A UK-based TV channel has been accused of broadcasting open support for Hamas and the Hezbollah armed militia, despite being licenced by the media regulator.
LuaLua TV, which was banned from operating in the US over suspected links to the Iranian regime, carried interviews in which contributors described Hamas’ October 7 attack as a “step closer to victory” and “humiliating” for Israel.
But Ofcom, the regulatory authority for broadcasting in the UK, says it is unable to act over the content of LuaLua TV because it broadcasts only online.
Following the October 7 attacks, which killed 1,400 Israelis, including dozens of children, the channel showed an interview with Mustafa Al-Sawaf, a Palestinian writer and political researcher, in which he stated “what the Palestinian resistance has achieved today has exceeded all imaginations” and “we are close to victory”.
Mr Sawaf and a number of his family members were later reported killed after the Israeli bombing of his home in Gaza.
In another LuaLua TV interview, a contributor called Dr. Abdel Malik Sukkariyeh, a Lebanese based anti-Israel campaigner, said that “the Hamas leadership was well prepared” for one battle and that “there was dazzlement…the enemy could see with his own eyes the bodies of his dead in the streets and the capture of his soldiers, humiliated by the resistance.”
Dr Sukkariyeh added: “When this Israeli sees the bodies of his dead and prisoners, he loses confidence in his military, political, and security leadership”.
Last month, it also broadcast a speech by the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, whose armed militia has been responsible for numerous attacks on Israel.
LuaLua TV, a subsidiary of Shells for Media Productions Limited, was originally set up in opposition to the Bahrain government and is run from offices in Wembley, north-west London.
It began broadcasting in 2011 online and via satellite to provide what it says is a media alternative to the Bahraini government’s state-controlled broadcasts.
Bahrain has claimed that Iran is to blame for opposition protests among its Shia population.
The US Department of Justice closed down LuaLua TV’s website in 2021, along with 32 others, which it said were used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), an affiliate of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and was therefore in breach of US sanctions. Several of the sites were back online within hours with new domain addresses.
Commentators have claimed LuaLua TV broadcasts propaganda on behalf of the Iranian regime and have raised questions about Ofcom’s inability to intervene over its output.
Support for extremist groups
Senior MPs have now called for Ofcom to investigate LuaLua TV’s licence over its support of Iran and broadcasting of support for extremist groups.
Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the National Security Strategy, said: “Any broadcaster found to have links to the Iranian state should face intense scrutiny and I call on OfCom to immediately investigate LuaLua’s licence.
“Iran is a femicidal state abetting and arming terrorists and assassins globally. We must shut down any arsenal authoritarian regimes are using to radicalise or spread division in our country or risk jeopardising our own security.”
Sir John Jenkins, a former British diplomat with extensive knowledge of the Middle East, said: “Iran has constructed a tightly woven web of influence across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and parts of the Gulf (and indeed into S America and W Africa) which acts both as a defensive bulwark against its enemies and a tool of subversion and offensive action.
“This channel is clearly a part of that web. Why Ofcom gave it a licence is beyond me. But since we allow other Iranian centres of influence to function - like the various Islamic Centres under their control - maybe it’s not surprising that we also roll over for a TV channel.”
Not covered by the code
Television channels that only stream online can obtain an Ofcom licence, but are not subject to its broadcasting code, unless the service also appears on a Regulated Electronic Programme Guide that lists programmes and provides access to them, such as Sky, Virgin or Freesat.
The code requires that broadcast material is not harmful or offensive, does not incite crime or disorder and that news “in whatever form” is reported with accuracy and impartiality.
Ofcom said: “Organisations and companies may hold an Ofcom licence without using it. “However, Ofcom must ensure that any holder of a broadcast licence is a fit and proper person and we consider all relevant information in carrying out this duty.”
Critics of LuaLua TV’s presence in Britain include Iran International TV, a news broadcaster forced temporarily to relocate its headquarters earlier this year following terror threats over its opposition to Tehran.
In November last year, two British-Iranian journalists from the channel were warned by police of a possible risk to their lives and armed police were stationed near the channel’s studios in Chiswick, west London, with concrete barriers placed outside the building.
Roger Macmillan, director of Safety & Security at Iran International TV, said: “Iran has increased its overt use of ‘soft power’ through their discreet media networks to shape opinion on Iran and the region, whilst simultaneously seeking to erode the reputation of those critical of their regime.”
LuaLua TV and Shells for Media Productions were contacted for comment.