Iran’s Rouhani warns media, seeks to suppress coronavirus coverage

Massive crises unfolds, doctors report their staff are sick and can’t meet the needs of the people, Iran’s regime prepares media to put positive spin on disaster.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020
(photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has met with key advisers and officials to coordinate the suppression of media reports on the coronavirus pandemic in Iran. As numerous Iraqis returning from Iran have been saying, as a massive disaster is unfolding in Iran, the regime in Tehran wants to stop what it calls “gossip.”
Iran’s Tasnim reports that the president’s office will “track” media reports. They want to push a campaign to highlight the regime’s response to the coronavirus. Under the guise of “accurate, clear and transparent information on countering coronavirus,” it appears the main goal is to try to get the public to stop asking questions. “The main need of today’s society is to relax the focus,” the report notes.
Rouhani clams that population movement is currently undermining the mental well-being of society. “Referring to uncertainties, rumors and the atmosphere it is right that media will confront the community with precise information, not gossip, and pave the way for medical staff to confront the disease.”
While this could mean the government will be more transparent, in fact since February the government has sought to downplay the crises and even spread false claims that the virus is a foreign conspiracy.
Rouhani even claimed the virus was like US sanctions and appeared worse than it is. Iran purposely suppressed coverage in February to get people to turn out to vote. This has resulted in numerous infections among politicians and hundreds of deaths. Iran now has more than 12,729 official cases, among the highest in the world. On Saturday, 97 new COVID-19 deaths were recorded, bringing the official death toll to 621. But the true number is likely much higher.
Rouhani warned the media not to be politically motivated. He said that while he appreciated the efforts of media he also recognized they were the main venue for spreading information. “No country in the world facing maximum sanctions could face this widespread outbreak… but some will take any change to exploit the state and destroy the state,” he reportedly intimated to staff.
Thus the media must “provide fair and professional information and enhance public participation in the government’s fight.” The government wants the media to boost the morale of medical staff. He said media must explain how the health care system capabilities have succeeded despite US pressure and inhumane sanctions and encourage the government’s system.
Despite the positive spin that Rouhani is now saying the media must push, the reality in Iran is despair. Iraqis who fled Iran recently in the face of the virus tell of disaster. As they came back to Wasit governorate in Iraq they spoke of dystopian situation and “ghost cities.” One man said he had left everything to flee the virus.
“Everything has stopped due to the illness. I saw in the streets that the number of sick is far higher than what the authorities said.”
Life has stopped in Iran, the people say. “It is getting worse by the day,” a report at Al-Ain notes. “People are locking up their homes, life is gone from the streets.” Schools, universities and sports are canceled, and Iran banned travel between provinces, and stopped Friday prayers. Restaurants, museums and cafes are closed.
The Iranian army is now being deployed to control the virus. Mohammed Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of the armed forces, says he has formed a new committee and that the army will remove people from the streets and close shops.
“All Iranians will be monitored by cyberspace, telephone and if necessary sent to prison. All sick people will be identified,” he said. His directives could be an excuse to begin a military coup, as it would be the perfect time with people removed from the streets and many leading clerics and officials and members of parliament already sick from the disease.
Scores of leading officials are sick and some have died. With the army in control of the streets and the president seeking to wrangle the media, Iran is entering an era of total control over every aspect of society, even more than was already the case under the regime. Last year the regime killed as many as 1,500 protesters. Freshly-dug mass graves likely containing coronavirus victims have been identified from satellite photos. The regime has no compunction against burying dissidents in the same graves.
Medical workers who were able to send out messages through sources have said that the situation borders on apocalyptic scenes from movies. One image that was smuggled out showed the parking garage of a hospital full of beds preparing for the sick to arrive, as there is no room in the hallways of the hospital.
A medical professional said that there are a lack of nurses and doctors, and that medical staff were sick and being forced to continue work. Iran’s regime has portrayed the medical professionals as “martyrs” on the frontline. This is why Rouhani wants to mobilize the media. He knows that the system is on the verge of collapse.