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Sat

13

Dec

2008

Breaking the Stranglehold on Middle East News Coverage?
Saturday, 13 December 2008 22:27
Joshua Frank talks with Press TV correspondent Afshin Rattansi

Afshin Rattansi has for more than a decade worked in broadcast and print media around the world. In the UK, he has worked at The Guardian, the New Statesman, for every regional and national outlet of the BBC. In 1999, he helped to launch the developing world's first global financial news and current affairs channel. He is currently a news anchor for Press TV. Rattansi has written six novels including "The Dream of the Decade - The London Novels". He recently spoke with Joshua Frank about Press TV.

Joshua Frank: Afshin, can you tell us a little about Press TV? How long has the station been on the air?

Afshin Rattansi: Certainly more than a year. It's an initiative by the Iranian government to counter some of the more crazy assumptions that other international channels make about the Middle East. Of course, given the crippling siege of Gaza at the moment, international media can't even get into the place so that makes Press TV uniquely able to cover something that the rest of the world's media seems to have forgotten. The "narrative", as the fashionable post po-mo word goes, seems to be that the U.S. made a mistake by invading Iraq rather than the whole operation being an international war crime.

If Press TV can redress the balance a bit, it would be good. Also, wars in Africa are covered on other stations as if they are purely about "black people fighting each other" just as famines are somehow natural phenomena. Little is told about the corporate background to conflicts in a continent in which the positive stories seem to be about animals and "entrepreneurs" somehow battling, atomistically, against the tide.

Frank: You aren't a native of Iran, so how did you get involved with Press TV?

Rattansi: There may be some Iranian in me! Afshin is an Iranian name and I think there is a possibility my roots are from the a magician's castle in Alamut but that's a long story and goes back a thousand years or so,

But seriously, I had been at Bloomberg News, hired to revamp things, after my time at CNN International and Al Jazeera Arabic and, most enlightening of all, the Today programme at the BBC. The mainstream coverage in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was very poor even if Today and its source, the late David Kelly, tried its best to allow listeners another view of what the British government was spouting about WMD in Iraq. It was odd as twenty years ago I was accused of being against an ally, Saddam Hussein. I had helped make a documentary for Channel 4 in the UK about how Western companies, in particular architectural firms akin to Albert Speer acolytes, were aiding Saddam.

The British government didn't like it at all and yet, once I was working at Today, my colleagues and I were being accused of being apologists for Saddam because we could tell that the government was lying about WMD. Blair's people unleashed an onslaught that led to the resignations of all the most senior staff at the BBC. I left for the Jazeera Arabic programme, Top Secret, which identified the 911 attackers when Osama bin Laden himself contacted the programme to name the perpetrators. They would be caught even as we ran the trailers.

Well, after that story the Qatari Al Jazeera Arabic was chastened as we prepared for the launch of the English-language channel. As for my attempt at trying to get Bloomberg to avoid bluster and actually cover what was well known - the impending financial catastrophe - it ended in failure. In between, at CNN, coverage of the financial world was laughable. I remember talking to financial editor, Todd Benjamin who was nonchalantly cheerleading multinationals without a care in the world for the house of cards.

It was in this context, that I was getting worried that the same mistakes were going to be made all over again, vis a vis Iran. For me, the deaths of more than a million people in Iraq let alone the disastrous interventions in Afghanistan were axiomatic. Reading Seymour Hersh had me worried and I still don't know if he was being used. But Iran was the story. Thankfully, that's died down a little. But going to Tehran seemed a responsible thing to do.

Frank: Do you think the mood has changed because of the forthcoming change in administrations here in the United States? What's the perception among Iranians about Barack Obama?

Rattansi: I think the mood hasn't changed at all. Certainly, Hillary Clinton's appointment as Secretary of State and the possibility of Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke hardly inspires much confidence. Nevertheless, there was a certain amount of heat generated by the electoral victory of Barrack Obama.

Frank: How can people in the US tune in to Press TV, and why do you think it's important that they should?

Rattansi: Press TV is available in the U.S. through special servers via the internet at presstv.com. I think the audience will certainly get a very different perspective to that on other channels of world events and they may be surprised to see that many of the people interviewed on the channel – from Noam Chomsky to Gore Vidal to Amy Goodman - are all American.

Press TV is available in Europe on Sky Channel 515.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the new Red State Rebels site at www.RedStateRebels.org

-- "If we greens don't broaden our thinking to tackle war, we may save some wilderness, but lose the world." -David Brower www.RedStateRebels.org
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