Press TV, the Iranian state-funded news channel, loses UK licence

The controversial broadcaster has been taken off the air after Ofcom ruled it was in breach of licen

Press TV, the Iranian state-funded news channel, is to be taken off the air in Britain after Ofcom ruled that it was breaching broadcasting rules.

The channel has responded with outrage, calling the decision "scandalous" and a "clear example of censorship". Its chief executive, Mohammad Sarafraz, said that it was "an act of aggression by the British monarchy" which "will prevent the British from learning the truth". (NB. Iranian TV has form on erroneously calling out the British monarchy)

Yet it is not entirely out of the blue: the controversial broadcaster was threatened with a ban last year, after it emerged that it had aired an interview with Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist, while he was imprisoned in Iran in 2009.

Rather than banning the channel outright, after hearing submissions Ofcom finally settled on a £100,000 fine in December 2011. However, Press TV failed to meet the early January deadline for paying the fine. Ofcom said that the broadcaster has been "unwilling and unable" to pay it.

This is not the only reason that Ofcom has given: it also ruled that Press TV is in breach of broadcasting licence rules in the UK because it runs its editorial insight from Iran's capital, Tehran. The regulator wrote to Press TV about this in November, offering a choice of either switching editorial control for programming to the UK, or to transfer the broadcasting licence to Iran. According to Ofcom, Press TV has not responded.

These technical explanations are all very well, but it is difficult not to view this in the context of escalating tension between Iran and Britain (my colleague Mehdi Hasan has blogged extensively on this). The country's nuclear programme has drawn ire from the west, and in November, Britain closed Iran's embassy in London and expelled all diplomats, after the British embassy in Tehran was attacked by a crowd angry at sanctions.

Certainly, the channel's fans will (rightly or wrongly) view it in this light. In October last year, Press TV ran a poll in which 52 per cent of respondents said that Ofcom's attempts to get the channel taken off air was "an instance of intellectual terrorism". The instant reaction on Twitter shows many concerned about free speech (although others are cheering the decision). Salma Yaqoob, the leader of the Respect Party, tweeted: "Reality is we r seeing increased hostility and preparation for attack on #Iran".

While this has been rumbling on for months, things are now moving fast. Ofcom has contacted BSkyB, which broadcasts Press TV, to tell them to take the channel off the air before the end of the day. It appears the plug has already been pulled, although it can still be viewed online.

Regardless of the technicality -- and certainly, Press TV played a significant part and displayed belligerence by failing to take action -- this move will be seen as highly symbolic. It is yet another area where tension with Iran is escalating.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.