First Published: 2009-11-20

 
A Death In Tehran, Or Unbounded Mythmaking?
 

To put to the blame for Neda's death squarely on the shoulder of the government, when it may well have been the work of one of Iran's multiple armed dissident groups or even agents of foreign government intent on exploiting Neda's death for their own objectives, is an act of media prejudice and certainly below the bar of integrity, says Kaveh Afrasiabi.

 

Middle East Online

This week, mythmaking about Neda Agha Soltan, the 26 year old Iranian woman who was shot to death during the post-election clashes in Tehran, went into a higher gear by PBS Frontline's airing of a British documentary, A Death In Tehran.

Hailed as a martyr and "face" of Iran's pro-democracy movement, Neda's iconic status has been recently institutionalized by a chair in philosophy at none other than Oxford University honored after her name, and her symbolism as a generational source of inspiration for the millions of young Iranians yearning for greater freedom in their clergy-controlled regime certainly came out in the multiple interviews with various young Iranians shown in the documentary.

But, a major flaw of the film was its uncritical adoption of the version of facts surrounding Neda's death presented by Arash Hejazi, widely known as "the doctor who tried to save Neda." The physician-turned-novelist lives in exile in England now and has adamantly claimed that he saw a Basiji (irregular government security force) being beaten up by a crowd on the scene of Neda's death, who was let go after confessing to his heinous crime.

In the press release for A Death In America, the Frontline claims that it has accessed a "new video" showing Neda's murderer, and the film provides a fleeting image of a man attacked by a crowd, but this was likely from another location and another day, in light of several such scenes that transpired in Tehran those days.

What is more disturbing about the film is, however, the minutest lack of critical scrutiny of Dr. Hejazi, whose witness testimony about Neda's instant death in his arms has been contradicted by Neda's music teacher and others who rushed to a hospital, still alive, per the information from a Los Angeles Times reporter, Borzou Daragahi, relayed to this author a few days after Neda's death.

The question then is: why didn't Hejazi heed the call of his medical ethics and continue to tend to Neda as she was put in a car and rushed to the hospital? This is a legitimate question that the millions of viewers watching A Death In Tehran both in US and Europe and elsewhere around the world were entitled to hear -- just as this author, who was interviewed not once but twice by the producer, Monica Garnsey, for this program, articulated in his comments. Unfortunately, the producers opted to censor my interview for the sake of maintaining Hejazi's reputation unblemished.

Yet, for a program subtitled "an investigation" into the life and death of Neda, the omission of such questions from Dr. Hejazi and the suppression of alternative view points simply means that A Death in Tehran was not interested in truth but rather Iran-bashing.

For sure Iran's current rulers have much to be criticised for, and there is certainly no excuse for not putting on trial some rogue officials who are implicated in prison abuses and the like. But to put to the blame for Neda's death squarely on the shoulder of the government, when it may well have been the work of one of Iran's multiple armed dissident groups or even agents of foreign government intent on exploiting Neda's death for their own objectives, is an act of media prejudice and certainly below the bar of integrity that Frontline is known for. "If a British doctor had shown such a dereliction of his medical duty, running to upload Neda's death and promote his heorism, instead of doing his best to keep her alive en route to the hospital, I am sure the London tabloids would be out for his blood, so why is this coward taken for a hero when the evidence suggests he has lied and did not do what he can to save Neda?" I had posed in my suppressed interview. Also, I had drawn attention that Mr. Hejazi's Brazilian friend, the author Paolo Ceolho, had in his June tweeter messages falsely claimed that Hejazi had treated many wounded in the Iran-Iraq war -- that could not be since Hejazi now 38 was only 17 when that war ended in 1988.

Sadly, Frontline has further damaged its prestige by turning as one of its offshoots a largely dissident website, Tehranbureau, that is run by a recent college graduate. At a time when the nuclear negotiations between Tehran and Washington are on-going and there are still chances of a breakthrough in the US-Iran stalemated relations, it does not bode well for the US's public networks to turn themselves into appendages of Iranian dissident groups, particularly since some of them, such as Tehranbureau, are filled with unsubstantiated claims of a "stolen elections" in the recent presidential elections in Iran, despite the lack of any credible evidence to corroborate it.

A clue to the bad-faith intention of this film's producers, they initially informed this author that their goal was to produce a documentary on post-election political developments, not a Neda story. Therefore, it came as a shocking surprise to hear from one of them, Iason Athanasiadis, over the weekend that he had quit his role after seeing the program and being "shocked and completely disappointed" that despite their agreement, the executive producers had shifted the focus to Neda. That telephone conversation took place a couple of days prior to the film's airing on PBS and BBC on Tuesday night, and Iason alerted me that in his opinion it was 60 percent propaganda. But, after watching this sham documentary that is permeated from the beginning to the end with the venomous air of demonization of Iran's regime, idolization of Hejazi and other dissidents, etc., I have concluded that Iason was too generous and that A Death In Tehran is at minimum 80 percent propaganda-sold-as-investigative reporting, simply wishing to pollute the audiences world-wide, especially in Iran, against Tehran's rulers, in tandem with what appears to be a singular determination by the British government to cause a regime change in Iran, thus delivering the American audience to the British interests.

 

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