Analysis: Press TV peddles pernicious tosh

By Oliver Kamm, March 19, 2009

Press TV is the English-language arm of Iranian state broadcasting. I am regularly invited to appear on the station’s discussion programmes and have sometimes accepted. I have seen no evidence of any censorship of my contributions to those programmes, but I do not regard Press TV as reputable.

The station’s presenters include Yvonne Ridley, a Muslim convert and activist in the Respect party of George Galloway MP, but also established journalists such as Andrew Gilligan of the Evening Standard. Gilligan is chairman of a round-table programme of guests who take questions from an invited audience.

I have appeared twice on it — the second time purely because Tony Benn was one of the other guests, and I consider he has an easy ride in the media. I have no criticisms of Gilligan as an impartial moderator.

But I recall him being surprised when, in a discussion of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy, he read out some chilling antisemitic remarks of President Ahmadinejad — and found that they elicited vigorous applause from the invited audience.

In other programmes, the choice of guests extends to the bizarrely insignificant. One recent commentator was a pro-Milosevic blogger known for faking laudatory comments about himself under female pseudonyms on third-party websites.

But the corrosive aspect of this station is not so much the idiosyncrasies of its production as the seriousness with which it advances the most disreputable of fringe causes.

On its website, Press TV carries a preposterous article by astronomer Nicholas Kollerstrom, who was exposed last year as a Holocaust denier. Kollerstrom purports to demonstrate that “the alleged massacre of Jewish people by gassing during World War II was scientifically impossible”.

And it is clear where the station stands. “The West punishes people for their scientific research on Holocaust,” runs the introduction to his piece. “But the same Western countries allow insults to prophets and religious beliefs.”

Press TV has excelled itself by running a story that no reputable news outlet had reported: a supposed CIA study predicting the collapse of Israel within 20 years. The only authority cited for this study was “international lawyer Franklin Lamb”. Lamb is a political activist described by Hizbollah’s TV station in Lebanon as “persistent in his support for the just cause of the Lebanese people’s resistance”.

Press TV has, rightly and importantly, the liberty to broadcast in the UK. It hardly needs stating that British journalists do not enjoy comparable liberty when reporting from Tehran. But the most significant aspect of Press TV’s role is its ability to insinuate into public debate the worst and most pernicious ideas around. It will continue without any further appearances from me.

Oliver Kamm is a Times leader writer

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010