Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Breaking the Stranglehold on Middle East News Coverage

An Interview with Afshin Rattansi (Press TV)


"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......

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.......

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......"

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