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Viewing cable 09LONDON127, IRAN: BBC PERSIAN TV BEGINS OPERATIONS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LONDON127 2009-01-16 16:04 2011-02-04 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy London
VZCZCXRO9170
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLO #0127/01 0161630
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161630Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0947
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 000127 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2019 
TAGS: PGOV AF IR KPAO PHUM PREL PROP TI UK
SUBJECT: IRAN:  BBC PERSIAN TV BEGINS OPERATIONS 
 
REF: EMB LONDON (GAYLE) EMAIL TO DEPT 12/24/08  Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills, Jr. for reasons 1.4 ( b) and (d)  

1.  (C) Summary. BBC Persian TV launched its well-resourced broadcast operations January 14.  Both anti-regime exiles and the Tehran regime continue to attack BBC's objectivity.  The BBC's effort is a long-term one aimed at attracting Farsi-speaking audiences in Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan; broadcasts will be unhindered by jamming.  BBC Persian TV has no office in Tehran, but has in recent months recruited many young journalists directly from Iran for its London staff, and will rely heavily on internet contributors for footage from inside the country.  One BBC executive's public comments, possibly intending to curry favor with Iranian authorities, claimed for BBC Persian TV a level of credibility and objectivity he argued compares favorably with VOA Persian TV's work. End Summary.  

Iranians' Criticism, BBC's High Hopes; BBC Radio Farsi Unaffected --------------------------------------  

2. (C)  BBC Persian TV, boasting a sharply expanded staff and lavish studio facilities on Regent Street in London, launched its 8-hour per day broadcast operations January 14. The launch comes amidst a flurry of rhetorical charges, widely reported by BBC and other media, from the Tehran regime that the BBC has a subversive agenda of regime change and psychological warfare, along with opposing claims from anti-regime Iranian exiles that BBC's coverage has a biased, pro-regime slant.  Rhetoric from both sides is likely to continue, given Tehran's broad distrust of Western media as well as the BBC's past role, in the eyes of many Iranians, as an interested participant in modern Iranian history (most notably, Iranians argue, in the 1953 Mossadegh coup and in criticism of the late Shah before his 1978 fall). UK press, and some Embassy contacts, see BBC Persian TV's hiring of several dozen young Iranian journalists and staff recently arrived from Tehran as inherently suspect, and evidence of manipulation by the Tehran regime of BBC programming.  

3.  (SBU)  BBC World Service Head Nigel Chapman, as reported in UK press, said the BBC aims at 11 million viewers by 2011 in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan.  London Iran Watcher (Poloff) in a December tour of BBC Persian's spanking new studios in Upper Regent Street engaged Daryush Karimi, a news editor for the Persian TV operation.  Karimi said BBC's Persian radio (broadcasting since 1941) will be unaffected; Persian radio is a separate program in BBC's offices in Aldwych, a different area of central London.  Karimi said BBC Persian TV would work closely with and draw from contributions from BBC's on-line Persian website and blogging activities.  

Jamming Not An Issue ---------------------  

4.  (C) Karimi told Poloff jamming is not expected to be a problem; he said BBC will jump its broadcasts back and forth between two satellites.  IRIG entities, according to Karimi, use one of the same satellites for their own programming and are thus expected not to try to interfere with BBC broadcasts.  A UK media report noted Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps has Cuban-supplied jamming equipment, but that such equipment is not cost-effective in the Iran context.  

Large Budget but No Tehran Office; Many Recent Hirees Fresh from Iran ----------------------------------  

5.  (C/NF) BBC Persian TV has a USD 23 Million (GBP 15 million) annual budget.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2007 had told Poloff BBC Persian TV was to start operations just a few months after its 2006 authorization by Parliament; FCO explanations since mid-2007 for the delay have cited general funding problems.  Karimi and other BBC Persian TV staff during Poloff's mid-December visit to BBC Persian TV studios were reluctant interlocutors but said among BBC Persian's 150-plus staff (a figure also in current UK press reports) were dozens of 2008 arrivals to London in their 20's and 30's from Iran, where they worked in "journalism-related" positions.  Extrapolating from the FCO- and BBC-provided timeframes, the most recently hired staff at BBC Persian TV appear to have been hired out of Iran after BBC had been refused permission by IRIG to open an office in Tehran.  All recent arrivals at the BBC from Iran to whom Poloff spoke, and their managers, declined to discuss details of their hiring and background, but said they were recruited by BBC in Iran, by phone and internet, beginning in spring 2008.  BBC has one accredited, English-speaking staffer in  LONDON 00000127  002 OF 002   Tehran.  BBC editors indicate BBC will, because it has no office in Tehran, have to rely heavily for news images on input from other BBC offices in the region and, especially, on internet uploads from web-savvy BBC collaborators and audience members in Iran.  All of the dozen or more phone conversation fragments Poloff overheard in BBC Persian TV's news and editing rooms were in Farsi, and may have been international calls; most email screens were also in Persian.   

6.  (C) One staffer at BBC Persian, whom Poloff first met in November, is a 20-something who stated she had never traveled to the West, and had been in the UK since September 2008, but spoke remarkably fluent, idiomatic, U.S.-accented English. She had worked for Press TV in Tehran -- about which she was non-specific but characterized as a "difficult" experience due to constant official monitoring of loyalties and work content.   Perhaps still adjusting to a Western environment, and clearly struck by being in conversation at last with a representative of the "Global Arrogance," the staffer was evasive over the course of several conversations, in discussing how BBC found her or other recent hirees inside Iran and how transparent she was with her then-current employer about her BBC contacts.  

BBC Enjoys Prestige, Claims "Balanced, Friendly" Coverage, Calls VOA Persian "Slanted" --------------------------------------------- ---  

7.  (C) Somewhat ironically, according to press sources and Embassy Iranian blogger contacts, BBC is the overwhelmingly preferred source for foreign information among Iranian politicians and leaders, including hard-liners for whom UK (and U.S.) perfidy is a daily catechism.  In general, the cachet and prestige of the BBC, remains high in Iran, due in no small part to an ubiquitous belief among Iranians in British political acumen and omniscience.  Earlier in January, as the BBC broadcast start-up neared, IRIG critiques of BBC's intention to subvert Iran through a soft "velvet revolution" increased.  In response to these official Iranian attacks, BBC has portrayed itself as an institution which has moved on from admitted historical errors in Iran.  BBC Persian Executive Editor Steve Williams described BBC Persian's rival, the Persian service at Voice of America, as "blatantly neo-con" and "incredibly critical and slanted (against IRIG)," contrasting VOA's alleged bias with BBC's own plan to be "balanced, sophisticated and friendly."   

Comment --------  

8.  (C/NF) The long delay to BBC's start of operations, from 2006 to 2008, may have arisen, in addition to budgetary challenges, from unsuccessful, repeated BBC attempts to obtain IRIG permission to establish an office in Tehran.  Not having such a presence inside Iran inevitably makes generating coverage of Iranian politics and society much harder, and may have forced BBC to reassess its reporting strategies, re-working its London staffing to assure a flow of web-based footage from inside Iran.  BBC's characterization of its own benign intent, and its starkly negative portrayal of VOA's objectivity reflects, if not BBC's own political bias, then at least a very competitive approach to audience share, and a possible desire to reach an accommodation with IRIG authorities on BBC's operations in Iran.  Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX 
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