Media outlets speaking on behalf of Iran or defending its policies emerged in a short period of time. Most Arab media outlets marketed and defended Tehran’s stances until the Arab Spring that erupted in 2011. That is when they realized that Iran is just another country with regional ambitions that hides behind slogans of Islam, justice and hostility against the West, and that it has exploited the Arab media to dominate its Arab rivals.
Most Arabs have been shocked by Tehran’s hideous actions in Syria. Admiration toward Iran, which spoke out in defense of Islam and Palestinian rights, turned into hatred and animosity. In response, Tehran established media outlets in different languages to compete with Arab counterparts.
Nowadays, it is rare to hear Arab media outlets repeat Tehran’s statements against Israel, as they have finally realized that it is misleading propaganda. The Arab media is now concerned about protecting Arab audiences from falling into the trap of Iranian political exploitation that dominated for 30 years.
Most of them have woken up, and now distinguish between truth and exploitation. This is what led Iran to open its own media institutions to alter Arab public opinion.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
It is also rare to hear statements from Tehran’s allies in Syria and Lebanon, although officials there always make statements against Zionist officials and hold them accountable for whatever suits their interests.
Iran’s excuses and threats
When U.S. warships intercepted an Iranian ship in the Red Sea - which was probably loaded with arms for Tehran’s Houthi allies in Yemen - Arab media outlets did not echo Iran’s excuses and threats. In the past, such an incident would have guaranteed an automatic response in support of Iran from dozens of Arab media outlets.
Most of them have woken up, and now distinguish between truth and exploitation. This is what led Iran to open its own media institutions to alter Arab public opinion. We must not underestimate Iran’s attempts in this regard.
Some Arab media figures echo Tehran’s stances of conflating the Syrian opposition with terrorist groups, suggesting the Syrian regime is key to the country’s unity, and doubting the aims of its rivals. Iran tries to do the same in Yemen by presenting isolated former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Houthi allies as a popular and legitimate option.
Since Iran knows that its media is now rejected by most Arabs, it is trying hard to reach Arab audiences in new and different ways, and to present differently-phrased proposals - most of which are offensive - to win propaganda battles and silence opposing views.
It is also trying to grant popularity and credibility to its media outlets in the hope that they will dominate the intellectual and media arena. Iranian media is in crisis, as hostility toward it is affecting its status. However, while Iran’s battle to win Arab support and sympathy is difficult, it is not impossible.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 18, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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