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IRAN: Authorities upset about BBC Persian channel

January 9, 2009 |  3:29 am


Professional and impartial journalists or a just bunch of spies?

The British Broadcasting Corp.'s Persian-language channel has created controversy in Iran even before its official launch Wednesday.

In fact, the BBC was accused a month ago of attempting to recruit Iranians for "espionage and psychological warfare," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The agency included excerpts from an official's statement on its website in October:

"The public opinion is concerned that the establishment of BBC Persian is in line with the intervening and opportunist policies of the British government in domestic affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Meanwhile, BBC said the aim of its new channel is to present "high-quality, accurate and impartial news, information and analysis" to Persian speakers in their native language.

The channel will broadcast news and programs on arts and sports via cable, satellite and Internet providers.

It is aimed at Persian-speaking audiences in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere.

But the channel will be facing hurdles with Iranian authorities. BBC spokesman Mike Gardner told the Associated Press in an e-mail that his company has a complex relationship with the Iranian authorities:

"We request permission to have accreditation for our BBC Persian correspondents. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't. We continue to seek interviews with officials."

According to the British daily, the Guardian, the channel will present an alternative to the news broadcast by the state-run Iranian media and the low-quality pap aired by expatriates from Los Angeles and elsewhere:

"It is aiming to fill a huge gap in the market between the strictly controlled Iranian media on the one hand and the US-funded Voice of America and exile channels beaming light entertainment and anti-regime propaganda on the other."

Nigel Chapman, director of BBC World Service, said in a statement released by the British broadcaster Thursday:

"BBC Persian TV ... will bring 'the world to its viewers,' and thus meet the needs of audiences who tell us that they want more access to the BBC's high-quality news and information services."

The channel will broadcast a wide range of original factual programs including a weekly youth program, as well as strands on music, arts and culture, science and technology and sport.

This is BBC's second venture into foreign-language broadcasting after an Arabic-language channel was launched Thursday.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: From left, Nigel Chapman, director of BBC World Service, Pooneh Ghoddoosi, BBC Persian presenter, and Behrouz Afagh, head of BBC World Service's Asia and Pacific region, attend a news conference at the Foreign Press Assn. in London for the launch of BBC Persian television. Credit: Leon Neal / AFP/Getty Images