Following the eruption of political unrest and turmoil in Iran which lasted for several weeks after the reelection of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12, 2009 presidential elections, Press TV, a 24-hour English-language TV network run by Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB, came under the fire of harsh criticism by British media outlets, including The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and The Times of London because of what they considered to be a “violation of neutrality” by the network. This seemed to be simply a retaliatory act against Iranian statesmen’s explicit condemnation of the UK’s BBC, which they alleged provoked riot and insurgence in a turbulent Tehran.
Over the past two years and since it was launched in 2007, I’ve been a regular follower of both Press TV’s website and TV channel. Primarily, I admire the efforts of this Iranian news network, which has strived to function as the “podium of justice” and “voice of the voiceless”. Those who are familiar with the media atmosphere in Iran unanimously admit that Press TV is the most professional and unbiased outlet, at least among the state-funded media.
However, the tradition of calling Press TV a state-run or state-funded agency is a propagandistic technique which the western mainstream media have adopted collectively. Whenever citing something from Press TV, American and British mainstream media state the fact that the network is funded by Iranian government simply in order to cast doubt on the veracity and legitimacy of the source they’re citing. This is the fallacy of “ad hominem circumstantial”.
To illustrate, France 24 can be accurately called the French tantamount of Iran’s Press TV; it’s funded by the state with an initial budget of €100m and conventionally follows the theoretical line of French government. Nevertheless, a Google search for the term “state-funded France 24” returns just 253 results while “state-funded Press TV” returns 11,600 pages, an indication of the familiar exercise of double standards by the corporate media who rule hearts and minds.
As someone who has customarily traced Press TV’s trajectory, I do have my own reasons to defend this new-born media hub which has seriously called to challenge Russia Today, Aljazeera English and Deutsche Welle World. Despite my disagreement with some of its policies and stances that I’ve found objectionable and lopsided, especially in the post-election turmoil of Iran, I generally appreciate Press TV for what it has achieved so far and what it’s trying to realize.
Although Press TV is not available to the majority of Iranians who have been legally disentitled to own dish antennas to watch global satellite channels over the past three decades, it should be domestically admired for the esteem and value it gives to Iran’s cultural heritage and artistic treasures. In contrary to the majority of Iran’s state-run and non-governmental media outlets, which do not spare even minimal coverage for Iran-related cultural events and accomplishments, Press TV has been a major source of news features and reports on Iranian arts and culture.
Press TV prevalently runs reports on the concerts, exhibitions, lectures, ceremonies and festivals which Iranian artists hold around the world, honorably introducing award-winning Iranian scientists, cartoonists, filmmakers, writers, and scholars who accomplish something extraordinary in their field of endeavor. This comes while the rest of the Iranian media seem to be worryingly afraid of Iranian culture, arts, and science as they pervasively shun these popular areas.
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Politically, I appreciate Press TV, because by the end of the day, it generally preserves its impartiality and sheds a light on a number of issues which the international community universally neglects. I believe that it could have performed more objectively in the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, especially in reaction to the demonstrations of Iran’s dissident citizens. However, Press TV realistically has fulfilled its promise to serve as an outlet that exhibits the bitter realities that the mainstream media otherwise overlook.
Take the case of the Holocaust and those who are in denial of it. I’m not a history expert and thus keep aside from the controversy, but I categorically believe that no one should come up with an excuse for the relentless massacre of millions of people whose lives a Nazi regime considered to be insignificant and dispensable. However, the very fact that a growing number of Holocaust deniers such as Horst Mahler, Fredrick Toben, Gaston-Armand Amaudruz, Wolfgang Frohlich, Herbert Verbeke and David Irving have been put in jail for simply expressing their viewpoints, even if what they believe is contradictory to the standards of western society, suggests that there’s something wrong with the right to “freedom of speech” and the way it is interpreted. Press TV has successfully shed a light on this contradiction.
As another example, during Israel’s 22-day nightmare offensive against the Gaza Strip, while reporting favoring the offender encompassed the global mainstream, Press TV conducted interviews with prominent figures who were somehow involved in the conflict and aired footages which no other TV channel had dared broadcast, giving a glimpse into the victims’ point of view.
The best conceptual accomplishment of Press TV has been the revelation of intolerable double standards that certain governments exercise. Press TV screens critics and scholars that the mainstream media have long boycotted. Its effort to give them a voice thwarts all of the efforts that have been made to cover up the other side of stories, especially in the Middle East, and this has outraged some who cling to the double-standard of free speech discussed above.
The allegation that Press TV serves as the “mouthpiece of Iranian government” deserves scrutiny. Every media outlet around the world endeavors to satisfy its owner and serve—or at least not undermine—its interests, especially when the owner is a government. Press TV is going to grow professionally, and become more like an Iranian BBC. I personally oppose Press TV serving as a mouthpiece for any power, including the Iranian government; however, the problem is that we don’t know of any international news outlet that doesn’t often serve as a mouthpiece for its respective government.
Recent pressure on Press TV also transmits a clear message to officials in Tehran complaining of the double standards of Washington, London and Paris while themselves rejecting free speech. Once Jon Leyne of the BBC was expelled from Tehran on charges of “supporting the rioters” in the post-election crisis, Iran should have expected Ofcom’s retaliatory reaction three months later: they’re now pondering the renewal of Press TV’s London headquarters. This would be an unfortunate consequence of Iranian government officials’ decisions.
Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian freelance journalist and media correspondent. His articles have appeared on a number of media outlets and newspapers including Tehran Times, Salem News, Palestine Think Tank, Press TV, Foreign Policy Journal, Islam Online and Middle East Online. He is a member of Tlaxcala Translators Network for Linguistic Diversity.
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