Iranian media takes interest in Catalan ‘independence’

Iranian media has given widely positive coverage of the Catalan independence referendum, contrasting its critical coverage of last week's Iraqi Kurdistan vote.

al-monitor People shout as Esteladas (Catalan separatist flags) flutter during a protest the day after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, Spain, Oct. 2, 2017.  Photo by REUTERS/Enrique Calvo.

Topics covered

northern iraq, spain, kurdistan, double standard policy, iranian media, independence referendum

Oct 2, 2017

While Iran has not yet taken a public position on the Catalan independence referendum in Spain, Iranian media has given the vote widespread coverage. Scenes of violence by Spanish police, which so far has left over 700 people injured, have featured prominently on media websites.

“Catalan’s independence referendum has begun,” read Khabar’s headline early Oct. 1. “Spanish court blocks budget for Catalan independence referendum,” read an article by conservative Tasnim News Agency. An article carrying pictures of ballots was headlined “Ballot of Catalan independence referendum from Spain.”

The Iranian media’s coverage of the Catalan referendum can be contrasted with their coverage of the recent Kurdistan referendum vote, which the Islamic Republic of Iran publicly opposed and its media widely criticized. Nearly all of the headlines in Iranian media described the Catalan referendum as an “independence” referendum. The Kurdistan referendum in northern Iraq was described as a “separatist” vote. The double standard of coverage spanned across both Reformist and conservative outlets, newspapers and websites.

This double standard in coverage was not lost on Iranian Twitter users who noted that while criticizing foreign media, particularly the British Broadcasting Corporation, there is rarely the same type of critical eye toward domestic media.

The Catalan referendum also gave Iranian media an opportunity to highlight police brutality in a Western country. “A bloody day in Catalonia during a referendum/Police raided polling stations,” read a Fars News Agency headline. Eghtesad published pictures of Spanish police dragging Catalan voters. One Twitter user noted sarcastically, comparing Iran’s police reaction to protests, “Western democracies are allowed to attack even before the conflict, Iran is not allowed to confront even after street riots.”

While Iran has no strategic interests in Catalonia, it has serious interests in the Kurdistan referendum. On Oct. 1, Hulusi Akar, the chief of general staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, arrived in Tehran. One of the topics of conversation, according to Fars News Agency, will be the Kurdistan referendum of northern Iraq. Akar’s trip will soon be followed by a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where the issue of an independent Kurdistan will be an important topic of discussion.

Iranian media has continued to be unrelenting in its criticism of the Kurdistan referendum, which was led by President Massoud Barzani. An article in Bultan News wrote that the referendum vote was more of a negotiation tactic by Barzani against the central government in Baghdad. The article continued that the tactic has backfired because the armies of Iraq, Iran and Turkey, the United Nations and Arab countries in the Persian Gulf opposed the referendum vote. The article stated that Barzani’s failed move will be clear to the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, who will see him retreat from his “authoritarian demands” and return to the negotiation table.

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