Amidst the Zionist mob: Iranian royalists

War on the airwaves

Nation shall speak unto nation. Yassamine Mather looks at the truths, half-truths and outright lies being broadcast to Iranians and asks who was behind the stabbing of Pouria Zeraati

News agencies reported on March 29 the attack on Pouria Zeraati, a presenter on Iran International TV (or, as many Iranians call it, ‘Mossad TV’ - such unofficial renaming, as we shall see, is happening across the political spectrum). Zeraati was stabbed four times outside his home in a quiet London suburb but did not suffer life-threatening injuries. By the next day he was being photographed smiling from his hospital bed.

The British media were quick to blame the Islamic Republic and, despite the denials by the country’s embassy in London, it is possible that, given the alleged speedy departure of the two assailants from the UK, they were connected one way or another with the regime. However, I have my doubts.

For a start the Islamic Republic is trying to keep a low profile after the very serious diplomatic threats that came from the United States. So it is unlikely that the regime sanctioned such a high-profile attack. Secondly, if Iran had been behind the attack, Zeraati would almost certainly not have survived - as has been the case with many other victims of the Islamic Republic’s terror outside its borders - unless, that is, the intention was to send a none too subtle warning about the station’s broadcast content.

Having said that, the channel’s relentless support for Israeli operations in Gaza could itself explain why other Islamic individuals or groups might have been behind the attack. In the last six months, the station’s coverage of the war in Gaza have been unrelentingly in support of the Israeli Defence Forces and, given repeated comments in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz about the connections between Mossad and Iran International TV, it could be that journalists from the station are simply easy targets for agents of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRCG) seeking revenge for the systematic assassination of fellow members by Israeli drones and missiles in Syria and Lebanon.

Adam Baillie, a spokesperson for IITV, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Along with our colleagues at BBC Persian, Iran International has been under threat, very heavy threats, for the last 18 months since the IRGC said ‘we’re coming for you’, which they have consistently repeated.”

Pouria Zeraati himself is very keen to demonstrate his pro-Israeli stance - not just on the TV programmes he hosts, where he has had unprecedented access to IDF commanders since October 7, but also in his tweets. In the last few days, he has proudly boasted of getting a phone call from Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and advisor to the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemning the attack on him and emphasising that freedom-loving Iranians and the people of Israel are engaged in a war against a common enemy.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of the Islamic Republic’s threats and violence, my immediate reaction is to condemn all such attacks. However, in addition to my doubts about the involvement of Iranian state forces, we currently live in a time of unprecedented violence in the Middle East. Over 32,000 Palestinians have died, tens of thousands of bodies remain under rubble, hundreds of thousands face famine.

War crimes

Zeraati and the other journalists who, from the safety of London studios, have played such an active role in defending what is in reality Israeli genocide in Gaza should expect condemnation by millions - not just in the global south, but also throughout the west, where a very high percentage of the population is outraged by the Zionist state’s war crimes.

This Iran International TV station and indeed Persian broadcasts from the UK and other western countries have an audience. And almost because the shah’s regime and now the Islamic Republic are paranoid about them, a lot of people are inclined to believe them.

Recently BBC Persian celebrated its 80th anniversary and, according to Julia Harris, parliamentary liaison manager at BBC World Service, it has “a weekly audience of over 20 million”. She claims it is “one of the BBC’s most strategically important language services” and is the second largest in terms of staff numbers.

It is true that, in the absence of press freedom both under the shah and under the current theocracy, many people listened to BBC Persian radio and now watch BBC Persian TV for more reliable news than the constant stream of crude, unbelievable and often totally boring propaganda coming from Iranian state media outlets.

However, there are most certainly ‘divergent views’ about BBC Persian’s ‘impartiality’ - especially in the midst of political upsurges and wars. It is after all dependent on the World Service budget which is regulated by the UK foreign office. Having said that, academic research into the channel’s 80-year history seems to show journalists and editors have a level of independence, unlike Persian TV channels financed by other states.

According to Massoumeh Torfeh, an LSE academic, writing for Al Jazeera in 2017,

Documents of the British foreign office reveal how in December 1940, when BBC’s Persian radio first came on air, they were part of the British strategy to counter Nazi propaganda. The broadcasts in Persian included texts written by British intelligence directly targeting the then shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, who was suspected of supporting Adolf Hitler’s expansionist plans in Asia. The broadcasts, which are said to have led to the downfall of Reza Shah, criticised his “dictatorial” methods and advocated republicanism.1

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the BBC played its role in mocking and undermining prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who, to much popular acclaim, wanted to nationalise Iran’s oil and bring about democratic change. However as the mass demonstrations and protests against the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, gained momentum, BBC Persian reported what was going on more objectively. Otherwise it would have lost all trust from its audience. It is well known that the shah constantly complained about BBC reporting in meetings with the British ambassador, Antony Parsons.

The shah later made the ridiculous accusation that the BBC actually instigated the revolution in 1979 and to this day many Iranian royalists continue to blame the BBC for the uprising that overthrew the shah’s regime, labelling the station ‘Ayatollah BBC’.

According to a paper published by Massoumeh Torfeh and Annabelle Sreberny,

In January 2009, the foreign office released - under the 30-year rule - many documents about the last year of the revolution. They, and other documents in the BBC Written Archive, allow for serious scrutiny of the complicated relationship between the FO and the BBC about Iran ... While BBCPS, as all of the World Service, is financed by the foreign office as part of British long-term strategic goals in the region, BBC journalism did not always go the way the foreign office might have preferred. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that the BBC didn’t always play the paymaster’s tune.2

None of this stopped the Islamic Republic’s antagonism towards the broadcaster, blaming it for “exaggerating” popular protests against it.

Unbiased news?

Given Iranians’ thirst for uncensored news, several other countries have followed the lead of the BBC in setting up Persian language outlets. The German-based Radio Deutsche Welle has a Farsi programme and, in addition to Voice of America, there is Radio Free Iran - based in Prague, but financed by the US state department.

Then in 2010 a ‘privately’ run TV station, Manoto, was launched in London. Initially, it was mainly an entertainment channel, with programmes based on popular UK and US talent shows and musical events, but, after gaining a level of popularity, the station increased its news and current affairs outputs. This had a clear pro-monarchy slant and at times showed an unbelievable ignorance of basic history. On one occasion, two of its reporters, who were in Russia covering a sporting event, claimed on air that “Marx and Eggels” (sic) had lived in Moscow when the Soviet Union was in power!

Since the station refused to disclose its sources of funding, it was accused of being backed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Manoto TV abruptly announced in late 2023 that it was closing down because of ‘financial difficulties’ and indeed stopped broadcasting in January 2024.

Meanwhile, yet another TV station started up in London in 2017: Iran International. It offered huge salaries to lure BBC and Manoto TV presenters and editors. Allegations were made that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was the station’s main financial backer. Indeed from 2017 to early 2023, some Iranians called the station ‘Bin Salman TV’. Things changed when in March 2023 the accord signed between Iran and Saudi Arabia ended a seven-year conflict between the two countries.

It is assumed that, as part of the deal, Saudi Arabia looked to transfer the TV station to new backers. Given its clear pro-Israeli, pro-royalist line of the last 12 months (Iran’s monarchists are pro-Israel and are often seen in pro Zionist protests in Europe and US), given comments made by former and current Mossad officials to Ha’aretz about the channel’s output, given the closure of Manoto TV, it is likely that finance comes from Israel to further its propaganda war against Iran’s Islamic Republic.

The secrecy around the channel’s accounts and funding makes it impossible to follow the exact provenance of its astronomical outgoings - it pays at least three times the amount of usual broadcasting salaries. Yet inspection of the accounts of the station’s parent company, Volant, which is registered in the UK, show ridiculously low figures for income and expenditure - below £100,000!

Since October 7 2023, the station has done its utmost to blame the Israeli genocide in Gaza on Hamas, while also condemning Iran’s role, exactly in line with Netanyahu’s narrative. As I have written before, no doubt Iran International TV has played a significant role in reducing support for the Palestinians among its Persian-speaking audience inside and outside Iran.

For Israel that would be money well spent.

  1. www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2017/10/30/what-is-behind-irans-war-on-the-bbc.↩︎

  2. eprints.soas.ac.uk/15701/1/The-BBC-Persian-Service-and-the-Islamic-Revolution-of-1979.pdf.↩︎