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Press TV and the Regulation of International Broadcasting

January 30, 2012

A quick comment on the decision of OFCOM the UK communications regulator to revoke the license of the Iranian international  broadcaster Press TV  A lot of  contemporary international broadcasting depends on platforms  (VHF radio, cable TV, national satellite TV) that are under the control of the country they are broadcasting to.

This creates a double problem. The international broadcaster is subject to a regulatory regime that is primarily designed to enforce national broadcasting priorities. This creates the risk that the international broadcaster will fall foul of their license terms.  On the other hand an effort by the regulator to enforce license terms will like be perceived as a political action not as a regulatory.  Press TV has pointed to British and American government concerns about its operations in the Cablegate files which record a meeting between the US Embassy and the Foreign Office

¶4. (S) While lodging complaints at the ITU has symbolic value, Turner said her government recognizes the body has no enforcement authority. Therefore, HMG is looking at other ways to address the issue. HMG is exploring ways to limit the operations of the IRIB’s Press TV service, which operates a large bureau (over 80 staff) in London. However, UK law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters. Licenses can only be denied in cases where national security is threatened, or if granting a license would be contrary to Britain’s obligations under international law. Currently, neither of these standards can be met with respect to Press TV, but if further sanctions are imposed on Iran in the coming months, a case may be able to be made on the second criterion.

¶5. (S) In the immediate term, HMG plans to lobby the French government to approach Eutelsat and press it to drop IRIB broadcasts from the Hotbird satellite. The IRIB broadcasts several channels from the satellite, both domestically (even most terrestrial TV channels in Iran are dependent on a satellite and repeaters) and internationally, so it is an important source of income for Eutelsat. While it would be unlikely for the company to agree to drop the IRIB broadcasts spontaneously, Turner believes it would be susceptible to an approach by the French government because of the cover it would gain from complying with an official government request. HMG would appreciate USG engagement with the government of France on this issue.

It could be argued that the operations of Press TV should be treated in political terms for instance by insisting on reciprocity in the treatment of international broadcasters. Press TV should be restricted in its operations as long as Western broadcasters to Iran are jammed.  Of course Iran is more bothered by the operation of Western broadcasters than the other way round and presumably wouldn’t agree to such a deal.

There’s an interesting mismatch between the international politics of the issue and the efforts of Western countries to depoliticize communications policy.  In the wake of the UK action there voices are being raised in the US about the actions of Press TV and other Iranian state funded broadcasters in the US.

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