As the British media continued to get its backside publicly slapped by Lord Leveson, came news that Ofcom has finally pulled the plug on the poster girl of media impropriety – Press TV.
Iran’s state-funded 24-hour news channel has been barred from dispensing its loose approximation of current affairs on Sky channel 515 due to its failure to declare its editorial base is in Tehran, not London, when Ofcom issued its licence.
Press 515 on your Sky remote control now and, rather than being treated to a refreshing alternative to balanced and impartial reporting, you’ll be greeted by a piece of public information more accurate than anything the absent station could muster: ‘Channel unavailable.’
The English-language mouthpiece for the Iranian regime, which can still be watched on smaller satellite platforms and online, has steadfastly viewed the world through Tehran-tinted specs since it was first granted a UK broadcasting licence – evidently under false pretences – in 2007.
Not for Press TV a healthy journalistic fascination with hard facts, adherence to the tiresome cliche that every story has two sides or recognition that things are never, ever, black and white – especially in the political cauldron of the Middle East.
Its news flashes make Chris Morris’ classic 1990s news spoof The Day Today look positively Panorama-esque. Here’s a smattering of scoops (curiously, none of which was followed up by mainstream news sources), that really put the ‘fun’ into fundamental: ‘Syria firmly pursuing armed gangs’ (good news there for Assad’s grateful subjects)… ‘Iranian prime minister says: Fundamental changes in world order needed’… and ‘Iran launches satellite to conduct earth analysis.’
It enjoys nothing more than good old anti-western scare stories and conspiracy theories – anything to help portray capitalism and democracy going to hell in a handcart. Hence: ‘UK jobless over twice more than forecasts’ (sic)… ‘Israeli economy on verge of collapse’… ‘Millions of Britons will be worse off until at least 2020’… and ‘Leicester man wins right to eat sister’ (oops, that last one was actually The Day Today).
Scoops about Israel justifying its right not to be bombed, bullied or boycotted are fast-tracked to the top of the news agenda and eagerly scrutinised by an ‘independent analyst’ in some outside studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
All this paranoid hot air would be oh-so amusing if it didn’t represent such a tragic missed opportunity. As an Iranian media outlet with a distinctly western outlook, Press TV is perfectly placed to educate and enlighten its European viewers about the Middle East’s rapidly shifting political landscape in the wake of the Arab Spring. Instead, it just flogs transparent nonsense.
Rather than accept it failed to comply with bog standard UK broadcasting regulations, the channel pointed the finger at ‘powerful pro-Israeli politicians and US sympathisers’. It even accused the Queen. A statement on its website moaned: ‘You can have a gay sex channel on British television and that’s no problem. But you can’t be a news channel that looks at the news from a different perspective to the grim, prevailing orthodoxy of Washington and London.’
Iran, of course, bans the BBC, ITN, Sky and even Al-Jazeera from TV screens (due to state propaganda laws rather than clear-cut breaches of broadcasting regulations). So, Iranian television viewers have never been able to watch a news channel that looks at the news from a different perspective to the grim, prevailing orthodoxy of Tehran.
Mercifully for Sky’s 10 million subscribers, Press TV – like the Westminster career of its flagship presenter George Galloway – has now vanished into the ether.
This fountain of nonsense can, however, still be viewed via www.presstv.ir, where this week’s reality-defying exclusives include: ‘Zionist Bicom behind UK Press TV ban’… ‘Britons scrimp and save to survive’… ‘US a safe haven for world dictators’… ‘Rampant abuse in horrific Israeli jail’… (the chillingly ambiguous) ‘Iran will use all means against threats’… and ‘Sacked chimney-sweep pumps boss full of mayonnaise’.
The complete first series of The Day Today, meanwhile, is currently available to buy for five quid on Amazon.
Richard is editor of the Jewish News. Follow him on Twitter @richferrer