by Ted Lipien 

FreeMediaOnline.org Dublin, CA, November 3, 2006 — A search of Internet sites shows that most international broadcasters paid little or no attention to Wednesday’s awards ceremony in Teheran for the winners of the international Holocaust cartoons contest. Iranian media also devoted relatively little reporting to this story. Iranian papers published names of the contest winners, but — according to an AP report — no Iranian paper printed pictures of the Holocaust denial cartoons.

Western international broadcasters may have been reluctant to report extensively on this story in order to avoid giving additional publicity to hateful anti-Semitic propaganda. Western journalists may also be reluctant to deal with outlandish propaganda claims originating in non-Western nations, although they are usually quite effective in exposing government propaganda and extremist views in their own countries. These journalists ignore such propaganda as too outrageous to be taken seriously or as a normal phenomenon in certain countries but also without any serious consequences.

Earlier in the 20th century, journalists also found it difficult to accurately report on and explain propaganda in totalitarian states such as Hitler’s Germany, the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Many Western journalists and politicians considered Hitler’s early anti-Semitic statements as merely idle pep talk aimed at his Nazi followers. In the 1930’s, the New York Times reporter Walter Duranty repeated many Soviet propaganda claims, including Soviet assertions that there had been no government-engineered famine in Ukraine in which millions of people starved to death. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from the Soviet Union.

English web site of the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran also did not display any reports on the awards ceremony. Some Iranian journalists may have seen the Holocaust denial cartoons contest as an embarrassment for Iran, although many Iranian newspaper editors regularly publish other anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli cartoons.

Iranian government officials have been more vocal in supporting the exhibition. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that during the closing ceremony in Teheran, Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad-Hossein Saffar Harandi said that “artists from Iran and all around the world displayed their noble feelings.” He added that “Expressing hatred towards the hated figures of Zionism and their masters, is a sign of love for the victims of Zionism.” [Link]

Neither Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty nor Radio France Internationale had posted any in-depth reports on their English-language web sites about the closing of the exhibition and the anti-Israeli comments by the Iranian Minister of Culture. Web sites of most other international broadcasters, including Aljazeera, Radio Havana Cuba, Voice of Russia, and China Radio International also did not feature any major stories on this topic. The Washington Post and other major U.S. newspapers carried an AP report from Teheran quoting comments by the Iranian Minister of Culture and pointing out that Iranian newspapers failed to publish pictures of the winning cartoons. [Link]

By contrast, the controversy following the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed received wide coverage from Western and other world media. International broadcasters also devoted more attention to the initial announcement by the Iranian President Dr. Mahmud Ahmadinejad that the Holocaust denial cartoon exhibition will be organized in Teheran as a form of protest against the Mohammed cartoons published in the West. This announcement was greeted with widespread condemnations from world leaders, but initial and subsequent media coverage was far less extensive than during the Mohammed cartoons controversy.

FreeMediaOnline.org, a California-based nonprofit organization supporting media freedom worldwide, has expressed surprise over the relative reluctance of international broadcasters to provide reports and offer critical analysis of the Holocaust cartoons story as it developed and concluded with the announcement of the winners in Teheran. FreeMediaOnline.org believes that independent journalists have a responsibility to examine hateful propaganda regardless of its source. The organization had warned earlier that ignoring propaganda of hate in Rwanda, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Sudan contributed to genocide, ethnic cleansing and other human rights violations. In a 2002 article in The Washington Quarterly, Edward E. Kaufman – a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is in charge of U.S. international broadcasting - argued that “The United States must develop a better strategy for combating hate media.” [Link]

In commenting on the announcement of the winners of the Holocaust denial cartoons, National Director of the Jewish-American Anti Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, said “The winning entries do more than push the envelope or test the limits of free speech. They offer a profoundly disturbing portrait of anti-Semitism and a rogue’s gallery of bigotry, prejudice and hatred.” The first prize went to a Moroccan cartoonist for an image showing the Israelis building a wall around the Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. Superimposed on the panels is an image of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. [Link to ADL press release ]

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