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Official Iranian media wrong footed by head of Columbia University’s speech

BBC Monitoring

In the days leading up to Ahmadinezhad's speech at Columbia University (delivered on 24 September), Iranian radio and TV made many references to Ahmadinezhad's planned appearance at the university, presenting it as a sign of great US public interest in Ahmadinezhad to the dismay of US officials. But, after the event, Iranian radio and TV and news agencies were faced with more than they had bargained for in view of the President of Columbia University Lee Bollinger's critical introductory remarks. Bollinger said, among other things, that the Iranian president exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

In its first report after Ahmadinezhad had delivered his speech, IRNA (in Persian at 2123 gmt 24 Sep 07) said that Ahmadinezhad had delivered his speech "despite all opposition, negative media propaganda and ! efforts to create impediments in recent days". But the only reference to Bollinger's introductory remarks was: "The president of Columbia University spoke at the start of the ceremony. He underlined that everyone at the university had gathered there to hear about the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ahmadinezhad's own words."

In a number of its news bulletins on 25 September, the Iranian news channel carried a brief clip of Bollinger's speech but the clip did not include Bollinger's "petty and cruel dictator" remark. It began with Bollinger saying "Do you plan on wiping us off the map, too" and then going on to speak about Iran's support for "terrorist groups". The video clip of Bollinger was in English with no Persian translation.

Also on 25 September, Iranian news agencies carried reactions to "the insult to the president" at Columbia University. A number of Majlis deputies were reported as condemning Bollinger's remarks and describing them variousl! y as "a sign of irrationality and arrogance"; "a sign of tyranny and t he absence of freedom and democracy in the true sense in America"; and a product of "pressure from American extremist neoconservatives and the Zionist lobby". But none of the relevant reports repeated Bollinger's remarks.

In a commentary, the Iranian news channel said: "...This occasion, which took place on the official invitation of the head of Columbia University, was held in circumstances in which the university's officials tried, by holding suspicious demonstrations against our country's president, to turn it into an occasion for slander and insults against Iran and our country's president. Moreover, the head of Columbia University, in his remarks, took offensive language to the point where even a hostile medium like CNN expressed surprise and amazement at his unjustified insults. In addition to this, in the pre-planned demonstrations in New York against our country's president, the presence of the Zionist regime's foreign minister in the vanguard of the demonstra! tions clearly revealed the nature of the sideshows and hidden hands in this move against our country's president. The point that is notable beyond these sideshows is the depth of vindictiveness and the true nature of freedom of speech and democracy in America, where they welcome a country's highest official with a variety of insults and slander and express anxiety about the revelation of truths by him. The situation was such that many American academic groups and currents, too, described this behaviour by American officials as cause for regret and a clear breach of the principles of freedom of expression and the role of hosting the UN's HQ."

Bollinger's introductory speech did not fit in with official Iranian media's earlier analyses, which had suggested that Columbia University's interest in Ahmadinezhad revealed a rift between US public opinion and the US Administration. In the event, by attributing Bollinger's' "insult" to Columbia University "officials", Iranian r! adio and TV seemingly sought to put Bollinger's speech in the same bas ket as the official, negative US stance on Iran. But they were left condemning Bollinger without ever reporting his full speech.

Source: BBC Monitoring research in English 25 Sep 07



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