Iran Deletes Syria From Arab Spring, China Tackles Bachelor Menace

It's time for our regular roundup of propaganda from around the world

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Authoritarian regimes often dream through propaganda. To see what they're fantasizing about, we regularly check in on what state-controlled media outlets have been churning out.

Iran celebrates the Arab Spring everywhere except Syria

Behind the scenes of the Arab Spring, Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia have been jockeying for influence in the region--a fact on display in the Iranian state media's coverage of the Middle East uprisings today. The Fars News Agency criticizes Bahrain's "Saudi-backed forces" for engaging in a "brutal crackdown" on "peaceful" and (largely Shiite) protesters on Friday. In a separate article, the agency emphasizes the "Islamic nature" of the Middle East uprisings, casts Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution as the inspiration behind the protests, and leaves out one critical country in its review of the Arab Spring:

Since the beginning of 2011, the Muslim world has witnessed popular uprisings and revolutions similar to what happened in Iran in 1979. Tunisia saw the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolution in January, which was soon followed by a revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in February. 

Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have since been the scene of protests against their totalitarian rulers, who have resorted to brutal crackdown on demonstrations to silence their critics. 

The glaring omission, of course, is Syria, which happens to be a close ally of Iran's. In a report today, the Mehr News Agency endorses the Syrian government's claim that the regime is battling "armed terrorist groups," not peaceful protesters.

North Korea: Let them eat literacy

Instead of focusing on the country's worsening food crisis, the state-run Korean Central News Agency has spent the last two days flooding its site with stories highlighting North Korea's scholastic achievements. An article today notes the the strides the country has made in "tele-education," part of the government's larger bid, detailed by the AP in July, to increase digital literacy among its citizens. A separate piece lauds the "literary writing activities" of young North Koreans, who have produced works "reflecting the ardent yearnings of the Korean people and school youth and children for President Kim Il Sung and praising the feats performed by leader Kim Jong Il" (according to the State Department, North Korea has a literacy rate of 99 percent). A third article discusses how schoolchildren, per Kim Jong Il's decree, are engaging in camping activities during summer vacation to "deeply grasp the revolutionary feats." KCNA provides us with photos of online education (left) and happy campers (right):

China tackles a bachelor epidemic and nasal health

Earlier today we noted how China's official news outlets are seizing on Vice President Joe Biden's visit to chastise the U.S. about its debt, while Chinese censors restrict coverage of the embarrassing brawl between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Chinese Basketball Association's Bayi Rockets on Thursday.

But while China's state-run media often acts as an organ of the government, it's also more likely than the state media in many other authoritarian countries to address thorny issues. On Thursday, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported that over ten million "Chinese men of marrying age may be living as frustrated bachelors by 2020" because of a gender imbalance fueled by China's preference for sons--a "trend that will add pressure to social stability." And, on Friday, the government-financed China Daily noted that the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau had, in response to a public outcry over possible corruption and health hazards, pulled a nasal index that advised residents to "rinse their nasal cavities between one and six times a day to prevent respiratory diseasesdepending on the day's air quality." The reports, of course, don't delve into the adverse effects of China's one-child policy or the country's pollution problems, and they're only mildly critical of the government. Xinhua, for example, notes that Chinese authorities are trying to restore gender balance by promoting "the idea that 'girls are as good as boys' and redoubling "efforts to fight sex-selective abortions."

Syria's favorite humans rights organization

When human rights organizations are quoted in articles on the Syrian uprising, they're usually reporting abuses by President Bashar al-Assad's regime. So it's surprising to see the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency cite a group called the Syrian Human Rights Network in a piece today on the alleged rape of Syrian women in Turkish refugee camps.

We can't find a website for the group (SANA only includes the logo at right) and the mysterious organization is never cited in foreign reports on the unrest, but a quick search of SANA's website reveals that the news agency frequently invokes SHRN to advance its agenda--whether that agenda is to denounce U.S. sanctionslegitimize the government's political reforms, or oppose a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria (or, in today's case, to possibly cast aspersions on Turkey, which is increasingly speaking out against Assad's regime). Earlier this month, SHRN accused British police of abusing human rights during their riots, prompting the British embassy in Damascus to issue a statement dismissing the claim.

Today's article is emblematic of SANA's larger editorial strategy. Instead of publishing commentary, the agency frequently constructs articles around the statements of individuals or organizations to convey the "reality of events" (a slogan that accompanies many articles) and argue that the government--not the finger-wagging international community--has the moral high ground.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.