The morale of BBC Persian journalists has been “deeply affected” by a management decision to abide by reporting restrictions in exchange for access to Iran, the National Union of Journalists has claimed.
The BBC agreed a deal with Iranian authorities preventing BBC Persian from using material gathered in the Islamic nation in exchange for access for Middle East correspondent Martin Patience, Huffpost revealed.
The union said the “professional integrity” of BBC Persian journalists “has been undermined” by the move. Iranian authorities continue to target journalists at the London-based news service in a bid to silence them.
Lawyers for the BBC said earlier this year, as the corporation spoke out to raise awareness of the issue, that it represented an “unprecedented collective targeting and punishment of journalists”.
BBC Persian staff have have been smeared online and are unable even to return to Iran to visit sick relatives for fear of arrest. The radio and TV service is banned in the Islamic nation, but still has 13m viewers.
The NUJ said its members on the service had “reported an increase in online attacks” following the BBC’s decision.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “We have worked together with the BBC for years on a united international campaign to amplify the voices of BBC Persian staff and to call out the harassment and persecution inflicted on them by the Iranian authorities.
“The decision by the BBC to agree to prevent the Persian service from using material gathered in Iran has deeply affected the morale and well-being of our members.
“The union is not opposed to the BBC sending teams to report from the country but this must not be in exchange for restrictive conditions placed on the BBC Persian Service.”
She added that the public broadcaster needed to “reflect on what it has done, acknowledge the hurt and distress caused and resolve to change their approach in future”.
The BBC has appealed to the UN over the harassment of BBC Persian staff, which has included photos of its female journalists being used in faked pornographic images in a bid to ruin their reputations in the conservative country. The image was also sent to their teenage son.
A BBC World Service spokesperson said: “All international media are subject to reporting restrictions in Iran. We accepted some limitations on this occasion in order to provide our audiences with rare insights from inside the country and this is signposted in our coverage.
“As ever, the BBC maintains full editorial control over what we broadcast.
“These reports – our first independent trip inside Iran in five years – do not change our unwavering commitment to our BBC Persian staff and their families, who have suffered completely unacceptable harassment from the Iranian authorities since 2009.”
The spokesperson added that BBC Director General Tony Hall had “raised their case in the strongest terms” at the global Media Freedom conference in London earlier this month.
Huffpost has also reported that an email to BBC staff said a BBC Arabic reporter had been given access to Iran provided pictures were not shared with BBC Persian.