UPDATE 2035 GMT: Tonight the Iranian authorities have withdrawn the accreditation of the Reuters bureau in Tehran.
The 11 staff in the bureau have been told to hand back their press cards. Reuters said it is in discussions with Iranian officials to regain accreditation.
At the start of February, we noticed a Press TV report highlighting 3500 women in Iran who are officially registered to train in the martial art of Ninjutsu. We posted the video as well as a comment by Max Fisher of The Atlantic which, despite a somewhat patronising and two-dimensional presentation of gender issues in Iran, considered the story seriously as a case of "the self-empowerment of these women".
It was too much to expect this thoughtful approach to hold --- Women! Ninjas! Weapons! Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! --- and three days later, it was Britain's Daily Mail that caught our eye: ""Meet Iran's Female Ninja Assassins: 3,000 Women Training to Defend the Muslim state".
Reuters subsequently capitalised on the visual angle with a slideshow of "Ninjas in Iran". So did Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with "Iranian Women Show Their Ninja Skills". (Neither, as far as we can tell, added the claim of "Muslim State Ninja Assassin Army".)
At that point, the story probably should have been left to retreat into ninja darkness. But sadly, the possibilities of political exploitation are too strong to be withstood. So Press TV, in its unrelenting defence of the Islamic Republic against evil Western media, now proclaims, "Iranian Ninjas sue Reuters for Defamation of Character":
A group of female Iranian martial artists have taken legal action against Britain's Reuters news agency for branding them as assassins....
Last month, Reuters showed a number of Iranian girls training martial arts in a city near Tehran, claiming Iran was training more than 3,000 female ninjas to kill any possible foreign invaders. The distorted Reuters report was picked up by other British media outlets.
Following the strong reaction of Iranian media to the report, Reuters made changes to parts of the report but refused to apologize for slander.
The Iranian girls, accused by Reuters of being assassins, say the damage has already been done and they are now taking legal action against the agency for defamation of character.
The athletes say the Reuters journalist asked them what they would do if their country came under attack. Reuters used the girl's patriotic response as an excuse to call them assassins.
“The lady from Reuters asked me only one question which had a very obvious answer. I believe that anyone anywhere in the world would defend his country if it were attacked…but she twisted our words to make us look bad and described us as assassins in the headline of her story,” Khatereh Jalilzadeh told Press TV.
“We are taking legal action because the ladies that train in Ninjutsu first and foremost enjoy it as a sport. It's about working out and staying fit. Reuters has blatantly lied about us,” she added.
Another female ninja said the Reuters' report can definitely be a problem.
“It can harm our chances to travel to other countries to take part in gobal tournaments and international championships because Reuters is considered by many to be a reliable source,” Raheleh Davoudzadeh said.
“At this point, there is not much they can do to undo the damage....That is why we are taking legal action....We want the whole world to know that Reuters has lied about us,” the Iranian ninja added.
Akbar Faraji, who established Ninjutsu in Iran over 22 years ago, condemned the British media accusations, saying his students will pursue the complaint to the end.
“We have filed a defamation lawsuit against Reuters and we intend to pursue it as far as necessary because it is a matter of reputation,” he said.
“Reuters has introduced us as assassins to the whole world. The truth must come to light and everyone should know that we are only a group of athletes. We are supervised by the Ministry of Sports and the federation of martial arts,” Faraji concluded.
The Reuters journalist who conducted the interview left Iran shortly before a court case was opened.