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 on Monday.
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.
“The BBC is aware of reports in the Iranian media alleging that persons working for the BBC Persian service have been arrested in Iran,” the BBC statement said.
“The BBC would like to stress that the six filmmakers currently detained in Iran are not BBC staffers.
“The individuals in question are independent documentary filmmakers whose films have been screened in festivals and other venues internationally. As is common practice for the channel’s documentary showcase program, BBC Persian television bought the rights to broadcast these films.”
Liliane Landor, controller of languages at BBC Global News, said the films had not been commissioned by the BBC and accused Iran of trying to intimidate the broadcaster following attempts to jam the service.
“We consider this 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.
She expressed concern about the situation of the filmmakers, saying: “Our thoughts are with the filmmakers and their families.”
An Iranian state television website –citing an informed source who identified the detainees by their initials M.M.T., M.Z., N.S., H.A., M.Sh. and Miss K.Sh. –said the arrests were carried out on Saturday night.
“These identified individuals were providing the BBC Farsi with information, films, and secret reports to paint a black picture of Iran and Iranians,” the website reported.
Iran’s Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini confirmed that the country’s “intelligence and security apparatus” had detained several people, ISNA news agency reported.
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 programs aimed at Farsi speakers, mostly in Iran and Afghanistan. Terrestrial Iranian television is completely controlled by the state.
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 criticize 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 Khamenei.