'An antidote to Fox': Iran launches English TV channel

The Guardian 

Report of Glasgow attack says event staged by Britain to discredit Muslims

The Guardian

A screen grab from IRNA TV, Iran's new state-run English-language 24-hour news, shows presenter Yvonne Ridley
A screen grab from IRNA TV, Iran's new state-run English-language 24-hour news, shows presenter Yvonne Ridley, a former Sunday Express journalist who converted to Islam after being captured by the Taliban in 2001

It was intended to be a radical departure in global news coverage, and few could argue that in this, at least, it succeeded. Iran's new state-run English-language 24-hour news channel, which launched yesterday, was aimed at viewers in the US and Europe, its director said. But despite the clipped English tones of its anchorman, Henry Morton - "Salaam, and welcome" - the channel, called Press TV, still needed to learn a thing or two about western attention spans.
Much of yesterday's airtime was occupied by long extracts from a soporifically gentle interview with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, and a slow-moving documentary about Russian culture. That - rather than the channel's overtly propagandistic tone - seemed likely to prove the biggest obstacle to its success. As Fox News discovered, you do not need to worry too much about the truth, just as long as you keep your reports to 60 seconds, and use a lot of loud music.

Press TV's website took a more forthrightly partisan approach, emulating the design of the BBC News site to an almost spooky degree, but with material to make the BBC blanch. A story about the attempted attacks on London and Glasgow airport, headlined More threadbare propaganda from the west, was a perfectly serviceable account of recent events - until the final paragraphs, where the reporter suggested they were staged by the UK government, in order to tarnish the image of Muslims enraged by the knighting of Salman Rushdie.

The website also included a "quick vote" poll - "Do you think the withdrawal of the occupation forces is the best solution to the restoration of peace in Iraq?" - but, as if to invite mockery, refused to allow users to see the results.

Inside Iran, meanwhile, the channel itself did not seem to be available at all. At the launch of Press TV, at the headquarters of state broadcaster IRIB, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said its goal was to counter "propaganda" peddled by western channels. "Knowing the truth is the right of all human beings but the media today is the number one means used by the authorities to keep control," he said. "We scarcely know a media that does its duty correctly. Our media should be a standard bearer of peace and stability. "

Mohammad Sarafraz, head of the new channel, said most of Press TV's 30 journalists were non-Iranians, and included many Britons as well as Americans. The channel will have correspondents in London, New York, Washington, Beirut, Damascus, Moscow and several other European capitals, as well as three correspondents covering the Israel-Palestine conflict from Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem. Mr Sarafraz said training had been provided by a BBC employee.

The most well-known face at the London bureau, based in Ealing, is Yvonne Ridley, the former Sunday Express journalist who converted to Islam after being captured by the Taliban in 2001.

Ridley will host a live political show called The Agenda every week. The first edition, to be broadcast tomorrow, will investigate Pakistan's military budget.

Ridley, 48, told the Guardian she jumped at the chance to work for Press TV when approached just a few weeks ago.

She said: "I see it as an antidote to Fox TV that will give a different perspective to the coverage that you get from the mainstream media. It's not shock TV, tabloid TV or propaganda promoting reactionaryism."

Despite Iran's dubious record on press freedom, Ridley was keen to stress that there was no censorship at the station. "I have had no editorial interference so far and I wouldn't be here if someone did try to censor me. I like working for news outlets that don't peddle propaganda." She added that she had already pre-recorded interviews with pro-Israelis, pro-Zionists and Jewish academics with no complaints from her bosses.

Ridley's faith played no part in her decision to work for Press TV, she said. "It's a secular news programme and my religion is really not relevant."

Since her conversion to Islam, Ridley, who stood for the Respect party in the last general election, has expressed some controversial views. After the botched police terror raids in Forest Gate last summer she urged Muslims to "boycott the police and refuse to cooperate with them in any way, shape or form".


Press TV and its website is not alone in offering a different take on the world's news. Other members of America's "awkward squad" have long been trying to get their message out to the public via the internet and television. As the Iranian rolling news channel was launching with reports of American mischief and imperialism, news services in North Korea and Cuba were putting out their own unique perspectives on the world. Kim Jong Il's Korea News Service (kcna.co.jp index-e.htm) led its site with news that a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency had left Pyongyang on Saturday. Also on the site were the headlines: "Seminars on Kim Jong Il's Works Held" and "Meetings for Remembering Kim Il Sung Held". Meanwhile, Prensa Latina in Cuba (plenglish.com) led its site with "Fidel Castro: The empire has created a veritable killing machine" - the empire being the US under George Bush. Also news was: "Air raids kill over 100 Afghans", "Washington protects terrorists, US lawyer says", and six opinion pieces by Castro himself.

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