Live from Tehran
Iran's New Cable News Network is propaganda, right?
12:00 AM, Jul 27, 2007 • By LOUIS WITTIG
IMAGINE WHAT A WOLF in sheep's clothing would actually look like: a six-foot long, 170-pound killing machine prancing on the tips of its paws and choking out a guttural "baa" while the mottled-wool hide slips off its back. The image is a little more farcical than menacing.
On July 2, Iran--which powers past Libya, Syria, and Uzbekistan in Reporters Without Borders' 2006 ranking of most press-repressing governments--launched Press TV, its new fully-subsidized, 24-hour English-language news network, and achieved something of the same effect.
Anchors in Tehran read half-hourly updates on the doings of the "Zionist regime." The channel's Website (which connects to live streaming video, the easiest way to watch) includes the scoop that the recent "so called acts of terrorism" in London and Glasgow could have been British tricks to tarnish the image of Muslims.
With production values as sophisticated as its attempt at credibility--panel show guests slouch in their chairs and mumble into underpowered microphones as the ticker below crawls with headlines like "Afghan officials confirm that Germen (sic) abducted"--it's easy to snicker. And easy to be blindsided by the channel's combative claims to be as legitimate as CNN or the BBC.
Still, watch for longer than 15 minutes and a certain Twilight Zone ambiance is unshakable. Without any commercials, the channel has the uneasy emptiness of a Potemkin Village. The long spaces between updates are plugged with animations of classic Persian paintings. Two-dimensional ancients pop off gilded backgrounds and zig-zag around. It's seems PBSishly intelligent, and then quietly threatening when the camera pulls back and you see that the paintings are of Persians battling foreigners.
Without the foundation of media objectivity, all that can really be said of Press TV is that it's spooky. Being "just another perspective" shields the channel from any judgment of illegitimacy. Here it bears remembering that objectivity isn't the only standard for legitimate news. Thoroughness and topicality are also vital.
On a languorous Wednesday afternoon, Press TV runs an unremarkable report on collapsing Republican support for the Iraq war. Clips of a recent Bush speech are cut with comments from an anti-war activist and four mood-catching man-on-the-street interviews.
Oddly, this segment from Washington is much more comprehensive than any of the station's reporting from Iran. Iran-related nuggets--Iran wants to ease IAEA fears, Iran leaves door open to further U.S. talks on Iraq--crawl across the ticker. Anchors read statements from ayatollahs and generals, mostly on foreign policy. But there's next to no domestic coverage. No average Iranian citizen is ever bothered for their opinion. For a channel with a proclaimed Middle East focus, it's about as thorough as a high school student newspaper.