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True lies
The powerful impact of the media in stereotyping Iranians

By Bita
June 11, 2004

There is no greater power in the world today, than the power of the media to manipulate public opinion in favor of a political action or statement. The media manipulators are no one but the leaders of our societies who control the mass media. They shape and mold the minds of every citizen, young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated. The political figures use the media such as, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures to convey their views of the world and they then tell us how and what to think about those views.

Essentially everything we know, or think we know about events outside our own neighborhood or circle of acquaintances comes to us via our daily newspaper, our weekly news magazine, our radio, or our television. It is not just the heavy-handed suppression of certain news stories from our newspapers or the blatant propagandizing of history-distorting TV documentaries that characterizes the opinion-manipulating techniques of the media masters.

They exploit the way in which the news is covered. They chose the items that should be emphasized and the ones that should be played down. Media controllers direct reporter's choice of words, tone of voice, facial expressions, the wording of headlines and the choice of illustrations which all of these things subliminally and yet profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear.

The control of the opinion-molding media is nearly monolithic. Their techniques have been used all through history to form political statements in order to win public opinion during war and elections achieved by censoring 'unnecessary' details and propagandizing information, causing clichÈ and stereotyped views about a nation, in this case Iran.

All of the controlled media speak with a single voice, each reinforcing the other. Despite the appearance of variety, there is no real dissent, no alternative source of facts or ideas accessible to the great mass of people that might allow them to form opinions at odds with their governments. Most people will then have the same equal knowledge of the Iranian revolution, the Persian Gulf War and the American hostage crisis.

With all the presented evidence, Iran is therefore the 'Axis of Evil' despite the fact that only 20 years ago it was the most important influence for the American government in the region. Media creates and prepares the war context, so what would happen if they held a war that nobody watched? Television is a strong medium in sending messages across. It is simply a medium that its images can't be ignored, people believe what they see, and therefore censorship played a major factor in submitting to the will of the American politics.

Researchers found that heavy TV watchers were more likely to support the war. Due to the fact that the more TV people watched, the less they knew. On the surface, it was about the ' Persian Gulf War' however behind the closed curtains it was about the stifling of alternative views resulting from limited or unbalanced media coverage by war critics for governmental use to win public trust about dehumanizing and demonizing of a stereotyped enemy, Iran.

Negative images fabricating a distorted view of an enemy makes belligerence possible. For decades, the development of propaganda has turned the job of creating enemies over to the media. But this process isn't limited to war. To many, the Persian Gulf War was a tragedy, to others a successful crusade. It all depended on the way the media portrayed it. The media killed the Iranian image with their weapons of mass distraction, before the war killed, with weapons of mass destruction.

This is what the media displayed, Whatever the conflict, the enemy is always the one who disagrees the US, we are on God's side, and Iranians are just barbaric Arabs, we are good, they are evil. It is evident that the press coverage at the time was war-sided and biased, since it was in full control of the Government.

In an interview Mr. Reagan agreed 'If you were going to hire a public relations firm to do the media relations for an international event, it couldn't be done any better than this is being done'. Of course, because journalists had to sign papers agreeing to abide by press regulations before they received a visa for fleeing to the Persian Gulf. All photographs, video and battlefield dispatches had to be cleared by military censors.

Reporters were constantly watched, and were removed from sensitive areas. Feisty reports were frequently excluded. According to a project of Human Rights Watch "the administration appears to have favored those journalists whose coverage is likely to be favorable to the war effort". Isn't this enough evidence that the media was simply interested in making a war story similar to the movie 'True Lies' simply stereotyping middle-easterners as savagely and violent?

Regarding all this censorship, control and political influence it is probably why the Americans never saw the bombings on the Iranian passenger plane flying over the Persian Gulf taking passenger to the Iranian holiday destination, Kish. Censored news accounts hyped the success of U.S. weaponry, of course this is not surprising, the Pentagon released footage that showed only hits, not misses, and U.S. journalists who were reduced to spectators along with the TV audience filed their TV talk shows accordingly.

While Iranian scud missiles were "terrorist weapons", according to New York Times, American bombers undertook "surgical strikes" that resulted merely in 'collateral damage'. TV experts praised President Reagan's costly arms build. They reassured American citizens that "It's gratifying to know all this money was well spent", well spent on destroying Tehran primary schools, killing innocent children, and providing Saddam with more chemical bombs to poison indigent Kurds and other villagers who had little to do with American interests.

The American Government had created a hard shell around itself so that the only way the people could communicate with the world outside would be via the American news media. In this way the people would be protected from any true details about the war that would create disbelief in the American technology and intelligence.

Long before Americans tuned in for hour-to-hour updates on who their next president might be, they watched day to day updates about American held hostages in Tehran on a program named 'America held hostage'. Their exaggeration simply increased the already inflated self-image of the hostage-takers, which were simply Iranian student revolutionaries. It was an incredible story for the mass media that soon was turned into an American obsession, because it had a flashy name and America was of course the victim. TV took advantage of the situation and made a daily nighttime 'insuperable human drama' that 'endowed with a beginning, a middle, and an end'.

The end was in favor of the media as well as the government, portraying an incident as a crisis, then feeding it to the public, then again the media selected its heroes and demons, and ended the story in favor of every one except the Iranian people. As much as the hostage affair affected the media, the media in turn had a major impact on the incident itself or at least the public perception of it. According to the news coverage the 'Iranians are bad guys, the Iranians are weird, wild-eyed radicals and the American Government have no idea what they are up to'.

The fact is, the American government knew enough about the Iranian government interests to be able to put an end to the incident much earlier than 444 days. Furthermore the government couldn't care any less, but their own interests to score points for the coming elections. Therefore defacing the Iranians was their only way out to distract the American citizens. By setting the camera focus in a different direction the media automatically bought time for Carter to come up with strategic plans to negotiate with the hostage takers behind the eyes of the media to win back public trust and votes for the upcoming elections.

The powerful impact of the media's reporting directly reflected the underlying story and worked indirectly on the public's consciousness. Gerald Rafshoon, a media adviser to PM Carter, stated that, "To the public, Iran became a metaphor for everything. The press hardly made any efforts to go beyond stimulating people's sense of anger towards Iranians. The fight was simply one sided and Carter's win of the elections was simply an act of the media empowering the political figures.

What the pictures focused on was the militants, the militants came to understand the power of television and they played for the cameras. It ended costing the Iranians their dignity because the image media reflected of Iranians at the time was too stereotyped which the effects are still present in today's reactions towards the Iranian nation. In conclusions here is an arbitrary but necessary choice. You can either sell yourself to the media frenzy and let them guide you, or you could challenge the 'exposed' and really decide.

The media are extremely powerful in setting, forming and changing people's ideas and opinions, and most often they use it in terms of propaganda. Television may seem to portray the everyday world. In fact it does not. The news and current affairs are as true as advertisements, dramas and other entertainment programs. It has political implications. Politics has to do with the broad structures of power, and not just the narrow world of voting and elections.

The media affects in terms of the cumulative effect of news coverage upon the gatekeeper's understanding of which issues are important. The agenda setting thesis may not be successful in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. This would then allow little gap for individual thinking, leading towards issues such as stereotyping, generalizing and miss leading information. Thus the media is not always a true representation of what is really happening in the world but just a foggy image that is captured on a camera lens or on paper.

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