British gov't decries Ahmadinejad address

Iranian president delivered Channel 4 Christmas message

LONDON -- Channel 4 earned itself a firm rebuke from the government for commissioning and broadcasting a Christmas message from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose previous dismissal of the Holocaust and refusal to abandon the pursuit of a nuclear capability have caused international dismay.

The broadcaster invited the Iranian president to deliver its annual "alternative Christmas message," which was broadcast on Christmas Day.

In a break with tradition, however, the network did not schedule Ahmadinejad's broadcast at the same time as the queen delivered her own annual Christmas message.

A spokesman for the British foreign office said the invitation to the Iranian president would likely cause "offense and bemusement" and that the broadcast's negative impact would be felt on an international scale.

"President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements," a spokeswoman said.

"The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offense and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."

The Iranian president used the platform to call on Britons to direct themselves to the messages of the prophets, and he blamed the complex problems the world is facing on "the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ."

In what some have read as an attack on the U.S., the Iranian premier said: "If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as he did in his lifetime."

Channel 4 head of news Dorothy Byrne defended the broadcast, saying the Iranian premier's views were important.

"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."