Iranians are flocking in their millions to BBC Persia as the broadcaster that can be trusted to report their country honestly and impartially, despite crude attempts to block it and threaten its workers. That was the upbeat message from the network’s Editor, Sadeq Saba, in CFOM’s first annual media freedom lecture at the University of Sheffield on 13 November 2012. Saba told a packed audience that the service had doubled its audience to over 12 million people in recent years. In response, the Iranian regime had repeatedly tried to jam BBC Persia’s broadcast signal and had routinely tried to intimidate staff and their families, including his own elderly father. Sada said the jamming measures were outrageous. “The international community should take decisive action to make it stop,” he said.
Saba said freedom of expression remained alien to the Iranian government, although things had improved slightly since the days of the Shah. He said millions of people were now finding a voice through social media, and many were taking huge risks to publish their views. He reminded his audience of the fate of Iranian blogger Sattar Behesti, who was tortured and killed after speaking out on Facebook. The Iranian government had also deployed an army of propaganda tweeters. But he said networks like Facebook and Twitter would prove an unstoppable phenomenon and were now the biggest danger to dictatorships: “I think that social media is probably the most welcome thing happening to humanity as far as freedom of expression is concerned.”
Questioned about BBC Persia’s editorial approach, Saba said it would not be swayed from its core value of impartiality. It actively sought out the rare supporters of the regime to provide balance and would continue to do so, and had even offered the Iranian government the right of reply to a major documentary. “We give voice to every shade of opinion,” he said.
Watch the full video of the lecture here.