Iran has arrested several people for supplying information to the British Broadcasting Corporation, accusing them of seeking to portray a negative image of the Islamic state, media reported.
Few western journalists are permitted to work in Iran where the government views much of the foreign media with suspicion. The BBC’s Farsi-language TV news service is only available to owners of illegal satellite receivers and its signal is often jammed, Reuters reports.
The newspaper Resalat said five men and one woman had been arrested, identifying them only by their initials. “They were members of a network which supplies information, produces films and clandestine reports for the BBC Persian programme, aimed at portraying a bleak picture of Iran,” Resalat said.
The hardline daily Kayhan said a number of people had been arrested “in different places in the capital.”
It quoted Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif as saying: “The BBC tries to identify elements inside the country (who produce) particular cultural productions in order to use them against the Islamic establishment.”
BBC Persian broadcasts live news, documentaries and entertainment programmes aimed at Farsi speakers, mostly in Iran and Afghanistan. Terrestrial Iranian television is completely controlled by the state.
In London, the BBC said in a statement that the six filmmakers arrested in Iran were not BBC staffers but “independent documentary filmmakers whose films have been screened in festivals and other venues internationally.”
BBC Persian television had brought the rights to broadcast their and other films, a common practice, but had not commissioned them, the statement quoted Liliane Landor, Controller, Languages, BBC Global News, as saying.
“We consider this (the arrests) to be part of ongoing efforts by the Iranian government to put pressure on the BBC for the impartial and balanced coverage of its Persian-language TV of events in Iran and the wider region,” Landor said.
Iran has accused foreign media of helping foment the unrest that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
International human rights groups frequently criticise the lack of freedom of expression in Iran. Tehran denies the charge, saying it allows free speech. Iranian journalists say they have to tread carefully in their reporting to avoid having their publications closed.
The publicly funded BBC said its Persian television “has been subject to increasing and aggressive jamming from within Iran. The channel has suffered deliberate attempts to interfere with its signal intermittently since its launch in 2009.”
“The interference intensified on the evening of Saturday 17 September just as the channel had begun broadcasting a documentary about Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei,” it added.