Western Media Outlets Confuse Iranian Film Festivals

Inconsistencies raise concerns about credibility of Iran coverage

Western media outlets reporting on the cancellation of a little-known Iranian film festival appear to have confused it with the infamous World Without Zionism conference, which in 2005 featured a call from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel "from the map."

The inconsistencies in the reports, experts say, raise new questions about the credibility of the Western media’s Iran coverage.

The Telegraph and the Associated Press reported Thursday that Iranian foreign ministry officials canceled the 2013 "New Horizon festival."

"The annual event was set up by Rowhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and showcased the former president's vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric and promoted his anti-Israeli sentiments," the AP reported. "When the conference was first held in 2005, Ahmadinejad made his infamous remark that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map.’"

The Telegraph said the cancellation was "the latest gesture to demonstrate that the country is taking a new diplomatic direction under new President Hassan [Rowhani]."

But the New Horizon conference was established in 2012, according to its website, and appears unrelated to the 2005 "World Without Zionism" conference.

New Horizon "aims to provide academic grounds for profound debates on various aspects of world cinema and to encourage confrontations with the realities of the society," according to a press release promoting its first annual conference in 2012.

Ahmadinejad’s World Without Zionism event was organized by the Union of Islamic Students Organization, yet the New Horizon conference, according to the press release, was established last year by Iran’s Documentary and Experimental Film Center and the Iran Cinema Organization.

The website for the event lists a call for film submissions on various subjects, including the "Occupy movement," imperialism, and Islamophobia.

Adding to the confusion: Ahmadinejad spoke at the first annual New Horizon festival in 2012. But his speech garnered little media attention at the time.

Another source of confusion and mystery is the date of cancelled film festival. According to its website, the 2013 New Horizon conference was slated to run from Sept. 3 to Sept. 7. But the AP reported that organizers said it "was supposed to have taken place either in late September or early October."

Iran’s representative to the United Nations and New Horizon did not respond to requests for comment as of press time. The AP and the Telegraph also did not respond to requests for comment.

Iran observers said journalists are too credulous when it comes to stories that suggest new Iranian President Rowhani is a moderate.

"Unfortunately, this seems like another instance of top journalists getting spun by the regime and letting their hopes for Iranian moderation get ahead of actual Iranian moderation," said Omri Ceren, senior adviser for strategy at The Israel Project.

"It's hardly the fault of any one journalist or any one outlet. It's been the same thing with Rowhani's statements on Jews and with Iran's stance on domestic repression."

"Hopefully, this incident will remind journalists that they need to take a lot more care in evaluating the materials and news they receive from pro-regime sources," Ceren added.

Noah Pollak, director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, said the questionable media coverage might be ideologically motivated.

"Virtually everything Iran has said or done as part of its bogus charm offensive has been treated with perfect credulity in the western media," said Pollak. "The desperation and wishfulness is palpable. The desire to support Obama's diplomacy-only approach is obvious."