Maziar Bahari on Press TV Ofcom fine
Jo Glanville: Maziar Bahari on Press TV Ofcom fine
02 Dec 11

After four months of deliberation, Ofcom has fined Press TV £100,000 for broadcasting its interview with the journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari in 2009. In October, Press TV was reporting that it was in danger of losing its licence, bizarrely blaming the threat on the royal family. Instead, just as the UK faces a crisis in its diplomatic relations with Iran, following the attack on the Tehran embassy this week, it receives a hefty fine. Considering the serious nature of its breach and the feverish circumstances, it seems a relatively mild punishment. The BBC was fined £150,000 after the Brand-Ross debacle.

The broadcaster faced sanctions following its broadcast while Maziar Bahari was being held in Evin Prison. Bahari had been detained for 118 days following the elections that summer, which he was reporting for Newsweek. He was held in solitary confinement, subjected to beatings and forced confessions, and accused of spying and threatened with the death penalty. Index on Censorship took part in an international campaign for his release.

The interview was filmed in prison, under extreme duress and without Maziar Bahari’s consent. Nor were the circumstances in which the interview was conducted made clear to viewers. In July, Ofcom judged Press TV’s conduct to be “serious and deliberate” breaches of its code, describing the broadcast as an “unwarranted infringement of Mr Bahari’s privacy”. The regulator observed that Press TV had failed to obtain Maziar Bahari’s consent “while he was in a sensitive situation and vulnerable state”.

“If this was just a personal issue I would not have bothered pursuing it,” Maziar Bahari told Index. “But it is something that happens to other people on a daily basis. I have friends who were arrested in Iran and they are forced to make televised confessions on different channels. Unfortunately we cannot lodge a complaint against other channels of the Iranian government, so that’s what motivated me to do it.”

Maziar Bahari had hoped that Ofcom would deprive Press TV of its licence to broadcast on Sky cable. However he believes that the fine, along with Ofcom’s demand that Press TV’s head office in Tehran, rather than London, should be in control of its licence to broadcast, will have a significant impact on its future in the UK.

“I think Press TV will be under a lot of pressure,” he said. “It will either be shut down or will have to modify its programmes.”

The Communications Act 2003 requires that a licence is held by the body that is in effective control of the TV service. While Ofcom was deliberating on sanctions, evidence came to light that it was the Tehran office that was in effective control of broadcasts rather than the London-based body that holds the Ofcom licence. Press TV now has 35 days to bring the service back into compliance by applying to transfer the licence to the correct body.

“Press TV always said ‘it’s not us, we’re just the programme makers’,” says Maziar Bahari. ‘This move denies them that excuse.”

By Jo Glanville

Jo Glanville is editor of Looking for an enemy: eight essays on antisemitism (Short Books) and Qissat: short stories by Palestinian women (Telegram/Saqi Books). She is a former editor of Index on Censorship.