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Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Awaiting response to Persian TV

Rehearsals for BBC Persian television
BBC Persian television will be available to more than 100m people worldwide

By Sebastian Usher
BBC News

The launch of BBC Persian television is part of the BBC's strategy for - in the words of the head of the World Service, Nigel Chapman - "having the right services in the right media for each part of the world".

The new channel's annual budget of 15m ($22m) is being provided by the UK government.

It will broadcast for eight hours a day, with a staff of 150, after its launch on 14 January.

Its headquarters is in the new development of studios and offices being built at the BBC's traditional home, Broadcasting House, in the centre of London.

The channel will show a wide variety of social and cultural programmes, as well as news.

It will be available for the more than 100 million Farsi speakers around the world, but its main focus will be on Iran.

Mr Chapman has said the preliminary target is to have seven million viewers in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan by 2011.

Tehran suspicious

The channel will draw on BBC resources around the world.

It will also have its own correspondents in such key locations as Beirut, Islamabad, Kabul, Jerusalem and Washington.

Nigel Chapman, Pooneh Ghoddoosi, and Behrouz Afagh (8 January 2009)
The BBC says its standards of objectivity and impartiality will be maintained

But there will be no correspondent in Iran - the authorities there have refused permission.

Iranian officials have already denounced the station as being an agent for "espionage and psychological warfare", and have warned citizens not to get involved with a "lie-spreading" channel.

Representatives from the BBC say they have no intention of attacking the Iranian government purely for the sake of it.

The BBC is well respected by opinion formers within Iran and brand awareness is high - despite government media restrictions
Richard Sambrook
Director, Global News division

But, the fact that the station is being financed by the UK Foreign Office is likely to raise suspicions not just among officials, but among ordinary Iranians too.

The BBC has said that its standards of objectivity and impartiality will be rigorously maintained, but some media analysts have seen the setting up of the new station as part of the UK government's attempt to retain some influence in the region.

Underdeveloped market

The BBC Persian radio station has been broadcasting for more than 65 years and still has a good reputation in Iran.

But the BBC says that with the huge take-up of satellite TV in Iran - despite an official ban - it can only keep up its position there by offering a TV service.

Parvin Sarfi of the BBC Persian Service looking at the London shops (1963)
BBC Persian radio has been broadcasting for more than 65 years

The same argument was made for the launch of BBC Arabic TV last year.

Some critics suggested that the Corporation might have left it too late to enter the Arab market, where satellite TV channels have mushroomed in the past 15 years.

Arab news stations like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya had already established a dominant position.

The Iranian market is not so developed, although Tehran has set up a number of its own satellite stations broadcasting news and other programmes - and they are becoming increasingly professional and influential.

But analysts say there is a clearer niche for BBC Persian TV to fill than was apparent with its Arabic TV service.

The BBC's reputation as a reliable news provider is still high in Iran - and it has less competition from other TV news stations broadcasting in Farsi than BBC Arabic faced in the Arab world.

Cautious approach

The new station is hoping to be able to interact with its audience in Iran through phone-ins and people sending in material that they have filmed themselves.

Jon Leyne
Iran only allows the BBC to have an English-language correspondent

But it is taking a cautious approach and advising its viewers only to do what they consider safe.

Iran's displeasure with the BBC's ability to provide uncensored news for its citizens has already shown itself in the partial blocking of BBC's Persian website.

But jamming the new TV station - as Tehran has tried to do with other unwelcome satellite and radio channels in the past - may not be feasible this time.

For the moment, both the BBC and the Iranian authorities are waiting with some wariness to see how the new service will be received by the viewers.

The BBC hopes that Tehran will with time become more open and welcoming to the station.

For its part, the Iranian government will be hoping that BBC Persian TV will make little impact with a public that until now has switched to satellite TV mainly for an uncensored diet of Hollywood films, Western music and fashion that it can not otherwise access.

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SEE ALSO
BBC to launch TV channel for Iran
10 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
BBC launches Arabic TV channel
11 Mar 08 |  Middle East
World Service confirms Arabic TV
25 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
Iran blocks BBC Persian website
24 Jan 06 |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
06 Jan 09 |  Country profiles

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