Reflection, (1)

Adverse propaganda of the world mass media about our country.
By H Hakimi.


My nephew, whom I introduced to The Iranian a few years ago, wrote to me after reading the vitriolic attack on Cyrus Kadivar and his article 'we are awake'. He urged me to put down one particular episode in my career as a diplomat which I had told him about years before. He thought it might do some good as another anecdotal evidence of the animosity towards Iranian culture and history.

In mid 1960's after a particularly tough assignment in Iraq I was assigned as the Consul General in our Embassy in Rome. Iran was enjoying good & healthy relationship with Italy at the time. The affaires of the Embassy with local authorities was on sound basis. We had almost no significant problem or outstanding issue with the Italian government & its institutions. It seemed a totally different to the stressful atmosphere in Baghdad. But one night out of the blue, on the Italian TV channels RAI 1 showed a very disturbing film about our country.

Instead of covering all aspects of life in Iran the producers of this documentary had concentrated on showing all the ills. Nothing was there in that film, except dust and dirt of the run down districts of Tehran and other parts of our country. It was all donkeys, mules, camels, pushcarts, animal drown carriages, caravan dirt paths etc. There was no balance in it coverage and its bias towards Iran was obvious.

Nothing was shown of the modern Iran, not a yard of paved road, schools, railroad, or factories. They had gone out of their way to show everything that was ugly and dirty in a country that at the time was making Mercedes & Volvo trucks, Peikan, and even Italian Fiat sedans. It was on its way to becoming an exporter of Mercedes busses. It was clear that the film was made for the sole purpose of adverse propaganda, vengeful in its purpose of giving the wrong impression of Iran.

The bias made us immensely mad, since it was so unexpected from Italians to treat us in such an exaggerated way. Next morning our Ambassador called all of us into his office for consultation about this unexpected episode. He asked for ideas on how to show the Italians, TV bosses and officials, the error of their ways.

I suggested to the ambassador that it would be futile to complain directly to the people in RAI. I thought the only answer to this uncalled for adverse propaganda was to reciprocate. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

I gave the gathering a short description of my plan. The Ambassador was skeptical as how that task could be accomplished. I assured him that if he could give me few days, he would see the results for himself.

I have been a keen amateur photographer all my life. I had all the necessary gear for 16millimeter cinematography. In Rome a Sunday Bazaar was (and probably still is) held. The Bazaar was right in the middle of Rome. For those who know Rome it stretches from Trastevere behind the Victor Emanuel Monument called the Wedding Cake by Americans, to Porte Portese.

Porto Portese was vast with vacant plots, full of ditches, mud ponds, shanty dwellings, dirt and garbage all over the place. On Sundays Porte Portese was boiling with all kind of people, who have nothing else to do save to kill time. In Porte Portese you can find any thing you wish from cars to stolen goods, pot, pans, puppies, kittens, you name it, you can find there.

If your car Stereo was stolen the week before just go there, there is a good chance that you will get your stereo back with a nominal price. Actually if any thing is stolen from your car or flat the first advice of your Italian friends is to pay a visit on Sunday to Porte Portese! They do it without shame. It is a fact of life. No argument or after thought.

I took my 16mm Cine Camera to Porte Portese and started shooting whatever was in view. My aim was to show without question that the film was made in Rome. I therefore zoomed to the back of the Victor Emanuel's Monument every now and then.

I made about 25 minutes of color film full showing the dirties aspects of Rome, unsightly behavior of people, the stolen merchandise, a man sitting on the ground selling cooked lamb intestine in a black big pan, such as we have in Iran, a crook had a table cheating people by drawing leather line. Fortunately this fellow when he saw that I am making film, he pushed his customers away opened the front of his pants taking out his genitals for the benefit of those who will eventually look at this film.

I showed nothing of the beautiful side of Rome, exactly the same way as the Italians had done with us. Honest reciprocity diplomatic style.

The film was developed and I added some sound track on it. The result of one-day job was a semi professional documentary film that nobody could deny. I showed the film to my Ambassador and colleagues. I then asked the Ambassador to throw a nice dinner party for the high officials of the Italian Foreign Ministry as well as the high officials of RAI in his residence, so that after the dinner we can show them my film.

The Ambassador agreed to play along. After the dinner he announced that a film about Rome, which is just being made by one of our colleagues, is about to be shown.

No need to say that half way through the show there was sound of scuffle between our Italian guests. One of them shouted that the film should be stopped. They could not stand it any more. These Italian High officials were furious with one another and in Italian style they kept shouting at one another and finger pointing one another for the fiasco RAI had created.

Most of them just trooped out of the door without even usual diplomatic courtesy of thanking the Ambassador for a lovely evening!!!

After few minutes that calm was restored, the Undersecretary of the Italian Foreign Ministry apologized to the Ambassador for the stupid act of the RAI personnel and asked that the entire episode should be forgotten. He admitted that it was a shame that the Italian authorities behaved in such an irresponsible manner towards our very friendly country. He begged that this film should not be used by Iranian TV or any other institution, since it is a fact but absolute disgrace to the Italians.

He also promised to put right the damage done by the RAI documentary. Indeed they kept their promise. The Ambassador sent a report about the RAI film and sent my film to Tehran with the recommendation that it should not be shown.

I have a copy of my film to this day.


Hashem Hakimi had a varied career as a diplomat having been assigned to India (opened our General Consulate in Calcutta - 1957), Thailand (opened the Iranian mission in Thailand 1958, together with Moshfegh Kazemi & Brigadier General Firouzan) Pakistan, Iraq (Charge des Affaires), Italy, Yugoslavia, Norway (Minister Charge des Affaires 1968 - 1973). His last post was Ambassador to The Sudan which ended with the Iranian revolution in Iran.