.5 per cent of the female population is economically active, of which 16.8 per cent are either unemployed or seeking jobs. During its review of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed serious concerns about restrictions on access to university education, including bans on female and male enrolment, limited quotas for women in certain fields, as well as gender segregation in classrooms and facilities. The Committee also noted with concern the low participation of women in the labour force, which has been further declining, and the possibility for a husband to prevent his wife from entering employment upon receipt of a court order under the Family Protection Law.”

Now, what is it again that the BBC purpose remit promises audiences?

“BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to provide internationally respected news services to audiences around the world and they can expect the BBC to keep them in touch with what is going on in the world, giving insight into the way people live in other countries.”

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