The BBC and media freedom – theory and practice

Visitors to the BBC News website may have noticed that disclaimers appeared in a number of reports by the BBC’s Beirut correspondent Martin Patience published on its Middle East page in the past few days.

Inside Iran: Iranians on Trump and the nuclear deal

Inside the former US Embassy in Iran

Inside Iran: What Iranians think of stand-off with US

The same disclaimer also appeared on other platforms.

However Yashar Ali at the Huffington Post reports that the BBC’s disclaimer – apparently made in accordance with the new editorial guidelines – does not tell all.

“The BBC has agreed to conditions set by the Islamic Republic of Iran to not share reporting materials it gathers in Iran with its Persian-language channel, BBC Persian, an internal email obtained by HuffPost reveals. The agreement represents a capitulation to a government that has been hostile to press freedom. The Iranian government routinely shuts down media organizations critical of the regime and imprisons, tortures and executes journalists.

The agreement was made with the Iranian government in exchange for Iran allowing a BBC correspondent into the country, and, according to emails that HuffPost obtained, it’s not the first time the British broadcaster has agreed to such terms.

The email, sent Saturday to all BBC Persian staff by a BBC Persian digital editor, said that BBC foreign correspondent Martin Patience and his team were in Iran “and due to leave on Sunday.”

The email goes on to say, “It is absolutely imperative that none of their material is run on BBC Persian TV, Radio or Online now or in the future. That includes any official BBC Persian social feed retweeting or forwarding the coverage. Please do not use the material and stories produced in Iran on any platform or in any format.”

It’s unclear who at the BBC agreed to the exclusivity terms.”

Just last week the UK government co-hosted an international conference in London on media freedom in which the BBC’s Director General and Director of News and Current Affairs took part and the BBC ran a “hub”. The aim of that conference was described by its organisers as follows:

“The conference is part of an international campaign to raise awareness of the importance of international press freedom, and also to increase the consequences faced by those who try to restrict it.” [emphasis added]

One can but wonder how the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – which of course part funds the BBC World Service, which includes BBC Persian – squares last week’s fine declarations on media freedom with the almost simultaneous BBC acquiescence to the demands of the Iranian regime.

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