Press TV, the TV station of the Iranian ayatollahs (they don’t appear because they’re unphotogenic and scare the kids) is advertising on the tube. I don’t really claim to get the iconography or the strange name (is it an acronym? The idea of a ‘press’ is certainly retro). And the strange fish-eye planet, or is it a lens? Or a button to press? Or is is an ‘O’ as in ‘op(p)ress’?
A voice for the voiceless?
Iran has one of the higher proportions of voiceless journalists in the world, so the irony is jangling. But in itself, the idea of giving a voice to the voiceless is very noble.
I was invited as a panellist on one occasion, and politely refused because having a voice on a broadcast funded through (by? who knows?) the Iranian ayatollahs involves thinking on your feet lest you become a foil for some or other piece of propaganda disguised as a debate between equals. I was in a studio audience once too. Giving the voiceless a voice is fine.
However, when you look at some of the other people who host their programmes, they’re not a good cross section of the voiceless. Rather they are people who are voiceless because they’re marginal and they’re marginal for reasonable reasons. George Galloway is a pompous demagogue who admired Saddam Hussein. Tariq Ramadan (he’s rather well-represented actually) is politely homophobic, although he’s willing to debate about it so he must be a decent chap. Yvonne Ridley defends the Taliban. Update: inappropriate people like Alan Hart get to chair debates. There is a deep antipathy to Zionists. ‘The Zionists’ are basically anybody who supports the existence of an independent state of Israel, particularly if, as is so often the case, they happen to be Jewish. Oliver Kamm:
“I have appeared twice on it — the second time purely because Tony Benn was one of the other guests, and I consider he has an easy ride in the media. I have no criticisms of Gilligan as an impartial moderator.
But I recall him being surprised when, in a discussion of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy, he read out some chilling antisemitic remarks of President Ahmadinejad — and found that they elicited vigorous applause from the invited audience.”
If it was anything like the audience I attended with, it was young, international (though mostly Anglo-English I think), brimming with self-righteousness, over-eager to interrogate and if possible humiliate ‘The Zionist’ with their questions, but mostly courteous and keen to listen. Well-meaning kids – but well-meaning is never sufficient. The road to hell, and all that.
24/7 News Truth?
I’m reading on conspiracy theories at the moment – one book which attempts to place them within an idealistic tradition and another which aims to apprise its readers of the threat they pose. Strange to say that ‘truth’ has a funny way of sounding heroic when it’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” or “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, and wild-eyed when it’s blaring at you from a poster on a Central Line Train advertising Press TV.
Indeed, Press TV have introduced its readers (there’s also a website containing material it presents as news-truth) to Nicholas Kollerstrom, a former UCL academic (special interest in crop circles) who lost his job at UCL for arguing that the Holocaust was a fabrication (in fact he considers it “the greatest lie ever told”).
In a bout of wishful thinking, Press TV has expunged Israel from its maps.
I think that the way Press TV engages in debate is good. However, debates are always framed within a consensus. When they break out of that consensus they become controversial, or should. A responsible news service will not flinch from controversy, but will flag and explain it for its audience in ways which promote critical engagement with the details. It may restate the different varying values, prompting the audience to come to an opinion based on their own.
The framing of debate may sound like an act of suppression, but it happens all the time. It certainly happens on Press TV. Press TV would never host a debate on population control which included somebody who was in favour of paying Chinese parents to euthanase their surplus children and aged relatives. The reason it wouldn’t is that the equitabile framework of debate, giving equal voice to the various positions in an argument, can legitimise ways of thinking which should remain, to use a turn of phrase, unthinkable. Oliver Kamm says “…the most significant aspect of Press TV’s role is its ability to insinuate into public debate the worst and most pernicious ideas around”.
Press TV is 24/7 something, but not News Truth.
“People are changing. Opinions are changing. The news is changing. Why do you still watch the same tired news channel?”
Because I know how it’s funded and I’m satisfied its charter will oblige it to strive for neutrality. It’s very important to avoid bias in your news – leave that to the commentary. Guess what you find when you search for Press TV’s governance documents. The first thing a search for ‘governance’ uncovers is “Israeli lobby hinders change in the US”. There’s nothing more relevant. Guess how much turns up when you go looking for criticism of the Iranian government. And its About Us page? Given its stated “revolutionary” aims, derisory.
Martin Bright and Oliver Kamm have it right – Press TV is something to tolerate. Toleration implies deep disagreement with the tolerated thing, but no intervention. Because unlike Iran, this country has a healthful tradition of free expression to defend.
Update 28 June: “Voice for the voiceless”? In the aftermath of the Iranian elections, Iran has been unvoiced by the men who run Press TV, who have organised for democratic reformists and prominent members of the labour movement to be imprisoned and tortured, possible executed.
Update 28th June: open letter on Drink-Soaked Trots to get Press TV adverts off the London Transport System. I agree.
My news channel isn’t tired – it’s fresh. It attracts input from the most talented production team and the main global players. Occasionally it’s even funny. Not as funny as this, though.