Response to NewsGuard’s rating of IFPNews.com from Reza Khaasteh, the site’s managing editor:
As the name of our website suggests (Iran Front Page), we are trying to be the “front page” of Iran, especially its media outlets, because the articles and news stories written in Persian often don’t go beyond borders and don’t have the chance to reach non-Persian-speaking people across the world. As mentioned in our “About Us” (and a part which I guess could be mentioned in NewsGuard report), “the IFP News tries to cover the latest and most important developments in the region through interaction with other Iranian media outlets and the journalists residing inside or outside Iran.”
So one of the most important things we do in IFP News is to reflect what Iranian media say. Sometimes, the claims made by these media outlets can be untrue or controversial, and the responsibility for the claims lies with the media outlet.
In Iran, we both have pro- and anti-government media outlets, and in the coverage of their reports, we don’t discriminate against any of them, as we are independent of any political party. However, media outlets in Iran have to work within the framework of the ESTABLISHMENT’s regulations. So by “anti-government”, we don’t mean dissidents’ and counterrevolutionary positions.
So the majority of articles we have published so far have had a Persian source (either a newspaper, a news website and agency, or an official source). You may rightly say where we have mentioned those sources in our articles; here’s the explanation:
Up until last year or so, we used to mention the Persian source inside the article. For example see these links:
In addition to naming the original source inside the article, we tagged the articles with the source, and all of them have exclusive pages, an archive of which can be found on Google by searching them with IFP News. For example:
So this referencing is nothing new in our website, and we have been giving links to our sources since the onset of our work in 2014.
Then for certain considerations, our Editorial Board decided to mention the source only at the end of the article, and not between the lines. The source of every single article was always put at the bottom of the page. See these links for example (the source is written in front of “Source” at the end of article:
A few weeks ago, some technical changes were made to our WordPress theme, which resulted in disappearance of the Source section at the end of the articles. We are working to bring it back, and will probably have it returned within the coming days; but even though the source is not displayed at the end of the article, it is being archived in every single source’s page, as we still tag all articles with their original Persian-language source. This can be seen in the Archive pages of all of our sources.
But, we discussed your report in our Editorial Board, and decided to make corrections to our style, and will try to mention the source inside the articles from now on, as much as possible. We have edited our recent articles based on this new decision, and will keep observing it.
We respectfully disagree with some of the points mentioned in your report. Regarding the coverage of government’s “achievements”, we believe those news and articles are an essential part of a full coverage of the country’s developments. Our government-related articles mostly include Foreign Policy news, and that’s what is needed to be reported by an international medium reporting from Iran. Apart from that, we try to report what Iranian scientists, researchers, and knowledge-based companies have achieved in order to help young and talented Iranians find international markets and at the same time improve the untrue image of the country portrayed by mainstream media. These achievements might be gained through the government’s support or without such backing. We try to focus on the achievement itself, rather than the government’s role. On the issue of Coronavirus, our reporting has to be confined to the government’s claims and statements, because the country’s fight against coronavirus is handled by the government, as it is the case in other countries. Even the WHO statistics and those of other sources, such as Johns Hopkins University, are based on the Iranian government’s data, not those reported by dissidents, for example.
In addition to government-related reports, we try to offer a true image of the Iranian people’s lifestyle, especially by reporting uplifting stories and the less-known aspects of what people do in their daily lives, as mentioned in our About Us.
However, this is not the only things we report. We have a “Social Harm” section which deals with the negative aspects of the society. We have “Incident” section, which mostly deals with accidents and natural disasters, directly opposed to “uplifting” news.
We also run articles which merely introduce the country’s culture, customs, civilization, tourist attractions, art, literature, natural beauties, etc. as part of our effort to let the world know more about the country. These might be attractive to read, but it’s not fair to say we only cover “uplifting” stories on Iran.
Another major part of the website is the “Interview” section, in which we offer what analysts say about the world affairs. The interviewees may speak out against the government, and even the Establishment’s positions, especially in the field of foreign policy. See this article for instance:
Or this one, which criticizes the Establishment’s failure to control violence against women:
We also report negative points made by government officials about the way the country is governed, and the mistakes they make:
Speaking of diversity, we also have field reports of people’s reactions to important events at the times of crisis:
These are just a few examples. There are many many more. So we believe it’s not fair to generalize a number of articles published at a certain point in time and suggest that the website is dedicated to pro-government propaganda and whitewashing the way people live in Iran. There are problems, there are dark points, but those are reported by mainstream media in the West, both Persian-speaking and English ones, either in a fair or unfair way. We try to fill the gap created by a defective coverage of the country’s developments.
Regarding the “Coronavirus May Have Been Developed by US or Israel: Report”, we had mentioned the original source, “Ebtekhab” news website, in the Source section, but the technical problem has kept our viewers from seeing the source. We should’ve noticed the problem and mention the source inside the article. We have corrected it now.
You are right about the need for adding counter-claims to articles. Up until now, we were trying to remain faithful to the original articles, as part of our efforts to be a mirror of what Persian-speaking media in Iran say. But we try to give a clearer and accurate image of the developments by adding to those articles, especially when they raise unsubstantiated claims. However, we should disagree with your criticism about “responsible reporting”, as we have always mentioned the source, so that the audience knows what he/she is reading is just a claim and report published by a certain Iranian media outlet, and might be incorrect.
The audience reads about what US officials, experts, FDA, and other Western sources say about coronavirus, for example. We in Iran Front Page were trying to report the Iranian side of the story.
We have reported what the Iranian Leader and IRGC said about the “possibility” that coronavirus has been produced as a biological warfare. HOWEVER, we have later quoted a military official in the country as saying that it is not easy to attribute the virus to bio-terrorism.
So we are trying to report whatever happens in Iran, no matter what they say is 100% true. If you’re looking for a completely pro-east and anti-west approach, you can’t find it on IFP News, because we don’t hesitate to report anti-China and anti-Russia articles.
As regards the “Herbal Medicine vs. Chemical Drug”, we contacted the original source of the article and its author, and realized that they cannot provide enough evidence for their article. So we removed the article immediately in order to clear the record, at least.
Regarding the “Herbal Tea” article, there is conflict of opinion between scientists around the world. Traditional medicine in China, India, Iran, etc. have their own proponents, but they might be criticized by doctors and modern medicine scientists. The official who made those remarks about herbal tea is a doctor himself, and is a Health official. So we cannot say only what the FDA or Harvard doctors say is true. We can report what other scientists and physicians say as well. The audience reads and judges about the claims.
By the way, we don’t quote and report comments not approved or licensed by healthcare officials. Whether we like it or not, the government’s Health Ministry is the top scientific authority in the country.
Regarding the alleged deaths of American troops at Ain al-Assad base, we deemed it unnecessary to repeat what the US says about the issue. We reported the Iranian side for the audiences who have already read about US statements. This is how Reuters, for example, reports the latest news and comments in most of its stories: it only tells the “news”, and doesn’t provide background and context. We tried to be a first-hand source from Iran for other news agencies and audiences across the world.
However, we agree it’d be better to cover both sides in some cases, even if it seems overly-repetitive. We’ll try to change our style in certain articles from now on.
So, regarding “responsible” reporting, we have always tried to be responsible by providing the original source, and even use hedges in articles like “COVID-19 MAY Be Result of Bio-Terror”. If we haven’t provided background regarding the claims, it wasn’t an intentional move to mislead the audience. Rather, we were trying to be as straightforward and to-the-point as possible. But we will try to report “more responsibly” in future articles.
Regarding the Views/News distinction; Apart from the articles published in our “Views” and “Interviews” sections, other stories are mostly limited to the comments made by the officials and original sources, as per what I mentioned earlier regarding “remaining loyal” to the original sources. For example, the part you quoted from Rouhani-Putin article was fully expressed by the Iranian president, not IFP News. I mean the “the US’ move to impose cruel and illegal sanctions on Iran in the current difficult conditions and put pressure on the International Monetary Fund for blocking a loan for Iran” part was a direct quote by Rouhani. Maybe it was better to put it in quotation marks, but in most cases, the entire article was a translation of the original versions. We barely added anything to them. Again in other articles you mentioned, we didn’t add anything to what the officials said. All of them were direct quotes; but you’re right, we could have added the quotation marks.
We will try to specify direct quotes more clearly from now on.
Regarding the Correction policy, we do correct our articles on a regular basis, if we find any new development or counter-claim which totally nullifies the previous report. But we usually change the article without mentioning that it has been updated.
For example, see this article:
If you could access a cached version of the article, you could see that the article’s title was similar to its current url: Iranian scientist develops coronavirus drug. However, after finding out that the report is untrue, we updated the article to its current version.
Regarding the Author and Creator of stories: We often publish articles written by contributors and sent to our Editorial Staff; in these cases, we mention the name and publish a biography of the author at the end or top of the article. See an archive of these contributors for example:
We also have reporters on the ground who write for us, and we publish their articles with their names:
But in the majority of cases, we are translating and creating news using the original Persian content. In these cases, we cannot introduce the original creator of the Persian content as its corresponding author, because there might be errors and mistakes in the English version, for which we are responsible.
Apart from that, these reporters and journalists working for Persian-speaking media often do not know English and cannot respond to the questions of our audiences. They work with us, and sent us their Persian articles so that they would be published internationally. So in these cases, we accept full responsibility for the content we publish in English. Even if there is a question or problem regarding the article, the audience can contact our Editorial Staff, and we contact the creator of the Persian article on behalf of them.
Even if the original creator knows English well (as in the case of Iranian analyst Seyyed Hossein Mousavian), we only introduce them as the corresponding author if they have written the article in English and sent it to us directly (as in this case). In other cases where they have had interviews with Persian-language media or written opinion pieces for them, we translate the content and again accept responsibility for the article, as we are the one who has created the English version.
Here are the ones by Mousavian translated from Persian:
However, the IFP Editorial Staff which is responsible for the majority of articles is composed of a small but smart team of journalists. From now on, we’ll try to specify which one of us is responsible for every single article, so as to improve our accountability rating.
Regarding our Editor-in-Chief, Mr Aslani, who didn’t give you any response, he asked me to apologize on his behalf, and sent me your questions, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t find the chance to respond immediately. We are all working from home, and the work is a little bit slower than before. So it’d be great if you could remove those parts from the report.