British double standards–by Shiraz Paracha

Last week, hundreds of the BBC World Service employees gathered outside the Bush House in London to demonstrate against the detention of one of their colleagues, Urunboy Usmonov, in Tajikistan for his alleged links with an extremist militant group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT).

The protest was held at a time when the British Government is indirectly harassing the London based staff of a leading international media organization, Press TV.

The BBC reporter was suspected of working for HT, which is banned in Central Asia but operates in the United Kingdom. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan fear that militants have foreign backing mostly from the West.

Russia has been accusing the West for sponsoring terrorist groups in Chechnya, Dagestan and other parts of southern Russia. There is a long history of clandestine cooperation between some Western governments and militant groups, which use the name of Islam.

The BBC and other British media outlets condemn the arrest of the BBC Tajik Service employee but there has been no word about the constant intimidation of Press TV staff in London.

The National Westminster (NatWest), a leading British bank, has frozen Press TV’s bank accounts without a court order and without giving any reason. Journalists working for Press TV are followed and Press TV is depicted as a ‘domestic enemy’ in the British media.

Office of Communication (Ofcom), the official British media regulator, is finding an excuse to take Press TV off air. The real reason of the British draconian measures against Press TV is the network’s growing popularity among the British and American public and Press TV’s strong and critical analysis of the British foreign and domestic policies.

No media organization, civil liberty groups or British politicians have voiced their concern over the harassment of the Press TV staff.

The Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S government funded ‘Freedom House’ have condemned the arrest of the BBC reporter in Tajikistan but they did not take any notice of the discrimination against Press TV.

Even the so-called liberal British newspapers mention Press TV as a state funded news organization and some call Press TV as the mouthpiece of the Iranian government.

The Sunday Times is a British newspaper notorious for its links with the British security services. Often source of the Times so-called news scoops are British secret services. The newspaper has been running a smear campaign against Press TV. The Times is owned by a leading icon of neo-conservatives, Rupert Murdoch.

None of the British media, however, use the same language for the BBC World Service that is actually funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is truly the mouthpiece of the British establishment.

The British media condemn the Tajik government when it takes action to protect its national interests, but British journalists praise the British Police when it arrest innocent people under British terrorism laws. They criticize Press TV for being biased and unbalanced but they ignore the role of the BBC as a propaganda organ of the British State.

The BBC is not fair and objective in its the coverage of countries that are not friendly to Britain but it lectures others on freedom and fairness. In fact, the BBC World Service has an imperialistic approach towards non-Western countries and cultures.

Bush House London, the Headquarters of the BBC World Service, is indeed a torture house for independent journalists. The BBC World Service hires reporters from developing countries after security clearance from the British security services. Still, the BBC uses other methods to control and subjugate dissent.

Usually, reporters and editors from foreign countries are brought to Britain on a three-year work permit at the end of which ‘foreign journalists’ have to return home. Obliviously, returning home becomes a difficult option for some of these reporters because at the BBC they are asked to present negative reports about government policies in their home countries.

The BBC World Service often asks foreign journalists to translate news reports into their native languages. The actual reports are prepared by English speaking reporters and reflect a foreign perspective on local culture and politics. But to ordinary listeners, viewers and readers in a developing country, a report presented in their own language by a local person seems credible.

Under the British immigration rules if a foreigner works legally in Britain for more than five years, he/she becomes eligible to stay in Britain permanently. Until recently most of the new BBC foreign employees used to get a three-year contract and work permit.

During their three year stay at the BBC World Service, if foreigners adapt to the BBC culture and norms they would get an extension otherwise they would be out of the BBC. It was an unofficial policy. Several Afghan journalists ended driving taxis in London because the BBC did not extend their contracts and they couldn’t return home for safety reasons.

BBC tries hard to tame journalists, violators are thrown out. My bosses at the BBC South Asia and BBC Urdu Service had barred me from conducting investigative reports.

Mohammed Hanif, who is a famous writer in Pakistan now, was at Bush House in the late 1990s. He and other colleagues from Pakistan would feel uncomfortable due my ‘strong views’. Perhaps they were scared of white masters, or they knew the rules of the game. Eventually, I had to quit the torture cell of journalism in 2000.

But two of my other colleagues were stubborn. A Palestinian reporter Adil Hawwari and an Iraqi journalist Dr. Abdul-Hadi Jiad stayed at the BBC Arabic Service and continued fighting the deaf and blind establishment of the BBC.

Then, Tony Blair and George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq and the BBC was the main propaganda organ before and during the illegal occupation of Iraq. The invasion started in March 2003 but the BBC fired Adil Hawwari and Abdul-Hadi Jiad on 19 February 2003.

The BBC marched two senior Arab journalists one month before the U.S and British attack on an Arab country. Adli and Abdul-Hadi did not receive a disciplinary hearing, were never warned they were under investigation and were denied union representation as well as their contractual right to appeal. One had worked at the BBC for 16 years and other had given 12 years of his life to the BBC.

Language is one of the tools used by the BBC and other western media organizations to trash opponents. Typically terms such autocrat, dictator, hard-line or reclusive leader, the most wanted man are applied to describe unwanted personalities.

In 2008, the BBC accused the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of election fraud and presented him as a dictator who grabbed power by foul play, but the BBC did not use the same kind of language for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush who had actually committed fraud and lied to the public. In the eyes of the BBC, British and American leaders are wise statesmen.

The BBC is very critical of Iran, North Korea and other countries but it has soft corner for Israel. During my time at the BBC, a colleague at the BBC Radio 4 was intimated by the Israeli embassy in London as well as by other reporters in the newsroom. He told me several times that the Israeli embassy in London would call his bosses for editorial favors and when he disagreed his bosses they would pressurize him.

Whenever Israeli aggression against helpless and weak Palestinians takes place, the BBC presents most incidents of aggression either as Israeli reaction to Palestinian ‘terrorism’ or a conflict between two equals. Israeli actions are shown as innocent mistakes or trivial incidents.

When Press TV launched its London office in 2007, it hired journalists who supported George W. Bush and some were followers of Britain’s rightwing Tory Party. The right-wingers worked along with people such as George Galloway and other leftists. As a producer and consultant, I never received any editorial advice from Tehran or from the London office staff. Presenter of our show Jan Fossgard enjoyed full freedom in his questions and presentation.

But at the BBC this wasn’t the case. Writer Tariq Ali had once told us that the BBC refused to let him participate in a program when he told them he intended to criticize the British prime minister.

With such dark record of the BBC, the British media feel no shame in criticizing Press TV. 

In reality, the BBC World Service is a tool of ‘White Propaganda’. In this form of propaganda partial truths are told. Those who set the news agenda make sure it suits their political goals and objectives. That is why the BBC is selective in covering crisis and conflicts. The aim of the ‘White propaganda’ is to tell incomplete and half truths using dramatic footage, sound bites and political rhetoric. But in fact information is filtered and selected with the aim to lead the audience towards desired conclusions.

Once the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had given a statement where he had called Israel as an illegitimate state and thus be wipeout of the world. It was political rhetoric but Western media, including the BBC, distorted Ahmadinejad’s statement and said that the Iranian leader wanted to wipeout Jews as people. Obviously, this was not what the Iranian president had said or meant.

The statement caused uproar in the West and Ahmadinejad was portrayed as a modern day Hitler. But the Western media failed to inform their audience that Iran is home to 25,000 Jews and they have been peacefully living in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.    

From the late 1940s, the BBC became a tool of Western propaganda against the Soviet Union and countries of the Eastern block. In 1956, the CIA established Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to attack the Soviet Union on the propaganda front but both the radio services never achieved the effectiveness that the BBC World Service possessed.

During the ‘Cold War’ the BBC World Service was broadcasting in 42 languages to the audience in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America with the aim of defeating Communism and protecting regimes that were friendly to Britain and the United States.

The BBC has been hostile to governments that pose any threat to the US and British interests anywhere in the world.

When Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Muhammad Mossadaq nationalized the Iranian oil industry in the early 1950s, the BBC waged a war against the elected leader of Iran. The CIA and the British intelligence agency, the MI6, conducted a dirty joint operation to remove Prime Minister Mossadaq from power and occupy the Iranian oil. The operation was successful.

Similarly, when in 1979 the Islamic Revolution occurred in Iran, the BBC Persian Service in London was filled with anti-revolution Iranians who supported the deposed King Raza Shah Pahlavi. To date, the BBC Persian Service broadcasts are biased against the elected government of Iran.

The BBC World Service launched a carefully orchestrated campaign against Pakistan’s elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1976-77, when Bhutto refused to abandon Pakistan’s nuclear program under US and British pressure. The BBC South Asia correspondent, Mark Talley, as well as translators and broadcasters at the BBC Urdu Service, exaggerated news reports about the opposition to Prime Minister Bhutto.

When General Zia-ul-Haq removed Prime Minister Bhutto in a Coup d’état and later hanged him, the BBC reporting was not critical of the military regime because Zia was instrumental in the West’s proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

In the name of balance the BBC and many Western media organizations show both sides of an argument but they are selective in what they show and how it is presented. For example, establishment figures and leaders of friendly regimes are interviewed in the comfort of their homes or offices. They are not asked challenging questions and they are granted more time.

On the other hand, freedom fighters, anti-establishment groups, and people from non-Western cultures are not given enough time, they are interviewed on the streets and under pressure, and they are asked tough questions.

The BBC also manipulates its audience in several other ways. For example, guests are carefully vetted for BBC shows. The audience may see different faces on their television screens but often guests on BBC shows represent the same side.

Voices opposed to the status quo are allowed on the BBC programs but usually they are out numbered by people who support the establishment or the status quo. Those who are opposed to Western hegemony are not given proper time and opportunity to present their case.

On the night of 11 September 2001, the BBC invited Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu (the current Israeli prime minister) in its Newsnight program and provided him with an opportunity to blame Muslims for the 9/11 attacks. By that time no one knew who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks but thanks to the BBC just few hours after the mysterious attacks people of one faith (Islam) were blamed for the attacks.

The BBC World Service focuses on conflicts, diseases and disasters in poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America but it does not explain the background and the real causes of troubles.

The BBC shows ‘terrorists’ in Somalia and mentions violence in Sudan, Sierra Leone Liberia and other African countries but usually there is no word about the role of Western governments, institutions, NGOs and businesses in those conflicts. The BBC does not make connections between violence in Africa and the Western inference in Africa.

The BBC broadcasts reports on the activities left-wing gorillas in Latin America by presenting them as drug dealers. However, it does not criticize brutal policies of the US-backed regimes in Columbia or Guatemala.

The United States has been providing arms to corrupt and cruel regimes in Latin and Central America. Such regimes kill and torture innocent people but the BBC and the Western media organizations do not fully expose the US-sponsored brutality and violations of human rights.

As a British organization that is funded by the State, the BBC has the right to protect British interests but why the British media deny such a right to Press TV, Russia Today, CCTV9 and others? 

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. His email address is:



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