Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bloglogue:Dialogue between Bloggers & non Bloggers

Question is " Do u think news that we get about Iran or sensitive issues are biased? Why? and how can bloggers or non bloggers as individuals communicate non biased news?Dream or reality"?

You can join discussion by sending email to: faridpouyaATgmailDotcom
You can also send your proposition for next subject to same email.

25 Jan: Christian Alexander,Blogger,USA

Here is my brief response to your question:

Mainstream media coverage of Iran and the Middle East is biased almost no matter where it comes from, although it is important to note that some sources are much better at attempting objectivity than others. Part of this is due to inevitable differences in perspectives on various events and topics. However, political and ideological biases also play a major role. In the United States rights to free speech and free market enterprise have in many ways helped bolster journalistic integrity. However, the monopolization of media sources and the increasingly corporate nature of reporting have begun to hinder objectivity. Large media companies may not have an explicit ideological purpose, but the narrowing of diversity of competition coupled with the increasing need to make a profit off of a highly segmented market creates an environment where biased assessments are inevitable.

Blogs, by nature, act in a very different fashion from published media sources. This is because in general they explicitly acknowledge perspective. Blogs are set up as personal repositories of ideas and opinions. They lack editors, institutions and high overhead, making them much more accessible (and prone to bias). While some blogs may report on news, they do so on a personal, individual basis. Blogs can act as a positive counterpoint to mainstream news media, discussing, interpreting and redirecting their stories. Because they lack the structure of mainstream media (an issue I think Curt Hopkins might be hinting at with his reference to books), I am hesitant to rely on them as a primary source of information. However, it is clear that blogs do influence mainstream media by forcing alternative perspectives to the surface.

16 Jan:The Image of Iran
For Blogologue

By Curt Hopkins (USA)

I am no specialist on Iran. Most of my interest, aside from the problems of bloggers, which are legion, lies in a desire someday to visit the Friday Mosque in Isfahan and a romantic wish for the unlikely opportunity to drink Shiraz in Shiraz.

As a (largely former) journalist I have a perspective regarding the alleged unfairness of the “Western” media toward Iran that some do not. I doubt that Iran is portrayed as a troublesome rogue country due to the “agenda” of some cabal of politically-connected editors. Editors’ time and judgment are constantly being impinged upon less by political concerns than by economic ones. Newspapers, as an example, are rarely independent anymore. There is no longer any news judgment that could credibly be called “independent.” After several decades of consolidation and another of competition from the Internet, they are more concerned with maximizing profits through cutting expenses and achieving the greatest possible readership for their corporate owners than with promoting some politically expedient view of Iran as that place on the map that says “here be monsters.”

As a blogger, I have plenty of places to go to even out any assumed bias in the coverage of Iran. I have individual blogs by English-speaking Iranians and Iranian expatriates. I have news wires, radio and sites like Google News and Topix.

I think possibly the most important resource I have access to is a mysterious data-delivery technology that utilizes a “long tail” approach to knowledge retention and recovery. It’s called “books.” Portable, enterable and exitable at multiple points and full of a range of informational and analytical sources, they are an exciting new adjunct to the more common and time-tested electronic data systems. Because they are written over a long time, usually in private, they often feature considered opinions that are beyond the reach of the momentary influence of politics, economics or media. So, for instance, I know that Iran is the inheritor of a civilization thousands of years long; that it influenced the definitive formation of Judaism and Christianity; and that it has had military might formidable enough to hold off the armies of Greece and Rome. (I want to say one word to you. Just one word…Books.)

So, when you ask what image of Iran is presented in the West, you also have to ask, who sees this image?

Naturally, those editors I mentioned earlier are going to choose news about Iran that is at the top of the perceived scale of importance for their audience. For that reason, Iran is frequently presented as a threat to the safety of the region and the world. While there are millions of stories in Iran, the stories of uncapping nuclear reactors are stories as well, so I do not think the country is being maligned, even if it is not being portrayed in its entirety. It does not help matters that Iran currently has a president who is, (at least for the sake of argument) in possible comparison with previous Iranian leaders, not simply governing with a different set of values from the Western world, but outright nuts, or at least evincing a combination of ignorance and cruelty that would embarrass a Klansman. It is even less reasonable for an Iranian to expect positive coverage of Iran with a president like Ahmadinejad that it is for an American to expect positive coverage of his country with a president like Bush.

14 Jan
: Dr.Djamshid Assadi,Paris, Professor of Economics:

We get different news from different new agencies and media. So at the end, I believe that reporting and news, because of a relatively free competition in the democratic countries, cannot be exuberantly biased. Still, receivers of news do not understand necessarily the meaning of the reported events. They consume news, but they do not automatically comprehend. Do we understand medical reports, even when they diagnosis our own body? Certainly not. How do we expect though to realize and analyze the news we receive concerning economic, political, diplomatic or cultural issues? Especially when they are combined!
After all, can we escape biased analysis? I do not think so. Every analysis is influenced by the personal traits of the analyst. Many might call it biased interpretation.
Bloggers do not escape from the above rule. They give their own interpretations. They cannot help it. Their interest is not though an illusionary unbiased “truth”, but more interpretations, so consequently more competition and finally more choices for us, consumers.
There is another interest. Bloggers can share interpretations and cross them with more people. Hence, they might integrate more sophisticated points of view. Dialogue is the sole issue. There is no ultimate unbiased news or interpretation.

14 Jan:Shahram Kholdi,a UK based blogger and PhD Candidate, Persian Studies, University of Manchester:
I think the question that you ask is a simple one but with profound implications. It has such complex underpinnings that one has to address it from different dimensions; I would address it as follows: How much do we really that we know, that we do not know that we know, and that we do not know that we know?

Sounds Rumsfeldian? Well, you bet it does! But the situation about the Iranian-EU showdown regarding Iran's reluctance to co-operate as the EU (and the US right behind it) wishes. What is astounding for me is a new prevailing culture of "I have it on good authority" and a surge in the usage of "anecdotal" resources by colleagues and journalists, which are more or less unverifiable by the rest of the planet concerning Iran's true wishes vis-a-vis its mixed signals.

But, has it not been the case for almost twenty-five years that most analysts and scholars, journalists and reporters, and other observers have been wrestling constantly with different modules as to how best we can decipher and makes sense of the almost always incomprehensible diplomatic language of the Islamic Republic as a regime? Does Iran think with one head or two heads and then taking in one or two or three different languages expressing different ideas coming from each of these heads? Is it the expediency that has the last word or the Supreme Leader itself? Or, is it the case that there is constant bargaining going on, and then at the table of the Expediency Council, the team with the best cards at hand wins the game in all eventuality?

One of the most interesting methods that has become popular amongst analysts, more than ever, since the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami, is trying to make sense of what actually Islamic Republic's next move might be by juxtaposing different officials' speeches in one week. Such an exercise can be seen in all types of reports that put next to each other Ahmadinejad's and Rafsanjani's speeches and added to that Hojatol-Islam Seyyed Ahmad Khatami's (no relations with the previous President) during the Friday prayer sermons. Interestingly enough, we hear that "Islamic Republic enjoys a united stance over the nuclear negotiations". How can I knock it down? I would just throw an anecdotal grenade that can be substantiated by the previous speeches of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei: "Nuclear issue is our nation's fundamental right and no one is allowed to compromise it".

This quotation basically means that upon the a stern order of the Supreme Leader "all official rhetoric of the Islamic Republic on the Nuclear issue must unite". But does it really mean that Ayatollah Rafsanjani thinks that the Islamic Republic should pursue the negotiations along the hostile rhetorical path set by His Excellency President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinjed? Absolutely not! Then, we listen to the BBC's interview with Dr. El-Baradei, the IAEA's Secretary General, and informs us that Dr. Larijani called him and told him that Iran wants to continue the negotiations providing there is a clear-cut schedule is in place (!).

Speculation has almost gone rampant, and it seems we need to develop a new methodology as to what official statement exactly means when it is issued by an authority in public, or how it should be interpreted when a contradicting/complementing statement is shared by another authority with an international civil servant at another point on the same issue. This methodology need not to be an academic one, quite the contrary. It needs to be based on fundamental methods of investigative journalism. Rhetoric should be understood as rhetoric; repeated rhetoric should be identified as some type of an ideological dogma with no necessarily immediate international consequences; open and public clash of statements between different authorities (such as the ones between Rafsanjani and Khatami -former presidents- on the one hand, and Ahmadinejad, on the other hand) should be considered as summing up a true difference in direction and purpose of the Iran's international prestige and its foreign policy. Still, nothing should be blown out of proportion.

Comparative perspectives can be even more useful in helping us to understand the position of one side, Iran, against the other side, the US. When the United States of America with all different mechanisms of Foreign Policy, from the Congress to the White House, remains elusive in terms of the predictability of its next move against Iran, it should come as no surprise that the poly-centric power apparatus of the Islamic Republic is far more difficult to predict under such circumstances. Often, one reads too much or too little in the public statements that come from Iran.

What sounds to us as nonsense, often sounds nonsense because one is politically biased against it, whether it is issued by Bush or Ahmadinejad. If one does not like an American attack on Iran, one might trivialize the Ahmadinejad's rhetoric by minimizing the actual role that he can really play to influence foreign policy in Iran. If one is politically biased in favour of an American attack, one might exaggerate the rhetorical statements of Mr. Ahmadinejad with respect to the nuclear negotiations and maximize his role in influencing the Iranian foreign policy relative to his supposed closeness to the Supreme Leader.

I have so far observed similar approaches by both anti-war and pro-war bloggers and reporters. Cancelling out the exaggerations and trivializations might leave us with a little a bit of good analysis free from spin, anecdotal sources, and wishful thinking analysis. Unfortunately, it would be too little to tell us what actually is going on amongst Khatami, Rafsanjani, Larijani, Ahmadinejad, and the rest of the bunch on the Iranian National Security Council. Such blogohetorics (blog rhetoric) say nothing to us as ro whether people of Iran, those in major cities, along with the Kurds in Kurdestan, and Arabs in Khouzestan (to name a few disgruntled ethnic minorities) really do or do not welcome an American attack.

11 Jan:Lars Akerhaug, Oslo Norway, is first blogger to share his idea:In general, we witness serious problems when it comes to Western media coverage of the Middle East. The perspective is mostly that of the West as an actor, rather than that of the actors in the Middle East. This does not by default lead to a bias, but it leads to a lack of serious information, as the different perspectives are often omitted. If we look at Iran as an example, Norwegian media has in the controversy of some of President Ahmadinejad's speeches only been reporting the content and Western (including Israeli) reactions towards these, rather than discussing the real political motivations behind these statements. Many have, plausably, argued that the statements of Ahmadinejad is as much about the internal affairs in Iran that it is about Israel and the plight of the Palestinians.

It is of course reasonable to talk about the picture of the West as 'eurocentrism'. However, it is probably as well related to the sorry state of media in the Middle East in general. If we take Arab media, there are really a scarcity of real debate or coverage of real political conflicts, Al-jazeera being one notable exception to what is mostly mouthpieces of different Arab regimes. The situation in Iran might be better, but as long as media in the Middle East, and especially the large media channels does not provide insight, it is also difficult to expect that Western media will.

Blogging, and in general independent media, has been a valuable source for information. Nobody covering the situation on the ground in Lebanon and Syria, for example, could do this seriously without also reading the blogs and other independent news sources released continously in both Arabic and English (by both expats and residents). And Iran, which is one step ahead of the Arab world when it comes to internet usage, is probably neither exept this tendency. In the future we might hope that independent media would be a counterweight both to the bias of Western media as well as the servility of Middle Eastern sources. However, we should not overlook the process witnessed now in all Western countries to co-opt independent media by commercial forces. Blogging is no longer reserved for individuals and to larger and larger degree taken over by big coorperations.

11 Jan:Dr.Majid Tehranian,USA,director of the Toda Institute, Adjunct Professor of International Relations, Soka University of America of Toda,shared his thought through an email:
I believe that all media are biased. That is the nature of human understanding. We all look at the world from a particular standpoint.

But since most of our knowledge of the world today is through the media, media bias is a critical issue. Most of the media in the world today are owned by nine major transnational media corporations (see my article on Peace Journalism in Harvard Journal of Press/Politics, 7:2, Spring 2002). Since most of these corporations are
Anglo-American, medias bias also is Anglo-American.

The media bias on Iran is visible only to those who are aware of what goes on in Iran.


Blogger Farid Pouya said...

I would like to comment on Curt's piece. It is true that Media empires are running after readership and profits for share holders rather than truth.
But I just realised another problem with main stream Media in Middle East:Objectivity has lost its meaning. Recently BBC correpondent in Tehran simply wrote that majority of Iranian back government's nuclear policy!!!
We never found out how she was able to pretend such a thing. According to which statistics or studies.BBC is a public service and not private. Interesting thing is despite emails and letters concerning this article,no explanation was given.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Rebecca MacKinnon said...

Hi Farid,
This is a great discussion. Is Dr.Majid Tehranian's article available on line anywhere? Can you or he please provide a URL?



5:58 PM  
Blogger Farid Pouya said...

I will ask him.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Sampsa said...

Like Farid, I also think BBC is biased with Iran. If 400 people demonstrate in Tehran is it a news, can it be called one of the angriest cartoon demonstration? I wrote a post about this on my blog (http://sampsak.blogspot.com/2006/02/cartoon-demonstration-gone-wrong-for.html) and gave BBC feedback and a wish that they would not become the propaganda machine they where in post-9/11 times.


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