This is a cross post by Dave Rich of The CST Blog
Last week the TV regulator Ofcom fined the Iranian TV station Press TV £100,000, for broadcasting an interview conducted with Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari while he was imprisoned in Iran, without obtaining Bahari’s consent and without informing their viewers that the interview was conducted under duress. Despite previous suggestions to the contrary, Ofcom decided not to revoke Press TV’s broadcasting licence.
Press TV, unsurprisingly, has not taken this well. Having responded to Ofcom’s initial finding against the station by quoting from the antisemitic hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Press TV has now claimed that the House of Windsor is the true force behind a conspiracy against the Iranian station.
When Ofcom held a hearing (pdf) in July to consider the complaints in person, Press TV sent a five-person delegation to present their case: Matthew Richardson and Nargess Moballeghi of Press TV; Babak Gharaati of Press TV International; and former MPs and broadcasters George Galloway and Derek Conway. (Press TV is the London arm of the station; Press TV International is based in Tehran).
Galloway and Conway both lost their Parliamentary seats in 2010, but both had begun presenting on Press TV while still MPs. They are certainly not alone in taking work from the station: Andrew Gilligan and Ken Livingstone have both presented programmes, and many other mainstream figures have appeared as guests. However, it is one thing to simply appear on a programme (even as a presenter); it is quite another to represent the station in an Ofcom hearing. That suggests a much higher level of support for the station than merely taking their employment.
Yet Press TV is a propaganda arm for a government which has an appalling record of oppressing its internal opponents, supporting terrorism abroad and promoting Holocaust Denial. Former employees of the station have written about just how much the editorial line is subservient to the needs of the Iranian government. Last week, Press TV invented a story that the Iranian embassy and ambassador’s residence in London had been attacked. This week, the station is accused offabricating stories about American drone strikes killing large numbers of civilians in Somalia. This is not a serious, independent news outlet by any normal definition.
From a British perspective, just as concerning is the station’s appetite for the work of the British far right. They have interviewed veteran white nationalist Peter Rushtonand the Holocaust Denier Michele Renouf. Renouf, in turn, brought them a Holocaust Denier with a PhD, Nicholas Kollerstrom. As Nick Cohen wrote in this week’sObserver:
If whites ran Press TV, one would have no difficulty in saying it was a neo-Nazi network.
Ofcom also tried to clear up the relationship between Press TV in London and theirheadquarters in Tehran. Galloway has previously described “Press TV in London” as “a British owned television station.” It is true that Press TV is registered as a company in the UK, but this is far from the whole story. Ofcom asked (pdf) the Press TV representatives to describe the relationship between the two offices:
Mr Richardson explained that Press TV produces and sells programmes to Press TV International who broadcasts the programme. Mr Gharaati explained the compliance procedures carried out in the news room and in the evaluation department. The compliance of news programmes takes place in Tehran and Press TV provides advice to Press TV International. When asked where the broadcast schedule for Press TV was decided, Mr Gharaati replied Tehran. Mr Richardson also confirmed that editorial decisions to produce and broadcast the programme in question was Press TV International.
In other words, all editorial and scheduling decisions are made in Tehran, even for programmes that are made by Press TV in the UK, to be broadcast here. Press TV has three websites: presstv.ir; presstv.com and presstv.co.uk. The first two are identical to each other, and carry the full content of Press TV’s programming and written output. The UK website, in contrast, is a corporate site relating to TV production, with no news or programming content. Yet as the Ofcom report points out:
Press TV directed viewers to the website www.presstv.ir, which it described repeatedly on air as “our web site”.
Mr Galloway told the Committee that he was “irate” about the case because he considered that Ofcom had changed its own guidelines to entertain a complaint after the point at which the footage was lawfully destroyed. He explained that this was why Press TV was unable to answer questions about the interview with Mr Bahari. Mr Gharaati clarified that he could not be certain that Press TV had in fact destroyed the footage, but Press TV was unable to locate it when Ofcom requested it.
Mr Galloway put to the Committee that Ofcom “invented an offence and then you changed your own rules and regulations so that that offence could be considered by you, having appointed yourselves the judge, jury and executioner in this case.” Mr Galloway continued, “You are out to close us [Press TV] down. You are going to close us down either by imposing a set of conditions that Tehran will refuse to comply with… to give you £100,000 or more to give to William Hague to continue the subversion of the British state against Iran.” Mr Galloway stated that, “The British Foreign Office, as revealed in The Sunday Times and in the Wikileaks cable, wants to shut Press TV down. And you are merely the hirelings of the British Foreign Office.”
This is not a TV station that any self-respecting democrat or anti-racist should want to represent; and anyone who does so, while taking paid employment from them, should not expect to be taken seriously when they accuse others of being “hirelings”.