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Diaspora calling the homeland? Music programming on the BBC Persian Service and the vicissitudes of cosmopolitan broadcasting

Toynbee, J. Sreberny-Mohammadi, L., Diaspora calling the homeland? The BBC Persian Service, cosmopolitanism and music listening in Iran. In: Gillespie, M. Webb, A. eds., (proposal submitted). Diasporas and Diplomacy: Cosmopolitan Contact Zones at the BBC World Service 1932-2012. New York and London: Routledge. Ch.11.

This chapter assesses the impact of popular music broadcasting by diasporic broadcasters of the BBC Persian Service. It also examines the implications of both the broadcasting and its reception in Iran for the BBC, particularly in the context of a rich Iranian music listening culture. Through these inquiries it asks to what extent such broadcasting can be considered 'cosmopolitan'. The primary research was done by Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi who in 2008 conducted six focus group interviews with young adult music listeners in Tehran (in Farsi), and three interviewees with expatriate Iranian broadcasters at the BBC (in English). The material was translated (Tehran interviews only) and transcribed, and then both Jason and Leili analysed the transcriptions.

As we show in the chapter, almost no-one in our sample (and by inference among the youth of Tehran more generally) listens to Persian Service music broadcasts. This is partly to do with the nature of the medium (radio is unpopular among young people in Iran), but in addition there is the important factor of competition with the many music carrying channels and modes of distribution that are available in Tehran (cable TV, internet peer to peer, music streaming and blogging, copyright-free CD copying). The sheer availability of mediated music in Tehran contributes to a music culture which is rich and diverse, even though live music is limited through censorship. Such richness and availability effectively 'drowns out' the BBC. We reflect on the nature of the cosmopolitanism at stake in this musical culture, and in turn the gap between it and the form and kind of music programming on Persian Service radio.

Authors : Toynbee, Jason. Sreberny-Mohammadi, Leili.

Project reference : Diaspora calling the homeland: the Persian Service and music radio in Iran