What to consider when reporting on Iran, from the Equity Board

Why addressing nuance and remaining mindful when reporting on Iran is key.

A photo of a large group of people holding Iranian flags outside of a building in Los Angeles, protesting.

Recently, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (also known by her Kurdish name Jina Amini, which she was not allowed to go by in Iran) was arrested by the Islamic Republic or Iranian morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s dress code. It’s worth noting that there has been Islamophobic rhetoric surrounding Iran; this is not an Islamic morality police, but the Iranian government’s morality police.

She was arrested for improper wearing of her hijab, but it is also integral to note that she is from the Kurdish minority in Iran, and integral reasoning behind her targeting. To ignore Amini’s Kurdish identity would be to miss an integral part of the story. She was pronounced dead three days later in a hospital after she fell into a coma.

According to the Associated Press, “Iran’s Islamic Republic requires women to cover up in public, including wearing a ‘hijab’ or headscarf that is supposed to completely hide the hair.” It is also important to note that hijab doesn’t just refer to the head scarf; it is an overall concept of modesty for both men and women.

What constitutes good or bad hijab is arbitrary and up to the morality police, and, as in other cases, can be influenced by the identity of the person approached by the morality police. For example, Black Iranian men have not been allowed to wear locs by the morality police. Thus, the want for bodily autonomy applies to everyone, not just women, and is only one of the demands of the protestors.

It has been widely suspected that the morality police beat Amini to death following her arrest, resulting in her fatal coma. The latest information can be found here surrounding the situation.

Not all Muslim countries have these rules; as previously mentioned, the morality police is a government entity, not an Islamic entity.

As we reported last week, Amini’s death has galvanized Iranian feminist groups, activists, minority groups, and journalists on the ground and online. As previously mentioned, the demand for bodily autonomy is just one aspect of the protests, in addition to economic freedom, freedom from discrimination and the demand for more democratic processes. Many of the protests, and arrests, have been in areas with large Kurdish populations.

And as we continue to report on these mobilizations, it’s important to recognize that these actions are not unprecedented in Iran. In fact, for decades, Iranian women have manifested in support of their rights.

This quote from the previously cited AP story, captures the long history of Iranian women’s resistance: “History and recent events in Iran leave us in no doubt. Women’s desire to be free to choose could not be strangled or silenced,” explained Farzaneh Milani, an Iranian scholar and professor at the University of Virginia’s Gender Studies Department.

If you aren’t familiar with Iran’s history of political movements, it might be because western media traditionally underreports news stories from the Middle East, Global South, Latin America, and other non-western regions. According to CARE International, 9 out of the 10 most underreported humanitarian crises in 2021 happened in these regions.

More recently, western media’s reporting of the Ukraine-Russia conflict may exemplify these coverage discrepancies and Eurocentric biases.

In February, a CBS news correspondent reporting from Kyiv commented, “Ukraine isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European.”

Here’s a quote from The Washington Post dissecting the incident and its larger implications:

“Such coverage resorts to Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher at Lebanese American University in Beirut.

“This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”

So, it’s important, as both journalists and news consumers, to approach underreported world events with nuance and care.

It is also important to consider that both Los Angeles and USC have substantial Iranian populations. It is vital to address this nuance in any story surrounding Iran to avoid spreading misinformation or harming the very communities we report on.


The Equity Board