Iran's Press TV Comes Under Attack in Britain
By Staff News & Analysis - May 25, 2011

Iran's Press TV censured for interview with arrested journalist … Ofcom says interview with Maziar Bahari that aired in the UK breached broadcasting rules. The UK media regulator has been investigating the complaint by Bahari, who spent 118 days in jail, since last summer. In its ruling on the complaint published on Monday, Ofcom said it regards the breaches to be of a "serious nature" and is now considering if the case "warrants the imposition of a sanction.' – UK Guardian

Dominant Social Theme: Iranian TV is full of coercion and propaganda.

Free-Market Analysis: Back in the 20th century, it was easy to see the US and the West as engaged in a great struggle of freedom against the Soviet Union and communist states. This was no doubt an optimal state of affairs for the Anglo-American power elite as there was little question about the veracity of Western programming. "That's the way it is," Walter Cronkite said. He was enunciating a major dominant social theme of the Anglo-American mainstream media. If Cronkite said it, you could believe it. How long ago that seems.

The Internet and the fall of communism have eroded the moral certainties of Western mainstream news. When covering the economy or military ventures, Western mainstream media often presents only part of the story – and that is easily understood if one checks alternative 'Net reports on the same issues. But today, at least two TV channels, Russia Today (RT) and Press TV, available in various cable packages, are providing provocative, fact-based reporting. It is a sad comment on Western programming that these two channels seem so good despite what would seem to be a relative paucity of resources.

Press TV, the Iranian news channel, perhaps surprises the most, though RT is quite good in its own right. When British television and the BBC covered the royal wedding "seen by billions," Press TV providing skeptical coverage that questioned how many people around the world were actually watching – or cared to look – and why Britain was spending so much money on a wedding when British finances were so shaky. The result was a far more well-rounded job of reporting than was managed by major Western networks/touts such as CNN.

Press TV covers the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, we learn after a while that angry Palestinians claim at least 5,000 towns and hamlets were leveled by the initial Israeli settlers. While there is no way of knowing whether this is true or not – it is simply asserted – it does make Palestinian anger a good deal clearer, especially when a third-generation of children can recite the names of the towns that their great grandparents occupied and which apparently are no more.

Press TV covers the current ferment in the Middle East and Africa. We learn about atrocities in Yemen and Bahrain that are reported only in passing on Western television. Western programming makes much of the Libyan Gaddafi's violence toward his own people, but Saudi complicity in Bahrain's civilian shootings or Yemeni violence is far less emphasized, if mentioned at all. Watching Press TV, one realizes anew how selective Western television can be, and how much it leaves out by emphasizing certain events while down-playing others.

The programming at Press TV seems surprisingly even-handed. The news anchors, as on RT, adopt Western-style approaches to the news and often seek to provide both sides of the story. The anchors are well-spoken and wear expensive suits. The women tend to be quick and knowledgeable (in a way that Katie Couric should have been but was not), and wear beautiful scarves on their heads. Guests, like Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group (we've interviewed him), often bring a sophisticated, Western perspective to Press TV's presentations.

Perhaps because Press TV has been a success in its first few years of existence, covering the "other side" of events, it has begun to upset Western media gatekeepers. Now British regulators are beginning to strike at Press TV more formally. Something called "Ofcom," a kind of British FCC, just ruled that Press TV "is responsible for a serious breach of UK broadcasting rules."

According to the UK Guardian, which reported yesterday on the controversy (see article excerpt above), Press TV could face a fine for airing an interview with Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist who was arrested in Iran covering presidential election in 2009. Ofcom has decided that an interview "obtained by force" while Bahari was held in a Tehran jail was aired in July 2009. Bahari later lodged a complaint with Ofcom in December 2009, in which he claimed the interview had been made "under duress."

In fact, Press TV is currently running a clip of Bahari explaining to an unknown interviewer that he had given the interview in a moment of weakness. This does not necessarily sound like coercion; but Ofcom seems to have arrived at surety. The Guardian article explains that he was "interviewed by three Iranian broadcasters, including Press TV, reading answers pre-prepared by his captors from a script." Here's some more from the Guardian:

The complaint also said Press TV did not seek Bahari's permission to film and air the interview. Press TV denied the interview was biased, saying Bahari did not "dispute the truth and accuracy" of the extract of the interview it broadcast, so it made "no logical sense" to claim it required his consent. The broadcaster also said its policy was not to accept "scripted" interview questions from any third party or to "put pressure on an individual to give an interview or continue recording if an individual requested the recording to stop."

In summary Ofcom said Press TV's presentation of Bahari was unfair because it "omitted material facts and was placed in a context in which inferences adverse to Mr. Bahari could be drawn". The media regulator also said that Press TV failed to get his consent and this "contributed to the overall unfairness to Mr. Bahari in the item broadcast". Ofcom added that filming and broadcasting the interview without consent "while he was in a sensitive situation and vulnerable state was an unwarranted infringement of Mr. Bahari's privacy."

The complaint and the reporting by the Guardian make it sound as if Press TV is presenting its viewers with drone-like, scripted interviews that mindlessly project the points of view of the Iranian regime. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reporting certainly provides a fresh point of view but it is remarkably free of doctrinaire assertions and uses Western investigative techniques and point-counterpoint discussions that make many of the programs most interesting to watch.

After Thoughts

The suspicion is that Ofcom is getting ready not just to fine Press TV but also to make a case that Press TV ought to be banned from Britain. Likely, this will be the beginning of an effort to ban Press TV in America and Europe-proper as well. It won't do to have Iranian television blasting away while one is dropping bombs on Tehran, if that is the plan. In any event, if Press TV is banned for one reason or another, it will be Britain's loss and then perhaps the West's as well.

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