Channel 4 was rebuked by the Government yesterday for its decision to broadcast an address by the President of Iran as the channel’s alternative Christmas message.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that providing a platform for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust “a myth”, would cause widespread offence, despite the conciliatory tone of his speech.
A spokeswoman for the FCO said: “President Ahmadinejad has, during his time in office, made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but among friendly countries abroad.”
In the address, a Channel 4 tradition since 1993, Mr Ahmadinejad made a thinly veiled attack on the United States by claiming that Christ would have been against “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers”.
He added: “If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over. If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly He would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime.”
Channel 4 had worked hard to court Mr Ahmadinejad and refused to release details of its speaker until an ITN film crew had captured his address on camera, late on Tuesday.
Sources at Channel 4 said that it was aware of the sensitivity of giving a platform to Mr Ahmadinejad. In a break with tradition the alternative address did not go head to head with the Queen’s Christmas message, screening instead at 7.15pm. “We didn’t want to imply an equivalence between the two,” one insider said.
Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, said: “As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view.”
Mr Ahmadinejad surprised many by curbing his rhetoric and offering the British people his warm wishes. He sent his congratulations to “the followers of Abrahamic faiths, especially the followers of Jesus Christ, and the people of Britain”. He said that the ills in the world had come about through nations failing to follow the teachings of the Prophets, including Jesus.
He added: “Today, the general will of nations is calling for fundamental change. . . Demands for a return to human values are fast becoming the foremost demands of the nations of the world.”
Ron Prosor, the Israeli Ambassador to London, said: “In Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty. It is perverse that this despot is allowed to speculate on the views of Jesus while his Government leads Christ’s followers to the gallows.”
Mr Ahmadinejad once told a Western audience that Iran had no homosexuals. Gay men have been filmed being hanged from cranes in Tehran.
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “Ahmadinejad’s apparently reasonable words are pure propaganda. His actions are devoid of love, justice, humanity and brotherhood. They involve the brutal repression of his own people.”
December 26, 2008
Patrick Foster, Media Correspondent
Source: The Times