George Orwell observed in 1938 that “all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting”. Not much has changed in 80 years.
After escalated hostilities between Israel and Iran last weekend, the ABC gave Iranian academic Mohammad Marandi an unfiltered platform on Monday morning to peddle Iranian propaganda about Israel on Radio National’s Breakfast.
Marandi is a well-heeled apologist for the Islamic Republic who teaches American and postcolonial studies at the University of Tehran. Softly spoken with a smile like moonlight on a tombstone, he’s a regular on Western, Russian and Iranian television.
Even so, Australians listening to Breakfast probably weren’t expecting such a one-sided affair, where Marandi was given a pulpit to deliver his talking points unchallenged. Not one for foreplay, his first five words condemned Israel for being “dishonest”.
The debate centred on a series of clashes between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria. The Israeli Air Force attacked a series of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace. An Israeli F-16 fighter crashed during the engagement, believed to be the first lost in combat since the 1980s.
Enter the ABC on Monday morning. Breakfast host Fran Kelly led with a series of open questions, offering Marandi a rhetorical playground in which to freely deliver his brief. He denied the Iranians had flown a drone over Israeli airspace and implied that Israel has allied itself with Islamic State and al-Qa’ida. Moreover, he claimed the operation was orchestrated as a smokescreen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mask domestic political problems.
Finally, Marandi claimed that Israel has been strategically and militarily eclipsed, and that the episode underscored the rebalancing of power in the Middle East.
His fantastical statements went unchallenged. He claimed the Israelis had “kept the local population in Gaza on the verge of starvation for years but they’ve never been able to capture the city. They’ve killed thousands of civilians but they never captured the city.” Kelly replied: “Sure.”
He went further: “They launched a war on Lebanon and Hezbollah defeated them. Israel’s strong point is its air force and the fact that it is now vulnerable is, I think, something that changes the calculations of the Israelis’ regime.” Kelly kept it brief: “OK.”
There are a few points we must note. First, Marandi’s assertions are not rooted in reality. He uses obfuscation and downright falsehoods to diminish Israel’s standing in Australia.
You could detect the glee in his voice as he managed to pour lies into our public square without pushback from Australia’s national broadcaster.
Second, the ABC aired no counter-argument. Marandi’s outrageous claims were not tested by the host or anyone else. Where was the fairness and balance?
Finally, it poses questions for the ABC. Why did it give a platform to a known spokesman of the Iranian government — a repressive regime committed to the destruction of our closest ally in the Middle East?
Last year was significant for Australia and Israel. We deepened our ties through increased economic and security co-operation. Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Australia. And together we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba.
So how did Marandi’s propaganda help to “inform” the Australian public, as the ABC charter demands of the broadcaster?
Australian democracy works only when we have fair and balanced reporting. Giving an Iranian surrogate an unfiltered platform on our national broadcaster did the exact opposite.