Those getting their news about the recent elections in Iran from the BBC will have learned of a sweeping victory for what the corporation terms “reformists”. Readers of the BBC News website’s February 28th article titled “Iran election: Reformists win all 30 Tehran seats” were told that:
“Allies of Iran’s reformist President Hassan Rouhani have won a landslide victory in Tehran, in the first parliamentary vote since Iran signed a nuclear deal with world powers.
With 90% of the votes counted, the pro-Rouhani List of Hope is set to take all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital.”
Analysis from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet informed readers of this article and a later one that:
“This stunning election result will make a difference in Iran’s engagement with the wider world.
President Rouhani’s hand has been strengthened in parliament to help open his country to greater trade and investment. That will help him, and others in his reformist camp, to deepen the dialogue with the West, which began with negotiations on a landmark nuclear deal.”
Oddly, though, little column space was given to serious discussion of the topic of what exactly those “reformists” aspire to reform in their country.
“Reformists, who want better relations with the outside world and more freedoms at home, were hoping to gain influence in the conservative-dominated bodies.”
“Reformists and moderates say they are targeting greater foreign investment which, our correspondent says, will create jobs for young people.”
And audiences found the term “moderate conservative” used in this article and a subsequent one to describe a man implicated in the 1994 AMIA bombing and the murders of Iranian dissidents.
“Early results gave former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative, and Mr Rouhani the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics.”
The BBC is of course not the only Western media organization to be reporting on the Iranian elections in this euphemistic manner. The Wall Street Journal, however, has unpacked some of that journalistic framing.
“Western media are nonetheless describing the results as an “embarrassing defeat” for the regime’s hard-liners and the moderates’ “best nationwide electoral showing in more than a decade,” as the Associated Press put it. Of particular note are the results in the capital, Tehran, a national barometer where on Sunday it appeared that candidates on the moderate list had swept all 30 seats in the Majlis.
Some moderates. Consider Mostafa Kavakebian. The General Secretary of Iran’s Democratic Party, Mr. Kavakebian is projected to enter the Majlis as a member for Tehran. In a 2008 speech he said: “The people who currently reside in Israel aren’t humans, and this region is comprised of a group of soldiers and occupiers who openly wage war on the people.”
Another moderate is Kazem Jalali, who previously served as the spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Majlis and is projected to have won a seat. In 2011 Mr. Jalali said his committee “demands the harshest punishment”—meaning the death penalty—for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the pro-democracy Green Movement that was bloodily suppressed after stolen elections in 2009. Those two leaders are still under house arrest.
As for new Assembly of Experts, many of the “moderates” projected to have won seats were also listed on the hard-liners’ lists, since the ratio of candidates to seats was well below two. The winners include Mohammad Reyshahry, a former Intelligence Minister believed to have helped spearhead the 1988 summary execution of thousands of leftists; Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, another former Intelligence Minister believed to have directed the “chain murders” of the late 1990s; and Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabainejad, a fierce opponent of women’s rights who has called Israel “a cancerous tumor.””
Since Rouhani’s election in 2013 the BBC has consistently portrayed him as a “reformer” and a “moderate”, managing in all that time to avoid uncomfortable topics such as the 2015 UN report which found that the number of executions in Iran has in fact risen since Rouhani came to power.
Licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how exactly such editorial framing meets the corporation’s obligation to enhance their “awareness and understanding of international issues”.