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Iranian state television starts to cover Syrian conflict

March 26, 2012 | 12:47 pm

Pro-government demonstrators hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad

REPORTING FROM TEHRAN -- News of a bloodied and troubled Syria has begun to run on Iranian state television, focusing on angles sympathetic to the regime of President Bashar Assad as it contends with armed rebels and foreign critics.

Iranian media originally shied away from covering the uprising in Syria, a longtime ally of Iran. Tehran cheered revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, but Iranian officials and academics have contended that the Syrian protests are different and that the West is seeding the unrest.

"The Syrian government is anti-Israeli and its rulers are not stooges of the USA as the rulers in Bahrain are, or as the previous leaders of Tunis and Egypt were," lawmaker Reza Foladgar told The Times last year. “I am sure elements from abroad are instigating some unrest in Syria.”

But news of the Syrian rebellion is slowly and selectively reaching Iranians.

In the heavily watched noon news broadcast Monday, state television showed video of Syrian expatriates who back Assad gathering near the Eiffel Tower in France. The protesters “are condemning the Saudi Arabian and U.S. interference in Syria,” a Paris correspondent said.

Another televised report described the Syrian opposition as “armed groups planting bombs and killing the Syrian soldiers and civilians.”

The Assad regime has been widely condemned for rampant human rights abuses, including killings and torture, but the rebels have not been blameless either, according to Human Rights Watch, which found allegations of kidnappings and executions carried out by the decentralized opposition.

Though the Iranian media have focused on events that are sympathetic to the Assad regime, the mere shift toward covering the Syrian crisis at all is noteworthy. State television is the main source of news for most Iranian viewers.

However, illegal satellites are often used in urban areas to pick up prohibited channels from the West, bringing the Voice of America and the BBC into some Iranian homes.

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-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Pro-government demonstrators hold Syrian national flags and portraits of President Bashar Assad during a protest in Paris on Sunday. The event was covered by Iranian state television. Credit: Thomas Samson / AFP/Getty Images

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