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June 30, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 291

Iran's Hardy Spanish Media Mole

June 30, 2021 | By Alberto M. Fernandez*
Iran | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 291

One characteristic of the banning of ISIS terrorist group partisans around 2015 on social media was their attempts to return to those same platforms. Some ISIS supporters used to boast of the many times they would return to Twitter. Less overt jihadi material on YouTube lingered into 2016 as the most obvious ISIS-branded material was removed. Thankfully, social media algorithms eventually caught up and even the more subtle versions of this particular type of terrorist propaganda were removed. Of course, terrorists are always looking for virtual "ungoverned spaces" just as they search for those spaces in the distant corners of actual continents.

The propaganda put out by Iran, the globe's leading state sponsor of terrorism, has not suffered the opprobrium heaped on ISIS but at times Western governments have taken steps to remove or at least make more difficult the existence of Iranian-controlled outlets disseminating terrorist propaganda, disinformation, and antisemitism. On June 22, 2021, the Biden administration's Justice Department seized more than three dozen Iran-affiliated propaganda outlet websites. Many of these were Arabic-language sites associated with Iraqi death squads but it also included the English-language Press TV website.[1]

Not on the list was Iran's Spanish-language version of Press TV, HispanTV, which was launched in late 2011 and actually began broadcasting in early 2012 from Spain. Interestingly, both HispanTV and a Spanish-language Salafi channel funded by Saudi Arabia, Cordoba TV, were allowed to begin broadcasting that same year from Spain under the ostensibly conservative government of former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Both channels were ostensibly about "building bridges" but were in the business of propaganda. While Cordoba TV concentrated on religious proselytism, the Iranian goal was much more ambitious. In a friendly July 2011 interview with a Venezuelan newspaper, HispanTV's Program Director Nima Nasschi, the channel's "sole aim" was described as an effort to "show those points of union and historical connections between Iran and the countries of Latin America, to get closer, understand each other and guarantee a future."[2]

Nasschi also added – in the same 2011 interview – when asked about the terrorist attacks on September 11th in the United States, that "It has not been possible to prove that the attack of September 11, 2001 was an Islamic terrorist attack. We are working on the issue and we do not believe that Islamic terrorists attacked those towers. We hope to release this material in April 2012, in which we question that theory."[3]

Even before it broadcast at all, HispanTV began with a lie, that 9/11 was an inside job by the Americans intending to create a new enemy, Islam. It is this type of editorial line, soon veering into the type of routinized media antisemitism practiced by Iran elsewhere that would get HispanTV kicked off of YouTube in 2013, after an expose by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).[4] And the European Union – and so Spain – would take steps to remove HispanTV from satellite channels.

But the channel is actually still on YouTube having rebranded itself under its "Nexo Latino [Latin Connection]" slogan since December 2020. Not only is this in violation of a previous ban, but the "Nexo Latino" YouTube channel is not even labeled with the disclaimer that this is an Iranian government-funded operation, as YouTube does with other government broadcasters such as BBC or Voice of America.[5] This is intentional deception coming after YouTube bans against HispanTV in 2013, 2019, and 2020.[6]

Although HispanTV has a website (www.hispantv.com) and is on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, VK, and Telegram, it is no longer available on a Spanish satellite and broadcast operations are now from Tehran. According to public data it is currently on four satellites – Eutelsat Hotbird 13B, Telstar 12, Intelsat 21, and Galaxy 19. Its focus today is on the countries of Latin America where it has invested considerable efforts in building up a broad community on the far-left.

This is, of course, one of the enduring ironies of this Iranian propaganda effort. HispanTV is overwhelmingly left-wing in its spin and opinion even though leftists are oppressed and banned inside Iran (indeed Iran's president-elect is known to have slaughtered thousands of homegrown Iranian left-wingers in 1988).[7] This seeming contradiction has come up before, in the Spanish media, because of one HispanTV's most important on-air personalities (for seven years) was Pablo Iglesias, leader of the populist communist Podemos party and until recently Spain's Deputy Prime Minister (2020-2021).[8]

Iglesias was challenged about this seeming contradiction and responded in 2013, saying that "the Iranians are interested in spreading a left-wing message in Latin America and Spain in order to destabilize their adversaries. Do we take advantage of it, or do we not take advantage of it? For me, whoever does politics has to take up riding such contradictions and we are willing to ride them."[9]

And so, the world's only Shia fundamentalist regime continues to ride a seemingly "progressive" horse in Spanish. When YouTube again shut down HispanTV in 2019, the channel carried a piece noting that "Latin American press laud the alternative media role played by HispanTV."[10] The outlets lauding HispanTV were Venezuela's CanalSur and Cuba's Prensa Latina. The channel continued to serve as a combination incubator for destabilizing leftist propaganda and for young leftist leaders, in addition to providing a platform for veteran Spanish-speaking communists of decades past.[11] A recent piece on "American hypocrisy on human rights" featured commentary from elderly (b. 1952) Basque Marxist Iñaki Gil San Vicente, so both a leftist and a separatist. Neither position is allowed inside Iran itself where the regime harshly rules restive ethnic minorities like Kurds, Azeris, and Baluchis.[12] Several of HispanTV's cadre of pundits (Gil San Vicente, Marcel Colussi, Pablo Jofre Leal) are also active on the anti-system leftist Spanish media collective known as Rebelion.org.[13]

It is, of course, odd to see the channel touting indigenous rights in Peru and Chile while crushing them at home, or praising violent demonstrations against Colombia's democratically elected president while slaughtering demonstrators back inside the Islamic Republic, but the goal is clear. The coming to power of leftist anti-American, and anti-Israel regimes in Latin America, in the backyard of the United States, is very useful to the regime in several ways. Such governments may not all have money, like Venezuela once did (although Caracas still pays in gold for Iranian crude), but they can provide votes in international fora, greater space for propaganda, and permissive environments for IRGC/Hezbollah terrorist and criminal enterprises. And if these regimes give the Americans and Israelis other headaches, so much the better.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.

 

[1] Aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/23/us-seizes-three-dozen-websites-used-for-iranian-disinformation, June 23, 2021.

[2] Correodelorinoco.gob.ve/iran-se-escuchara-espanol-canal-hispan-tv/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Adl.org/blog/irans-hispan-tv-follows-press-tvs-footsteps-with-live-stream-on-youtube, September 18, 2013.

[5] Youtube.com/c/NexoLatinoCanal/about, accessed June 30, 2021.

[6] Hispantv.com/noticias/politica/482408/google-bloquea-youtube-hispantv-iran, November 24, 2020.

[7] Tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/who-is-iran-president-ebrahim-raisi, June 21, 2021.

[8] Libertaddigital.com/espana/2019-02-04/iglesias-estrena-programa-con-irene-montero-en-la-television-irani-y-ya-acumula-mas-de-40000-euros-de-sobresueldo-1276632588, April 2, 2019

[9] Niusdiario.es/nacional/politica/iran-rego-politica-espanola-radicalizarla-vox-podemos_18_2890920266.html, January 30, 2020.

[10] Hispantv.com/noticias/sudamerica/426435/medios-latinoamericanos-bloqueo-google-youtube-hispantv, April 19, 2019.

[11] Hispantv.com/opinion, accessed June 30, 2021.

[12] Youtube.com/watch?v=_3AF8CWOSr8&t=15s, June 28, 2021.

[13] Rebelion.org/categoria/tema/opinion, accessed June 30, 2021.

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