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Who's Afraid of BBC Persian TV?


By Amir Mansouri, Tehran (Source: Mianeh)


Transcript (audio file available for download or play on Mianeh's web site):


Politicians, officials and BBC radio fans in Tehran tuned into the first airing of the British broadcaster's new TV channel on the evening of January 14. BBC Persian TV will broadcast for eight hours per day to Iran, and also to viewers in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The channel has not been well received by the Iranian government.


Activity of BBC Persian channel illegal in Iran: Culture Minister

"BBC activities are against the national security of Iran," said intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei.


According to a report by Fars News Agency, Mohseni Ezhei said the intelligence services had placed journalists working for BBC Persian under surveillance and were watching for anything that could be held to be illegal.


Before the BBC launched its new channel, Iranian officials had warned the corporation against doing so.


In early January, minister of culture Mohammad Hossein Safar-Harandi told the Mehr News Agency that the BBC Persian office was not licensed in Iran. He said that while the BBC News network has an office in Tehran, the Persian TV service was forbidden.


The ministry of culture issued a statement in late October saying it had received "reliable reports" that the UK's BBC Persian service had "attempted to make suspicious and unjustifiable contacts that flout the law".


The ministry said BBC Persian TV service was making "an effort to attract notorious individuals and create programmes about suspicious topics".


It said the British government-supported channel was against the national interest of Iran and was designed to create ethnic and religious divides in the country.


The ministry of culture advised journalists to avoid "unconventional" and "illegal" activities.


The statement also named Iranians who had applied for jobs with the BBC TV service.


Many were born after the 1979 revolution, and who have been working in journals and newspapers which have been suspended or closed down.


Mehrdad Khalili, a journalist and university lecturer, told state-run Radio Goftogu that the BBC Persian TV employees belong to a post-revolutionary generation of journalists who aspire to a higher level of professionalism than currently exists in the domestic media.


Khalili said some of the TV journalists now working for BBC Persian were active during what he calls the "golden era" of Iranian media that followed the election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Others come from state radio and television.


"These journalists cannot tolerate [working under] very tenuous and frustrating financial conditions and the tremendous pressures coming from inside and outside the media," he said.


"Nor can they forget the media's golden era".


During the Khatami years, an era of growing political freedoms, dozens of newspapers were published, employing hundreds of young journalists.


But this flowering quickly came to an end. In April 2005, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hossein Khamenei gave a speech condemned the media, calling them "nests of the enemy".


The judiciary responded by cracking down on eight newspapers and four weeklies.


Many journalists inside Iran hope that the new channel will adhere to BBC standards and provide a fair and accurate picture of events in the country. Iranian media experts often criticise other Persian television channels, particularly the United States-backed Voice of America, VOA, for taking an overtly political position.


"Compared with the politicised, weak VOA TV, which does not even transmit good-quality images, and the other terrible Persian networks, [BBC Persian] is a magnificent piece of work," said Mahmoud Farjami, an Iranian journalist.


Rozita Lotfi, one of the editors of the new BBC service, told the corporation's website, "BBC Persian TV does not merely broadcast news; news is an integral part of its programmes ."


She said the output would cover a range of subjects and not concentrate solely on politics.


As the channel's programme schedule is to include shows on the internet, music and cinema, young people are likely to be a key target audience.


Mehrnaz Shahkar, a sociology student in Tehran, has been watching Persian TV since its launch. Shahkar, like many Iranians, is technically breaking the law by using a satellite dish to access foreign channels.


"The good thing about BBC Persian TV is that its presenters and young employees have experienced life in Iran after the revolution," said Shahkar, contrasting them with the older generation of émigré broadcasters.


"That gives us hope that we won't see unrealistic programmes and reports that don't relate to Iranian people's lives, as we see on other Persian channels."



Shahab who is a university student in his early 20's believes his fellow-Iranians are far too interested in politics.


"I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, but Iranians are extremely political people," he said.


"You only have to get into a taxi to hear different political analyses which are based on the news - accurate or inaccurate - that they heard on the satellite networks the night before. The BBC is a new addition for them."


Amir Mansouri is a journalist in Tehran


This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Farsi pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.


About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting ( the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.

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