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U.S., Britain both fund broadcasts in Iran

BBC Persian and VOA's Persian News Network deny Tehran's accusations of bias and meddling.

June 19, 2009|Henry Chu

The Iranian government has accused the U.S. and Britain of interfering in its election. Both countries have government-funded broadcasters that offer Persian-language reports.

British Broadcasting Corp.

BBC Persian launched television programming in January to supplement its longtime radio and Internet services. The TV service quickly developed a following in Iran.

Tehran has accused the BBC of contributing to unrest in the country. Behrouz Afagh, head of the BBC World Service's Asia-Pacific division, said BBC Persian's transmissions have been jammed on and off for two to three days.

Afagh said Thursday that the service had found a new satellite that would not be vulnerable to jamming from within Iran.

He rejected accusations of meddling or bias.

"All we do is to report what's going on [on] the ground. It's factual reporting of what's happening," Afagh said. "We've had people from all sides, but it's more difficult to get from [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's side. But we do reflect their views."

With foreign reporters restricted in their movements, BBC Persian is relying heavily on videos and photos uploaded by Iranians, which BBC staff members try to authenticate before posting, the broadcaster said.

It said it also is increasingly airing footage from Iranian state television.

Voice of America

VOA's Persian News Network offers eight hours of Persian programming daily. Like BBC Persian, it has been inundated with images and messages from Iranian civilians.

Last week, it received 2,000 e-mails during a single hourlong talk show, VOA spokeswoman Joan Mower said. From June 10 to 15, its Internet news pages saw traffic increase more than 200%.

Though VOA is funded by the U.S. government, Mower said, it takes pains to steer clear of partisanship.

"We are congressionally mandated to provide balanced coverage," she said. "We don't have in our charter 'promote democracy,' 'change the world.' "

The Iranian government has intermittently jammed Persian News Network's broadcasts, often by using microwave trucks to disrupt signals. In anticipation of that, the network sought additional satellite paths for its broadcasts before the election.

The network, which has about 200 employees, operates on a budget of about $17 million.

-- Henry Chu

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