Authorities in the United Kingdom have revoked the broadcasting license for Press TV, an English-language international news network based in Iran. The UK regulating committee, Ofcom, based the decision on a biased reading of a technicality. The move exposes the facade of freedom of speech in supposedly democratic western countries and further reveals the class nature of the right to expression.
Press TV was launched in 2007 as an English-language media network to counter pro-US, anti-Iranian propaganda pushed by networks such as BBC World News, Al Jazeera English and CNN International. A project of the Iranian national bourgeoisie, which has increasingly found itself at odds with western imperialism, Press TV has not shied from criticising western governments and quickly attracted a wide audience. Its views are often at odds with hegemonic western monopoly capital and it often supports the independence of Third World peoples from the United States and western Europe. Along with other anti-western, bourgeois-nationalist media projects such as Russia Today, Press TV is part of a recent trend of mass media challenges to western global supremacy.
Though western countries and their allies are quick to scream about the supposedly extant right to freedom of speech in their own countries, as the ruling against Press TV reveals, this too is another bit of rhetoric. In class society, which the west has imposed on the world, access to the means of effective expression are controlled by those with access or ties to capital.
All public expression is limited in particular ways in that it is part of the ideological and cultural constructions of society. In everyday life and through the owned means of expression, some ideas and behaviours are roundly promoted (national chauvinism, patriarchy and gender norms, the promotion of consumerism and bourgeois pleasures, anti-Third World sentiment and violence, etc) and others not (altruism, activism, discipline and thrift; anti-imperialism, proletarian internationalism).
However, the lack of freedom of speech and other rights in the west cuts deeper than this. Countless martyrs have accumulated in coffins and prisons in the US because they dared to say the wrong thing with enough influence. In the name of fighting terror, the US has passed increasingly restrictive laws revoking a number of rights it claims to uphold. As many protesters in the US have recently discovered, the imperialist state is hostile to some types of speech while supportive of others. The list could go on.
The only reason networks such as Press TV and Russia Today can exist with prominence and present such criticism of the west is because they are backed by their own national capital. Perhaps because the west and its allies are already engaged in a covert war with Iran, restricting Press TV’s influence in the UK became apposite.
The views represented by Press TV have clear limitations for peoples’ struggles. Though nominal ‘anti-capitalist’ ideas might appear on networks such as Press TV or Russia Today, these critiques are presented by such networks for shallow and self-serving reasons. The masses oppressed and exploited under imperialism, used in many ways as tokens for smaller alignments of capital to criticise far larger alignments, need ideas which truly inspire notions of self-reliance, people’s war and proletarian internationalism. While anti-hegemonic bourgeois-nationalist media networks may play a role in destabilising western capital’s influence in global public opinion- undoubtedly a positive thing for the moment- it cannot lead the masses to rise up, throw off the chains of capital-imperialism and transform the world completely. For this task, conscious revolutionaries around the world must also rise up to play a leading role in this process.
Networks like Press TV play a positive role in the modern world. By airing counter-western criticism in a broad manner and challenging the narrative presented by United States imperialism, they open the door for much more radical critiques to be acknowledged and legitimised. Thus, the ability of Press TV to have equal programming rights in countries such as the UK is something all revolutionaries should defend. The UK’s ruling against Al Jazeera, which goes against their own rhetoric on “freedom of speech,” must be condemned by all those who wish to build global democracy and a world without oppression.
– Nick Brown