Ken Livingstone returns to Iran state TV

According to one of its official Twitter channels, Ken Livingstone will tonight resume his presenting role at Press TV, the Iranian regime’s English-language TV station.

He presented a book review show on Press TV until 2011, when he was ordered to give it up by the Labour Party leadership, despite not wanting to. Now, however, he is stepping up a gear – hosting one of the channel’s flagship programmes, Comment, in the absence of its usual star presenter, George Galloway.

Press TV has been banned from the UK airwaves by the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, after its failure to pay a £100,000 fine for last year broadcasting an interview filmed under duress with an imprisoned journalist. But you can still watch it online.

As readers will know, I myself presented a fortnightly show on Press TV – in which the Iranian government was regularly criticised and challenged – but gave it up in 2009, when it became clear that the station was becoming a propaganda mouthpiece for the regime.

This doesn’t seem to have greatly troubled Ken. In his previous outings on Press TV he made repeated attacks on Western “alarmism” about Iran’s nuclear programme, the “demonisation” of the Iranian revolution, and constant attacks on “Zionists” and “Zionism.” Like Ken, of course, Press TV has firm views about “rich Jews.” He continued to defend the channel even in his recent election campaign.

Although Ken is no longer a candidate for public office, he remains a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Whatever can the party think about one of its official representatives (or rather his tax-avoiding service company) taking payments from a regime on which Britain currently imposes sanctions?

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Ken Livingstone: this is what the Iranians pay him for

Ken Livingstone has already collected plenty of flak for taking thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official broadcaster, a relationship terminated only last week, under heavy pressure from Labour. When you look at the actual content of his shows, however, it gets worse.

Ken is (and will, until March, continue to be) one of the presenters of a programme called Epilogue, a half-hour book review. That, at least, is the theory. Remarkably often, the book is used merely as a pretext for thirty minutes of attacks by Ken and his guests against the West and Israel, sometimes coupled with extravagant praise of – well – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On his show of 23 August 2010, Ken stated: “All my political life, I’ve watched anything that looks like it might unite the Arab world, going back to Nasser and now through al-Qaeda, is seen as a threat by the West. We fear some united Arab republic, or whatever. I mean, I don’t see why we fear…”

Is Labour’s candidate for the mayor of London – a city attacked by al-Qaeda – really saying that the West is wrong to see the terrorist group as a threat? And does he really see al-Qaeda as a legitimate expression of Arab unity? I think we should be told.

On his show of 28 June 2010, discussing a book called Israel And The Clash of Civilisations, Ken attacked the “demonisation” of the Iranian revolution and the “alarmism” in the West about Tehran’s alleged nuclear programme. He also called for the forcible disarmament of Israel.

He said: “All through this demonisation of the Iranian revolution, I’ve heard so much about the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I’ve never heard about the fatwas he issued against the development of nuclear weapons. And here you have the spiritual leader of Iran saying it is against the laws and will of God to build nuclear weapons. And yet we’re all still led to believe that Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons. But as the book shows, we were being told they were on the verge of nuclear weapons 18 years ago….

“Would Saddam Hussein have looked for weapons of mass destruction if Israel didn’t have nuclear weapons? I mean, we have this alarmism in the west that Iran might get nuclear weapons. That Saddam Hussein – all the excuse of the war was that he might be trying to get them. Yet for the best part of 40 years, Israel has sat on 200 nuclear warheads, and there is not a word of protest in the West about this. What do you think the world can do to say:  there’s got to be a level playing field here, between the various regimes in the Middle East? I mean, the best route to peace is: Israel must be forced to give up its nuclear weapons.”

It is true that in 2005 the current supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons (his predecessor, Khomenei, merely said that they were “un-Islamic;” Ken is getting his ayatollahs mixed up.) But Iran’s rhetoric seems inconsistent with its behaviour: only ten days ago, nuclear talks between Iran and the IAEA again broke down. Iran’s co-operation with weapons inspectors was “insufficient,” the UN agency’s chief, Yukiya Amano, said, adding: “We cannot provide … assurance on the absence of (undeclared) nuclear activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of all the nuclear activities of Iran.”

On his 24 February 2010 show, the book of the day was Zionist Israel And Apartheid South Africa and the clear message was that Jews had no right to be in Israel. The introduction to the show described both apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel as “the products of outside implantation imposed on the indigenous population.”

Saying the book “makes a powerful case,” Ken described Israel as a “semi-theocratic state,” asking: “Is not the problem here that when Zionism was conceived in the 1880s, the world was one which accepted racial division… and that was the origin of Zionism? We see that today in… that racial exclusivity [of Judaism.]”

It’s a theme he returned to in his most recent show, on 11 January, discussing a memoir of occupied Palestine: “Is this a problem – Zionism was conceived at a time when everyone felt their race was superior, and while the rest of the world has moved on, this sort of embattled Zionism has hung on?”

Earlier, he asked his guest: “Is it fair to say what the Israelis have created is a form of apartheid, or is this an overstatement? Usually, Zionists go mad as soon as anyone links apartheid and Israel in the same sentence.”

The guest replied: “It is [fair]. Apart from watching Zionists bursting a blood-vessel… the difference between coloniality and apartheid is nothing.”

In a show on a book called The Invention of the Jewish People, the introduction describes how the author “finds present-day Palestinian Arabs to be the true heirs of the Biblical Jews.” An animation shows the Jewish diaspora spreading, not from Israel, but from somewhere near Tunis, across the Middle East to everywhere except Israel.

Ken’s programme only really seems to have two subjects – (1) America is bad; and (2) Israel is very bad, devoting roughly three-quarters of its airtime to these enticing propositions. Other recent Epilogue shows, not presented by Ken, have discussed books called A Discourse On Domination In Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property And Insurgency (27 December), Washington Rule: America’s Path To Permanent War (20 December), Israeli Apartheid, A Beginners’ Guide (13 December) and Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destablising Logic Of Zionism (15 November).

And that’s just the last two months! Earlier very special treats last year included The American Age of Unreason, In The Graveyard of Empires (guess whose), America’s Kingdom (about Saudi Arabia), From Co-Existence to Conquest (Israel again), and Zionism, The Real Enemy Of The Jews.

My earlier attacks on Ken’s continuing to work for this station brought forth a classic outbreak of lefty “whataboutery” in the comments. What about you? You used to work for Press TV, too! Indeed I did – until the year before last (I also, as I’ve said several times before, made two one-off appearances on the channel nine months ago.)

But I can quite categorically say that my show never, ever peddled stuff like this.

Ken Livingstone forced to stop taking Iran's money

Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)
Ken Livingstone (Photo: AP)

Eight days ago, after it became clear that Ken Livingstone, Labour’s official candidate for Mayor of London, had taken thousands of pounds from Press TV, the Iranian dictatorship’s official TV channel, he told BBC London News that he would not resign. Ken stated: “Press TV is one of the few TV channels anywhere in the West that fairly presents the Palestinian case,” adding, quite falsely, that Press TV was “a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places”.

He has compared working for Press TV to working for Fox News, though as far as I am aware Fox’s owners have never tortured people, killed homosexuals or stoned adulterers to death.

Today, it has been announced that Ken will, after all, be stepping down from the channel, though not until March. His spokesman denied that he had been ordered to do so by the party – and claimed he always intended to stop. Now if that was the case, why didn’t he tell us last week?

I’m told that when ITV’s London Tonight asked a Labour Party spokesman about Ken’s Iranian gig, they said words to the effect of “What? Are you serious?” Since we know that Ken doesn’t do U-turns, at least not when he’s in the wrong, it seems clear that somebody from Labour must have put the thumbscrews on their suicide candidate.

As one commenter on the Standard’s story points out, Ken’s decision may also not be entirely unconnected to the fact, reported in the paper, that Press TV’s bankers have frozen its British account and plan to close it.

Ken has presented at least 17 shows for Press TV – not seven, the figure today’s Standard gives – and on such politically-correct topics as “the invention of the Jewish people” and “Zionist Israel and apartheid South Africa”. He will have earned around £8,500 from these shows.

(Declaration of interest: I too presented a show on Press TV, though I gave up the year before last. Voluntarily.)

Ken Livingstone: Iran hits back

Press TV, the Iranian government-funded channel which pays Ken Livingstone thousands of pounds, has deployed its very own weapon of mass destruction to defend its embattled star. Yes, it’s (drum roll) Derek Conway, Ken’s colleague and co-presenter. Could this be the same Derek Conway who was sacked as a Tory MP after paying more than £40,000 in parliamentary allowances to his student son, with “no record” of the boy having done any work for him? It surely could…

According to Mr Conway, recent media interest in Ken’s fondness for dictators’ money has nothing to do with the fact that he is, at least theoretically, seeking an important public office. It is, instead, like most other things, a Zionist plot.

“Britain’s state-funded BBC launched another attack on Press TV last night. ITV did the same,” he stormed on the channel’s phone-in programme, Comment, on Friday. “This time, they’re using Ken Livingstone as an excuse. Both channels needed to have an analyst to comment on Ken Livingstone and Press TV – so who did they use? The head of the Zionist Federation.”

Damning indeed, I think you’ll agree. The station’s audience certainly did, and a lively dialogue soon followed. What it is to have friends, eh, Ken?

Caller: [Ken] does what he thinks is right, not politically expedient… I think the problem he has, is perceived to have, with the Jewish community was used by the BBC to pull him down.

Conway: Ken doesn’t attack the Jewish community, [but] what the state of Israel is doing… and fortunately stations like Press TV can air what’s going on in Palestine, because you wouldn’t see much of it on the BBC…

Emailer: Amazing, this is getting really creepy! What is wrong with the BBC! It is so obvious that this is a plan to silence their young, upcoming rival…

Conway: What was interesting about this latest attack on Ken is that it happened in about the same timeframe. That suggested to me that it wasn’t accidental timing. I don’t believe in coincidence much…

Emailer: It makes me sick that [the BBC] keeps going on about Press TV being funded by the Iranian government. Which is worse? The Iranian government that executes a few criminals each year or the British government that has killed hundreds of thousands in its wars? I know who I’d rather work for, NOT the British government’s BBC!

Conway: The BBC should look a bit more broadly at Press TV, I don’t know what the BBC should be scared of.

Caller: The only reason the BBC’s jealous is because Press TV puts on better programmes…

Conway: What do you think Press TV does that scares the other channels so much? Do you think it’s jealousy?

Caller: Press TV has risen and has revolutionised, like the revolution in Tunisia…

Ken Livingstone refuses to stop working for Iranian dictatorship

Iranian women stand in line to cast their votes in the presidential election, at the Masoumeh shrine in Qum (Photo: AP)
Iranian women stand in line to cast their votes in the 2009 presidential election, at the Masoumeh shrine in Qum (Photo: AP)

A hilarious defence today of Ken Livingstone’s decision to take thousands of pounds from the Iranian dictatorship to present a show on its official propaganda channel, Press TV, which has been attracting a certain amount of flak.

One Labour-supporting blogger – who knows a thing or two about propaganda – has deployed the killer argument that the great man’s decision is less bad because… err… I work for Press TV.

There are, alas, some problems with this line of reasoning:

1. I am not a candidate for public office.

2. This may be the first time in history that one of Ken Livingstone’s groupies has cited me as a moral arbiter.

3. I do not work for Press TV. I gave up (apart from two one-off shows last May)  thirteen months ago – not all that long, indeed, after Ken started.  It began as a perfectly reasonable operation – and to the end, my show was always allowed to host anti-regime voices – but the channel as a whole increasingly became a government mouthpiece. Not that this has cut any ice with Ken…

Unlike me, Ken refuses to give up his show. On the BBC’s London news, where this was the lead story last night, he said: “Press TV is one of the few TV channels anywhere in the West that fairly presents the Palestinian case.” He also claimed:  “The important thing to remember about Press TV is that it is a British company, wholly owned in Britain, that makes and sells programmes to Iran and to other places.” This is totally untrue. Press TV is a television channel based in Iran and owned by the Iranian state. (Watch the BBC item here.)

Among Ken’s programmes was one publicising a book called Zionist Israel and Apartheid South Africa. He has also done a show about “the invention of the Jewish people”. Ken has always had a bit of a problem with Jews – they’ll be so relieved to know that they’re still in his thoughts! And as for the rest of us, Ken’s gig is just what we need to set at rest our concerns about his links with Muslim extremists.

Money from the Tube strikers! Money from the Iranians! And he’s still taking both! One wonders – does Ken actually want to commit political suicide?