BBC Persian

BBC Persian
ParentBBC World Service
Launch date
29 December 1940 (1940-12-29)
BBC Persian Television

BBC Persian is the Persian language radio station and TV operated by the BBC which conveys the latest political, social, economical and sport news relevant to Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, and the world. Its headquarters are in London, United Kingdom.


The BBC first started a Persian radio service during World War II on 29 December 1940, encouraged by the Foreign Office, as part of its Empire Service. The government reasons for prioritising this was concern that the Iranian king, Reza Shah Pahlavi, was sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Following the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August 1941, the Foreign Office encouraged broadcasting about king's autocratic style and republican systems of Government.[1]

The Persian Service continued after the war as part of the BBC General Overseas Service, with more orial independence from the UK government. However the risk of the Iranian nationalisation of Anglo-Persian Oil Company created an exceptional circumstance causing the Foreign Office to issue memorandums of advice and lists of points to make to the BBC, and the amount of broadcasting more than doubled. This caused many Iranians to believe the Persian Service was not independent, and an advisor of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh said the "BBC was the voice of British imperialism and we did not trust it".[1]

Role in 1953 Iranian coup d'état[]

The British government used the BBC's Persian service for advancing its propaganda against democratically elected Prime minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh and anti-Mosaddegh material were repeatedly aired on the radio channel [2] to the extent that Iranian staff at the BBC Persian radio went on strike to protest the move.[1][3] The BBC was at times even used directly in the operations, sending coded messages to the coup plotters by changing the wording of its broadcasts.[4]

In a documentary Cinematograph aired on August 18, 2011 on the anniversary of the coup, BBC Persian channel admitted for the first time to the role of the BBC Persian radio as the propaganda arm of the British government in Iran. "The British government used the BBC Persian radio for advancing its propaganda against Mosaddegh and anti-Mosaddegh material were repeatedly aired on the radio channel to the extent that Iranian staff at the BBC Persian radio went on strike to protest the move" the Cinematograph narrator said.[5]

The Cinematograph also quoted a classified document going back to July 21, 1951 in which a Foreign Office official thanked the British ambassador for his proposals that were followed to the word by the BBC Persian radio to strengthen its propaganda against Mosaddegh. “The BBC had already made most of the points which you listed, but they were very glad to have an indication from you of what was likely to be most effective and will arrange their programme accordingly,” the document shown in part on the program read. “We should also avoid direct attacks on the 'ruling classes' since it seems probable that we may want to deal with a government drawn from those classes should Mosaddegh fall,” it added. The document further stressed that the Foreign Office “shall be grateful for [the ambassador's] comments on the propaganda line we have proposed”.[5]

Under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi[]

From 1965 the newly formed BBC World Service took over the running of the BBC Persian Service.[1]

In the years before the revolution, the BBC Persian Service became highly trusted and liked by listeners, and gained mass appeal beyond intellectuals and the Iranian diaspora.[1]

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his supporters became critical of the BBC in creating the environment for the popular upheaval that eventually led to the Iranian Revolution in February 1979.[6] The Shah frequently sent telegrams to the BBC about Persian Service reporting. The Iranian Ambassador in London, Parviz Radji, tried to tone down these complaints recognising the BBC was acting independently, but had many meetings with the top management of the BBC in the late 1970s, including the Director-General Ian Trethowan. In the year before the revolution the Persian Service interviewed the major contenders: one with Ayatollah Khomeini, three or four with Prime Minister Shapur Bakhtiar and two with Karim Sanjabi, leader of the National Front who were seeking a peaceful democratic transition from the Shah's rule.[1]

During the revolution Iranian media was heavily censored, resulting in long strikes by journalists, and the BBC Persian Service gained an even larger country-wide audience.[6]

After the 1979 revolution[]

In 1980 the BBC correspondent in Iran was expelled and the BBC office in Tehran closed. For 19 years the BBC covered Iran from London with occasional short visits to Iran by correspondents. However after the 1999 election of President Mohammad Khatami the BBC was able to re-open a Tehran office with a resident correspondent.[6]

As of 2000, BBC Persian Service output was about 28 hours per week, with a mixture of news, education and entertainment programmes.[6]


BBC Persian has had a web presence since May 2001.[7]


In 2008, the BBC announced the launch of the BBC Persian Television. It was launched in January 2009 and is based in BBC Broadcasting House, London. It complements the BBC's existing Persian-language radio and online services.

It was initially broadcast for eight hours a day, seven days a week, from 17.00 to 01.00 hours – peak viewing time in Iran. It is freely available to anyone with a satellite dish in the region.[8]

BBC proposals for the service were drawn up by senior BBC management. These were approved by the then BBC Governors – the body that oversaw the BBC and ensures the BBC's independence from the UK Government. They were then submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for their consent as the BBC is obliged to do under the agreement with the FCO.

The operating cost of £15m a year will be funded by the UK Government.[9] Funding for the new service was announced by then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in a speech in October 2006. The funding was confirmed by the next Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling in October 2007. Some 140 staff are employed of which about 40 are support personnel.

Staff harassment[]

In 2018 the BBC made an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to help stop Iran from harassing its Persian Service staff in the United Kingdom and their families in Iran. The BBC states Iran began targeting BBC Persian staff after the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, when the Iranian government accused foreign media and intelligence services of interference. Iran has accused 152 current and former staff and contributors of "conspiracy against national security" and started criminal investigations, as well as instigating an asset freeze on many of those staff.[10]

Iran rejects the harassment allegations. Iran's permanent mission to the UN in Geneva stated "BBC Persian is not an independent media network ... Its financial and political affiliation with the ministry of foreign affairs and the British security agencies has been very serious."[10]



  1. ^ a b c d e f Sreberny & Torfeh 2008.
  2. ^ Elm, Mostafu (1994). Oil, Power, and Principle: Iran's Oil Nationalization and Its Aftermath, p 224-227. Syracuse University Press Link
  3. ^ Marie Gillespie & Alban Webb (2013). Diasporas and Diplomacy: Cosmopolitan contact zones at the BBC World Service 1932-2012, p 129-132. Routledge Link " 'when it came to reporting adversely on Mossadeq, for two weeks all Iranian broadcasters disappeared. The BBC had no choice but to bring in English people who spoke Persian because the Iranians had gone on strike' "
  4. ^ Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah's Men. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008, p. 7 Link "Roosevelt told the Shah that he as in Iran on behalf of the American and British secret services, and that this would be confirmed by a code word the Shah would be able to hear on the BBC the next night. Churchill had arranged that the BBC would end its broadcast day by saying not 'it is now midnight' as usual, but 'it is now exactly midnight' "
  5. ^ a b "BBC admits role in 1953 Iranian coup". Press TV. 21 August 2011. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d "Appendix 8 - Memorandum submitted by BBC World Service". Foreign Affairs - Second Report. House of Commons - Foreign Affairs Committee (Report). UK Parliament. January 2001. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  7. ^ "About BBC Persian website" (in Persian).
  8. ^ "BBC launches Persian TV channel". BBC News. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  9. ^ "BBC World Service". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 2009. Archived from the original on 30 May 2009.
  10. ^ a b Naji, Kasra (12 March 2018). "BBC UN appeal: Stop Iran harassing Persian service staff". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2019.


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