In a way getting angry at someone on the left appearing on Press TV is a bit like getting angry at England playing poorly in the World Cup. It’s a dreadful and appalling thing but it happens all the time. And therefore I cannot legitimately claim to have been outraged when hearing that the Young Labour International Officer, Abdi-Aziz Suleiman of former NUS fame, spoke on Press TV to support Jeremy Corbyn. I must admit I was a little surprised that he was speaking to George Galloway who one would have thought had been discredited enough even for Press TV but I was clearly wrong. Rather than outrage my first thought was surprise that Suleiman would make such a poor PR move as to appear on Press TV while he is on the Young Labour National Committee.
For those who are unaware of what all the fuss is about, Press TV is a television news network that is funded by the Iranian state and therefore, rather unsurprisingly, parrots the Iranian regime’s line on every international issue.
For example, they will talk all day about the horrors of the Israeli occupation, of the disgraceful Saudi-led War in Yemen, of the vile rule of the Bahraini monarchy. But will you hear one word for example about Hezbollah’s murder of Syrians on behalf of the vile murderer Bashar Al-Assad? No, you’d be far more likely to hear sycophantic praise for Hassan Nasrallah. After all, isn’t he a defender of Arabs and Muslims (so long as those Arabs don’t have the temerity to demand their freedom from anyone other than Israel)?
The station often uses people with “left-wing” credentials as contributors but also people on the far-right like German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter (the common thread is anyone with an anti-American viewpoint).
In that sense it shares a lot in common with the Russian state’s outfit Russia Today, though it has a particularly notorious record for its propaganda. It has been accused of all manner of things from publishing anti-Semitic material on its website to airing a forced confession of an Iranian journalist who had just been tortured by the Iranian state.
When speaking on Press TV, Suleiman did nothing to criticise the Iranian regime which got a lot of people, including hypocritical right-wingers, quite bothered.
As part of his response/defence, Suleiman said that there was no organised boycott of Iran and in any case appearing on its state outlets did not amount for support for the regime (but stopped short of actually criticising the Islamic Republic of Iran). He counterposed this to Israeli outlets, which he supports boycotting. This almost comical kitsch-left cliché of "look over there! What about Israel?" is a tactic used by everyone from crackpot Stalinists in Britain to Arab dictators as a form of whataboutery to avoid answering difficult questions about their own conduct. Of course, the famed Iranian regime uses the exact same tactic when, while continuing in its organised murder of Arabs in Syria on behalf of Bashar Al-Assad, it pretends to care about the repression of Arabs in Palestine.
I can't think of a more insulting use of the Palestinian struggle than to use it as a cover for abominable regimes such as those of Iran. If Suleiman cares so much about Muslims perhaps he would take more care than to be uncritical of a regime that spends so much time terrorising some of them (alongside the numerous Baha’is, Jews, atheists etc. that it terrorises).
Why doesn't he take the opportunity now to openly denounce the disgraceful regime? Even better had he done so on Press TV. Surely that would silence at least some of his critics.
And it also should be said now that George Galloway (the presenter that Suleiman nevertheless criticised for his recent waste of talents) never had any talent to squander. Not when he fawned after Mahmoud Ahmedinajad after the fraudulent 2009 Iranian elections, not when he described the disappearance of the Soviet Union as “the biggest catastrophe of [his] life”, not when he apologised for rape and not when he lavished Saddam Hussein with praise in 1994, six years after he had gassed 5000 Kurds in Halabja. Galloway was a reactionary since Suleiman was at least an infant so any attempts to imply his degeneration was a recent one seems quite dubious at the very least. If simply opposing the Iraq War is enough to make someone a hero, then why not extend the compliment to Nick Griffin or Donald Trump?
But why do left-wingers continually feel it’s okay to appear on outlets like Press TV and Russia Today? Who even watches them other than perhaps those left wingers who appear on them plus some weird chaps who stalk the comment sections of Youtube videos?
And why do Iran and Russia pay for them? Because they are useful to them of course. Because the British left can continue to cover for those regimes thinking that if they’re covering things like anti-EDL demonstrations or letting people on to talk about how great Jeremy Corbyn is they must be progressive. Unlike the dastardly BBC that never covers our demos. All this leads to the British left’s softness on reactionary self-styled “anti-imperialist” regimes becoming even softer, which is of course the very intention in the first place.
I can assure Suleiman and other contributors to Press TV that most of Britain’s Muslims do not watch let alone get persuaded by it. So there is no principle here necessarily so much as a tactic. If going on Press TV does nothing to persuade anyone of socialist politics but does legitimise the Iranian regime’s attempt to be a “dissenting” or even “left-wing” voice then we should absolutely not take part in that, at least not without saying something critical.
But isn’t appearing on RT or Press TV the same as appearing on the BBC for example? The BBC is obviously also state-funded. Overlooking the rather blatant differences between the bourgeois democratic nature of the British state and the others (which means that while it usually goes along with the ideas of the ruling class, it does usually have some form of criticism not only of the government but even of itself as a corporation), the main difference is that the BBC isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. The BBC does not seek out “progressive” voices from the UK as part of a cynical attempt to not only make it look like the British state is comparably anti-democratic to the Russian or Iranian state, but also to make itself look like a progressive broadcaster, and by extension make the states that fund it look progressive.
I remember when I was on the National Committee of the NCAFC I once put forward the idea that members of the organisation should not give media appearances to RT when asked, but I was unsuccessful. My feeling was, why give this outlet legitimacy as a left-wing news network? Why not minimally appear on RT but only with a T-Shirt saying “Freedom for LGBT Russians” or “Putin get out of Ukraine/Syria/Chechnya”?
In my first year of university I was on a demonstration against the BNP outside Parliament when I saw that Press TV was there. I was rather bewildered to see them at the demo and so in a fit of pique, I grabbed a placard and with a biro scrawled “Down with Khamenei” and did my best to show it onto the camera (see here). I say this not as a boast – it’s hardly the most heroic fight anyone’s ever done against the Iranian regime, I’ve met Hekmatist comrades who’ve literally fought the regime’s soldiers. I say this as an example of something that’s really not very impressive that can be done when appearing on Press TV.
Before any protestations of hypocrisy arise it should of course be said that it was no less bad when Corbyn appeared on Press TV. Though this isn’t an excuse, it seems that Corbyn’s blindness on the issue of Press TV comes from the naïve peacenik view that all TV stations are the same. Corbyn not only signed the petition in defence of a jailed (now dead) Iranian trade unionist that I was involved in promoting, but took the lead on the issue in Parliament (more info can be found here). In any case, a criticism of Corbyn I very much agree with has been written by comrades in the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency that I encourage all to read here.
Blairites and hypocrites will of course excoriate the Young Labour International Officer for appearing on Press TV but the fact that those on the right will be opportunist in their criticism is of course no excuse. The left should have higher standards. Let’s stop with these appearances on Press TV so that we can feel good about saying something left-wing on television, as if anyone is watching. All we’re doing is legitimising a regime that spent many years destroying what was once a powerful Iranian left and labour movement.
Omar Raii is a Labour and Momentum activist, and part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts caucus on the National Union of Students national executive council.