Tehran in India: The Sound of Silence

If Mousavi supporters want sympathetic coverage from the rest of the world, they should not look to the democracy closest to their borders.

Protestors in Iran may be begging for foreign attention, but they aren’t getting it here in India. The media in the world’s largest democracy appear to be ignoring the Green Revolution.

Today’s Times of India buries Iran on page 16, although it gives coverage to the controversy. The Indian Express, perhaps the country’s best paper, reports it as a he said-she said argument between winners and losers. (These are the print editions; the web editions are beginning to give more coverage in the last few hours, but it is still quite muted.). The Hindu analyzes the story as that of western analysts missing the “silent majority” of Iranian voters who support Ahmedinejad.

Television, meanwhile, has virtually no coverage. The biggest story is India’s loss to England in the T20 cricket tournament, which will be cause for nationwide mourning. Behind this is the arrest of actor and model Shiney Ahuja for sexual assault, and then some swine flu cases. The only 24 hour news channel that I saw give coverage to Iran refers to Ahmedinejad’s “mandate”.

Why the silence? Two reasons:

1) There is no reason to expect that media in India will be any better than their counterparts in the United States. Moreover, although India has long had an active foreign policy, it stands to reason that a country without superpower status might have even less reason to pay attention to developments in other countries.

2) Indians might have a very deep skepticism toward reports in Iran of anti-government rallies. They certainly don’t lectures from westerners about the importance of democracy (Indians essentially invented the mass movement for freedom and democracy), but New Delhi and Tehran have had good relations over the past several years. Iran’s Shia rulers have no love for Pakistan’s Sunni extremists, and Tehran provides oil to India, which has enormous energy needs. And in a nation like India, where there is a significant urban-rural divide, the contention that urbanites might have very different political preferences from rural dwellers might appear to make sense.

As things develop, I’ll write up more. But if the Mousavi supporters want sympathetic coverage from the rest of the world, they should not look to the democracy closest to their borders.

UPDATE: Apologies to Turkophiles. Of course, Turkey is a democracy, and shares a border with Iran. Maybe just say that Iranians should not look to the oldest democracy in the developing world.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.