May 23, 2006 11:13AM

Misinformation on Iran

Last week, Canada's National Post ran a revolting and disturbing report that the Iranian majlis had passed a law instituting "separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public."  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story was that 

Religious minorities... will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews would be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar. 

Several news outlets and blogs picked up on the story, and the New York Post ran the original column under the headline "Iran OKs 'Nazi' Social Fabric." 

As it turns out, however, the reporting appears to be false.

The National Post ran a story backing away from its original claims

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran -- including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament. 

They denied any such measure was in place. 

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of "what to do with religious minorities" came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law. 

"It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around," he said. 

"But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups." 

The New York Sun similarly admitted that "The National Post story turned out to be incorrect": 

Over the weekend, the representative of Iran's Jewish community in the Iranian legislature, Maurice Motamed, denied that the proposed dress code changes would require minorities to wear distinctive clothing or badges. The chairman of the parliament's cultural committee, Emad Afroogh, also told wire services that the initial reports of such restrictions were "worthless." 

A summary of the legislation that appeared on the Majlis Web site contained no specific language designating special dress codes or markers for minorities, either.  

Mr. Motamed's claims were actually stronger than the Sun indicated:

"Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament," he said. "Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here."

CBS News outlined its own decisionmaking process, and why it decided against running with the story

CBS News Radio has also decided against running the story, according to Exective Producer Charlie Kaye. "There are too many red flags here," he says. "The best we can determine is this has originated with Iranian dissidents in Canada. We have spoken to a CBS News correspondent just back from Iran and her producer, we've spoken to the Iranian mission to the UN, we've spoken to our State Department Reporter Charlie Wolfson, and at this point we're not comfortable putting it on the radio." 

Amir Taheri, the author of the original article, has now issued a classic non-denial denial through his PR firm, Benador Associates.

The Iranian government is reprehensible enough on its own.  The awful policies enacted by Tehran are too numerous to count.  (The very fact that the government is working on legislation concerning the way people dress being a good example.)  But irresponsible reporting that leads casual observers to believe that Iran is directly drawing on Nazi Germany for the crafting of its social policies is incredibly detrimental to the debate over US policy. 

Thanks to blogger Jim Henley for doing the digging on this.