Iran vs Honduras – A subtle difference

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The furore over Mahmoud Ahmajinedad’s apparent success in last months Iranian presidential elections tells us a few important things about how the dominant media feels democratic deficiencies, alleged or otherwise, should be reported.

According to the Irish Times Iran’s “suffocating theocracy”1 sustained a crisis of legitimacy “after it lost the trust of millions of Iranians”2 following the “stolen elections”3 of 12th June.

Readers were warned that the continued protests against the result posed serious risks for “opposition sympathisers, faced with the prospect of more broken heads, and worse.”4 The regime had “reverted to barbarism”5 – opting to corroborate the voting slip with the “baton and teargass.” Yet, despite this threat of violence, “tens of thousands again returned to the streets in defiance of an interior ministry ban,”6 in a display of “resistance”7 that has “rocked the country.”8

Opinion pieces recounted personal stories of the plight of dissenters within the “democratic rebellion”9: one “highly regarded social scientist” stood “baselessly accused of working with a US research organisation to foment a “velvet revolution” to overthrow the Iranian government,”10 while another was gunned down “collapsing like a young faun shot by poachers”11 as she watched street protests.

Clearly the possibility of election fraud is considered a very serious matter, offering, according to the Irish Times, a “case study in the argument between interventionists and those who say political change must be allowed to develop autonomously within authoritarian regimes.”12 Important enough then to potentially justify compromising a country’s sovereignty.

Yet, at the very same time the media magnifying glass was coinciding with US gun sights by focusing on Iran, a much clearer case of repression was occurring in Latin America. This time though, readers were spared personal accounts of violence and imprisonment, they were not compelled by footage of youthful street protests and more importantly, they were offered no clear cut narrative of good vs evil, democratic vs autocratic. In this instance, anti-democratic violence is somehow mitigated by spurious justification.

Last month “amid the rattle of gunfire”13 a military coup overthrew the democratically-elected government of Honduras. The President, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped and exiled to Costa Rica. He currently resides across the border from Honduras in Nicaragua, where he is attempting to negotiate the terms of his return.

The military response to ongoing protests that followed the coup has resulted in a number of confirmed deaths, with scores injured, 45 in just one single day.14 The OAS, the EU, the UN and numerous world leaders have publicly condemned the coup and sought to put pressure on the coup leaders to relinquish their grip on power and allow the elected president to return.

All this has been reported by the Irish media, in so far as copying and pasting wire stories constitutes reporting. Surprisingly though, the passion and arguably unfounded certainty of the reporting on Iran is no where in evidence this time round.

The Irish Times’ first article on the coup led with the following overview: “The Honduran Supreme Court said it had ordered the army to oust Mr Zelaya today because of his unlawful plan to hold a public vote on presidential re-election.”15 Another Irish Times article reported that Zelaya was thrown out of the country after he “upset the army by trying to win re-election.”16 The Irish Independent too, described “a left-winger overthrown by a military-led coup for trying to extend his time in office.”17

From the outset then, the narrative is skewed in favour of the coup leaders: the “Supreme Court” ordered the removal of Mr Zelaya when “fears were confirmed”18 that the president intended to hold a public vote on term limits. In fact, the vote was “designed to assess the public mood for a constitutional referendum that would allow Honduran presidents to serve more than one term.”19 A constitutional change that Zelaya could not have availed of since even “if the November referendum had been held and passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January…The most that could be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.”20

Mass protests and mass strikes followed the coup, causing the military to respond with a violently imposed curfew, under the cover of widespread censorship. Yet far from highlighting the oppressiveness of this prison state control the media reported that the coup leaders had put the country “under lockdown” as they “attempted to return the country to a state of order.”21 RTE uncritically voiced the concerns of the coup leaders, now referred to as the “interim government,” who initiated the curfew simply to counter “‘open threats by groups who seek to provoke disturbances and disorder…and to protect the people and their goods.'”22

Read the rest of this article on Media Bite.