Press TV is an Iranian English-language news network launched on July 2, 2007. The network’s guiding mission is to broadcast the Iranian perspective on global events. It is not the first Iranian international broadcaster (see for example Al Alam) but it is the first English language channel.
The Iranian government launched Press TV in order to provide a counterbalance to Western "propaganda." "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," Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the day Press TV went on the air. "We scarcely know a media that does its duty correctly. Our media should be a standard bearer of peace and stability." He also spoke of Iran being "a target of a media global war."
Moreover, since Iran often dominates international headlines about the Middle East, Press TV aims to provide an alternative view. As Mohammad Sarafraz, the deputy head of state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, said, "Whatever happens somewhere, Iran’s leg is dragged into it. … Many like to know what it has to say."
An anonymous analyst in Tehran summarized the rationale behind the new network, "The head of Press TV alleges that Al Jazeera reflects the point of view of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while CNN and the rest are advocates of the Western point of view. So through Press TV the Islamic Republic intends to put forth a third viewpoint of things – that of the Shiites’ and the Islamic Republic’s against what they call president Bush’s crusade against Muslims and the onslaughts of fundamentalist Sunnis."
Press TV’s website outlines three goals:
- To break the global media stranglehold of western outlets;
- To bridge cultural divisions pragmatically;
- To highlight the versatility and vitality of political and cultural differences, making up the human condition.
Press TV is reported to have more than 400 staff and 26 reporters in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Some of the foreign correspondents are not Iranian, i.e., the Press TV reporter Yvonne Ridley based in London, is a former Sunday Express journalist who converted to Islam after being captured by the Taliban in 2001. Former BBC Today program journalists, Afshin Rattansi and Andrew Gilligan as well as RESPECT MP, George Galloway are also presenters for the station.
The channel broadcasts on a 24-hour cycle, for which it produces 48 newscasts a day. Press TV is available via satellite and over the Internet, but it is prohibited in Iran, where satellite dishes are forbidden.
International Reactions to the Launch
Propaganda or Trustworthy Network?
Iranian press is tightly controlled. Reporters Without Borders, which maintains a worldwide press freedom index ranks the country 162 out of 168. Isa Saharkhiz, who is a member of the Association for Press Freedom in Iran, expressed concerns about the strong possibility that Press TV is a propaganda tool and that it is unlikely the network will bring about a wave of press freedom. "If female presenters do not wear headscarves in order to appeal to Western audiences," he says, "there will be a backlash in Tehran with hard-liners protesting and trying to close the channel down."
Although Press TV is an international network, its coverage focuses primarily on the Middle East, which strengthens the idea that Press TV’s main goal is to explain Iran’s involvement and positions in the region.
The Press TV’s website adheres closely to Iranian official positions and has been criticized for the bias of its coverage. It refers to Israel as “the Zionist regime;” and its Iraq coverage is very critical of the United States.
In a recent article titled "US planning coup against Iraqi gov’t", the report concluded by saying: "US president George W. Bush who invaded Iraq under the umbrella of democracy not only has been ignoring the results of the elections, but he is supporting the terrorists whose aim is to overthrow the first democratic rule in Iraqi history."
It overtly criticized Salman Rushdie’s knighthood and dedicated a number of articles covering protests against the ceremony.
In domestic headlines, it dedicated an entire section to "Nuclear Energy," featuring information about the peaceful purposes of the nuclear program and the progress of the negotiations with the IAEA.
Press TV has vocally defended itself against criticisms of bias. A few days after it went on the air, Press TV published an article on its website criticizing how Western media had reported on the network and emphasizing that it "intends to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Truth is bitter. That is why the west is afraid of this channel and has started its campaign against the truth."
Doubts over possible audience
While Press TV mainly targets Western viewers, analysts disagree on whether Press TV can attract a fair audience share. Clair Spencer, from the think tank Chatham House in London, was favorable to the creation of the network. "I think occasionally from the outside people are mystified as to how the Iranian political system works," she said."And if Press TV uses the opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of Iranian society as well as just covering politics, then I think that may be beneficial for those who are unaware of what is going on in Iran in all its senses—culturally,c economically, as well as politically."
On the other hand, Alireza Nurizadeh, the head of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, pointed out that past attempts by Iran to launch international broadcasters had failed. "Iran has spent millions of dollars in the past years to set up channels such as Sahar or Al-Alam," he said. "But, unfortunately, these investments have brought no results. The Islamic republic has never succeeded in attracting viewers who want to watch or to hear alternative news."