This is a cross post from The Times, by Houriya Ahmed
Closing down the Iranian Embassy in London is not forceful enough. After the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran by a mob of petrol-bomb-hurling hardliners, the British Government was right to move beyond impotent expressions of “outrage” and demand that Iran’s embassy staff leave the UK within 48 hours.But Britain can do more in the face of what looks like officially orchestrated violence.
There is an arm – albeit unofficial – of the Islamic republic at work here that could be punished to show British disapproval: Press TV’s London operation should be shut down.
Launched in 2007 as an “alternative” to Western media, Press TV is an English-language satellite television channel with a licence to operate in London. It is funded by, and acts as a mouthpiece for, the Iranian regime. Muslim and non-Muslim female presenters are required to wear the Islamic headscarf in front of the camera while broadcasting from London.
The truth is distorted and its reports manipulated to fit the Tehran regime’s agenda. One former correspondent, Jody Sabral, recently resigned in protest over the way Press TV covered the uprisings in the Arab world. She castigated the channel for ignoring much of the protest taking place in Syria, an Iranian ally, while providing “urgent” coverage of the Shia protests in Bahrain – hardly an accident, given Iran’s interest in fomenting unrest there to increase its power base.
The Iranian Green Revolution and the murder of Neda Agha Soltan by pro-regime thugs have been presented as Western conspiracies by Press TV. The channel even broadcast a coerced confession by Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist while he was imprisoned on espionage charges. Ofcom is considering revoking Press TV’s licence after its investigation found that the channel should have declined to air the interview as it was clearly obtained under duress. In response to Ofcom’s findings, Press TV has claimed that it is a victim of “censorship” by “certain members of the Royal Family and Government”.
Although Press TV is an instrument of propaganda, the Foreign Office has been apprehensive about closing it down for fear that it would be challenged under free speech laws.
The siege of the embassy and the expulsion of the British Ambassador demonstrate that Iran intends to heat up its public diplomacy war. Free speech laws should not extend to hosting the propaganda service of a belligerent government. As long as Press TV is funded by the current Iranian regime, the closure of its London operation is a necessity.