Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Bogus Narratives Perpetuate:
The Guardian's Bad Facts on Iran Return

Back in April, The Guardian newspaper published an article in its Business section on the supposed sanctions-evading trade relationship between Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the massive British commodities broker Glencore. The article, written by Rupert Neale, was riddled with erroneous statements and speculative presumptions posing as facts.

Most egregious of these was the article's original headline, which read: "Glencore traded with Iranian supplier to nuclear weapons programme."

As should be perfectly clear to journalists and editors alike by now, international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes have ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA.

Referring to a "weapons" program, then, is a rather disturbing and reoccurring feature of mainstream media reporting on Iran.

Subsequent to its initial publication, The Guardian corrected its erroneous headline; the reference to a "weapons" program in the headline was removed, as were other speculative and counter-factual statements in the actual body of the article. Unfortunately, there is still an uncorrected error in Neale's April article, which has yet to be corrected.

An official corrective citation was added to article: "The headline and text on this article were amended on 24 April 2013 to refer to Iran's nuclear programme, rather than its nuclear weapons programme," it reads.

Well, The Guardian has done it again.

An article entitled, "Supreme court quashes Iran bank sanctions and criticises secret hearings," published in the paper's Law section on June 19, 2013, reports on a British court ruling against the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran's largest private bank, Bank Mellat. "In two related judgments, the supreme court ordered the Treasury to remove sanctions" on the bank, writes Owen Bowcott, as their implementation had been granted using secret evidence. Further, the presiding judge, Lord Suption, found that Bank Mellat had been unfairly singled out and that the Treasury's decision had been both "irrational" and "disproportionate."

Both the report's third and eleventh paragraphs of the article contain the familiar - and incorrect - phrase "Iran's nuclear weapons programme."

Not only is the recurrence of such a phrase alarming due to its factual inaccuracy, but its repeated presence is all the more bizarre considering The Guardian has already acknowledged that such a phrase is inappropriate in news reporting. Apparently, the Law editors didn't get the memo from the Business department.

It is time for the paper's Readers' Editor, Chris Elliott, to step in and establish some clear editorial guidelines for The Guardian on this issue, just as his counterparts at The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Washington Post have done previously.

In December 2011, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton challenged his own paper's irresponsible reporting, writing that the IAEA "does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one," and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue "can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran."

The next month, in January 2012, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane responded to reader complaints that the paper's reporting on Iran's nuclear program was misleading and that the use of shorthand phrases legitimized and perpetuated false narratives. Brisbane agreed.

"I think the readers are correct on this...In this case, the distinction between the two [a nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program] is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli," he wrote.

Just days later, National Public Radio ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos concurred with Brisbane's assessment. "Shorthand references are often dangerous in journalism, and listeners are correct to be on the alert for them," he stated. "Repeated enough as fact - 'Iran's nuclear weapons program' - they take on a life of their own." He added that, at the behest of NPR's Senior Editor for National Security Bruce Auster, "NPR's policy is to refer in shorthand to Iran's 'nuclear program' and not 'nuclear weapons program'" and concluded, "This is a correct formula."

Hopefully, The Guardian will follow suit. Treating presumptuous speculations as truth is dangerous and serves only to entrench dangerous and faulty narratives in the public consciousness. The Guardian has not been diligent about respecting the truth, as evidenced by these articles, along with the dazzlingly propagandistic proclivities of some of its opinion writers.

In 1921, The Guardian's legendary editor C.P. Scott wrote, "Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

The Guardian needs to be doing a better job honoring Scott's memory.



June 20, 2013 - Well, that was fast.

After contacting The Guardian's Readers' Editor, Chris Elliott by both email and Twitter, a response was immediately forthcoming:

And so they did.

The article has been amended and corrected:

And an official correction has been appended at the end of the report:

Kudos to The Guardian's Readers' Editors Chris Elliott and Rory Foster for the quick turnaround.


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