RQ-170: The Story of a US Drone in Iran – Media Coverage and Propaganda Strategies
During the year 2011 a lot of middle-eastern countries witnessed huge changes on the political, economical and sociocultural level and all those changes are the result of the “Arab Spring Revolutions”. Even in Iran, citizens opposing the regime tried to start an Iranian revolution multiple times but till now the government is able to control and reprimand. Internationally, Iran and the United States entered a huge conflict since the US are opposed to the Iranian nuclear activities and one of the latest event of this US-Iran conflict occurred on December 4th, 2011 when Iran announced that it had drown a US drone that was located in eastern Iran. This story was covered differently by the media around the world: The official US sources decided to play the “no-comment” card while the local US press focused on how the drone was brought down. On the Iranian side, the pro-governmental sources made it a victorious event and some other news sources decided just to report the events going on.
Instead of providing answers or giving their view of the story, the United States official entities decided not to comment about the drone incident although they recognized that it was brought down. If you visit the White House official website or the Department of State’s one you will not see this story in any title of the articles and when searching for any word related to the event the best thing you could find is one of the US officials stating that they would prefer not to comment about the story. Even Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States, was asked about this issue on December 12th in a joint press conference with Iraq’s PM Mr. Al-Maliki and his answer was the following: “With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified. As has already been indicated, we have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond.” (Office of the Press Secretary, 2011). The strategy behind this may be to avoid giving importance to this event maybe because the US is not in its best position actually: Their forces are leaving Iraq and most of the Arab revolutions are bringing Islamic entities to the power. In the mean time, some entities may see it as a sign of weakness showing that the Iranians proved to be stronger than the US in that case, so instead of accepting their “defeat” they play the secretive card.
Joint conference between Obama and Al-Maliki
Although the government officials refused to talk about the drone story, the local US media covered it and we can clearly see the use of multiple propaganda strategies not to worry their citizens. Those factors are observed when analyzing for example an article published on MSNBC.com on December 4th: First starting with the title “US: No indication drone in Iran was shot down” you can directly say that it takes the US view of the story since it is entitles with a statement of one of the country’s officials. Also the title denies the shooting of the drone: The US admitted that the stealth fighter was brought down but here the concern was about how it has been done and the title don’t mention the second part of the concern which is that it was a cyber-attack. One of the main points of the article is about the hypothesis saying that this plane was an unarmed surveillance drone owned by the NATO forces and that went out of control in Afghanistan. Here the media is trying to lessen the importance of this event. The other main point in the text is on the Iranian military strategy and how they are preparing a war on Israel that is one of the biggest ally of the United States, as if they want to move the focus of people to the Iranian “threat” in order to forget about the drone story which may be seen as a weakness sign as stated in the previous paragraph. MSNBC.com also focus on vocabulary to make Iran look more as “threat” by calling them “The Islamic Republic” in contexts that have nothing to do with religion. Here again they try to dive away attention since it is known that most of the US citizens see Muslims as a threat and this is because of the media who created those stereotypes.
On the Iranian side, things are completely different: Government officials and media agencies talk a lot about this story. The strategy behind this is to show to the world their strength and to put their selves in position of power with important military and cyber/intelligence skills. Iranian state TV often air images of the RQ-170 drone they brought down and they are doing this to provide a proof to the world and also maybe they are doing this as a strategy whose main target is the US officials who have been asking the Iranian to give them back the drone. Probably they are trying to show that they are in control of the situation. The analysis of an article published by Fars News Agency on December 19th entitled “Iranian Envoy: US Awe Shattered by Drone Hunt” shows that the propaganda strategy used by the Iranians here are different than those used by the US as reflected in the MSNBC article: Here a lot of importance is given to the drone and to how sophisticated and advanced it is. They are showing how important is their enemy to indirectly show how strong they are since they were able to bring the drone down. Another technique is that they try to show how embarrassed and surprised are the US about this to show that Iran is taking control of the situation. Talking about the concerns of their enemies just before the last paragraph first is an attack to their enemy because they are described as being concerned and second show indirectly the benefits of the Iranian actions. At the end, talking about the technical failure of the plane also decrease the importance and the power of the US by reflecting their negative aspects.
Iranians Inspecting the US Drone
After looking at and comparing reports from both Iranian and US media sources we should take a look at third-party sources. Al Jazeera is a Qatari TV station that started gaining importance after 9/11. According to Laaska News, a Wikileaks cable shows that there are close contacts between the TV network and the US military intelligence. We should therefore expect a pro-US point of view. On December 4th, Al Jazeera published an article entitled “Iran military ‘downs US drone’” covering the same story of the RQ-170. Here again the title is interesting to analyze because they put – downs US drone – between brackets as if they are implying that this is what Iran officials are saying but it may not be true. The article try to emphasize on the work the Iranian had to go through to show a certain difficulty to bring down a US drone and on the other side they reduce the importance of space violation: “[…] brought down through a joint effort by Iran’s armed forces, air defense forces and its electronic warfare unit after the plane briefly violated the country’s airspace […]” (Al-Jazeera, 2011). This article was written prior to the US confirmation that their drone was brought down and we can say that Al-Jazeera tried to question the credibility of the story by calling the Fars News Agency a semiofficial source and saying that this same agency is quoting an unnamed military source, also they stated that they were unable to confirm the story. Those factors may lead people to think that Al-Jazeera is being professional and want to be sure that the story is credible and validated and some others may think that Iran credibility is questionable. In the second part of the article, they talk about previous similar Iranian claims that were rarely proven to be true here again they playi the “lack of credibility” card and try to justify the presence of the drone there by talking about the Iranian military plans, as it was the case in the MSNBC.com article. In the last sentence of the article Al Jazeera try to show that they are not being biased by just stating briefly the two opposing point of views of this Iran-US conflict but, the question is: How efficient are those last two sentences after the clear pro-US position they took in the whole article?
If we take a look at an alternative media source things are different. Take for example an article entitled Iran summons Swiss envoy over US drone “violation” published on December 8th, 2011 in Now Lebanon an online Lebanese news source. In this case, the news source is not taking position with anyone and is not using any propaganda techniques in their news reporting techniques. They simple report the statements and point of views of both sides and give the reader a clear view of what is going on without pushing him to prefer one side on the other. This is not always the case for alternative sources like blogs and often writers express their own point of view but also sometimes the writers have their own opinion but doesn’t include it in their reports. Many readers often prefer objectivity…
The RQ 170 Drone
To conclude, we can definitely see the differences in news reporting between official governmental sources, local news sources from the different countries concerned with the news, international media and alternative sources. Governmental sources play a critical role and are therefore very careful in their reports while local news sources use aggressive propaganda techniques to influence the citizens and push them to adopt the position taken by the country’s official entities. International sources take also position with one of the sides depending on the news source political opinions but they use less aggressive propaganda tactics. Finally, alternative sources do take position sometimes but most of the times they prefer to report objectively all the events concerned with the story without really pushing the reader toward a specific position.