All the Regime Needed: Britain's ITN uses footage to portray Iran's "women ninja assassins"
Twenty-four hours ago, when we posted "Iran Breaking: Female Ninjas to Sue Reuters for Defamation", we did not as a serious investigation but as a follow-up poking fun at Iranian media using an over-blown story for propaganda against "Western" media.
Little did we know that, by the end of the day, the light-hearted would have turned so serious. Far from being just another episode in the "female ninja" PR saga, yesterday's presentation by State media was the set-up to shut down most of the non-Iranian journalists still working in Tehran. Iranian authorities withdrew accreditation from the Reuters bureau, taking the press cards of its 11 staff.
First, the background --- this was the Press TV video, broadcast on 29 January and posted on-line four days later, that presented the women pursuing Ninjutsu:
Yesterday we explained how the Press TV footage, shown in yesterday's entry, was repackaged within day by sensationalist newspapers, such as Britain's Daily Mail: "Meet Iran's Female Ninja Assassins: 3,000 Women Training to Defend the Muslim State".
At that point Reuters had not even entered the story. But in mid-February, it tried to seize upon the visual possibilities with video and a slideshow (Photo: Caren Firouz):
Reuters' description of the photograph is far from sensational, "Currently about 3000 to 3500 women train in Ninjutsu in independently run clubs throughout Iran working under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports' Martial Arts Federation." The video, posted on 16 February, takes the same line in its narration. However, a headline writer for that video went much, much farther, "Thousands of Female Ninjas Train as Iran’s Assassins".
Combined with the over-the-top presentation in Western newspapers a week earlier, this offered a potent cocktail for media exploitation. For example, the voice-over by Britain's ITN on 18 February (video at top of entry) has nothing on martial arts for fitness and everything on women assassins "trained to defend the Islamic Republic to the death".
Reuters tried to pull back its headline after a complaint by Iranian authorities, replacing it on 26 February with "Three Thousand Women Ninjas Train in Iran", but the damage was done. Press TV broadcast an item the next day, "Iran Ninjas Athletes, Not Assassins", profiling the grave offence taken by the women and warning of action against Reuters.
And so it has come to pass.Reuters maintained its bureau as most foreign journalists were detained, intimidated, shut in their hotels and offices, or forced to flee after the disputed June 2009 Presidential election. Even when its correspondents could not go on the streets for first-hand observation, the bureau could present the view of local witnesses.
That is now in jeopardy with the withdrawal of accreditation. And I cannot help feeling that this is a significant victory for a regime trying to shield Iran --- its economic tensions, its political in-fighting, and the persistence of dissent and a call for rights long after the events of 2009 --- from public scrutiny.