Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reuters seeking the Walter Duranty award for journalism

Here are a few excerpts from a Reuters story on "pro-government" rallies in Iran:
* Tens of thousands of pro-government supporters rally
Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Tuesday to call for the punishment of opposition leaders for fomenting unrest after June's disputed presidential poll, state media reported
Tens of thousands of people chanted "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei)", state television reported, saying the nationwide demonstrations had taken place spontaneously
Followed by this tidbit:
The scale of the pro-government demonstrations could not be independently verified because of restrictions on the foreign media's movements
So let's be clear: Iran's state media, i.e., the propaganda arm of a ruthless totalitarian regime under threat from a popular revolt, claims that "tens of thousands" of people are rallying spontaneously in support of the government and Reuters -- which cannot verify the claim because its correspondents are banned from reporting on events within the country -- obliges the regime by broadcasting its propaganda far and wide.

From the same story:
The powerful Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday issued a statement accusing the foreign media and enemies of the revolution of joining hands to harm Iran's establishment.
Our guess is that the Revolutionary Guards offered Reuters a get-out-of-jail-free card.


  1. I think you should cut Reuters some slack on this one. They repeatedly use phrases like "state media reported..." and "state television reported...", as well as two warnings that facts "could not be independently verified" because of restrictions placed upon the media. These are huge warnings that the reports are to be taken with a grain of salt. Compare and contrast with the rest of the article, which reports on actions taken against opposition figures and the media, as well as the Western government reactions to the Iranian crackdown.

    I'd be a good deal happier with Reuters' coverage generally if it used similar disclaimers when reporting from other areas without a free press.

  2. J in A, thanks for your comment. From its Handbook of Journalism, here’s Reuters mandate for its writers:

    Do not use “reports” or “unconfirmed reports” as the basis for a story. You can quote an acceptable source commenting on them, e.g. “the minister said he could not confirm reports that 100 people had died” as long as the report is clearly newsworthy. Avoid using the word “reported” as a source in a headline. If forced to do so for space considerations, specify the source in the lead paragraph. Avoid writing...”it was not known...” In many cases what is meant by this phrase is that the reporter does not know.

    The entire basis for the story is an unconfirmed report, i.e., the Iranian regime is not simply commenting on information Reuters has culled from other sources; the report is wholly fabricated by the government and parroted by Reuters. We can pick up the same propaganda from the government website. Hafezi and Derakhshi acknowledge that the report could not be independently verified but as per its Handbook, this simply reflects the fact that Reuters has no idea whether the report is accurate.