The Listening Post

Boris Johnson: Playing the clown for the media circus?

What is the role of UK media in Boris Johnson’s bid to become the next PM? Plus, nostalgia in Iranian diaspora media.

On The Listening Post this week: Britain’s media are front and centre in Boris Johnson’s bid to become Conservative Party leader and prime minister. Plus, nostalgia in Iranian diaspora media.

Boris Johnson and the UK media

Boris Johnson, the odds-on favourite to become Britain’s next prime minister, had one distinct advantage going into the race to succeed Theresa May: name recognition.

When the UK media drop that name – Boris – Britons know who exactly they are talking about. As it happens, the news business is where Johnson got his start. As a correspondent in Brussels in the 1990s, Johnson produced a slew of Eurosceptic stories that readers found amusing; stories that could well have sown seeds in peoples’ minds for an eventual Brexit.

Fast forward 30-odd years, and there he was as a key asset on the Leave side in the 2016 referendum campaign saying the same kinds of things about the EU as a politician that he once did as a journalist.

These days, the British media finally seems to have clued in to the fact that entertainment value is not everything: that Boris Johnson falls dangerously short of the qualifications for the job.

But he already has one foot in the door of 10 Downing Street, so this media awakening is looking like too little, too late.


Martin Fletcher – former Brussels correspondent, The Times
Carole Cadwalladr – journalist, The Guardian & The Observer
Isabel Oakeshott – former political editor, The Sunday Times
Maya Goodfellow – writer and commentator

On our radar:

Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Flo Phillips about the start of the US 2020 election coverage and the American media’s continuing failure to call out President Donald Trump.

Producing nostalgia: Iran diaspora TV’s rebranding of the Shah

The latest stare down between Washington and Tehran – over Iran’s shooting down of a US drone – made for plenty of scary headlines. The situation is being closely followed by oppositional Iranian groups including Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former Shah of Iran.

The prince recently offered many an “exclusive” interview to Western news outlets presenting himself as a credible democratic successor to Iran’s Islamic leadership. And that is because the monarchy remains popular in large segments of the Iranian media diaspora – despite the fact that the prince’s father ran an authoritarian regime protected by a brutal force of secret police that was toppled in 1979.

That popularity is in large part thanks to TV channels – operating in exile – like Manoto TV, BBC Persian, Gem TV and Tapesh TV which have all pioneered a genre of television you might call “nostalgia TV”.

The Listening Post‘s Meenakshi Ravi looks at the Iranian diaspora media, its penchant for nostalgia and the rose-tinting of Iran’s pre-revolutionary history.


Niki Akhavan – assistant professor of media, Catholic University of America
Ali Ansari – history professor, University of St Andrews
Nazenin Ansari – managing editor, Kayhan London
Mostafa Azizi – TV producer