The disclosures are likely to raise concerns about the editorial independence of
Iran International, and comes at a time of growing fears about a number of
Saudi-linked stations operating across London.
A source has told the Guardian that Prince Mohammed, who many believe is responsible for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is the force behind Iran International. The station, which is operating out of Chiswick, has not denied claims that it receives its funding from the Saudi royal court.
Iran International TV emerged abruptly on the London media scene last year; many of the 100-strong staff network were offered generous salaries, often double what rivals paid, but was elusive about its source of funding.
London has become a hub of such exiled Iranian channels, which also include BBC’s Persian service and Manoto TV, which has broadcast Iranian versions of The X Factor and Come Dine With Me.
The source claimed Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s information tsar, who was among two senior officials removed in connection with the Khashoggi affair, was involved in the funding behind Iran International TV.
"You could have a larger picture about how those kids [Saudi media moguls] with that money being thrown around [by Prince Mohammed] trying to change the world by buying media … It is money coming from the royal court,” the source said, when speaking about the crown prince.
While Saudi Arabia shows zero tolerance for criticism of its absolute monarchy, as underlined by Khashoggi’s murder, it is setting up media organizations in other languages promoting free speech, particularly about Iran.
Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, a postdoctoral research fellow in modern Iranian history at the University of Oxford, said: "… it appears that Iran International is part and parcel of the Saudi crown prince’s decision to take a more aggressive posture against Iran, emboldened, no doubt, by the Trump administration.”
Earlier this summer, the station was criticized for airing extensive live coverage of a rally by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO), a terrorist organization that espouses regime change in Iran and has links to Saudi Arabia. Senior Trump administration officials, including John Bolton, are advocates of the group.
The TV channel’s support for terrorism most boldly manifested itself after it allowed the al-Ahwaziya terrorist group’s spokesman to go live on air to justify a terror attack in Iran’s Ahvaz back in September.
The al-Ahwaziya group, which receives backing mainly from Saudi Arabia, claimed responsibility for the September 22 gun attack in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, which took the lives of 24 people, including a four-year old child, and injury of 69 others.
Following the airing of the interview, Iranian Ambassador to London Hamid Baidinejad said in a tweet that Iran had filed a lawsuit against the UK-based TV channel over its support for the terrorist group.
"The Iranian embassy in London has taken its official lawsuit to Ofcom to investigate the Iran International TV channel’s illegal move to broadcast an interview with the spokesman of the terrorist group,” the ambassador said.
Baidinejad added that the embassy had separately requested the UK government to identify members of the terrorist group, ban their activity, and expel them from the country.