Letter to Boris Johnson: no to Iranian government Press TV ads on London Transport

In typical limp and un-self-efficacious manner, I left my last blog post on Press TV at that.

Update: for readers who can’t tell the difference between the critique below and a call for a ban, the above post contained a condemnation of Press TV’s content and a defence of its right to broadcast.

Update 2: A donation to Avaaz’s ‘Break the Blackout’ is one way you can genuinely give “a voice to the voiceless”.

Press TV’s paltry, and then anodyne, coverage of the aftermath of Iranian elections has clearly demonstrated its potential, as an English-language propaganda organ of a repressive Iranian government, to undermine the building of solidarity between imperilled reformists in Iran and their supporters in this country and abroad.

I speculate that Iranian Trade Unionists would feel the same. In the post before last I mentioned a few of those who are being held for no good reason in Iran’s Evin jail for political prisoners.

Here are Drink Soaked Trots with an open letter calling for the Press TV ads which have recently appeared on London Transport to be pulled, and here’s Principia Dialectica leafleting versions of the letter with significant interest from the small number of people who attended the last Stop The War – No! Not That One – Coalition meeting.

See my previous posts and links on Iran for reports of the clerical leadership’s enforcers persecuting trade unionists and closing down channels for free democratic expression. Press TV is an accessory to this, actively inhibiting international solidarity with affected Iranians by censoring all news of such occurrences. Not only has Press TV been largely silent about the violence and deep unrest in Iran since the elections but, still dining out on long-past wrongs committed against Iran by the Great Powers in the name of imperialism, it is attempting to deflect internal criticism outwards towards Israel and the US. Needless to say, Press TV has failed to even note, let alone mark, Global Solidarity Action Day for Iran. Search the Press TV site for the people mentioned in my last post, whose denied freedoms are widely echoed across the world by people who want a free, democratic, egalitarian Iran. Try a few different spellings. You’ll be lucky to find anything, because Press TV has ghosted these important reformists out of Iranian politics. Search for Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death has become emblematic of the danger faced by protesters. I can’t find anything with the spellings I’ve tried (the ones used by the BBC, CNN, etc).

Uh, perhaps Press TV’s search is a bit fucked? Trying Google for Neda site:http://www.presstv.ir/, we get “CIA involved in Neda’s shooting?”. Oh sure, that’s much more likely than pro-Ahmedinejad vigilantes – maybe it was also the CIA who went clouting and killing students at Tehran University, prompting a mass resignation of faculty? We get nothing for “Mostafa Tajzadeh“. Nothing for “Abdollah Ramezanzadeh“. Nothing for “Farzad Kamangar“. Nothing for “Mansour Osanloo“. I’ll stop there. Press TV is not a station that can answer questions from people who are really thinking about Iran.

The front page is some indication of Press TV’s priorities at time of writing; Israel is mentioned 5 times above the fold and 9 times in total. On the other hand, Press TV’s headlines for Iran – you would never know that the country had been gripped by a popular spasm for the past few weeks, now repressed on the streets and continued by power-holding clerical factions behind closed doors:

  • US, Israel behind Iran vote-rigging rumors: Ejei
  • Report: Iran to end gasoline subsidies
  • Press TV to air ‘War; American Style 2’

It is the epitome of propaganda to whitewash what is damaging to the interests of the power-holders in a regime, and vigorously promote stories which support the opinions the regime wants people to hold. Contrast that with British media’s proud (if sometimes awful) critique of government.

And as I said in my last, Press TV has no governance documentation on its site, no charter, no statement of values. This is reason enough to disregard it – it has no value in a country which values transparency in its institutions and news organs.

I don’t want to see these adverts for Press TV. It is a propaganda channel for a violent and repressive regime.

Here’s one version of the letter to end its advertising run on London Transport – a version I think benefits from less antipathy (no matter how justifiably in general) to George Galloway:

Mayor of London,
City Hall,
Queen’s Walk,
June 2009

Dear Mr Johnson

We are writing with reference to the advertising of Press TV on London buses and on the London Underground. You as chair of Transport for London as well as Mayor have overall responsibility for transport in the capital.

We are obliged to point out to you that Press TV is a propaganda station for the Iranian government. It is funded by that government and was launched by Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad personally in 2007. By allowing these advertisements Transport for London are giving implicit support to that government and helping to promote their propaganda.

It claims to give “voice to the voiceless.” Yet the events of the past few days have shown the true “voiceless” are not the Iranian government, who have a whole phalanx of nauseating apologists outside the country, but the Iranian people who are being bludgeoned and killed by the regime’s thugs for trying to make their voice heard.

At a time when Iran’s bus drivers union leaders are in jail, foreign journalists are expelled from Iran, Internet is clamped down and satellite TV stations outside Iran have their signals jammed, to have London buses carry Press TV ads with the motto of ‘we give voice to the voiceless’ is an insult to the Iranian people who are killed and beaten up for their desire for a freer society.

Yours sincerely,

Hat-tip MJP.

Press TV on the tube


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 13 June 09: Press TV has failed to report the hugely important news that there is rioting in Tehran tonight after irregularities with the general election which returned Ahmedinejad to power.

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.