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The BBC Persian Service and the Islamic Revolution of 1979

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Authors:
Annabelle Sreberny
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Massoumeh Torfeh
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Abstract

This paper is the second part of a work in progress that examines the impact of seventy years of BBC Persian broadcasts to Iran. The Persian Service, established in December 1940, was originally set up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as one of thirty-eight language services broadcasting to strategically important areas of the world during World War Two. The first piece of research looked at three historic moments when the influence of BBC Persian broadcasts was hotly debated: the toppling of the pro-German Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, in 1941; the late 1940s, when Iran's nationalist leader, Mohammad Mossadeq, championed oil nationalization and challenged the rights hitherto enjoyed by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company; and the US-led coup of 1953 that returned the young Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne. The present research focuses on a period that many Iranians consider the most influential in terms of all BBC broadcasts to Iran. The BBC Persian Service (BBCPS) became a household name during 1978, the year leading up to the revolution of 11 February 1979. Many Iranians at home and abroad tuned in to hear the latest news and developments, even as the Shah of Iran accused the BBC of fomenting revolution, an argument echoed thirty years later in the responses of the Islamic Republic to the launch of the new Persian television channel in January 2009. The research shows clearly how difficult it had become for the FCO to uphold the independence of the BBC and support their closest friend in the region when he believed that the British government must be in charge. There was indeed heated debate and discussion inside the Foreign Office as to whether Britain was sacrificing its long-term interests by allowing the BBC to continue its broadcasts when even the British ambassador in Tehran was suggesting the service should be closed down.

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