Fairfax ‘Clarifies’ Iran Article

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Who would have thought an article based on interviews with critics of Iran would result in a basic factual error, asks Michael Brull.

On March 14, Fairfax’s centrist-in-chief Peter Hartcher wrote a dreadful column on Iran. Basing his analysis on the wisdom of Henry Kissinger, Michael Danby and Julie Bishop, he produced every tired Western cliché about Iran, flatly contradicted by the historical record.

I devoted one article to focusing on one particular factual claim made by Hartcher which was false. This was the assertion that Iran fired missiles “in flagrant disregard of UN security council resolution 1929.”

In fact, the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 have been terminated, under the new provisions of the new UNSCR 2231. Hartcher condemned the Iranian government for “flagrantly” disregarding a UNSCR which had been terminated. The fact it had been terminated was explained on the website for the resolution, which is more or less the first result you get if you bother to google it. In other words, it was virtually impossible for someone who conducted any research on the resolution to make that error.

Hartcher’s primary sources for the story were Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and ALP MP Michael Danby, the most fanatical supporter of the Israeli government in Parliament. Bishop made no claim that Iran had done anything wrong under the UNSCR, so presumably Hartcher simply formed this impression during a chat with Danby, and made no effort to actually check what he was told.

In the virtually inconceivable event that Hartcher had accused Israel of “flagrantly” disregarding a UNSCR which didn’t exist, Fairfax would have quickly apologised and corrected the record. Iran, however, is the kind of state that Western media can demonise without anyone noticing or caring.

My discussion of Hartcher’s false claim was published on 19 March. On 4 April, I wrote to Fairfax’s Reader Link, explaining that this was a “straightforward factual error, concerning a grave allegation”. About six weeks later, on 19 May, they replied as follows:

We apologise for the delay in responding to your complaint. We appreciate that UN security council resolution 1929 had lapsed and was replaced UN security council resolution 2231 in which “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology…”

Our Story now reads The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired missiles in a military drill last week in flagrant disregard of UN security council resolution 2231.

It was signed by Ben & Peter (Hartcher?).

The story now includes the assertion of a different flagrant violation by Iran. At the bottom, it says “Clarification: A previous version of this story said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired missiles in a military drill in flagrant disregard of UN security council resolution 1929.”

Not a correction, and certainly not an apology. Despite being in the influential column of Fairfax’s international editor, regarded as one of their top four journalists, no attempt was made to explain to readers that he had gotten it wrong. There was just a seamless transition to a new accusation against Iran. Readers of the original story might know of the change, if they happened to have the urge to revisit an article from two months ago.

Flagrant disregard of Security Council Resolution 1929? Sorry, flagrant disregard of Security Council Resolution 2231. The important thing is that Iran is bad. No evidence was presented for the original assertion, so naturally no evidence was needed for the adjusted assertion.

To be fair, Fairfax’s latest accusation does at least bear some relation to reality. As noted on the UN page, it “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The mild language of “calls on” leaves ambiguous how binding that provision is. Whether or not that provision was defied depends on whether the missiles were designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Launching missiles designed for other purposes would not violate the resolution.

Hartcher presents no evidence of what they were designed for. Our own Foreign Minister didn’t even make any suggestion that Iran had violated the resolution. Yet Hartcher still found a “flagrant disregard”.

A few weeks after Hartcher’s article, the US, UK, France and Germany jointly sent a letter to the UN, urging the Security Council to consider “appropriate responses” to Iran’s actions. It claimed that Iran’s actions were “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” the resolution.

Yet as noted in Reuters by Louis Charbonneau, “The four powers’ carefully worded letter stopped short of calling the Iranian launches a ‘violation’ of the resolution”. That is, even the strongest critics of Iran’s actions, who are urging the Security Council to take action, aren’t willing to accuse Iran of actually violating the resolution.

Charbonneau reports that diplomats from those countries concede that that the language of the resolution, which “calls on” Iran to comply with the missile requirements, is only a request. Thus, it is “not legally binding and cannot be enforced under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with sanctions and authorisation of military force. But Western nations, which view the language as a ban, say there is a political obligation on Iran to comply.”

As it is not legally binding, Charbonneau explains that “the most Iran could expect” if found to have acted improperly “would be a public rebuke by the Security Council. Under the nuclear deal, the reimposition of U.N. sanctions would only be triggered by violations of the agreed restrictions on Iran’s atomic work. But a council rebuke could provide a legal springboard for European countries to consider new sanctions against Iran, Western diplomats said.”

That is, these issues matter. Warmongers in the West have spent years trying to push war on Iran. The nuclear deal finally de-escalated international tensions. Western warmongers hope to undermine the deal any way they can, using the slightest pretext to reimpose sanctions. The US Treasury Department has already imposed new sanctions on two Iranian companies in response to the missile launch. Evidently, Australian warmongers have found an ally in Hartcher and Fairfax.

What evidence does Hartcher have that Iran has done anything wrong? None. Just behind the scenes whispering of the most aggressively pro-Israel politician in Australia. Even though Hartcher got the most basic fact wrong in his allegation against Iran, Fairfax was still willing to tinker with it, and ultimately provide it with the imprimatur of whoever wrote the “clarification”. It seems like Fairfax was willing to check the resolution number, but not whether there was any basis to the allegation that Iran had defied it.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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