Breaking the Stranglehold on Middle East News Coverage?

An interview 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 Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on December 9th, 2008 at 11:23am #

    Just added Press TV to my favorites.

  2. Sam said on December 9th, 2008 at 12:47pm #

    Thank you Mr. Frank for spreading the word about Press TV!

  3. mary said on December 10th, 2008 at 7:48am #

    This is a very good example of the work that Press TV do. A video report of the latest Free Gaza boat to arrive in Gaza from Cyprus here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rYqPnrkHZXA

    There will be nothing at all about this here in the UK on the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 TV news, nor will there be any reports in the newspapers. Palestine and the occupied territories hardly feature.

    All foreign journalists and Israeli journalists, such as those from Ha’aretz, are banned from entering Gaza therefore Press is the only medium through which we can see into this prison. Our thanks to them.

  4. Max Shields said on December 10th, 2008 at 9:09am #

    Let us not forget the illustrious pragmatic words of the President-elect (B. Obama):

    “During his 2008 AIPAC speech, for instance, Obama promised, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything.” Later, he remarked, “It was just a few years after the liberation of the camps that David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the Jewish state of Israel. We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work, but 60 years later we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.”

    http://www.antiwar.com/orig/salaita.php?articleid=13881

  5. Rowan Berkeley said on December 10th, 2008 at 10:40am #

    Joshua, would you explain this, please?

    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.

  6. Rowan Berkeley said on December 12th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    I mean, surely, a basic part of interviewing someone is ensuring that what they say is comprehensible, is it not?

  7. Rowan Berkeley said on December 12th, 2008 at 10:51pm #

    Ok, then, I shall take it that you neither know nor care WTF he was talking about. Way to go, Josh.

  8. Joshua Frank said on December 12th, 2008 at 11:11pm #

    Rowan, I think Afshin explains it rather well. As the al Qaeda 9/11 suspects were being caught, their identities were being broadcast on his show Top Secret. Bin Laden had contacted the program and they had broken the story well before any other news outlets.

  9. Rowan Berkeley said on December 13th, 2008 at 6:41am #

    Show me some corroboration for that bullshit tale.

  10. Rowan Berkeley said on December 13th, 2008 at 6:56am #

    This is the obvious place to start, but I can tell you now : there is no report anywhere except in the mind of this interviewee of yours to the effect that “Osama bin Laden himself contacted the programme to name the perpetrators.” The statement by your interviewee following makes no sense, as I keep trying to tell you : “They would be caught even as we ran the trailers.” Who is that supposed to be referring to? The supposed perpetrators having engaged in a rather definitive form of suicide bombing, were obviously DEAD.
    http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a102001instigated#a102001instigated

  11. Joshua Frank said on December 13th, 2008 at 8:58am #

    Rowan, have you not heard of these cats?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/us/09gitmo.html?bl&ex=1228885200&en=c7f69aeca37e3a40&ei=5087

  12. Rowan Berkeley said on December 13th, 2008 at 10:58pm #

    Joshua, quite apart from the fact that these ‘cats,” as you oddly describe them, are barely plausible patsies, and have been ADMITTEDLY tortured to the point of near-death continuously by your compatriots for several years, my point is that the claim that BIN LADEN TURNED THEM IN VIA AL JAZEERA is a stupid lie. The reason it is stupid is that, if it were true, it would be as well known as the colour of Monica Lewinsky’s cocktail dress. I can imagine your preposterous interviewee saying, “well, the program is called Top Secret, that’s why we can’t show you what was used in it.”

  13. Rowan Berkeley said on December 13th, 2008 at 11:03pm #

    Talking of al Jazeera, which, outside the little world of CounterPunchers, is pretty universally regarded as a CIA proxy, I have to give them credit for producing the most transparently ridiculous, badly staged, amateur “Baitullah Mehsud” video known to me in english:
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=BbJHl0XfNE4

  14. moonkoon said on December 14th, 2008 at 8:11am #

    Hi y’all, I found this story via Rowan’s blog and posted the following there which may be of interest to readers here.
    (I think someone may be having a lend of you, you know, pulling your leg.)

    …They would be caught…

    Hmmm, perhaps he means they caught some pieces of the alleged perpetrators.

    “Osama bin Laden himself contacted the programme to name the perpetrators.”,

    Perfectly reasonable, he of all people would have been aware that it was an “inside job”.
    Oh sorry, you mean he gave a list of the alleged perpetrators to Al Jazeera.
    It must have taken quite a while to get through the names (and I presume other relevant (?) details) of the 19 hijackers over the phone, or did he perhaps fax or email it via satelite link from the cold damp cave.
    Yes, well, apart from the fact that I can think of no earthly reason why anybody would choose to impart this information at that time, I guess that would also satisfy the “man on the Clapham bus”.

    But a word of caution, your source, Al Jazeera, may not be exactly what it claims to be.
    Be that as it may, I think you can be sure that they do know what really happened, to coin a phrase. :-) ”

    Happy Christmas!

  15. RJ said on December 14th, 2008 at 11:19am #

    “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.”

    Oh good. He prevented 9-11. It was just a bad dream after all. Do you fucking people live in lala land?