Comparing the coverage of JCPOA Between Washington Post and “Shargh” Daily Newspaper
Pouria Nazemi/ Concordia University/ 2018
The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is an agreement between Iran and the group E3+3 (or as some media referred to it as 5+1) regarding the Iranian nuclear program. The 5+1 consisted of the five permanent members of U.N. security council (U.S., U.K., China, Russia, France) and Germany in addition to a representative of the E.U.
JCPOA is a multilateral agreement which reached after more than decade negotiations and confrontations. The subject of these negotiations and the issue of this deal (Which refer to as JCPOA, Nuclear deal or Iran Deal) considered as one of the most complex political talks over an international and security issue.
Two leading players of these negotiations are the united states of America and Iran. These two countries have a long and complicated history. While both countries allied in the middle east before 1979, After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, these two became the leading advisory of each other.
Both countries have strong opinion and series of reasons to mistrust each other.
Iran accused the U.S. of interfering in the Iranian politics for a long time. From the U.S point of view, Iran is a rogue and untrustworthy nation. Iran, since the beginning of the revolution, continuously is talking about exporting its revolution to the region. One of Iran’s post-revolution pillar of foreign diplomacy is what they called it anti-Israel and Anti-Zionism. Iran supports some political and military groups in the area which Israel and US consider them as terrorist groups.
Iran supports Hezbollah, Hamas, Syrian regime under the presidency of Bashar al-Assad and supports Shia groups and minority in the region. Iran is the dominant Shia country in the area and traditionally is on the competition with Sunni regimes such as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its allies. These countries are US allies in the region.
The US also accused Iran of violation of human rights, women rights and labelled it as ‘terrorist state’.
In the first years after the revolution, Iran- US relations reached to the turmoil. The turning point was the hostage crisis in US embassy in Iran. A group of hardliner students occupied the US embassy and taking hostage the diplomats. After this event, the founder of the revolution and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, called the US as the great Satan and the anti-imperialist ideology of Iranian – at the time – support the idea of US as the main enemy.
This event leads to the resignation of Iran moderate government. Iranian government under the leadership of Mehdi Bazargan, protested against the occupation of the embassy and considered it as anti-international law and resigned in protest. This resignation changed the atmosphere of Iranian politics dynamic forever and opened the way for the more conservative view.
The US tried the military action. In 1980, US launched its mission ‘Operation Eagle Claw’ to rescue the hostages. The mission failed because of a sandstorm in the city of Tabas, where the US helicopters landed.
The crisis ended after lengthy negotiations. It cost president Carter his second term and hostages freed few minutes after President Reagan took the oath of office.
Iran- US relation never begins to resolve. The US accused Iran in the attack on Mikonos restaurant in Berlin. The US put a series of the hard regime of sanitation against Iran. The US also accused Iran of fighting against US soldiers in Iraq.
On the other side, Iran also present a series of accusation against the US.
The root of mistrust against the US began in 1953. In this year, US and UK performed a coup d’état against democratically elected and popular prime minister of Iran, Dr M. Mosadeq. He was the person who nationalised Iranian oil industry. This coup d’état still has a big shadow over the memory and feeling of Iranian people. After the revolution and hostages’ crisis, US performed a military action against Iran, put Iran under sanctions, and support militia terror groups such as ‘Mojahedin Khalgh’ (MEK), support Saddam Hussein invasion of Iran which lead to an eight-year bloody war between Iran and Iraq. Us also never condemned Iraq regime for using chemical weapons against Iran during the war, and at the end of the war the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655 (Airbus) on 3 July 1988. All the passengers and crew have been killed during this attack.
President George Bush named Iran as a part of his axis of evil, and the clashes between two nations go on.
Two countries with all the chanting and harsh words against each other, find each other side by side on many different occasions. Iran was among the first nations who condiment terrorist attacks of September 11. Iran and US both fight against Saddam regime. Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda have targeted both. Iran helped the US during the invasion of Afghanistan and contributed to the established new government of Afghanistan after falling of Taliban. Iran and US both fight against ISIS (DAESH) and extremists in the region. And while there are many differences between the western democracy and what is happening in Iran, still Iran is one of the few countries in the region that practise some level of democracy.
As the reformist president, M. Khatami mentions in an interview with CNN; There is a wall of mistrust between two countries:
“The point is that the political behaviour of governments should not deprive nations of enjoying the opportunities provided by each side. There is a bulky wall of mistrust between us and the U.S. Administration, a mistrust rooted in improper behaviours of the American governments. As an example of this type of U.S. behaviour, I should refer to the admitted involvement of the U.S. Government in the 1953 coup d’etat which toppled Mosaddeqs national government, immediately followed by a $45 million loan to strengthen unpopular foreign installed Government. I should also refer to the Capitulation Law imposed by the U.S. on Iran.”
The nuclear dispute before JCPOA
The nuclear dispute between Iran and the rest of the world is one of the primary sources of conflicts in last 20 years in the foreign relations of Iran. While the first suggestion that Iran should become nuclear state initially suggested by the US but after the revolution, this approach had changed.
Before the revolution, the US built a nuclear research plant in Tehran and also supported the plan to develop a nuclear power plant in Bushehr. After the revolution, The west withdraws from this contract and Iran start negotiation with China and Russia to complete the Bushehr plant. At the same time, Iran began the research and development for enriching uranium. Iran as a member of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) consider these efforts as a right of its own to pursue peaceful nuclear technology. The west had its reasons to believe that Iran was following the path toward nuclear weapons and decided that stop this program. To do so put a regime of sanctions in place against Iran.
The first series of negotiations to resolve this issue happened in the 1990s during the presidency of M. Khatami and under the leadership of Dr H Rouhani (Currently the president). The negotiation with three European countries (Germany, French and UK) reached to an original agreement (Saadabad agreement), but US (during the Bush administration) didn’t support the deal, and Iran restart its enrichment program as soon as a hardliner, and conservative M. Ahmadinejad became the president.
During next eight years negotiations at the low level continue between Iran and EU. The hardline approach of President Ahmadinejad resulted in a few UN security council declarations against Iran and a series of crippling sanctions which targeted every aspect of Iran economy and daily life. The policies of President Ahmadinejad and the sanctions lead to the broad dissatisfaction in Iran. It triggered Iran Green Movement in 2009, and finally, it led to the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election of 2013. The economy of Iran at the end of the presidency of Mr Ahmadinejad was catastrophic. According to Iran central bank, the growth rate was around -6.8% and inflation reached more than 45 per cent.
One of the campaign promises of Dr Rouhani was increased the level of negotiations with the west and reach to an agreement which eases the sanctions against Iran. After his election, resolving the Nuclear issue became his priority. At the same time, President Obama tried to address the Iran nuclear issue and while both countries were faced opposition from conservatives, the new series of negotiations begun.
The negotiations, which lead to the JCPOA, were one of the most complicated set of international political negotiations in recent history that resulted in an agreement and that settled the course of Iran’s nuclear development and ended a major global dispute without military action. The final series of negotiations was also a milestone in Iran – U.S. relation too. It was the first time since the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1978) that high-level officials from the two countries negotiated face to face and two presidents (President Obama and Rouhani talk via telephone directly). It became one of the highlights of the foreign policy for both countries.
Media and Nuclear negotiations
The story of Iran and 5+1 negotiations has multi-angles, and it was one of the most important international news stories of the decade. The coverage of this negotiations was extensive. These coverages present an excellent opportunity to put some theoretical frameworks into practice.  It is an excellent opportunity to explore the concept of the ‘other’ in the coverage of media. Also, it is an opportunity to explore the concept of ‘having been there’.
There are few types of research about the coverage of the media related to the JCPOA. Izadi and Biria did a discourse analysis on the editorial of elite American newspapers. Farajinejad and Khomeini Farah analysed the Iranian / Non-Iranian Press articles on Nuclear Negotiations. This research didn’t compare Iranian and Non-Iranian media coverage directly but did a discourse analysis on the editorial of selected media.
In this research, I am comparing the coverage of the final phase of negotiations found in Iran and U.S. print media. The initial agreement reached in April 2013, but the last talks took place in, Vienna in June and July 2015. The deadline was extended a few times until a final deal was reached and announced on July 14, 2015. 
One of the outstanding issues that could emerge in the coverage of stories like Iran / 5+1 Negotiations is about framing the news and subject.
Comparing Washington Post and Shargh daily newspaper: in search of frames
This research is trying to review and analyse the contents of two major newspapers from Iran and Us. By choosing the same timetable and same story, this comparison can shed light on the different thinking behind the coverage of this issue.
The following primary research question guide this research:
How does the coverage of JCPOA compare one Iranian newspaper (Shargh Daily) and one U.S. (Washington Post) newspaper during the final days of negotiations?
Specifically, the research hopes to address the following subset of questions:
- Do similar or contrasting themes emerge from the coverage found in the Iranian and American newspapers?
- If so, what are they?
- Do these themes coalesce around media frames of Iranians? Americans? Media?
- What are these frames?
- Does the portrait of the other side of the story, fit the cliché of ‘others’ and how each side, approaches to the concept of the ‘other’ in their coverage?
The research will also address questions about editorial positions in that it will examine how each side (Iran, U.S.) presented. In other words, do the newspapers reflect the views of both sides so that readers understand the positions of each?
The textual analysis used to examine the newspaper. PDF archive of the Shargh Daily read for issues 2336-2348, and the Washington Post digital archive used to investigate the issues from 29 June 2015 to 15 July 2015.
Period of Study
This research examined newspaper coverage from June 29 to July 15, 2015. The June 29th date was an important day to begin the study because during the final phase of the negotiation because Iran’s foreign minister flew back from the Vienna to Tehran to consult with both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and to receive their final directions. The visit took place within a matter of hours, and the foreign minister flew back to Iran to resume talks. On this day, both sides announced that they would not leave Vienna without reaching a deal or concluding that an agreement was not possible. On July 14, the agreement reached, but, because it was midnight, the news not published in Iranian newspapers until July 15, the final day of analysis for this research.
The rationale for Newspaper Selection
In conducting this research, two newspapers were selected (one Iranian and one American) for analysis. The rationale for newspaper selection is simple in that each of these newspapers is considered a national newspaper that reaches the broadest possible readership and has an editorial voice that influences public opinion.
Shargh Daily is one of the remaining reformist newspapers in Iran and a survivor of the reformist’s media wave that took place in the 2000s. Its editorial position is considered the most reliable voice of reformists and other more leftist views. It also regarded as a daily newspaper that upholds the standards of professional journalism in Iran.
It is important to mention that Shargh daily newspaper didn’t publish four days during this period. Iranian newspaper doesn’t print on Fridays (weekend in Iran) and also there were three religious holidays that Shargh and other newspaper didn’t publish.
The Washington Post reaches a national audience, and its editorial positions take a more liberal, left of centre position. Washington Post has large international readerships, including readers in Iran.
Comparing two newspaper and possible biases
In comparing these two newspapers, this research gathered all the contents that published in the Washington Post and Shargh Daily between June 29th, 2015 to July 15th, 2015. The archive of Washington Post had been examined. To be sure that all the contents have been recovered and studied, the additional search conducted via Factiva. In the case of Shargh daily newspaper, the complete PDF archive of this newspaper has been examined in this period.
To figure out the main elements of these coverages, all the contents have been reviews and categorised into the following categories:
- News/ Report/ Interviews
- News Analysis
- Op-Ed and Editorial
- Others (including a quiz, transcripts and so on)
During the reading, of the contents, the main theme of each one has been extracted, and the conclusion has been drawn based on these emerged themes.
For complete disclosure, the author of this study has Iranian heritage, but the objectivity and separation between personal views and findings were the leading players in this study.
During this timetable, Washington Post published 80 contents about the negotiation. Including 19 News/Report/Interview, 27 News analysis, 29 Op-Ed/Editorial, three reviews and two other materials (Quiz and transcript).
Figure 2 shows the percentage of different contents in WP during this timetable:
Most coverages in Washington Post was on the July 14th when the final agreement reached. The following chart shows the number of total coverage of WP on each day during this timetable:
In all the categories, there are few recurring themes in the coverage of Washington post.
The main repeated theme in all categories of WP was ‘untrustworthy of Iran.’
In more than 85 per cent of the coverage, including news and reports, the background theme was that this deal is complicated because Iran is not trustworthy.
There are only a handful of coverages in WP that tried to explain the view of Iranian diplomats and Iranian people.
During the analysis of the events, WP reported extensively on the reasons that why US should not trust Iran while the reasoning of Iran and misconduct of US during the previous negotiations lacked.
In the Op-Ed and Editorial WP was covered the story with a harsher look toward Iran. While these negotiations were multilateral, the most of the coverage was focused on US point of view and put it on the perspective of US internal politic dynamic. It portrayed as an issue about the conflict between two major parties of US.
It was almost non-explanation about the Iranian political dynamic and a little mention about other countries involved. (Except an Op-Ed by UK foreign minister).
Another emerging theme was the role of the economic sanctions in these negotiations. The overall coverage of the issue portrait the sanctions as a powerful tool that bring Iran to the table and also should keep in place to control Iran. This could be maybe one of the essential themes of this coverage because it makes a case for the usefulness of sanctions. During this coverage, while the WP mentions the crippling effects of sanctions in Iran, it avoids explaining the impact of the sanctions on ordinary people and their life. By doing that maybe the reader sees the sanctions as a useful political tool and forget about the human angle of the story.
The negotiations, based on the agreement of all parties, was defined and proceeded just on the issue of the nuclear issue and reach to the point that everybody could be sure that Iran nuclear program will not follow the military path. But in most analysis of WP this specification didn’t consider and doesn’t explain to audiences and added other issues (such as ballistic missile program, human rights, freedom of US journalists in Iran, limiting Iran activity in region) as part of the negotiations and then made conclusion that because of these extra criteria didn’t address in these negotiations it couldn’t be a good deal at all.
The other significant discovery is that while the coverage, repeatedly brought up the issue like crisis hostage and history of misbehaving Iran (It even did an interview with a few people who were affected by hostage crisis) but it never mentioned the issues that Iran consider the source of mistrust toward Us, including withdrawing from Saadabad agreement, Airbus accident and so on.
Based on this review two themes could consider as a framing from Washington post:
First: Iran is a rogue regime, there is no base to trust Iran, Iran will cheat.
Second: Sanctions against other countries are the useful and appropriate approach.
It seems that Washington Post coverage tended to look at this story as one of US internal issues, ignore the other countries which involved during these negotiations (except Israel) and intentionally or unintentionally forced the existence cliché against Iran.
It is essential that mention during these negotiations, a Washington Post reporter and former head of WP’s Iran bureau, Jason Rezaian was held in custody in Iran. While his release was not part of official agenda of negotiations but his case came up during US and Iran foreign ministers’ bilateral meetings. He was released the day after the agreement. There is a possibility that his situation played a role in the coverage of this story by WP.
Shargh Daily Newspaper
During this timetable, Shargh Daily Newspaper published 93 contents about the negotiation. Including 39 News/Report/Interview, 7 News analysis, 33 Op-Ed/Editorial, 14 reviews.
Figure 6: Shargh Coverage based on categoriesFigure 7 shows the percentage of different contents in Shargh during this timetable.
Most coverages in Shargh was on the July 15th, the day after the final agreement had been reached. The reason for this one-day delay was due to the time difference between Iran and Vienna. The deal was reached after midnight in Iran and Shargh publish the main story the day after.
It is also important to remind that on Jul 3rd, Jul 8th, July 9th and July 10th Shargh was not published due to national holidays.
The following chart shows the number of total coverage of WP on each day during this timetable:
Review the Shargh coverage and comparing it with WP bring a few main differences in their approach.
Th Shargh reports and news coverage of the events were surprisingly neutral. The reporters of in the Vienna limited themselves to give a narrative of the chronological events without adding their personal input. The other difference is about considering these negotiations as a multilateral event. In the reports and also in Op-Eds writers and reporters tried to reflect each country point of view and put the whole story on the multiangle issue. Shargh covered the positions of each country around the table and also other significance nations outside the negotiations (Including Israel, KSA and others.)
Shargh also tried to put the negotiations in the perspective of the internal political atmosphere each country to do so, in analysis and Op-Ed spent a considerable amount of space to explain how the US policy making is work, who are oppose the deal in Us and other countries and why.
Another noticeable difference is about the effort of Shargh to portrait and explain the other sides point of view. During this period, this newspaper every day published two columns under the title of ‘On the counterpart’s Desk’ Which explain the view of other countries diplomats and representative of international agencies. And also ‘Outside Look’ which was the selection of Op-Ed and articles that published in the newspapers of other countries and mostly the US about the negotiations. These are not positive and supportive contents, and some of them were a translation of original critics against Iran.
The emerging themes in Shargh daily newspaper focused on these few points:
- This negotiation is showing the world the willingness of Iran to cooperate with the world and can help to reconstruct of Iran image.
- There is no place for nuclear weapons for Iran and because of that Iran should do whatever it takes to correct this assumption (That Iran is trying to produce a nuclear)
- The central part of the complex issue of Iran nuclear dispute is because of Iran previous administration behaviour and Iran’s responsibility to rebuild the trust.
- The possible deal can’t solve all the economic issues, and ran’s economy has a management
- If the deal is going to be stable, it couldn’t be perfect, and all side should compromise.
Shargh also reflected the position of Iranian hardliners and their efforts to stop the deal and negotiations. The issue of national and international security based on dialogue and idea of ‘Peace without War’ were among the issues that emerge from these coverages
While the coverage of Shargh daily was repeated few themes but – at least based on this review – non-of they fit the concept of framing.
Comparing Shargh daily newspaper and Washington Post Coverage in the final days of negotiations shows that the issue of this deal has more priority for Shargh as an Iranian Newspaper. All days Shargh has the story of the talks on its front cover. While it has four days less publication day in regard of Washington post and also fewer pages per issue (Shargh publishes in 20 pages) the number of content (based on the number of pages and days that it published) is more than WP. This can show the importance of the deal for Iranian in general.
WP approached the story – in general – with the emphasis on its effect on internal policy inside the US. Most of the debate in WP were surrounding the US next election and the impact of the deal. While the general narrative of Shargh was focused on the importance of this deal for the world and how Iranian diplomats should do their best to reach an agreement, WP in many occasions invited the US delegations to leave the negotiations and explores the possible ways that US snapback the sanctions.
Shargh more relied on News and neutral reporting while WP imposed its point of view even in most of the news. Maybe it is safe to say that the WP mostly tried to be neutral inside the US political spectrum, while Shargh decided to show its neutrality in the context of all parties on negotiations. Again, this observation could support the idea that this story was only one of the internal policy issue for WP while for Shargh it was the main story.
This difference maybe is the main reason that we can extract and recognised some ‘framing’ about Iran in the coverage of WP: Iran is not trustworthy. In Shargh coverage non-of themes shaped a unique frame toward the US. The only possible ‘frame’ that can extract from the Shargh coverage is about the portrait of the previous government of Iran and the presidency of Mr Ahmadinejad as a populist figure who played a significant role to create this problem in the first place.
It is important to mention that the selected period was a duration that the news was under developing. In another word, It was an active time for coverage, and most of the coverages had produced under pressure the deadline. There were too much breaking news and active players who could affect the journalists on the site.
It is also critical to mention that this comparison could not in any shape and form provide a comparison for Iranian vs US media. It reviews the Washington Post and the Shargh daily during a limited period. Choosing different media – like a hardliner newspaper in Iran such as Keyhan, Javan or Vatan-e-Emruz – provides a different perspective.
This brief review and research can provide more questions for further analyses including:
- How can the coverage of this deal be compared to these two newspapers today (4 years after the deal)?
- Are these themes recurring in other newspapers of US and Iran?
- If the coverage of the Washington post about this deal changed after the election of President Trump?
- If the coverage of Shargh changed after the cancellation of sanctions didn’t happen as planned.
These are some of the questions that could guide future researchers.
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