The BBC Persian Service, a satellite channel that broadcasts into Iran, has become a major influence on Iranian society. The interactive show "Your Turn" airs calls and e-mails from those inside the country. "Your Turn" host Siavash Ardalan describes how viewers reported on the sometimes disturbing events taking place this week.
The BBC Persian Service, an all-Farsi satellite channel based in London, is banned by the regime, as are the ubiquitous satellite dishes, but every day it transmits the concerns of Iranians reaching out from inside the country via phone, email and text messages. This week, despite spotty phone and Internet access, they still managed to call in reports of their experiences. Siavash Ardalan is one of the hosts of the talk show Your Turn. He says that they've been relying on citizen journalists in Iran for reporting and footage, including some disturbing tape of students being beaten by paramilitary forces in the Iranian city of Esfahan.
SIAVASH ARDALAN: Someone actually took a picture of one of the students who died as he was being filmed. This is the extreme of the kinds of images that we get. What our audience want now is just to see that there is such huge rallies as the oceans of people who have taken to the streets inside the capital and other cities, and this is the kind of material they send us.
BOB GARFIELD: What’s the most vivid phone call that you've gotten on your show? Can you share that?
SIAVASH ARDALAN: For me personally it was a call I got the day before yesterday when I was hosting the show. An Iranian student in Birmingham, I think 24, 25 years old, he called in to say that that particular student who I was just talking about, who was killed in the attack of the Islamic vigilantes at the university dormitory, was his brother. And then he broke down in tears. That is one memory that will stay with me.
BOB GARFIELD: The Iranian government has accused foreign press of fomenting the protests that have taken over the streets of Teheran and other cities. How do you plead to the charge of being an instigator?
SIAVASH ARDALAN: I think one reason why this perception might be there is because most of the calls that we get are from the opposition supporters, and the government itself, their own officials and their supporters, refuse to appear on the – on our programs. I think that’s why this perception is created.
BOB GARFIELD: You are served to Iran via satellite. Can you tell me how much they've succeeded in keeping your signal from Iranian viewers?
SIAVASH ARDALAN: It has been successful, in the past day or two, especially. It’s not a continuous jamming. Whenever the government feels that something is being said that may not be to their interest, we experience more jamming.
BOB GARFIELD: This kind of, I guess, as much as any other story that you’re going to run across, puts to test the notion of journalistic objectivity, no?
SIAVASH ARDALAN: I've been brought up to think that the best kind of journalism is objective journalism, and that’s what I've been trying to live by and work by. There are urges, naturally, to the contrary. Our colleagues in the newsroom, we have some of our colleagues who do a report, who write everything according to, you know, the way they should write, objective, but then when they look at the pictures, when they try to edit them, they break down and cry. So it’s, it’s difficult for all of us.
BOB GARFIELD: Siavash, thank you very much.
SIAVASH ARDALAN: Thank you. Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Siavash Ardalan is a presenter for Your Turn on the Persian Service of the BBC.