Saturday, 18 July 2015
24 June 2021

“Climate Change Coverage: A Political Affair in Iran”

2011 July 06

Reza Parchizadeh

When speaking about climate change coverage, it is almost always taken for granted that this activity is a categorically environmental issue. However, as quite a few researchers such as Howard-Williams have recently 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 this fact, in this article, I will argue through an investigative method and demonstrate through hard evidence that the approach to climate change coverage in present-day Iran is not only un-endemic to the sphere of concern for the environment, but also proves every bit a 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. For example, BBC reports that on July 6, 2009, the Emergency Committee for Tehran’s Air Pollution declared that all the governmental offices plus all the governmental and non-governmental educational centers of Tehran Province must take the following day off because of intense air pollution. The chairman of the said Committee, Yusef Rashidi, stated that the amount of air pollution in Tehran was by then nine times the amount of the standard pollution factor, and that it was escalating each minute.

In addition to such civic and public problems as mentioned above, air pollution has caused even more side effects and dire consequences for the citizens of Tehran. Asthma, cardiac arrest, despondence, bad temper and leukemia are only a small number of hazards that threaten every individual dwelling in the Great City of Tehran and its premises. To this also must be added pregnancy complications and birth problems respectively for mothers and children.

Last November, Tehran experienced one of the worst spells of air pollution in its history. According to the collective information received from the posts of assessing air pollution in Tehran, the amount of pollution reached an intensely critical point during the last fall. In the meantime, a dreadful piece of news leaked out that immensely shocked the Iranian society.

According to Aftab News Agency, an affiliate of Tehran’s Mayor’s Office and an expert on air pollution, in his personal weblog quoted the secret declaration of the representative of the ministry of health, Dr. Kazem Naddafi, concerning the average annual death toll of air pollution in the city of Tehran, to the members of the parliament. 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 of air pollution in Tehran have been published up to this moment. The Mayor’s Office claims that it is the task of the Ministry of Health to publicize this information, and the Ministry, in turn, has always maintained silence over this issue. To make the matters even worse, the Ministry has almost always overruled the expert opinions of non-governmental specialists on this problem.

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 for 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. This 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 particularly 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 put 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 the very fact that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) – which now effectively forms and controls the government – 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.

Last year, in a gesture of transforming 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 Parsian Bank, a nominally private bank with the strength of $190 billion in financial investments. Of these investments, one of the major shareholders, according to Balatarin News Agency, is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.

Given the facts, 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 recently 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.

Now the mass media, which is almost only composed of the state-owned radio and television (IRIB), also controlled by the IRGC – Ezzatollah Zarghami, the incumbent head of IRIB, is an affiliate of the IRGC – under the constitutional auspices of the Supreme Leader, would calculatedly 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 been deliberately misplaced by these mass media all these years. As Bennet has stated, “Wider discourses shape power relations within journalism. Sociopolitical and economic factors have given rise to distinct norms and values”.

In addition, the gas trade embargo put on Iran by the international community during recent months has forced the Islamic Republic to resort to the domestic mass production of low-quality – and yet much-more-expensive-than-usual – gas with a minimum “octane number” whose combustion releases chemical fumes that, according to the opinion of the experts, proves to be extremely insalubrious for whoever inhales them. No wonder the number of the citizens of Tehran visiting health care centers and complaining about air pollution complications has dramatically increased since 2010.

Ironically, the Islamic Republic authorities have seized the opportunity to declare climate change a threat and nuclear power a solution. On December 11, 2010, Majid Naseri, 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, have lost no time to promote this idea that in effect purports to be more of a policy for the advancement of the Islamic Republic’s demands for nuclear energy that in all probability is intended for non-civic purposes in the end.

In the meantime, the most recent news shows that air pollution has finally flown beyond Tehran to reach out to and overshadow other large Iranian cities of Esfahan to the south and Tabriz to the north-west. It is only likely that Iran’s air pollution will soon start to cause trouble for the neighboring countries and the whole region as well. Here it seems that we are faced with a case of “Giddens’s Paradox” with respect to Iran: “The politics of climate change has to cope with what I [Giddens] call ‘Giddens’s paradox’. It states that, since the dangers posed by global warming aren’t tangible, immediate or visible in the course of day-to-day life, however awesome they appear, many will sit on their hands and do nothing of a concrete nature about them. Yet waiting until they become visible and acute before being stirred to serious action will, by definition, be too late”. To put it in the words of the English poet and essayist John Donne, “It is the bell that tolls for all”.


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