Sir David Clementi also warned against attempts to block access to the BBC in places like Iran
Stop ‘harassment’ of our journalists, BBC chairman tells Iran
The chairman of the BBC has called on Iran to stop the “harassment” of the corporation’s journalists.
In a speech to the Royal Television Society in Cambridge, Sir David Clementi pinpointed Iran as an example of how the “difficult and challenging circumstances” in which many BBC staff work can be made even more challenging by the actions taken by foreign governments.
“Worryingly, the Iranian courts have in recent weeks stepped up their Government’s harassment of [the BBC’s] Persian Service staff based in the UK, by freezing the assets they still hold in Iran,” he said. “We call on this harassment to stop.”
It comes after more than 150 current and former BBC staff were barred from making major financial transactions in Iran, in what the broadcaster claimed was an attack on free speech.
The order, secured in secret, was the latest in a string of attempts by Tehran to muzzle what it deems hostile voices, having accused the corporation of inciting unrest following the disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad in 2009.
The following year, Iran banned citizens from contact with dozens of foreign organisations, including the British broadcaster, which it said was seeking to topple the Islamic theocracy.
BBC Persian operates from London, and is part of the BBC World Service, which broadcasts to around 270 million people around the globe.
Sir David hailed the World Service as “one of the UK’s greatest exports and the voice of Britain’s cultural wealth and democratic values worldwide”. But he warned that attempts to block access in places like Iran were still widespread.
“It is moving when one meets people from overseas who explain how important the BBC World Service is to them: when they explain how they cannot rely on local news services to inform them with any accuracy of what is going on in their own country, or what is going on in other parts of the world,” he said.
“Even then they may need to find ways of circumventing the 'jamming' arrangements put in place by governments to block access.”
He added: “Today in Iran… from a total BBC audience of around 12 and a half million people, there are around one and a half million who rely on secure access to news from the BBC’s Persian service via instant messaging apps.”
Sir David ended his message with a stark criticism of countries such as Iran where, he said, the concept of political neutrality does not exist.
“In many of these countries the notion of political impartiality has little meaning: there is only one ruling party and no official opposition.
“But the concept of accuracy remains deeply important; and the independence of the BBC is the vital ingredient that gives the service the reputation it has.”