The BBC has hit back at reports claiming that six people working for the BBC Persian service have been arrested in Iran, saying in a statement that the detainees are independent documentary filmmakers and not BBC staffers.
According to reports from the Iranian state-run media, the group of six filmmakers was paid to make secret reports for the BBC Persian service, which is banned in the country.
The arrests came a day after BBC Persia showed a documentary on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The BBC Persian channel’s signal, which is sometimes accessible inside Iran, was disrupted during the broadcast.
However, the BBC said the documentary on the Ayatollah was an in-house production and none of the six filmmakers arrested had been involved with it.
In a statement, the UK public broadcaster 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, BBC Global News’ controller for languages, added: “It is common practice for television channels to buy broadcast rights to independent films. This is certainly the case with the BBC Persian [service] whose acclaimed documentary showcase buys the broadcast rights to tens of documentaries from independent Iranian filmmakers each year.
“These films were independently produced and had not been commissioned by BBC Persian. 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.”
She added that “our thoughts are with the filmmakers and their families.”
The news comes with Tehran, the Iranian capital, due to host the fifth edition of its annual documentary festival, Cinema Verite, in November.
The festival recently hit the media spotlight after an Iranian spokesman claimed that Oscar-winning director Michael Moore had applied to attend this year’s event, provoking a strong reaction from some segments of the U.S. press.