Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn accepted up to £20,000 (about $27,000) for appearances on the Iranian state broadcast network Press TV — a channel that was banned in the UK for its part in filming the detention and torture of an Iranian journalist.
Corbyn was paid for appearances on Press TV five times between 2009 and 2012, according to his register of interests, available at this online House of Commons database.
Corbyn’s final Press TV appearance was six months after the network had its broadcasting licence revoked by Ofcom for airing a forced confession by Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari. Ofcom is the government’s TV regulatory body which sets rules for UK broadcasters. Bahari told Business Insider that while he was detained by Iranian authorities he was tortured and threatened with execution before he agreed to read out a pre-agreed script on Iranian television, filmed by Press TV.
A spokesperson for Corbyn told Business Insider, “We don’t comment on historical matters.”
Corbyn is a progressive politician and a staunch defender of human rights. So his decision to appear on, and take money from, Press TV on multiple occasions is peculiar, even if he is not responsible for the network’s output or its role in the Bahari episode. His appearances occurred when he was a rebellious backbencher with a much lower public profile.
Press TV is part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s tightly controlled broadcasting machinery. Its director is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader — the state’s chief religious and political authority — which means that its output is often biased in favour of strict establishment ideology.
During the period between the year of Corbyn’s first appearance and his last, for example, Iran beheaded at least 1,314 people, according to Amnesty International. It is a place where the rights of women, LGBT people, and religious and ethnic minorities are harshly curtailed. In 2011, the year of Corbyn’s third appearance, three Iranian men were executed for homosexuality. An Amnesty International report released last year said that Sunni Muslims and Kurdish political prisoners have been executed for bringing “corruption” to the world.
“Western politicians who appear on Press TV can be regarded as useful idiots.”
In particular, the fact that Corbyn received a fee of up to £5,000 for an appearance on Press TV months after Ofcom found that the network uncritically aired a forced confession procured by torture seems to be totally at odds with his personal politics. It is not clear exactly how much Corbyn received in total as the register only notes four fees of up to £5,000 each.
Press TV also did not respond to requests for comment.
Business Insider asked Bahari how he feels about public figures who claim to be liberals appearing on Press TV. He said: “Many of these western politicians who appear on Press TV can be regarded as useful idiots.”
“These are people who have a grudge against the US government or capitalism as a system, and as a result, they embrace whoever is against the American government. This means that sometimes they embrace regimes with atrocious human rights records like the one in Iran.”
He added: “People who present programmes for Press TV and get paid for it should be really ashamed of themselves — especially if they call themselves liberals and people who are interested in human rights.”
Threatened with execution on a daily basis
Bahari has said multiple times, including in this interview with CNN, that when he was covering the post-election protests for Newsweek in Iran in 2009, he was arrested and taken to the Evin military prison. Inside, he was kicked, punched, and hit with belts by guards, and threatened with execution on a daily basis, he told Business Insider.
Bahari says that at the end of his 118-day confinement he was forced to read a pre-agreed confession which was aired as part of a Press TV show which claimed Western coverage of the 2009 Iranian election had been biased.
“My interrogator’s boss wrote the scenario and it was divided into questions and answers,” Bahari told BBC Radio 4’s The Report. “The reporters asked the questions and I gave the answers, so we were basically reading from the same sheet.”
Bahari told Business Insider over the phone that the reporter and cameraman who were at the scene of the confession were from Press TV. When we asked him whether he thinks the Press TV crew were aware that he had been detained and tortured, he said that only a “very stupid person” wouldn’t have realised that. At the time, Press TV was available on cable channels in the UK and was carried by Sky TV.
Ofcom ruled that Press TV had aired the footage of Bahari while he was held in duress in November 2011, contravening the UK’s broadcast regulations, and it fined the network £100,000. Further investigation into the case led Ofcom to totally revoke the network’s UK licence in January 2012. The media regulator’s decision still stands, and Press TV remains unavailable on UK airwaves.
“As time wore on [it] became more and more propagandistic.”
Press TV has repeatedly been accused of biased reporting and promulgating anti-Western sentiments. The Anti-Defamation League released a report last year that accused the network of giving platforms to renowned anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers. Some of its most vocal critics in the UK include former employees Nick Ferrari (now of LBC) and The Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan.
Gilligan presented a Press TV discussion show called “Forum” between 2007 and 2009. He told BI via email: “I had hoped that the station would be an Iranian al-Jazeera, a sign that Iran was prepared to be more plural and more open to the outside world.” He said:
“It started out like that, but as time wore on became more and more propagandistic. The tipping point was its terrible coverage of the 2009 Iranian elections and the subsequent repression of the opposition. It was then that I decided to leave.”
Dr. Wali Aslam, who specialises in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Bath, echoed Gilligan’s claims about Press TV in a phone interview with Business Insider. He said:
“Press TV’s bias comes from the opinion side and in that sense it is unparalleled in the context of Middle Eastern politics in terms of the type of rhetoric we hear. It has provided platforms to a number of controversial personalities concerning Israel and so on.”
“It goes without saying that journalists at Press TV have been pressured to reflect the viewpoints of the Iranian religious establishment. This should not come as a surprise.”
Dr. Aslam cited a particular case where Press TV reported in 2007 that the US was planning to build a military base in northern Lebanon. He said: “Press TV reported that the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Northern Lebanon was going to be turned into a US military base. A Canadian magazine [Maclean’s] conducted some of its own investigations and found that there was no foundation to the story and it was baseless. So, there have been clear cases of bias reporting.”
That bias can be seen in this report by Press TV on gay marriage legislation in Britain. At first, the report appears to be covering the debate about same-sex marriage but the reporter strains to inject this statement: “It is thought that homosexuality is widespread in the UK, and it is generally promoted by politicians and the media.” More obviously, the Press TV show “The Autograph” carried a report claiming that Israel was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, which used the conspiracy theorist Alan Sabrosky as its main source.
And in this clip, Corbyn presented the Press TV show “Comment” in 2010, in which the Labour leader listened uncomfortably as a caller describes Israel as a “disease” and another describes the BBC as “Zionist liars.”
Here is the list of Corbyn’s Press TV appearances taken from parliamentary records:
September 2, 2009: Interviews for Press TV, imaFilm Ltd, Level 7, Westgate House, Westgate Road, London W5 1YY. (Up to £5,000).
September 6, 2010: Interviews for Press TV, imaFilm Ltd, Level 7, Westgate House, Westgate Road, London W5 1YY. (Up to £5,000). Payment from MEDIA: imaFilm Ltd, Level 7, Westgate House, W5 1YY; news programme, for media presentation. Hours: 4 hrs. (Registered 23 June 2010)
July 19, 2011: Interviews for Press TV, imaFilm Ltd, Level 7, Westgate House, Westgate Road, London W5 1YY. (Up to £5,000).
June 11, 2012: Interviews for Press TV, imaFilm Ltd, Level 7, Westgate House, Westgate Road, London W5 1YY. (Up to £5,000).
Corbyn is not the only left-wing British politician who has appeared on Press TV. Respect Party leader George Galloway currently presents shows called “Comment” and “The Real Deal,” and former London mayor Ken Livingstone formerly hosted “Comment” and “Epilogue.”
Livingstone was at the eye of a Labour party storm earlier this year when he was suspended by the party for claiming that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad.”
And it was during a Press TV broadcast that Corbyn said it was a “tragedy” that al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed instead of placed on trial once he was caught by the US military — phrasing that has been used against him by political opponents.