Iran ends ban on Western media, welcomes BBC journalist
Kim Ghattas spends week in Tehran, visits markets, interviews female vice president; material must not be shown on BBC Persian
Even as it releases a clip presaging the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, Iran is presenting a diplomatic demeanor to the rest of the world, issuing the first visa in six years to a Western reporter from the BBC in Britain.
A radio piece by journalist Kim Ghattas on the BBC website presents a first-person account of driving into Tehran, a visit to a market and even a taste of a local ice flavor – saffron.
Ghattas describes the Iranian women, “all veiled of course,” as “clearly trying to push the boundaries.” She also comments on the fact that Tehran does not look “dilapidated,” despite years of tight economic sanctions.
The last BBC correspondent in Iran, Jon Leyne, was expelled from the country after the 2009 presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected while his Green movement opponents claimed the vote was rigged.
According to British paper The Guardian, arrangements for the trip by Ghattas reflected Iran’s heightened sensitivity regarding the West. Ghattas was picked to receive the reporter visa because she is a Dutch and not British national. The broadcasting company also needed to agree that none of the material filmed and recorded by Ghattas would be broadcast on the BBC’s Persian channel. The station, The Guardian reported, is extremely popular with Iranians but strongly disliked by the regime.
The only previous BBC journalist to visit Iran since 2009 was Lyse Doucet, the station’s chief international correspondent. Doucet traveled to Tehran as part of the press entourage of the EU’s foreign policy chief after the nuclear agreement in Vienna.
In an interview with Masumeh Ebtekar, one of 12 Iranian vice presidents, the female politician told Ghattas that Iran had a right to defend itself, but insisted Tehran had no aspirations of regional hegemony.
Ebtekar was the spokeswoman for the group of students who took Americans hostage at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. According to Ghattas, Ebtekar appeared on television “regularly” at the time.
Today the vice president is part of Iran’s reformist camp, Ghattas reported, and speaks candidly about the need for progress and change. The population of Iran, noted the BBC journalist, is overwhelmingly young and “very eager to connect with the world.”
The BBC operates a television channel in Persian, which it launched in 2009 to some criticism from the Iranian government.