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Bad television: the confession of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Over the years I’ve watched some very bad television. Haven’t we all? And it’s become a commonplace to denounce “reality TV” as the worst (“nothing very real about most of it”, say the critics) and well, some of this now-dominant TV form is, I have to say, truly terrible.

This week the former executive producer of The Word Charlie Parsons was extolling the virtues of the 90s Channel 4 show, claiming that it effectively ushered in a lot of modern TV with its supposedly edgy, live-on-air “youth” antics. One line of his wasn’t-it-all-great piece caught my eye. The show had an item, he explains, where people came on the show to do “unpleasant things such as snogging an old woman”. Hmmm. Now there’s a grown-up remark if I ever I saw one …

But, leaving Mark Lamarr and Terry Christian aside, us human rights types will tell you that there’s another sub-genre of bad reality TV out there. It’s called the “faked televised confession”.

That appears to be what we’ve now had on the Iranian “10.30” TV programme in the Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani case, the 43-year-old Iranian mother who has been facing death by stoning for the heinous crime of alleged adultery.

The case needs little introduction. It’s been the subject of a big campaign from Amnesty (please support it here) and has met with outrage around the world (more background here and here). 

So, what do the Iranian authorities do when they see overwhelming revulsion at the idea of stoning to death a woman for the offence of adultery? Stop the execution immediately? Rush in legislation that would ban stoning as a legal punishment and prevent any imposition of the death penalty or other punishments for “adultery” or other “moral” crimes (and indeed scrap the death penalty altogether)?

Er, no. Instead the woman is put on TV in highly dubious circumstances supposedly “confessing” to her involvement in a murder which, in some way, is supposed to lend a veneer of respectability to the whole tawdry business of intending to stone this woman to death in the first place. Read suitably outraged reaction from Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui here.

In short, then, the twists and turns of this case are far more shocking than the tame “shock tactics” of The Word ever were. In fact as reality TV goes, it’s about as shocking as it gets.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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