Just over 30 years ago, Iran dealt with its last large-scale street protests, which brought down the government of the U.S.-backed shah and installed the cleric-centered regime of today. The protests became a regular fixture on the TV news. The marches against the apparent vote fraud in Iran's presidential election have, of course, drawn television attention of their own. But the nation's leaders, remembering all too well the power of media during their revolution, have cracked down hard.
Just over 30 years ago, Iran dealt with its last large-scale street protests, which brought down the government of the U.S.-backed shah and installed the cleric-centered regime of today.
That group supported those who captured the American Embassy later that year, taking 52 hostages in November 1979 and holding them for 444 days. The hostages' plight became a regular fixture on the TV news, and Iranian demonstrators were all too happy to take to the airwaves and exhort the glory of the Islamic Revolution. This page took note of the camera-ready revolutionaries in a Nov. 16, 1979, editorial headlined "Iran - A Media Event":
Being in the news business ourselves, we hesitate to call for a news blackout on the goings on in Iran. but we can't help concluding that the outrage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is being prolonged, like so many other events these days, by the presence of TV cameras.
Have you noticed that the Iranians are not throwing stones at, or even messing up the hairdos of, the television people? Ayatollah Khomeini may have a 14th century intellect, but he understands 20th century public relations.
The seizure of the embassy and the hostages may not have started out to be a Media Event, but it has turned into one ...
The students who hold the embassy ... hold center stage on the world scene, and they know it. Talk-show hosts dial the phone number of the U.S. Embassy, and some hooligan or other takes over the broadcast with his propaganda, talking as long as he likes. ... Press conferences are called, and all the reporters come running.
As a result, everybody this side of the Iron and Bamboo curtains knows how the Iranians feel about the Shah and about U.S. "imperialism and spies." Newspapers such as ours now get almost daily news releases from the Iranian Embassy in Washington telling us what "Imam Khomeini said today in the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" - which is the way his messages invariably begin.
Getting this kind of worldwide attention, the ayatollah has little reason to end his blatant violation of international law. If you had a cause you believed in passionately, and NBC, CBS and ABC gave you free time every day to promote it, would you do anything soon to end it? ...
No other country has taken any forceful action that we've heard about to demonstrate their contempt for the illegal Iranian action, sanctioned by the government, of holding our citizens for ransom. Diplomatic historians say this has never happened before, anywhere in the world, but we stand alone in fighting it with anything more than verbal criticism.
We applaud President Carter for his decisions to cut off Iranian oil, to deport illegal students, and to freeze the U.S. assets of the Iranian government.
We may very well have to continue escalating our response. We can't just sit here and quake. If the Iranians succeed, or even come close to succeeding, this will not be the end of such behavior. It will spread, because people with a cause will have little to lose and much to gain.
The marches against the apparent vote fraud in Iran's presidential election have, of course, drawn television attention of their own. But the nation's leaders, remembering all too well the power of media during their revolution, have cracked down hard. Khomeini may have thought it good propaganda back in the day to have American flags burned on TV and hostages paraded before the people, but successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei obviously doesn't want that road to run two ways.
But while these tyrants may be trying to clamp down on what their people see and hear, blocking TV channels and Web sites and curtailing foreign journalists from reporting, it's not working. The continued street rallies - smaller now that the government has begun putting them down with a heavy hand - attest to that. The continued rooftop cries each night of "Death to the dictator!" and "God is great!" - watchwords and tactics of the '79 revolutionaries, now the targets, not the taunters - show the unrest.
And the masses in the street fighting for the right to be heard and have their votes properly counted have a martyr to remind them why they're protesting. Neda Agha-Soltan was gunned down on her way to a protest Saturday in a move that's drawn international condemnation. The 26-year-old woman's final moments were caught on camera, gut-wrenchingly graphic footage now easily found on the Internet. Iranian propaganda about Westerners "meddling" in their affairs is useless when held up next to images of Neda and others like her.
"No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice," President Obama declared at a news conference on Tuesday. He's right. May the death of this young woman remind Iran's leaders of the power such images wield, and remind Americans of the cost and courage behind the freedom we enjoy and too often take for granted.
Peoria Journal Star