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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Iran: how many rationing riots? Check your sources

I blogged about Iran's energy policy a while back, and noted that their fuel subsidy was likely to run into a wall of government deficits sometime soon. That happened this week, when the government announced gasoline rationing (note: a market price also rations things, by making people pay what the item is actually worth). The BBC has a nice Q&A on the rationing policy and rationale. The interesting part isn't the rationing, or even the widespread protests. It's more in the fact that the news stories vary A LOT in their selection of the number of gas stations that protesters supposedly burned.

Yesterday, it wasn't uncommon to see a news source cite 50 or 100 gas stations. This figure seems to originate with at least one Iranian resistance group, whose website cites "at least 50 stations burned." The Seattle Times still says "more than a dozen, while the venerable New York Times cites "at least two" gas stations. CNN confirms exactly two.

Why the discrepancy?

Clearly, some folks just head to the internet, and have no idea if their source is legitimate. But there's also not a lot of Americans who get foreign news from someone actually in a foreign locale. The Christian Science Monitor noted in February that the number of foreign correspondents by both television and newspaper news outlets has been dropping steadily, even as foreign affairs has become more important since 9/11. The original paper, from the Harvard Shorenstein Center, goes into more detail about the dearth of foreign news (pdf).

If we want good international news, we need good journalists overseas.

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