London, Asharq Al-Awsat – After less than two months of back-and-forth between media outlets in Britain and Iran, against the backdrop of the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran in November 2011, and Britain later closing Iran’s embassy in London, new signs of an emerging media crisis between the two countries can be seen following Ofcom’s decision to revoke Iranian Press TV’s UK broadcasting license. Ofcom, the British government-approved regulatory authority for the UK broadcasting and telecommunications industry took the decision to immediately revoke the broadcasting license held by Press TV on 20 January, amid claims that the Iranian media outlet had breached the Communications Act.
The media in London and Tehran have both dealt with this crisis, with the view of the British media ranging from approval by those who oppose the Iranian media outlets views, to condemnation by advocates of freedom of speech; whilst the Iranian media has roundly condemned Ofcom’s decision.
Ofcom took the decision to revoke Press TV’s UK broadcasting license because “broadcasting rules require that a license is held by the person who is in general control of the TV service: that is, the person that chooses the programmes to be shown in the service ad organizes the program schedule.” Press TV ran its editorial oversight from Tehran, something that Ofcom viewed as breaching the broadcasting license rules in the UK.
In addition to this, Press TV was fined £100,000 last year after the channel broadcast an interview with Maziar Bahari, an imprisoned Newsweek journalist. The interview had allegedly been conducted under duress.
On the other hand, Press TV has condemned Ofcom, describing it as an “agent of the British government and royal family.” Press TV, which had broadcast its English-language service from London since 2007, claimed that Ofcom’s decision to revoke its license was “political”, and aims to silence its voice, particularly as some of its programming and views are upsetting to the British government. Press TV claims that its criticism of the costs of the British royal wedding, as well as the 2011 summer riots in the UK, were among the reasons why its broadcast license was revoked.
Speaking to the British “Guardian” newspaper, Press TV newsroom director Hamid Emadi said “Press TV believes that Ofcom is the media tool of the British government – the same government that sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in the killing of innocent civilians.”
He added “WikiLeaks cable say London and Washington have explored ways to limit the operations of Press TV in the UK. And here it comes; Press TV is removed from the Sky platform.”
Iranian political and media figures also strongly condemned Ofcom’s decision to revoke Press TV’s UK broadcasting license. Chairman of the Iranian Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said that the revoking of Press TV’s license runs counter to Western claims of democracy and freedom of speech. He said “Press TV has carried out its duty, but they [British officials] took a political and preferential approach [towards the news channel].” He added that this approach proves that the West “pretends dictatorships are democracies.”
Whilst Iranian journalist Mohamed Reza Hamidi, a writer for the influential Iranian “Kayhan” newspaper, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this decision “is an act of censorship in itself”, stressing that broadcasting licenses should not be withdrawn except in the event that this threatens national security, or violates international law. He stressed that “this was not the case with Press TV, and this confirms that this decision was taken due to political concerns, particularly as this channel was an alternative voice in the midst of the domination of Western media.”
Press TV newsroom director Hamid Emadi added that “the British government and Ofcom will not be able to silence Press TV’s voice in the UK. We will exhaust all possibilities and will try to stay in the UK as an active media player and an alternative voice.”
Press TV continues to broadcast via the Hot Bird family of satellites (13 degrees East), whilst it is also available to viewers in the Middle East via Nilesat, as well as through the internet.
Ofcom spokesman Rhys Hurd told Asharq Al-Awsat that the British broadcasting watchdog had only learnt that Press TV’s editorial oversight was based in Tehran in 2010.
He revealed that “during the investigations undertaken by Ofcom into the case of Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, we discovered that the Iranian channel did not enjoy autonomy on an editorial level. Although its officers located in London possess a UK broadcasting license…the channel’s official headquarters are in Tehran.”
We must note that British broadcasting laws state that all television channels must have independent editorial oversight, and this cannot be run from abroad, as was the case with Press TV. Rhys Hurd told Asharq Al-Awsat “in November 2010, we informed Press TV that it was in violation of the law, and we offered that they either transfer editorial control to Britain, or they apply to have their operations in Tehran correctly licensed, but they failed to respond to this and did not choose either offer.”
For his part, British academic and journalist Roy Greenslade, who is also a professor of journalist at London’s City University, said that there can be no debate regarding a broadcaster’s right to put forward different views and opinions. However he stressed that the revoking of Press TV’s license had nothing to do with its content and views, but rather its contravention of UK broadcasting laws. He said that if Press TV wants to be part of British media, it must abide by its professional standards and laws.
In addition to this, Tom J Wilson, Director of the Centre for Transatlantic Affairs and an analyst at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy, wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “Britain is better off without Iranian Press TV, regardless of what the channel’s supporters tell us”. He stressed that “Since 2007 Press TV has been the flagship of Iran’s propaganda mission to the West, and now it is gone and that has to be good news for supporters of democracy and human rights everywhere.”
It would be fair to say that relations between Ofcom and Press TV have been tense for some time, particularly after Press TV broadcast an interview from prison with Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari in 2010.
Bahari, who has since been sentenced in absentia to 13 years and six months in jail plus 74 lashes on a variety of charges that are widely believed to be false, stressed that Press TV’s broadcast as a “total mockery of the Ofcom code and the notion of informed consent.”
This interview was conducted whilst Bahari was in prison, and in the presence of his captors; he was unable to speak freely and was compelled to read answers from a prepared script. After investigations into the circumstance surrounding this interview and its broadcast, the British regulator told Press TV that it was minded to ban it from broadcasting in the UK, but later downgraded its punishment to a fine of £100,000. Press TV has refused to pay this fine.
Press TV is a 24-hour English language global news network based in Tehran. It is owned by the Iranian state-owned media corporation, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Press TV has reporters and commentators based across the world, including Washington, Damascus, Beirut, Seoul, and elsewhere.
Press TV’s vision is “heeding the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world; embracing and building bridges of cultural understanding; encouraging human beings of different nationalities, races and creeds to identify with one another; bringing to light untold and overlooked stories of individuals who have experienced the vitality and versatility of political and cultural divides first-hand.
Former Press TV presenters include former British MP George Galloway, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, and sister of Cherie Blair, Lauren Booth.