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Freedom of Information Takes Another Hit in the United States

The US government doesn’t like Iran. I get that. It claims, on pretty dubious grounds, that Iran might be planning, at some point down the road, to take some of the uranium it is processing into nuclear fuel to a higher level of purity and make it into an atomic bomb.

Because of that possibility, which Iran denies, and for which there is no hard evidence, the US has been tightening an embargo against Iran, blocking countries from buying Iranian oil, blocking banks from doing business with Iran, blocking Iranian banks from doing business with the US, and blocking certain products from being exported to Iran.

Many of these actions are, in and of themselves, hostile acts that could, under international law, be considered acts of war given that there is no UN authorization. In fact, some of them are exactly the type of thing that drove militarists in Japan, fearful of their country being cut off from access to iron ore and to oil, neither of which are available in Japan, to go to war against the US back in 1945.

But for all that, the US is not at war with Iran. Got that? There is no state of war between Iran and the USA. You can travel there as a tourist if you like–actually more easily than you can go to Cuba. Iranians can visit the US too, though they probably will get a pretty serious going over by the ICE crew at their port of entry.

Now, however, the US has taken a really stupid step. It has blocked the carrying of Iran’s state-owned English-language PressTV television broadcast on the Galaxy 19 satellite that was allowing the 24-hour newscast to be viewed, at least by some people, in the US. Galaxy 19 is operated by Intelsat, which is domiciled in Luxembourg for tax purposes but is actually a US-run firm, founded here in 1964, and run currently by a crew of US executives who hail from such firms as Dish TV, Sprint, GTE and the powerful NY and Washington law firm of Paul, Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.

Full disclosure: For several years, I have been frequently interviewed by Iranian Press TV reporters for commentary on such matters as the US election campaign, the US economy, various issues before the Congress, the state of civil liberties in the US, police repression of the Occupy movement, and also international issues such as the US drone warfare campaign and the war in Afghanistan. For six months, I was also paid to write a weekly column for the Press TV website, until that arrangement was ended for financial reasons on Jan. 3 of this year.

You might find this next bit instructive (I sure did!): When I was invited to write the column last June, knowing that it would be for a state-owned news organization, I said I would have certain requirements. These were: My articles could not be cut, they could not be added to, I had to be paid ($200 per article) whether or not the article was run on the site, and if an article was changed at all, I would reserve the absolute right to have my name removed from it. The editor agreed immediately, and in fact, in all those months, during which I wrote an article of my own choosing every single week, only one article didn’t run — a piece I did on the debate over the death penalty in the US. I was told that it was too much of a US story, and that it would not be of interest in Iran. (Who knows? I think it would have been of interest. There is an oft-used death penalty in Iran, and I’m sure it’s controversial.) Maybe that piede was not run for political reasons. Big deal–I’ve had countless pieces not run in the US for political reasons! But I have to say I have never, in 40 years of professional work as a journalist, gotten that same degree of control over my work from a publisher as I was handed by PressTV, except when I was the publisher, or was part of a collective of people, as here at TCBH!

In any event, the bozos who run our government, who have managed to cow the corporate media here into the role, essentially, of propagandists, particularly when it comes to international affairs, seem to think it’s a great idea to punish Iran by blocking it’s own state media, which certainly plays a similar role. But wait a minute! Aren’t we always complaining when other countries, like the former Soviet Union, or Cuba, or North Korea, block our propaganda broadcasts, notably Radio Marti or Radio America? You bet we do. We consider that an example of limiting the free flow of information–of denying the people of those countries access to outside information.

How does that square with what the US is doing in this case with PressTV?

It’s exactly the same. Our government is not punishing Iran. It is punishing us, by shutting us out from getting Iran’s side of the story.

Americans should be up in arms over this outrage!

What is the government afraid of? What message are they sending to the rest of the world?

Well I can tell you. They’re afraid Americans might hear about the kids with cancer in Iran who are dying because they cannot obtain needed chemotherapy drugs because of the embargo. They’re afraid Americans might see stories about the true medieval tyranny in the US ally of Bahrain, where the majority Shia population is being viciously repressed by the monarchy there, with the aid of US military equipment. They’re afraid, perhaps, that Americans might see some American journalist like me talking about the 172 known children who have been killed by US drones authorized for deadly strikes in Yemen and Pakistan during the years President Obama has been president — a story that has been effectively blacked out by the compliant US corporate media.

And the message they’re sending is that the US is not the much-ballyhooed “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” that it claims to be. It is a land of ill-informed sheep and the home of a bunch of cowards — cowards in government who are afraid of the truth and the open debate over facts and ideas, and cowards among the broader public who willingly allow these steady encroachments on our freedom in the name of “fighting terror.”

The same kind of campaign has long been underway to silence the English-language broadcasts of Al Jazzeera in the US, though many well-known US journalists are today working for that news network, and though it is one of the best sources of reporting in the Middle East — far more informative than any of the US networks, with their short-funded foreign staffs and their propensity to helicopter in a correspondent at the last minute when some Americans become a focus of a news story (and sometimes to fake even that by pretending the correspondent is on the scene, as CBS and CNN have been wont to do on occasion).

It’s a sad day for America when the government blots out a source of news.

I have no objection to politicians decrying PressTV as a propaganda organ. Fair’s fair. But to prevent people from viewing it is something else again. Take about a nanny state!

Fortunately, there’s still the internet. So I say, check it out. Go to www.presstv.ir and read the articles on the Iranian TV website. You can also click on the button at the top of their home page and watch the broadcast live. Make your own decision. Don’t let the censors in Washington decide for you what you can and cannot watch.

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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