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Iran: How the "New Media" Tore Down the Gates of the "Mainstream" 

The Latest from Iran (24 July): Waiting for the Next Move

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ANONYMOUS IRANCNNThis afternoon, the headlines have blared out about a sudden crisis within the Iranian regime: CNN "Iran's supreme leader tells Ahmadinejad to dump deputy"; Reuters "Iran supreme leader wants vice president sacked"; BBC English "Iranian leader 'orders dismissal'". All the reports accurately summarise the story, in line with our updates today, that the Supreme Leader has sent a letter to President Ahmadinejad demanding the removal of the First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

There's only one catch: all these news outlets are reporting about an event that took place on Tuesday. From our update at 1600 GMT that day:
According to Parleman News, the Supreme Leader ordered President Ahmadinejad to remove his choice as Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, who is also the father of Ahmadinejad’s daughter-in-law: “Without any delay, the dismissal order or Mashaei’s resignation must be announced by the President.”

OK, but what's the big deal? Better late than never to the story, right?

Well, from a political point of view, the problem with the sudden appearance of the stories is that they give a simple portrayal of a sudden dispute between Ayatollah Khamenei and the President. The true story is that the letter was sent to Ahmadinejad privately but that sources with an interest in the battle quickly leaked the news to Iranian newspapers. For the rest of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, as we've been noting on EA, there has been manoeuvring and clashing between the Supreme Leader's camp, the President's supporters, and other "conservative" factions. The significance of today is that Khamenei has raised the stakes once more by allowing the letter to go public.

None of that context, and thus analysis, is possible with the "out of the blue" narrative of the mainstream media. For example, none of the stories note that Ahmadinejad threw Khamenei's letter back at the Supreme Leader later on Tuesday, with the President declaring that he was standing by Rahim-Mashai. Whereas CNN, BBC, etc. are at the starting gate on this story, the actual dispute is already halfway around the track.

From a media point of view, the lesson seems to go beyond the stories EA has been running about the place of "new media" in this crisis and those to come. This is no longer a question of who is more reliable because the mainstream media aren't necessarily even in the competition.

In this case, the mainstream media only "found" the story when one of the news services (I suspect, though am not sure, that it was Reuters) lifted the news from Iranian state television and news agencies. Of course, none of the mainstream outlets have correspondents in Iran, given the Government's restrictions, but --- more importantly in this case --- it appears that none of them have reporters reading the Iranian press, much of which is not run by State agencies but is linked to political factions. The story on Parleman News apparently never made it on the radar of CNN, BBC, etc. (What's more, it appears that the mainstream outlets are not even keeping an eye on English-language websites covering Iran. The Parleman News report showed up quickly on the site of the National Iranian American Council.)

In contrast, "new media" like Enduring America or the "Green Brief" of Anonymous Iran, as well as bloggers like Nico Pitney at The Huffington Post, rely upon a web of sources who have sent in or analysed material from across not only the Iranian press but regional media and websites. The point about Twitter and other devices such as Google Reader, from my perspective, is that has made this web possible. Whereas the hardest-working journalist might be able to monitor only a handful of sources even a few years ago, now dozens quickly come into play. Thus the disadvantage for most of the new media  --- namely that we don't have any money for full-time staff --- becomes a marked advantage: we don't have to rely on a Reuters to put out the story before we'll write and publish.

This is no longer a matter of "to Twitter or not to Twitter". The mainstream news services are no longer the gatekeepers of the stories because they are not at the gates. The sharpest, up-to-date coverage is coming from a new network of citizen journalists, activists, and even readers who are quick to pass on important breaking stories. It is that network that has presented the post-election Iran crisis as a continuing story, with ripples and fluctuations, rather than the mainstream media's sudden ups and downs of "the Green Movement is here"; "the Green Movement is dead"; "the Green Movement is back". And, now that the story is no longer of the Government v. the Movement but of tensions and shifts within the Government and regime, it is that network that will be the daily port of call to find out what is happening and what may happen.

Because when the gates are down, the view is less, not more, restricted.

Reader Comments (3)

It is important to remain vigilant. New media and Old media are both susceptible to the same level of failure.

Many times old media spreads lies as in the case of Iraq, WMD, embedded soldiers and the wars of Israel with neighbors. The true story is never on the surface of what the old media reports.

In the case of Iran, the New media is unfortunately the only media. Old media is = IRIB and IRNA NEWS which are the mouthpiece of the government. Gurbel would have been happy reading them, not Iranians or world citizens

New media is however relying on IRIB, few websites, few on site brave folks, and a host of clutter to cut a true story. It may make mistakes from time to time, and may be biased, but its the last weapon against the propaganda machine of IRIB. CNN and BBC have decided that they want no part of this struggle. They have washed their hand and are focused to see who wins and come to the victor for fruits of their silence. The voice of Iranian people has been blocked. New media like EA, are all that is left. When EA goes, so does the hope of 42 million who have had only one question for the last 6 weeks. Where is my vote.

And so reader, there is the conundrum, as the last standing source of news about Iran, EA and its like has to be supported. Without them we are dead in Iran. Today they have killed 150 and prisoned 4000 while the world was watching. Tomorrow when the world is busy w other news we will have 4000 dead and 150000 in prison. What is a lower price to pay? Some mistake in reporting by new media or the silencing of the nation?

July 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwhereismyvote

In French media the coverage of this story was slightly better though it did not hit the headlines of TV news.
For instance "Le Monde" news paper reports on the 19th: "In Iran Ahmadinejad criticized for his his choice of VP" (
Then on the 20th: "The Iranian VP denies resignation (
Finally on the 24th: "The Iranian VP leaves his position" (
All these articles seem to come from AFP news (agece france presse) and are in line with your analyses and sources.

July 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTrisphat

I've been closely following Iran for the past 6 weeks online via various sources. The level of information garnered simply blows away the spun crap coming out of the 'old media'. I used to pay attention to the TV news reports on Iran but I have found them to be both incomplete and, at times, alien to the what appears to be the reality.

Many kudos to the thousands of people who are working to keep a light shining on Iran and the evolving (thats what the 'old media' don't get IMO, it's evolving and exactly where it is going is unknown and the Iranians seem to be a very patient people so however this is resolved may take some time) situation there.

May Iran know peace.

July 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAny Mouse

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