Diasporic Contact Zones at the BBC World Service
Even before the launch of BBC Persian television (PTV) the Islamic Republic reacted negatively, refusing permission for it to establish an office in Tehran and warning Iranians not to cooperate with the channel. BBC employees found themselves caught up in an unexpected diplomatic wrangle which was made worse by the crisis after the 2009 election. As PTV was established, many Iranians were recruited directly from Iran, bringing a new wave of diasporic professionals into Bush House.
Since the election, the Iranian regime has directly and repeatedly attacked the BBC for its reporting of the unrest. Employees are coming to realise that working for the BBCWS may have a major impact on their ability to return to Iran and hence on their life trajectories. Many find themselves in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, their connection through the televisual image has massively increased their audience numbers in Iran. On the other, they are cut-off from the country because of the risks involved in travelling to Iran. We continue to explore the impact of this difficult situation and the role that the staff see for themselves in relation to Iran. There has been acute stress amongst some but also exhilaration for others who felt BBCPTV was really playing a very important role in its coverage of the Iranian political scene.
We have also tried to explore the kinds of audience segments that are watching PTV, which programmes they select, and how they assess the role of PTV. This has been very difficult work in compromised circumstances. There seems to be an adult male switchover from radio to PTV for news coverage while younger audience members want more diversified programming. There was also a sense that while some recognised the power of the BBC's position of 'impartiality', others found the neutral stance not to their liking.
During 2009, focus groups were conducted with mixed age informants in Tehran and Isfahan. Initial reactions to BBC PTV programming was discussed, as well as hopes for the future of the channel. Although further analysis of the research material is needed, it can be said that on the whole reactions were positive. Further research amongst the same participants was carried out in September 2009. This examined reactions to BBC programming on the June 2009 presidential elections and events that followed. Here opinion was much more divided as to how well the BBC covered the events.
Professor Annabelle Sreberny, SOAS, University of London, email@example.com, 020 7898 4422
Prof Annabelle Sreberny is the Director of the Centre for Media and Film Studies, SOAS and coordinator of Diasporic Nationhood. She spent seven weeks in Tehran in autumn 2008. She has conducted interviews about the use of BBC WS and other external broadcasting channels.
Dr Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad from the Institute for Ismaili Studies has worked on BBC Persian service and negotiations of identity.
Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi is studying for an MA Digital Anthropology at University College London. She conducted focus group research with different audience segments in Tehran in September 2009.