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Why Doesn’t Obama Ban Iranian Press TV?

January 30, 2012

Authorities in Britain revoked the license of the Iranian regime’s English-language global television channel known as Press TV because of evidence that it is a propaganda outlet controlled by the Iranian regime. But the Obama Administration permits the channel to operate on American soil without a license and in violation of U.S. sanctions regulations, which ban commercial transactions with Iran. It appears to be another example of Obama coddling the terrorist regime.

British authorities justified the move by citing the specific example of a Press TV 2009 interview with a Newsweek correspondent held in an Iranian jail. British telecom regulator Ofcom found that the interview by Press TV with Maziar Bahari, who was jailed by the Iranian regime over his reporting of the disputed presidential elections in June 2009, was conducted under duress. It held that Press TV was in violation of its British broadcasting license because its content was dictated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the state broadcasting authority, and instructed the satellite carrier BSkyB to remove Press TV from its platform.

In the United States, the situation is even worse because although it operates openly in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles, and regularly conducts interviews with such figures as Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, it does not have a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). So far, the Obama Administration has done nothing to shut it down.

What appears to be lacking is a determination from OFAC pointing out the obvious-that the Iranian state propaganda channel is operating illegally in the U.S. Because of this failure to enforce the law, Press TV is able to operate a propaganda facility in downtown Washington, D.C. with a prestigious K Street address and send its operatives to observe and survey U.S. Government offices, under the cover of “freedom of the press.”

“While other countries might not respect the right to a free press, this is something we take very seriously,” an administration official told this reporter. “We like to stay true to our values.”

But why do our values permit accommodating the actions of an illegal television entity devoted to propaganda and support for an outlaw regime that the Obama Administration itself says supports international terrorism?

In the case at issue in Britain, Bahari was picked up by the Iranian authorities at his parents’ home in Tehran on June 21, 2009, and jailed for four months in Iran. After an international campaign won his release and he returned home four months later that October, Bahari said that his captors had forced him to read a prepared script in front of Press TV cameras, just as American POWs were forced to do in Vietnam.

Press TV has scrubbed the interview from its website but it was widely reported at the time. In the script his captors gave him to read, Bahari accused Western reporters of working “as spies,” and “confessed” that he had been covering “illegal demonstrations” as part of a Western effort to promote a “color revolution” in Iran. His family and the media dismissed his “confession” as clearly coerced.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed Iran hard to release Bahari, but never made a statement condemning Press TV for airing the coerced interview. “We’ve been condemning the Iranian government writ large on this, not any specific agency,” a State Department spokesman said.

The Obama Administration has continued to allow Press TV to operate unhindered in the United States, despite clear evidence that it is operating as a propaganda arm of the Iranian regime. Indeed, the State Department regularly entertains questions from Press TV reporters, and allows bloggers on its “DipNote” website to plug rabid anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda with links to Press TV articles and interviews.

“If Press TV were to request a license to operate here in the U.S., the activities that led to having their license removed in the UK would certainly be reviewed by us,” a U.S. official said. “But for now, we cannot take a similar action because they have no license.”

So because it operates illegally in violation of the law, the U.S. will take no action. This might be enough for administration lawyers, but it defies common sense.

Press TV is not the only Iranian government media organization operating in the United States. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) operates Aftab TV, which broadcasts in Persian and operates a prominent website.

On December 28, 2006, for example, Aftab featured an interview with prominent pro-Tehran advocate Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian-American Council, NIAC. In prefacing the interview, Aftab stressed the importance of the “Iranian American lobby on behalf of the Iranian regime” and described it as the regime’s “unofficial diplomacy.”

Last year, IRIB opened yet another 24-hour TV network they billed as “Iran’s CNN,” called Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, IRINN TV. They began broadcasting in the U.S. with an hour-long live program from a new Washington, D.C. studio on April 6, 2011. Their flagship U.S. show is called “Two half-hours (Dow Nim Saat) that airs from 11 a.m. to noon everyday.

While most programs are in Persian, IRINN also broadcasts news in English via satellite to the U.S.

The regime has also lavished money on the print media as a means of maintaining an intimidating presence within the Iranian-American community. The U.S. edition of the Tehran daily, Etelaat, was printed in New York and flown via Federal Express to a dozen distribution points around the country for over two decades, until it was shut down last year after an undercover FBI investigation determined it was being funded illegally out of the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, a source involved in the investigation told me.

With the exception of Etelaat, the Obama Administration has continued to allow Iranian government media organizations to operate freely in the United States, mostly without licenses, despite nearly two decades of Iran sanctions that prohibit commercial exchanges between the U.S. and Iran.

In a series of email and telephone exchanges, officials at the Department of the Treasury refused to acknowledge whether the administration or its predecessors had granted Press TV a license to operate in the United States.

“We are unable to comment publicly on organizations that may or may not have received licenses from OFAC. However, we note that as an official propaganda arm of the Iranian government, Press TV has a history of fabricating news and has faced lawsuits in the UK for airing forced confessions,” a Treasury Department official said.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls issues trade sanctions guidelines and maintains the list of “Specially Designated Nationals” (SDNs) banned from doing business with U.S. persons.

In the case where an organization subject to U.S. sanctions continues to operate in the United States by moving money under the radar, OFAC has often acted quickly and without warning to shut them down. But not in this case.

Press TV spews out unending streams of anti-American propaganda in a full-service program mix that includes talk shows, news reports, and TV magazines, aimed at an American audience via satellite.

Professionally-produced—often times by Americans—these shows trot out a congeries of conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers and their apologists, masquerading as “analysts” and “political commentators” to give them a veneer of respectability.

In this case, Press TV appears to be emulating the old Soviet Union, which specialized in propaganda for the regime and against its enemies. The Soviet-led Comintern sent propaganda specialist Willi Muenzenberg to America to recruit propaganda agents.

The Iranian regime has invested heavily in Press TV because it understands the value of propagandists who speak unaccented English and who are not openly tied to the regime to spread its ideological “payload.”

Muenzenberg wrote the playbook that was later used by Press TV and much of the “politically-correct” left in the 1920s and 1930s, when he set up a vast web of cover influence operators stretching from media to academia to America’s newsrooms that continue to make their message felt way beyond the grave.

As former CIA propaganda expert Kent Clizbe explains in his book on Muenzenberg, “the goal of the operations was to make Americans feel that their country was bad.”

“You claim to be an independent-minded idealist,” said Muenzenberg’s widow, Babette Gross. “You don’t really understand politics, but you think the little guy is getting a lousy break… You are shocked, frightened by what is going on right here in our own country… You believe in peace… You yearn for international understanding… You think the capitalist system is corrupt.”

The propaganda from Occupy Wall Street appears to be a modern-day example of the Muenzenberg approach.

Press TV takes the anti-American propaganda to a global level. Like the old Soviet propaganda networks, Press TV uses Americans to make the case against their own government and society.

“If I am sending an academic journal, or some materials that actually will help the exchange of knowledge, that is allowed,” an Obama administration official told me. “But if I am actually conducting paid journalistic work, right now I still need a specific license to allow that to happen.”

Press TV does not have a license, this official hastened to add. “Therefore, they are operating illegally.”

Yet, the Obama Administration permits the channel to continue to operate in violation of the law. Congress should investigate.

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Copyright ©2012 Kenneth R. Timmerman

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the New York Times best-selling author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, 2005), among other works. His books and articles can be found at kentimmerman.com.
Visit Kenneth R. Timmerman's website at kentimmerman.com
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