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Op-Ed: How Climate Change Coverage is an Ideological Affair in Iran

Iranian political theorist and activist Reza Parchizadeh explains how climate change coverage in Iran is not environmental issue but rather an ideological and political issue.
Ali Khamenei Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

After Habib Kashani, a member of Tehran’s municipal council, said on Tuesday that pollution in Tehran had led to the death of 412 citizens in the past 23 days, city authorities announced that all schools would be closed on Wednesday. Now, when speaking about climate change coverage, it is almost always taken for granted that this is a categorically environmental issue.

However, as quite a few researchers such as Howard-Williams have proposed, “The broader political, economic and cultural context in which the media operate has a significant influence on their content.” Or, to put it in the words of Hulme, “Climates can change physically, but climates can also change ideologically.”

With regard to the above propositions, in this article, I am going to demonstrate through hard evidence that the approach to climate change coverage in present-day Iran is not necessarily environmental, but every bit an ideological/political affair.

In 1995, Tehran’s air pollution was declared a national crisis by the authorities of the Islamic Republic for the first time. Since then, Tehran has undergone a general shutdown of its offices and schools that has been brought about by intense air pollution almost every other year.

Air pollution has had dire consequences for the people of Tehran. Asthma, cardiac arrest, despondence, bad temper and leukemia are only a small number of biohazards that threaten every individual dwelling in the Great City of Tehran and its suburbs. To this must be added pregnancy complications and birth problems respectively for mothers and children.

A few years ago, an affiliate of Tehran’s Mayor’s Office quoted in his personal weblog the secret declaration to the members of the parliament by the then representative of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kazem Naddafi, concerning the average annual death toll of air pollution in the city of Tehran. The leaked data, which in no time spread throughout the Iranian cyberspace, put the figures as such: 2,658 deaths caused by floating particles, 15 by carbon monoxide, 72 by ozone, and 896 by sulfur dioxide (a total sum of 3,641).

As such, it can be said that air pollution, like a citywide gas chamber, is gradually exterminating the population of Tehran. However, no practical policy has been implemented so far by the incumbent governments to substantially stem this large-scale disaster. No official statistics on the death toll caused by air pollution in Tehran have been published up to this moment either.

With reference to the severe hazards of air pollution which have caused a lot of trouble in Tehran, no authentic and impartial coverage of the news items regarding this phenomenon is yet available to the public. Not that there is zero coverage, but the coverage of Tehran’s air pollution and the presentation of facts concerning its main causes to the people have been, if not false, misleading so far.

The coverage is partial because a genuine and complete coverage of air pollution in Tehran will point the finger of accusation to the whole ruling system and the successive governments as executive bodies whose blatant neglect on the one hand and grossly deliberate mismanagement of affairs on the other have jointly led to such a catastrophe.

To illustrate my point, I will present a delicately sinuous example in the following. It is constantly maintained by the Islamic Republic’s official media that the most important factor which contributes to Tehran’s air pollution is the excessive use of private means of transportation, i.e. cars, by the citizens. In other words, the blame is directly and exclusively placed on the head of the ordinary citizen.

All the same, it is never mentioned that the phenomenon of having too many air-polluting cars in Tehran is markedly the result of the mismanagement, or perhaps inability, of the officials to impose strict regulations on the number and quality of the cars produced and used in Tehran.

For truth is, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) plus a few other tycoons closely associated with the Islamic Republic are in effect, whether directly or indirectly, the major shareholders or the main receiving parties to the income of the Iranian car factories that are mostly located around and feed Tehran.

For instance, during the last years of the Ahmadinejad presidency, in a gesture of handing Iran’s large industries to the private sector to boost domestic industry, many shares of Iran-Khodro, the oldest, largest and most productive car factory in Iran, by the direct decree of the Supreme Leader were “sold” to the Parsian Bank, a nominally private bank with the strength of $190 billion in financial investments back then. Of these investments, one of the major shareholders was the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.

Given the fact, it is only natural for Iran-Khodro to produce and sell more cars to bring in capital to its new owner, the financial sector of the IRGC, which incidentally, because of heavy international sanctions against the Islamic Republic and especially the Iranian oil, is in dire need of riches to finance the upkeep of the virtually round-the-clock military regime for the containment and occasional suppression of the disenchanted and malcontented Iranian public as well as for intervening in the affairs of the other countries in the Middle East.

Now the mass media, which is almost only composed of the state-owned radio and television (IRIB), also controlled by the IRGC under the constitutional auspices of the Supreme Leader, would calculatingly opt for a “selective method” of presenting the news items regarding Tehran’s air pollution and its causes. To put it clearly, it is the “focus of concern” which has all these years been deliberately misplaced by these mass media about the real causes of air pollution in Tehran.

In addition, the gas trade embargo put on Iran by the international community has forced the Islamic Republic to resort to the domestic mass production of low-quality gas with a minimum “octane number” whose combustion releases chemical fumes that prove to be extremely insalubrious for whoever inhales them. No wonder the number of the citizens of Tehran visiting healthcare centers and complaining about air pollution complications has dramatically increased since 2010.

Ironically, the Islamic Republic authorities seized the opportunity to declare climate change a threat and nuclear power a solution. On December 11, 2010, Majid Naseri, the then Member of Parliament’s Commission for Energy, stated that “the problem of air pollution will be solved by the connection of the nuclear power plant in Bushehr to the countrywide electricity network”. The state media, again, lost no time to promote that piece of propaganda which was in effect a tactical ruse to advance the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program, and not out of genuine concern for the well-being of Iranian citizens.

Now, with the appetite of the Iranian regime for military and political intervention in the region doubled, and with its refusal to comply with the terms of the so-called Nuclear Deal, international and unilateral American sanctions are going to be back with much greater force. As such, it is indeed the regime of the mullahs that is killing Iranian citizens on a daily basis in order to advance its ideological goals. But one is not likely to be told that by the mainstream media in Iran.



JOL Blogger | Reza Parchizadeh

Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and analyst. He has a BA and an MA in English Language and Literature from University of Tehran, Iran; has studied Media and Communication Studies at Örebro University, Sweden; and is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Reza has published five books and many articles so far both in Persian and English. Some of his articles have been translated into Arabic. His research interests include theory, philosophy, history, geopolitics, security, and cultural studies. Reza is co-editor-in-chief of the Persian-language think tank Tahlil Rooz.


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