BREAKING! FBI & Dept of Commerce Seize Iranian PressTV Web Domain

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This is a developing story…

On June 22, 2021, the US government seized a website domain name of the Iranian broadcasting outlet PressTV, posting this graphic in place of the usual page.

Screenshot provided by Doug Henwood

The state-owned outlet posted this message on its Twitter.

Meanwhile, alternative PressTV addresses hosted by service providers outside the boundaries of US legal jurisdiction remain operational.

Over the past several years, China and Iran have both become targets of Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans group them together in policy matters, speeches, and sanction regimes. This is in part because of rhetorical convenience and partly because the two countries have deepened diplomatic ties during the past decade. It is possible to see the geopolitical measures taken against one country as overlapping with the agenda regarding the other due to such initiatives. As the Chinese Belt and Road project further develops West Asian commercial routes in the coming years, the two will become further integrated and strengthen their diplomatic ties.

During her confirmation hearings in January, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo indicated she was going to amplify Washington’s accusations against China over alleged “technology theft” by firms like Huawei while increasing “cyber security” measures. Claims about the latter topic are almost impossible to verify, any national intelligence agency with competent leadership is obliged to have a bureau devoted to cyberspace.

The former accusation, however, is pretty ridiculous. Chinese firms legally gained access to American technology in the past 50 years as part of standard contracts embedded within the larger economic liberalization and development strategy implemented by Deng Xiaoping and his successors. There are clearly ulterior motives with such pronouncements. This is in addition to the obvious ramping-up of saber rattling towards Tehran, which is already dealing with pulverizing sanctions.

This step by Commerce and the FBI proves these rhetorical flourishes are a smokescreen for a widening censorship mandate within Washington. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the federal policing agencies have sharpened a carceral lens upon the information superhighway, invoking moral panics like “internet radicalization,” aberrant sexual behavior, multimedia piracy, or illicit drug trafficking to justify the crackdown. While there’s certainly no denying that serious malfeasance like white nationalist indoctrination, child pornography, copyright infringement, or sales of narcotics take place online, laws passed in the name of combatting such practices are wildly overreaching and create judicial precedents for later use in cases like that of PressTV. These legislative efforts also conveniently ignore that there were already plenty of laws with harsh, sometimes overly-sadistic penalties for sexual assault, kidnapping, murder, or narco vending. However, none of those laws provided censorship opportunities, something that Washington and Silicon Valley have been desperate to implement after the early Wild West days of the web opened floodgates for free information that could not be used for profits and taxes.

I have always been wary of state-sponsored broadcasters like RT or PressTV. Both have editorial lines driven by the geopolitical concerns of their sponsors, which is anathema to what journalists are mandated to serve. Both broadcasters seek to curry favor with a wide swathe of the American public, meaning that they are absolutely shameless about a kind of political opportunism that sometimes has led them to host as guest commentators gremlins like Kevin MacDonald, the CalState Long Beach psych professor who spent his career moonlighting as a prolific antisemitic crackpot, and disciples of the late Lyndon LaRouche, whose antics were the stuff of legend.

None of these qualms, however, justify censorship. In my book, these are instead the ingredients for amazing television programming. Who would be interested in crap like a Friends reunion on HBO when you can watch something so bizarre like that? Why shell out twenty hard earned dollars in the midst of a global economic crisis for a crappy streaming service when you can get this sort of carnival content for free? A few years ago Martin Scorsese compared Marvel Comics movies to amusement park rides and, while he was onto something there, I have to wonder if he has discovered Iranian broadcasting yet.

Furthermore, it is only a matter of time until the precedent used against a foreign broadcaster is utilized for domestic purposes. Washington Babylon has already faced censorship this year for suspicious reasons. It is only a matter of time until this is expanded.


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