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Censorship: Britain bans Press TV

Afshin Rattansi | 21.01.2012 20:56 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | Repression | South Coast | World

For the first time, British government censors have banned a 24-hour news channel from British viewers. As of the afternoon, UK-time, 20th January 2012, viewers of Press TV, an avowedly anti-imperialist TV channel headquartered in Tehran, saw the words “Channel Unavailable” when tapping their clicker. And so the war on Iran by Britain, Israel and the U.S. continues using propaganda, proxy militants and asymmetric warfare.

Censorship as a badge of honor?

Britain bans Press TV

For the first time, British government censors have banned a 24-hour news channel from British viewers. As of the afternoon, UK-time, 20th January 2012, viewers of Press TV, an avowedly anti-imperialist TV channel headquartered in Tehran and featuring many of the voices found in CounterPunch, saw the words “Channel Unavailable” when tapping their clicker.

And so the war on Iran by Britain, Israel and the US continues using propaganda, proxy militants and asymmetric warfare.

Unlike the US, whose authorities have so often had to get around the first amendment to ban media from Americans, the UK has no law against the abridging of freedom of speech or against “infringing on the freedom of the press”. The decision was made by Ed Richards, previously Senior Policy Advisor to Tony Blair and a Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC. He now runs OFCOM, a regulatory agency charged with judging what news Britons are able to view.

One of the broadcast regulator's central arguments about Press TV is that it is not convinced that editorial control is based in Britain. I've worked for numerous foreign channels that are allowed to broadcast in the UK, so I know this discrepancy will come as a surprise to my former employers at the London offices of CNN International, Bloomberg and Al Jazeera, all of which ultimately answer, editorially, to bosses in Atlanta, New York and Doha.

Press TV Ltd., a UK-based production company making programs for Press TV has also been fined USD 155,000. This was because the channel in Tehran, broadcast an interview with Maziar Bahari of Newsweek whilst he was in prison. Bahari, who I have appeared with on discussion panels about the situation in Iran, is on the record as saying he wants Press TV banned and, basically, war on Iran. His views on banning TV stations are shared by the British government. We know this thanks to WikiLeaks which released a secret cable from 2010 detailing the views of Jaime (sic) Turner, “Deputy Head of Multi-lateral affairs at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office”:

Her Majesty's Government is looking at other ways to address the issue. Her Majesty's Government is exploring ways to limit the operations of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's PRESS TV service. However, UK law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters. Licenses can only be denied in cases where national security is threatened, or if granting a license would be contrary to Britain's obligations under international law. Currently, neither of these standards can be met with respect to PRESS TV, but if further sanctions are imposed on Iran in the coming months, a case may be able to be made on the second criterion.

While it is obviously a badge of honor for journalists to provoke such paranoia in a government - how is Press TV threatening UK national security?! - The cable also revealed Britain to be begging for US intervention vis a vis France:

5. (S) In the immediate term, Her Majesty's Government plans to lobby the French government to approach Eutelsat and press it to drop Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's broadcasts from the Hotbird satellite. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting broadcasts several channels from the satellite, both domestically (even most terrestrial TV channels in Iran are dependent on a satellite and repeaters) and internationally, so it is an important source of income for Eutelsat. While it would be unlikely for the company to agree to drop the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting broadcasts spontaneously, Turner believes it would be susceptible to an approach by the French government because of the cover it would gain from complying with an official government request. Her Majesty's Government would appreciate the US Government engagement with the government of France on this issue.

Nothing happened as regards London lobbying Paris to push the channel off the Eutelsat satellite but over here, I have witnessed bizarre examples of British journalists wishing to crush press freedom. Only in the past week, the UK Sunday Times' Eleanor Mills wrote that Press TV “… has been fined £100,000…by the TV regulator OFCOM; many may think a more fitting punishment would see the station taken off air.” Such is the insouciant hackery of some British journalists when it comes to issues of free speech.

Those who have watched Press TV (it is, of course, available on the internet let alone nearly twenty free-to-air satellites) will know that its coverage of international events does not conform to the neoliberal news and current affairs brainwashing paradigm in mainstream newsrooms. It is one of the only TV stations in the world that genuinely gives international news, on a daily basis, covering all continents.

As CounterPunch readers know, there is already a war on Iran and this British decision is another front. Let's hope that at least some of OFCOM's board - you know who you are, Colette Bowe, Lord Blackwell, Dame Lynne Brindley, Tim Gardam, Dame Patricia Hodgson, Stuart McIntosh, Mike McTighe and Jill Ainscough - will realize that the purpose of the regulator was not to infringe on press freedom. In the meantime, still legal channels such as Russia Today are so far tolerated and give British viewers a view of the world different to the sanitized Orwellian fictions available on terrestrial television in the United Kingdom. And soon, as British viewers continue to switch off their television sets and boot up their computers, the UK government may realize that it is powerless to ban information getting to the masses.

* Afshin Rattansi runs Alternate Reality Productions Ltd. One of its commissions is Double Standards, a political satire show for Press TV, broadcast every Saturday at 2230 GMT. Shows can be accessed via

Afshin Rattansi
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Hide the following 8 comments

Taking Press TV of the Air: Open letter to UK's Communications Regulator OFCOM

21.01.2012 22:24

"Media Restrictions" in Support of "Democracy"; Taking Press TV of the Air.
Open Letter to UK's Communications Regulator OFCOM

(OFCOM is the Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK Communications Industry)

by Felicity Arbuthnot, Global Research, 21 January 2012

Mr Graham Howell,
Director, Secretary,

Dear Mr Howell,

Re: UK:Taking Press TV of Air.
So now we enjoin those the British government cites as "repressive states", such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan's restrictions under the Taliban, and currently Iran and China, North Korea, derided by the UK government as repressive for control over what their citizens can watch.

When in Egypt, after the uprising, Prime Minister Cameron talked of media restriction, stating that it was the right of people to have access to media and social networks: "From Tahrir Square, to Trafalgar Square." Indeed.

People who are interested in news programmes, from where ever they come, are perfectly capable of working out for themselves, or researching, bias. The UK viewing public, has, after all, had plenty of experience with large swathes of the BBC and Fox News.

Seemingly, Ofcom has no problem with viewers accessing extreme violence and pornography, it is just other international points of view which are verboten.

What next? Book banning and burning? Hitler must be chuckling in his grave.

It can only be hoped this shoddy, shameful decision will be reviewed, regretted and overturned.

Otherwise, welcome to UKistan.

Yours sincerely,

Felicity Arbuthnot. (Dr. Hon., Phil.)

Felicity Arbuthnot
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British journalist: UK moving towards a fascistic state

21.01.2012 22:34

British freelance journalist Lizzie Phelan
British freelance journalist Lizzie Phelan

In a questionable move and without offering a valid response to the Press TV CEO's letters, the British Office of Communications (Ofcom) has revoked Press TV's broadcasting license and finally removed the channel from the Sky platform.

Press TV has interviewed Lizzie Phelan, freelance journalist, Damascus about Britain's hypocrisy in condemning other countries over freedoms of expression while abusing those freedoms at home and how actions by British state institution OFCOM reflects the demands of the one percent. What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.

Press TV: The idea of freedom of expression - and looking at what happened regarding the UK protests - Press TV obviously highlighted that. Please give your impression of David Cameron's statement when after the protests he said we have to have more control over Twitter and some of these personal messaging services.

Isn't that a reflection of the current administration as to their decision now being addressed through the revoking of Press TVs license?

Phelan: Yes, well, how ironic that here I am sitting in Damascus in Syria, which is a country being accused by the British state of lacking all the freedoms that we claim to hold so dear in Britain i.e. the one that you just mentioned, freedom of expression. Of course, Syria has been condemned for not allowing journalists into the country and today we have an arm of the British state for the first time closing down an international channel in its own borders.

Let's not forget that in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez closed down RCTV for a much less flimsier reason than they are giving for closing down Press TV - of course, he closed down RCTV because they were calling for his assassination no less - then the British state and the British press had a field day accusing him of lacking democracy in his country and cracking down on freedoms that we supposedly hold so dear and freedoms that we go around the world bombing other countries in the name of, not to mention Libya, which was being accused of a lack of democracy, freedom of speech, human rights, etc.

So really it is a very dark day for freedom in Britain and it does look like we are moving more and more towards a fascistic state in Britain and the chief executive of Press TV was right to say that this was an act of aggression by the British elite. And of course your previous guests are absolutely right in saying that this is just another part of the ratcheting up of the hostilities towards Iran.

But really what it shows in my opinion is just how dangerous it is for the British elite to have any voice, which is just in the slightest bit different from the barrage of the same media propaganda that we have on a daily basis where really there is very little difference in what is said despite the array of different newspapers and television stations that we have in Britain.

For example, from The Guardian to The Telegraph to Sky News to the BBC, while there may be some differences between these organizations there is one thing that they all hold in common and that is they are all dedicated to criminalizing independent and sovereign states of the global south like Iran - like the government of Ahmadinejad, like Syria, like Venezuela, like China, like Russia.

And so to have a station like Press TV, which provides a different perspective, which isn't about broadcasting war propaganda to justify aggression against independent countries really is dangerous for imperialist countries like Britain.

Press TV: We have this movement going on in the US, the Occupy Wall Street movement and we have what is going on in London to which an eviction notice was just passed - may be this has something to do with the sponsorships behind these media organizations of which you have certain companies that are endorsing these TV stations, of which they have been accused of representing the one percent and of course the one percent have relations with government officials.

There are no sponsorships on Press TV except for may be Iran's oil company, that's about it, there's no other companies, so therefore if we highlights things such as the Occupy movements; such as the war on Gaza when it happened; such as what goes on in the occupied territories, that just rubs them the wrong way and goes against the one percent who own part of that sponsorship. What do you think?

Phelan: Yes and your previous guest was absolutely right to highlight Al Jazeera and I often say that Al Jazeera has pulled off the greatest propaganda trick that actually I've ever seen. Over the past ten years or so during the war on terror they built up a lot of credibility in the Arab Street and in the west among the so-called antiwar circles in their coverage of events in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, in the last year or so since basically the so-called Arab Spring, we have seen that they have been completely in bed with Western foreign policy and have championed wars in Libya and now Syria and really their coverage is very anti-China and anti-Russia etc.

So really, the only remaining independent voice of Western foreign policy, as your previous guest rightly said, in the English language is channels like Russia Today and Press TV.

You mentioned before about OFCOM and its impartiality - If OFCOM really did care about freedom of speech and impartiality and these things and let's not forget that during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, when the BBC refused to broadcast the DEC appeal to raise money for the victims of that attack, OFCOM did nothing despite a lot of pressure.

And where has OFCOM been when Al Jazeera has been proven many times over the last few months over and over again to have been broadcasting fabricated fresh footage from Syria and from Libya.

Of course, we are seeing very much an increasing of the pressure and I'm in Syria now so I will talk about the pressure in the media on countries like Syria and Press TV has been one of the noble exceptions that have provided objective coverage.

So, you are right, the one percent is of course the ruling global elite, the Western elite and through its media, through channels that we've mentioned, through sponsoring these channels the ruling elite likes to enforce what I call Western cultural imperialism. And it is up to states that are victims of western imperialism to build their own effective media and Press TV is one example of that.

Really, what this move shows is that channels like Press TV really are a threat to the one percent and in order to continue to challenge the one percent we need channels like Press TV and we need more initiatives like this. Other countries like Iran and other independent countries should take Press TV as an inspiring example.

Press TV
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Oh please

22.01.2012 08:23

Press TV is a pile of shit, if it features so-called "independent" journalists like Liz Phelan who were very prominent supporters of the Ghedaffi regime and sent extremely biased reports from Tripoli during the UK/EU/US assault on Libya.

Saying that is a bit rich for OfCom to denounce Press TV for its biased reporting whilst letting all the outher media outlet operate with out a mention.

Anyway fuck BBC & Press TV - two sides of the same imperialist coin

revolutionary anarchist

Let's do something about it then!

22.01.2012 08:53

I completely agree with this article, which is why I feel it's so important we make a stand against this blatant act of censorship.

Join us at 1pm on Friday, January 27th outside Ofcom's head office: Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9HA. Bring placards & banners, horns, whistles, and anything else you think can help draw attention to the Orwellian practices of Ofcom. Most importantly, bring yourselves and invite all your friends!

Facebook event:

Ed Colenutt
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22.01.2012 21:45

Whose to believe what Liz Phelan says when she was reporting in Tripoli as a biased supporter of the Ghedaffi regime? The pieces were not critical and parroted a lot of that regimes propaganda ( like the BBC with the NTC ).

All nation states are are to a lesser or greater degree imperialist, they act and defend their national ( capitalist ) interest against competitors which means they will fund and promote conflict for the purpose of benefitting from it - Iran is no exception.

Iran's social problems will only be solved by a grass roots workers movement, something which the Iranian state has been very effective in murdering off all the while whilst western "anti-imperialist" liberals turn a blind eye or worst circulate false propaganda about CIA collusion something Press TV happily does.

revolutionary anarchist

reactionary anarchist?!?

23.01.2012 14:33

@revolutionary anarchist - have you actually been in any revolutions? Could you explain what actually goes on. Are you ready for the killing? Are you used to it and are already de-sensitised? Take your time, for I and many others would be very interested in your answers.
You see, taking life isn't an easy thing to live with. The trauma caused lasts generations and no amount of bedroom wall posters, drinking sessions, parades and all the rest of it will shorten the healing process.
Pointing your self righteous finger is not the way to bring about a change for the good. Have you lived in Libya, Iran or Egypt?
It might be worth taking alittle look at the film ''the shock doctrine'' and maybe read Gilad Atzmons book 'the wandering who'' as there you might find some insight into who brings about 'revolutions'. The 'people' don't - how could they after centuries of being controlled?
Try and fill in the missing word in this sentence after studying said book and film:
The people who worship at the alter of power need to be ........ before peace and equality prevail.
Press TV is just another opinion, take it or leave - remember they aint forcing you to watch.

Milton Freidman


24.01.2012 12:56

western powers gearing up for another genocidal war, and all self professed 'revoultionary anarchists' can do is sit back in their internet armchairs and wag their fingers.

anarchists, like the rest of the british left, are useless, ineffective, irrelevant and insignificant. the west continues its attack on the third world with no solidarity from the western left because whether they realise or not, they have been bought off. stop getting your world news from the guardian and bbc and maybe you'll actually have some idea of what's really happening. or maybe we'll have to wait for a million to be massacred, and then, maybe, just maybe you'll do something. sadly i doubt it.


Just go to duh

25.01.2012 19:09

Why worry about the fact that the canned version of press tv previously approved for broadcast in the UK has been banned? Just go to and watch the unfiltered version. There is also an important video about Syria on Presstv that you can access by going to . Good luck!

John Thielking
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