Media Microscope: Hits and misses


Australian media’s focus on the bushfire crisis did not prevent far-reaching coverage of the US drone strike that killed Iranian terror mastermind General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport on January 3, after weeks of escalating tensions between the US and Iran.

On ABC TV “The World” (Jan. 3), Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey explained US President Donald Trump’s alleged motives for the killing, saying “there was nothing to be gained by appeasing Iran any more, there was no prospect of getting Iran back to the negotiating table… The US embassy was under attack, has been this week, so the security situation has really deteriorated inside Iraq. There was clearly a view that the United States has nothing left to lose.”

In the Australian (Jan. 7), Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote Soleimani’s killing was “an act of prevention” given he “was planning to continue his killing spree against Americans.”

Soleimani’s demise, the Daily Telegraph said (Jan. 6), will be “likely in the long run to advance the cause of peace. [US President] Obama attempted to appease and buy off Iran. Yet it continued to harass shipping, attack neighbours, and the regime’s militants in Iraq killed hundreds of US troops.”

The Canberra Times (Jan. 8) questioned the prudence of the act, saying, “this is a part of the world that has never produced ‘winners’.”

The Australian (Jan. 9) backed the hit, warned of the need to stop Iran “turning Iraq into a satellite” and condemned European and Sunni Arab countries that have “remain[ed] largely mute since Soleimani’s demise.”

In the same edition, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan argued that in “targeting the Iranian leadership,” US credibility was restored following Trump’s refusal to retaliate against previous escalating Iranian “destabilisation, terrorism, proxy arms build-ups and international political interference.”

In the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 13), Tony Walker suggested a link between Soleimani’s killing and Trump being impeached. Meanwhile, Alison Broinowski in the Sun Herald (Jan. 12), with scant evidence, declaimed that “Australian surveillance and refuelling planes are still based in the Gulf – presumably to service US, Israeli and Saudi Arabian jets in Syria.”

SBS TV “World News” (Jan. 13) showed Iranian students protesting against the regime by refusing to walk on US and Israeli flags painted on the ground at a Teheran university.

However, a timorous Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 16) cautioned against “Western allies… cheer[ing] on the street protests in Tehran… yes, the regime may eventually fall but it is impossible to predict the fallout… worse could arise.”

Former Australian ambassador to Israel and current federal Liberal MP Dave Sharma contextualised the killing, writing, “[Iran’s] attack on the US Embassy [in Iraq] hit a raw nerve in Washington, with its echoes of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran and the hostage crisis that followed,” Australian Financial Review (Jan. 16). Earlier the same paper (Jan. 6), reprinted Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who said the US had done Iran a favour, calling Soleimani “the most overrated strategist in the Middle East” who had angered the region’s Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs, Israel and his own people.

AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein wrote the killing was “militarily and morally justified” and would “increase pressure on Iran to reconsider its destabilising regional policies,” (Age/Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 10).

In the same editions, AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro detailed Iran’s growing list of infractions of the 2015 nuclear deal, noting, “[it] was profoundly flawed because the inspections regime wasn’t watertight, it enabled Iran to continue to develop ballistic missiles, enrich uranium and work on advanced centrifuges. Moreover, it always appeared very likely that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons once the 10-year sunset clauses in the deal expired – which is now only a few years away.”

The two papers ran analyst Mark Almond (Jan. 14) who said, “Now that Donald Trump’s direct confrontation with Iran seems to have ended, Western leaders are falling over themselves to say they want to negotiate… For a long time, many in the West have persisted in seeing the Iranian regime as a clash between ‘good’ moderates and ‘bad’ hardliners. That was never true. They always had more in common with each other than with the West.”

On ABC Radio “AM” (Jan. 13), veteran Israeli analyst and frequent AIJAC guest Ehud Yaari predicted the Iranian regime would find it difficult to fulfil its pledge to force the US out of the region.