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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 14:25 GMT
Reporting the crisis in Iran
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iran's foreign minister is warning the UK, France and Germany not to act hastily over his country's nuclear programme. Tehran insists it only wants to make reactor fuel to generate electricity. Frances Harrison, in the Iranian capital, says the international media is playing a part in the gathering crisis.

Iranian technicians
Iran could face sanctions if it is brought before the UN

This week our main rival CNN was banned and then un-banned by the Iranian government in the space of a few hours.

There was no sense of competitive glee, just a feeling that it left us at the BBC even more exposed.

And bizarrely we knew that our colleagues from CNN had been banned before they did. They had switched off their mobile phones because they were in the middle of doing an interview.

I could not help thinking - I wonder if this is how it will be for us one day. We will happily be doing our job, oblivious to the axe that has just fallen.

Funny side

I rang the government to check the news - saying it is Frances from the BBC - have you banned us yet?

In the light of the growing nuclear crisis the Iranian government has been talking about using diplomacy to argue its case
And at least they could still laugh.

It was the same for the al-Jazeera team in Tehran last year.

They were busy covering an Army Day parade with the rest of us one morning only to go back to their office and find they had been suspended. A temporary suspension pending an investigation into their coverage of ethnic Arab unrest in the south of Iran.

But seven months later they are still not allowed to operate here.

Mistake

CNN had hired a simultaneous translator in their headquarters to cover the Iranian president's news conference.

The man had made a mistake - confusing "nuclear technology" with "nuclear weapon," with the result that he completely changed the president's message - having him say it was Iran's right to have nuclear weapons, which is of course not Iran's stated aim.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President Ahmadinejad has defended Iran's nuclear programme
The Iranian media started a ferocious campaign against CNN, alleging they had deliberately distorted the president's words as part of a campaign of psychological warfare.

When the CNN presenter apologised for the mistake on air, Iranian TV picked it up and repeated it again and again, taking care to blur or pixillate the lady's cleavage.

One interviewer on state television asked the official in charge of the foreign media whether he supervised foreign journalists properly.

When he said yes, the journalist asked if he knew where the BBC reporter in Tehran was at this moment. There I was putting my child to bed, hardly undermining the Iranian state.

Apology

Why were CNN unbanned so quickly? On the surface of it because they quickly apologised for the translator's mistake on all outlets and to the government.

The president himself reversed the ban.

There are senior officials within the government who understand that they need the Western media so they can air their views abroad.

The president's news conference was delayed for a week to allow foreign media organisations not represented in Tehran to come - most of them American, it seemed.

In the light of the growing nuclear crisis the Iranian government has been talking about using diplomacy to argue its case.

The only problem is they have purged key diplomats like the ambassador to London and have yet to replace them.

And in the new government there is now no nuclear official who can give interviews in English.

It is frustrating to see Iran do such a bad job of presenting its argument abroad.

No proof

After all Iranians do have a case.

The UN nuclear inspectors have yet to find any proof Iran has a clandestine weapons programme, no matter how many times the Americans repeat this allegation as if it were fact.

Nationalism can easily boil over into xenophobia and there was a touch of that in the attacks on CNN this week
And they do have the right to peaceful nuclear technology under international law. It all comes down to Iran's intentions.

Just saying Iran has not been transparent in the past about its nuclear programme is not enough to prove it is going to conceal it in the future.

The outside world simply does not trust the mullahs with nuclear technology that can be adapted for bombs and more so now Iran has a hardline president like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

If Iran was not a radical Islamic state would the West worry?

It is easy to see how the sense of discrimination festers here.

Xenophobia

And that has somehow got mixed up with the Iranian sense of nationalism which should be worrying for the outside world.

It means those who do not particularly support the Islamic government still feel aggrieved that Iran, a nation with a powerful sense of its great past, is being held back scientifically by the West.

Nationalism can easily boil over into xenophobia and there was a touch of that in the attacks on CNN this week.

One newspaper even accused the network's chief correspondent of being a Mossad and a CIA spy.

But I felt like reminding the Iranian government how many mistakes their official translators make in news conferences.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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