Media Matters: Well-done medium

In Iran, bloggers and Twitterers have replaced reporters - and the momentum is mind-boggling.

smashed computer Iran 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
smashed computer Iran 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
For the two days following Binyamin Netanyahu's address on Sunday evening at the Begin-Sadat center at Bar-Ilan University, it seemed as if there was no other news going on - except for the "developments" in the Dudu Topaz case, that is. This, in spite of Friday's election in Iran that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly emerge the winner. No surprise there, considering the emphasis that's always placed in the media and in other corridors of power on the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" as the "key" to solving the region's problems. But then, suddenly, something unexpected happened in the land of the mullahs: The Iranian street spontaneously erupted like a volcano. The aim of the spate of demonstrations throughout the country was supposedly to contest what supporters of the opposition considered to have been rigged election results. The rightful victory, they said, had been stolen right out of the hands of candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The Iranian government, in customary fashion, immediately put a gag on the foreign media. (That the official local press isn't allowed to do anything over there without the watchful eye and strict regulations of the Ayatollah-run president is a given.) Indeed, as soon as signs of unrest began to rear their ugly head, correspondents who had arrived in Teheran from abroad to cover the election, as well as those already stationed there, were forbidden to leave their hotels or bureaus. This is because Ahmadinejad & Co. blamed them for the popular uprising - though CNN's Christiane Amanpour just had to get in a minor defense of this policy, claiming that it stemmed from a desire on the part of the authorities to protect the journalists. She failed to mention that the only authorities these journalists would need protection from is the Revolutionary Guard goons themselves. THE IRONY here couldn't be greater. There is nothing new in accusing the media of slant at best, or spreading disinformation and incitement at worst; this is something we've come to expect, from Teheran to Timbuktu. But the demonstrations in Iran right now are the product not of the press, but of a genuine grassroots push from the ground upwards - through the cracks in the proverbial pavement. Rather than being affected by reportage on events in their country, Iranian citizens are the ones doing the reporting (via the Internet) and providing the photos and footage (from their cell phones and video cameras). The mainstream media outlets are merely acting as conduits for this amazing phenomenon, made possible by modern technology. It is not for nothing that dictators like Ahmadinejad try to exert total control over satellite dishes and Web sites. No small feat, in a world filled with computer geeks who know how to circumvent all sorts of interference. It is thus that though foreign and Persian TV channels continue to be actively jammed - and repeated attempts are being made to block access to Yahoo Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Web sites affiliated with Mousavi - the Iranian protesters are managing to get out their message, both at home and abroad. This is through the help of other bloggers all over the world, most of whom are not only expressing support for their cause, but who are helping them to get around technical troubles through the creation of proxy sites and other tricks. They are also being assisted, indirectly, by the US State Department, which requested of Twitter that it postpone site maintenance, so that Iranian users would not be cut off from one another or the outside even for a minute. But their greatest assistance is coming from a source I never thought I'd be praising in these pages - the BBC, whose constant coverage of the events conveyed to its World News Service puts all its competitors to shame. Maybe it would do well to get more of its information from lay people than from professional members of the press - particularly its own. HOW THE events in Iran will pan out is the subject of many an op-ed these days. Most pundits agree that Mousavi is not a reformer in the western sense of the word. All assure us that, in any case, it is the mullocracy that has to be overthrown for the Iranian people to be free. Still, it is significant that - thanks to the one medium that's open to all - a momentum has been created. Hopefully, it will be the kind that even the mullahs can't curb in the long-run. [email protected]