OpinionIran in the World PressFree speech for a tyrant – how very Channel...

Free speech for a tyrant – how very Channel 4

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ImageSunday Times: It takes a certain nerve and chutzpah to invoke the messiah approvingly when Christ’s followers are relentlessly persecuted at home in Iran by, er, Mahmoud himself.

The Sunday Times

Rod Liddle

ImageIt takes a certain nerve and chutzpah to invoke the messiah approvingly when Christ’s followers are relentlessly persecuted at home in Iran by, er, Mahmoud himself. Christians who have been unable to get the hell out of Ahmadinejad’s Islamist hellhole are routinely arrested, have their property confiscated and their churches closed; at least one evangelical preacher faces the death penalty for “proselytising” and “apostasy”. Ahmadinejad didn’t disclose what he thought Christ would have to say about that. Maybe he thinks he wouldn’t mind too much, all things considered.

Channel 4 presumably thought this was provocative and cutting-edge television – “edgy”, I believe, is the adjective they strive for these days. Pointing the camera at a random madman and letting him rant is thus “edgy”, although it requires nothing in the way of wit or thought on the part of the broadcaster. It is instead broadcasting of the most unchallenging nature.

I suppose that if this were 1937, Channel 4 would hand over the Christmas Day airwaves to Hitler for a burst of free propaganda (“If Christ were alive today he’d annex the Sudetenland, round up the Jews and invade Czechoslovakia. Happy Christmas.”). And when the outraged complaints flooded in, a Channel 4 executive would then defend it thus: “Hitler is the leader of a very large and politically significant nation, and it is important that the British people hear his views.” Absurd, you might think – but this is almost precisely how Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, defended their Only Fools and Jihadis Christmas Special. Yes, Dot, love, it is important to hear what deranged tyrants like Mahmoud have to say – but it would be nice to ask him a question here or there, wouldn’t it?

Can you imagine, for even the briefest glimmering of a nanosecond, Channel 4 issuing a similar invitation to President George W Bush? It is unthinkable; it would not remotely occur to the executives. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if the entire Channel 4 schedule next Christmas were handed over to President Barack Obama for a 24-hour love-in, with cameo appearances from Jesse Jackson, the relatives of Rosa Parks and so on.

Channel 4 still delivers the goods, more often than not, especially in its news and current affairs – which is why the Ahmadinejad stuff is so disappointing; a cheap shock that reveals nothing other than a dearth of imagination, an obvious political bias and a certain contempt for the viewer. The broadcaster’s bosses – Luke Johnson, who made his name flogging overpriced pizzas to the middle classes, and Andy Duncan, who made his name marketing margarine – have been pleading for more money from the public purse. But is it of value to the public? Channel 4 is indeed a peculiar and uncomfortable hybrid of the public and the private and, much like the BBC, seems utterly unsure of what a public service remit should require it to do. Too often it wishes to stretch boundaries simply for the sake of it – such as encouraging the appalling Gillian McKeith to poke around in people’s stools in You Are What You Eat. And then travelling even further around the U-bend with old Mahmoud. Edgy, huh?

+ Teachers at a school in London acted swiftly and decisively when they saw one of their colleagues, Colin Adams, being throttled by a pupil. They hurried over and, in no uncertain terms, verbally indicated that they wished the child to desist. However, the child declined to desist. Eventually another teacher helped prise the child away. Premature physical intervention was out of the question, of course. Lay a finger on a child and that’s your job gone down the Swanee. A happy outcome, though – Adams eventually trousered £250,000 in compensation for severe stress, while the excitable child was rumoured to have been sent on a taxpayer-funded holiday, presumably to improve his sense of self-esteem.

Meanwhile, teachers have been told that they should no longer make their corrections to school homework in red ink, in case it both “demoralises” the pupils and stands out too much, in an oppressive manner, on the page. They should use a pencil, instead, so that the corrections can be rubbed out. Do you suppose there is any connection between the way children are treated while in school these days and the way some behave when they have left?

What a privilege it was to settle down with a glass of port after a traditional Christmas dinner, the logs crackling and spitting in the hearth, and enjoy President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s message to the nation on Channel 4. Christmas isn’t really Christmas for me unless I hear the unedited, unchallenged views of a despot, psychopath, maniac or bigot. It makes me feel slightly better about myself.

All the better, too, if it is someone with the brass neck of old Mahmoud. The subtext of his uplifting message (which he delivered, Boris Johnson fashion, tieless) was: Jesus Christ, were he alive today, would smite the Jews good and proper and also kick the expansionist Yankees.

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