The British broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has finally done what it was long urged, and banned Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster. The station is a rolling English language news channel owned by state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), headquartered in Tehran. The station was long accused of being little more than a mouthpiece for the Iranian regime and broadcasting outright propaganda.
The station protested but could barely sustain its deceit when the Green Movement emerged in 2009 to protest the electoral fraud which resulted in Ahmadinejad's re-election. Press TV's director of news, Roshan Muhammed Salih, angry declared:
It is simply not fair to characterise Press TV as a mouthpiece for the Iranian government. It is true that we are state-funded, like the BBC World Service, but that does not mean we slavishly follow the Tehran line.
In the same breath, however, he continued:
I believe it [the Islamic Republic of Iran] is a fundamentally decent government run by a fundamentally decent man [Ahmadinejad]. The Iranian government supports Islam [Islamism] and resistance movements [Hezbollah and Hamas] in the Islamic world and opposes Western interference in the region.
The channel is willing to give a platform to legitimate actors whom the Western media will not touch, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, while at the same time reporting what the authorities are saying.
In itself, this is a staggering public statement for a supposedly impartial and dispassionate journalist to make – let alone one with control of editorial output. Describing Hamas and Hezbollah as "legitimate," when both the United States and European Union have outlawed them as terrorist groups, reveals the extent to which the Iranian regime's views are pervasive within the channel.
There is nothing, of course, inherently wrong with interviewing those movements. In the past, other organisations including the BBC and Sky News have done the same. The difference is one of degree. To simply offer these groups a platform without any challenge, scrutiny, and robust interrogation of their beliefs and methods is to cross the Rubicon from legitimate inquiry to loyalist apparatchik.
A recent defector from Press TV, Jody Sabral has further highlighted the extent of editorial control from Tehran after resigning in protest at its distortion of the Syrian uprising:
Press TV is slowly being taken over by an ideology that merely defends a specific agenda. Experienced journalists with news training eventually come unstuck with editorial policy, a policy that can never be explained because it changes with Iranian politics, which can be quite schizophrenic.
I was asked "urgently" to cover anti-Bahrain regime protests in Istanbul, but told "forget it!" when suggesting coverage of anti-Syrian regime protests.
My four-year relationship ended with Press TV on October 17, mainly because there has been a deliberate attempt to suppress information on the Syrian uprising.
Sabral eventually warned, "Next time you blindly back an alternative voice such as Press TV because it suits your own political view take a moment to question the quality of that information." Suspicions about Tehran's editorial control persisted long before Sabral explained the channel's inner workings. When the Green Movement first challenged the regime, Press TV in London aired a documentary that uncritically rehashed the government's claim that Neda Soltan – a young student gunned down in Tehran by the paramilitary Basij forces – had been killed by the protesters themselves. Indeed, Press TV described the murder as "hyped and dramatized by Western media outlets."
Later, the Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was covering events for Newsweek was detained after giving Channel 4 News footage of Basij forces opening fire on unarmed protesters. As if on cue, Press TV then broadcast an apparent "confession":
…Bahari explained the nature of some of his activities in Iran over the past years and the role that Western media had played in the events, which unfolded in the country.
"Western media are an inseparable part of the capitalist machine of Western liberal democracies. A Western journalist who comes to Iran… is mainly concerned with the interests of the West, which are defined in relation to each issue at every period of time," he said.
The Newsweek reporter said the international press set the scenes for velvet revolutions in various countries, adding that the gentle overthrow of a government could not be achieved without their critical role.
Bahari specifically highlighted the role of the BBC, CNN, Euronews, The New York Times and Newsweek.
This was such a transparent abuse of power that two British anchors employed by the station, Nick Ferrari and Iain Dale, immediately resigned in protest, setting up a collision course with Ofcom. The regulator fined Press TV £100,000 for the incident – something the station dragged its heels over paying. Further scrutiny revealed that Tehran's editorial oversight is also a breach of Ofcom guidelines and so, after more than four years of pumping propaganda into the living rooms of British satellite subscribers, the channel has finally been taken off air – and not a moment too soon.