It is a time-honoured tradition in Britain for Her Majesty the Queen to give a televised address to the nation on Christmas Day.
But had viewers turned over to Channel 4 – one of Britain’s five main broadcast stations – later that same day, an altogether less edifying spectacle would have filled the screen: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivering that channel’s ‘Alternative Christmas Message’.
It is difficult to know where to begin unravelling the perversity of the decision to allow Ahmadinejad a direct platform to the British people on a day that was once hallowed as signifying peace and goodwill among all. Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, justified the choice by saying that: “As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view.”
This might have been acceptable had the alternative world view in question been benign. But Ahmadinejad’s views are anything but. He has shown his contempt for universal values and the sanctity of human life by presiding over an undemocratic regime with an atrocious human rights record, where Christians, Jews, Baha’is and sexual and ethnic minorities are persecuted; where children are executed and women mutilated by the random diktats of the religious police. He openly flouts international law by boasting of Iran’s illegal uranium enrichment program, which shows no signs of slowing down as we enter 2009. He is president of a nation which sponsors international terrorism in the form of Hezbollah, has increasing ties with Hamas, and has been implicated by both Britain and the USA as having supplied insurgent forces in Iraq that have killed and wounded Coalition forces. He is an outspoken anti-Semite of the first order, publicly questioning the veracity of the Holocaust and convening a conference of Holocaust Revisionists to debate the issue. And he has threatened to commit genocide through his stated desire to wipe the state of Israel from the world map.
Each of these aspects on their own should have been grounds to question Ahmadinejad’s appearing on British TV screens. And yet Channel 4 saw no problem with its selection of guest speaker.
This perhaps tells its own tale. Channel 4 has had a long and significant history since its inception in 1982 of pushing the boundaries of racial, sexual and gender issues in its broadcasting. Indeed it was formed for the very purpose of presenting the ‘edgier’ content that its more venerable and family-friendly cousin the BBC – for both are in receipt of substantial public funding, Channel 4 in the form of a public subsidy of approximately £150 million a year in the form of a free terrestrial broadcasting licence – could not.
For that reason, it is especially disappointing that this seeming champion of liberal values could sink to presenting the “alternative world view” of a man who denies that homosexuality even exists in his country. And who is president of a country where at least 155 juveniles – some as young as 12 – are believed to currently languish on death row, and where 26 minors have been executed since January 2005.
Iran is a place where political and human rights activists fear to tread. As recently as 21st December, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s Defenders of Human Rights Center organisation was raided and closed. And Ebadi was fortunate in comparison to Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, who was jailed for ten years purely for the ‘crime’ of having founded the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan. Kaboudvand, who was in poor health prior to his arrest, was repeatedly kept in solitary confinement and allowed to see his family only once for 20 minutes since being taken in custody in June 2007. Despite prison doctors demanding that he be transferred to receive proper medical care, the judicial authorities refused. On 17th December, he suffered a massive heart attack in his cell and his circumstances are currently unknown.
Nor can Iran’s legal system, responsible for 317 executions in 2007, be regarded as anything other than arbitrary and deeply flawed. In May 2008, the entire leadership of Iran’s Baha’i community – a religious minority frequently victimised by the regime – was arrested and detained without charge. And in November, one man was sentenced to “blindness in both eyes” by a Tehran court, while a woman’s sentence of stoning to death for adultery was confirmed by an appeal court. To illustrate the biased nature of the Iranian legal code, her male co-defendant received ‘only’ 100 lashes for this particular crime. Earlier this month, as part of a sentence for robbery, a male prisoner’s hand was amputated in Kermanshah prison.
For Channel 4 to ignore all this and still choose to screen Ahmadinejad’s message can lead to only one conclusion. So desperate are our cultural elites to promote moral relativism and political correctness that they will stoop ever lower to do so. The form of liberalism they practise does not demand respect for universal values from all, but rather tolerating the intolerant, even if this entails a cultural suicide in the process.
Thus Western nations will continue to be castigated as authoritarian when taking measures to promote homeland security; authors and commentators labelled as Islamophobic when they assert their right to free speech when discussing Radical Islam; democratic Israel vilified for insisting on its right to self-defence; while theocratic Iran is given a free pass to wreak havoc on its population and neighbouring countries and have its president appear on our TV screens as an honoured guest.
Would Channel 4 have granted the right of an “alternative world view” to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot or any of the other sociopaths, more in need of emotional help than promotion, from our ignoble past? The answer is unknowable, of course, but perhaps next year, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe will be invited to take to this particular bully pulpit and expound on his vision of Christmas.
It is with great sorrow therefore that the moral demise of this once great institution can be witnessed through its secondment of Ahmadinejad to be its voice of hope on this special day. Channel 4’s decision forces the question of whether such messaging can really be considered the best use of hard-earned taxpayers’ money.
In this particular case, there is an obvious answer. With increased competition for advertising revenues from a plethora of new digital channels, reports have recently stated that unless it receives an injection of new finance to cover an expected shortfall in its revenues, the station will likely collapse in the near future. On the evidence of this year’s message from Ahmadinejad, it thoroughly deserves to. But given Britain’s long-standing predilection for public financed broadcasting –as witnessed by the burgeoning BBC empire – it is likely that the government will structure some kind of solution to save the station from its likely fate.
Herein lies an opportunity. The government has been surprisingly quick to condemn Channel 4’s decision to host Ahmadinejad. It should now go one step further: it should demand a complete overhaul of its operating procedures should any bail-out be organised in order to ensure that such a dismal lack of moral clarity will never be repeated. By doing so, we may yet restore some much needed sanity to public service broadcasting. If we must live with it, let it at least advance the interests of Western civilisation rather than those of its enemies.