Last month, Western news agency Reuters released a photo reportage by Caren Firouz and a video entitled "Iran trains 3,000 female ninja assassins" [1]. Ninjutsu practitioners, a Japanese martial art, were said to belong to an elite squadron of killers "capable of tackling Iran’s enemies in close combat."

The information was relayed without verification by several Western media outlets, only too happy to reinforce the Islamic Republic’s image of a "hostile" nation, in line with the official storytelling requirements.

Unfortunately, the women concerned take up this martial art, very popular in Iran, as a hobby, just like there are many people around the world who practice karate or judo. [2]. The Reuters reporter asked them what they would do if their country were attacked and manipulated their patriotic answers to depict them as assassins "at the service of regime."

Following Iranian media protests, the news agency agreed to change the title [3] and modify the story, but refused to apologize. The club and the athletes have decided to sue the agency for defamation, while the Iranian authorities have withdrawn the accreditation of the agency’s journalists.

Reuters bureau chief acknowledged the mistake, calling it "serious incident". He said the agency has already conducted an internal investigation and has taken steps to prevent such "mistakes" from happening again.

But while the information is contradicted by the facts and that Reuters sent a correction to its subscribers, the myth of the Iranian "ninja killers" has continued to spread. It has in particular been propagated by TV5 Monde [4]. and Le Monde.fr [5].

As shown by the broad-brush reporting of the situation in Syria by the Western media and the Gulf States, this is not simply an isolated case in an otherwise healthy media environment, but the grotesque illustration of an information system where the facts are now routinely sacrificed to buttress the pro-war narrative [6].

[1] "Thousands of Female Ninjas Train as Iran’s Assassins", Reuters, 4 February 2012.

[2] "Iranian Ninjas," Press TV

[3] "Three Thousand Women Ninjas Train in Iran," Reuters

[4] "Des femmes Ninjas pour défendre l’Iran," by David Gilberg, TV5 Monde, 19 February 2012.

[5] "Ninjutsu – L’Iran forme des femmes ninjas pour défendre la nation," Le Monde/Big Browser, 21 February 2012.

[6] "Les iPhone interdits en Syrie? Regard sur un média-mensonge," by Luc Chevallier, Réseau Voltaire, 10 January 2012.