NIAC has initiated legal efforts to demand a retraction, correction, and apology from Voice of America following the recent airing of a 60-minute program by VOA Farsi that falsely defamed our grassroots U.S. civil society organization as “lobbyists for the Islamic Republic”, and also leveled these outrageously false smears against journalists and victims of the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media has confirmed to NIAC that the broadcast has been removed from VOA platforms. However, far more must be done to correct the record and ensure accountability.
VOA’s broadcast is just the latest episode in a wave of disinformation, smears, and threats that hit the Iranian diaspora late last year. Beginning in late September, at a time when all of us who care for the Iranian people and our Iranian heritage were overcome by the struggle and sacrifices of ordinary Iranians demanding change following the murder of Mahsa Amini, bad actors sought to exploit our community to advance their own political agendas. This campaign centered on the false notion that anyone who has worked to prevent war between the U.S. and Iran, or supported diplomatic efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, or opposed policies that isolate and punish ordinary Iranians and empower their authoritarian government, is a de facto supporter of the Islamic Republic. An anti-democratic inquisition gripped the Iranian diaspora and turned the focus away from supporting the Iranian people and holding the Islamic Republic to account, and instead turned Iranians against one another to fight amongst ourselves.
This campaign to instigate a false public hysteria may have initially targeted NIAC and peace advocates, but we already see how it’s now targeting other members of the Iranian diaspora community to shut down legitimate debate. This authoritarian campaign seeks to impose a false choice for Iranian Americans: either buy-in — or pretend to buy-in — to the disinformation about organizations like NIAC and their fellow Iranian Americans and join the reactionary, anti-democratic bandwagon; or become so intimidated and inundated by threats and disinformation as to withdraw from public debate entirely. For NIAC, we rejected these false options for ourselves and for our community, and have stood firm with the confidence that our values of democracy and transparency will prevail.
While NIAC will seek remediation for VOA’s actions, other means of countering the disinformation and toxicity that has been spread through our community are less straightforward. It will rely on collecting strong research and evidence regarding the nefarious state-backed and political actors involved in spreading lies and threats; conveying what has happened to key stakeholders; and helping our community and ordinary people receive this information and ensure that their networks and peer groups are informed.
To that end, forensic research regarding the manipulation of social media and amplification of disinformation and threats is being conducted and disseminated to government, law enforcement, media, and soon the public. And in the coming days, NIAC will be launching an online hub and additional tools to enable ordinary people to get the truth and have the means to fight back against the lies.
NIAC will always stand for the right of all people to debate and disagree. We will not waver in our conviction that we must all strive for a politics and civic life that is a marketplace of ideas, not a battlefield in which might makes right. In order for there to be a democratic debate, we must protect everyone from attacks centered on disinformation, threats, and political violence. Whether disinformation targets people we agree or disagree with, we will always side with the right of all people to express their views without being defamed or threatened.
Conflict prevention, preserving democratic debate, and ensuring ordinary people have the means to stand up to powerful vested interests is not a hobby. Swimming against the powerful tide of disinformation and hysteria is not fun or easy. But it is our collective responsibility as members of civil society and active participants in our democracy. We at NIAC are proud to take this responsibility seriously and unwaveringly, and we are confident that, in the end, truth, justice, and common sense will prevail.Back to top