by Our Own Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 10, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1430)
When Iran’s Press TV first joined the global media networks some two years ago, it generated much excitement among committed Muslims as well as those seeking honest reporting of global events. This sense of expectation was further heightened by the station’s mission statement on its website that states, “To heed the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world.” While Press TV has given coverage to some events neglected by the mainstream Western media, its use of terminology borrowed from the West runs contrary to its own stated objectives.
Every new venture has to go through teething pains; Press TV is no exception. America’s CNN gained its fame — or notoriety, depending on one’s outlook — during the US attack on Iraq in January 1991. Al-Jazeera came of age with its coverage of US attack on Afghanistan in October 2001. Press TV has yet to find its moment but even that is not so critical as its use of terminology borrowed from the same corporate media that it is trying to replace.
When covering stories relating to Islamic jurists, Press TV uses totally alien and inappropriate terms such as cleric or clergy. Islam does not have a system of clergy; it has a system of jurisprudence and scholarship. Press TV’s failure to address this subject by not using proper terminology misrepresents and, therefore, distorts a crucial dimension of Islam. If Muslims begin to use their own terms and terminologies likeUmmah, alim/ulama, ijtihad, mujtahid and so on, it would be a great service to educate the rest of the world. Why should Muslims borrow terms from the West to describe their own situation and institutions?
Today people all over the world are forced to use terms such as republic, congress, democracy and so on. These terms are often invented with the intention to frame the discourse in accordance with a specific vision of the world. Press TV should not shy away from introducing its own unique terminology.
Another example among many other terminological failures of Press TV is its use of “Houthi fighters”, a term used in reporting the ongoing resistance of the Yemeni people against the Saudi-American aggression. Using the term “Houthi fighters” brands the citizens of Yemen defending their rights as some sort of a cult group which is principled on the personality of Yahia Badreddin al-Houthi. However, when reporting on the terrorists of the Rajavi cult, Press TV addresses them as Mujahedin-e Khalq, which is an insult to millions of Muslims who gave their lives for justice.
During the June Presidential elections in Iran, Press TV kept on mimicking the Western misrepresentation of reality by constantly referring to them as “disputed presidential elections.” Press TV also failed to expose many inconsistencies in Western media reports and their extreme exaggerations of post-election events in Iran.
The most bizarre slip occurred on December 4, 2009. When reporting on the five detained British citizens who violated Iran’s sovereignty by entering its territorial waters, Press TV reported, “Britons said the captors were friendly.” The word captor creates an impression as if the British intruders were innocent and action by the Iranian armed forces to apprehend them was somehow illegal. This delegitimizes a legitimate act by Islamic forces: safeguarding the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic, especially in a region where many predatory powers are prowling and pose a direct threat to the Islamic State. The American CIA captures and kidnaps innocent people; Islamic law enforcement agencies make arrests. Press TV editors should know this.
There are numerous other examples of Press TV’s slips and copycat actions of Western imposed perceptions. The network’s management and editorial board need to pay close attention to this aspect and take immediate corrective steps to eliminate the use of Western terminology in their newscasts and web stories. More than any other news organization, Press TV is financed through the funds of Bait al-Mal. This is a sacred trust and those who are its beneficiaries must be extra vigilant in not becoming unwitting tools of Western propaganda. It is bad enough when Muslims are targeted by the West’s vicious propaganda; it is infinitely worse when Muslim outlets like Press TV become vehicles for such propaganda.
Perhaps, Press TV’s management should institute rigorous training for its journalists to understand how the media game is played. If there is not adequate expertise in their own newsrooms, there are many qualified and committed Muslims who can assist them in this task.
In the contemporary world, media is a powerful tool, even if its power is “soft” rather than hard. Media plays a vital role not only in informing but also in shaping the perception of people worldwide. And perception influences people’s response to particular situations. If people perceive and define things in a certain way, no hard or military power can overcome them.
Perception is shaped through the careful use of certain terms and expressions. It would be obvious to every thinking person that the western media, no matter what country it is based in, uses the same terminology to describe various events and groups. For instance, the media uses terminology to delegitimize opponents of Western colonization while it justifies the colonial policies of their own governments. This can be seen in how Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Lebanese and so on are labeled as gunmen, fighters, radicals, militia or terrorists. Thus, all those who resist foreign occupation or domestic oppression that is backed and supported by Western colonial powers are delegitimized by using the terminology of delegitimization that shapes people’s perception of them. Therefore, today’s media is involved in a war of terminologies. Press TV cannot afford to be complacent about this.