Without warning, tech giant Google “permanently removed” Iranian media channel PressTV-UK’s YouTube channel January 13 night amid increasing American hostility to Iran.
“This attack on the freedom of speech of PressTV’s journalists seems to be part of an anti-Iran purge as the West sets its sights on regime change in Iran,” PressTV said. Its content, in its own words, focuses on “anti-imperialism, anti-racism, and covers aspects of the news which the mainstream corporate media in the United Kingdom have refused to air.”
The London-based outlet had over 28,000 subscribers on its YouTube account at the time of its deletion. British-Sudanese journalist Ahmed Kaballo accused Google of acting like the “judge, jury, and executioner” for his employer’s channel, expressing his great disappointment that his journalistic output is now gone and his worry at “what this really represents” for alternative media that “show a different perspective and holds a critical lens” on war and empire.
MintPress News reached out to Kaballo for comment. “The actions of Google in the last 24 hours has made me lose hope in the idea of free press and free speech,” he said. “Journalism is about pushing the boundaries and being fearless in our reporting but in this climate where they can do this to us in this fashion, it’s clear that our perspective, which is overtly anti-imperialist, is, in the eyes of Google, simply not allowed.”
After online pushback, by January 15 morning UK time, Google had reversed its decision. However, just as PressTV was celebrating its reinstatement, it was again taken off the air. YouTube sent a message to PressTV-UK claiming that they had received a complaint about the channel and decided that it violates their terms of service. Kaballo described the political hokey pokey his organization was under as “psychological warfare.”
PressTV says the move is “part of an anti-Iran purge as the West sets its sights on regime change in Iran.” It comes in the context of the Trump administration’s assassination of Lt. General Qassem Soleimani January 3, while he was in Iraq at the invitation of Iraqi Prime Minister ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Mahdi to attend peace talks. In response, Iran on January 8 launched dozens of ballistic missiles at US-occupied military bases in Iraq, although it was careful to warn the US of the attack beforehand. As a result, there were no deaths. The Iraqi parliament also immediately voted to expel all American troops from the country. However, the US refused to leave.
While the threat of a hot war with Iran appears to have subsided somewhat, an intense, online propaganda war rages between the two countries. During his funeral, the hashtag #IraniansDetestSoleimani trended across American Twitter. But analysis showed that it was not Iranians, but organized Trump supporters who were boosting the message, supporting, as 47% of Americans did, their president’s decision to kill him.
On January 10, Facebook had announced that it felt compelled to delete all positive posts about the deceased general from its platform and its subsidiary Instagram. “We operate under US sanctions laws, including those related to the US government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its leadership,” it said, explaining that Trump’s new sanctions made supporting Iran online on any American website essentially illegal. Instagram had already closed General Soleimani’s account in April last year, following Trump’s designation of the IRGC as a “terrorist” group. Just after Facebook’s decision, Twitter suspended Ayatollah Khamenei’s account for “unusual activity.” Instagram is extremely popular in Iran, with around one in three people owning an account, almost as popular as Gen. Soleimani, who over 80% view positively or very positively. Thus, the US government has, through pressuring monopolistic Silicon Valley giants, effectively banned a majority opinion being shared by Iranians to Iranians, in Iran.
This is not the first occasion that the US government has used the American monopoly over the means of communication online to shut down alternative voices from other countries. Facebook has previously de-platformed Venezuela-based outlets TeleSUR English and Venezuelanalysis, both of which offered differing opinions and analysis of the US government’s actions in Venezuela and Latin America. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has forced RT journalists to register as “foreign agents,” under a rule originally set up to deal with Nazis during World War II.
PressTV, too, has had a history of poor treatment at the hands of the US state. In January last year, the FBI illegally detained PressTV anchor Marzieh Hashemi for ten days. She was never charged and was deprived of halal food and a hijab during her detention. While the network is still reachable directly on its website, the fact that the US government can unilaterally decide what the world sees, hears, or reads, zapping British based Iranian networks from universal social media giants the entire world uses, raises questions about freedom of information in the digital age. g
Reprinted with permission from MintPress News. The original heading of this article was “Keeping with its Crackdown on Alternative Voices, Google Deletes PressTV from YouTube.” It was slightly modified to suit our format.