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The BBC has promised to fully investigate allegations that its Persian service has promoted the homophobic views of the Iranian regime.

The Director of the BBC World Service, Jamie Angus, gave this pledge to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell after he submitted a formal complaint to Tim Davie, the BBC Director-General.

It is reprehensible and unacceptable that the BBC promotes hate speech and apologia for a dictatorship.”

Peter Tatchell

The LGBT+ community in Iran was outraged on 28 December 2020 over a BBC Persian website post that called LGBTs “faggots” and an “abomination” and compared them to opium addicts and people who commit incest. The wording has since been amended but only after a public outcry.

It was also revealed at the same time that BBC Persian mocked LGBT+ Pride and apparently attempted to out an Iranian interviewee on air. This was broadcast on its TV channel on 6 July 2019. The video is still online, despite protests by LGBT+ Iranians who urged it to be removed.   

Tim Davie, the BBC Director-General, has been sent a strongly worded letter by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

In his letter, Mr Tatchell condemns BBC Persian over its apparent “appalling homophobia,” its alleged “apologia” for the tyranny in Tehran and its seeming praise for “Jihad and martyr’s culture.”  

Mr Tatchell is demanding a public apology and urging the “dismissal of the Director of BBC Persian.” He is also calling for an independent inquiry into the “administration, staffing, monitoring and content of the BBC Persian service;” querying whether “BBC Persian is infiltrated by staff who are apologists or possibly agents for the Iranian dictatorship.” 

Peter Tatchell.

Peter Tatchell’s letter is reproduced here (our italics).

Dear Tim Davie, Jamie Angus and Fran Unsworth 

I would appreciate your prompt explanation of the shocking allegations of appalling homophobia on the BBC Persian language service website on 28 December 2020, as set out in the attached PDF and here:

BBC Persian published a post describing LGBT+ people as ‘hamjensbaz’, which I am told is the Persian language equivalent of the word “faggot.” It took huge protests from LGBT+ Iranians to get this disgusting language removed. 

The post went on to compare LGBT+ people to opium addicts and people who have sex with their siblings. Again, only after protests was this deleted but it was replaced by the equally offensive insult ‘ghabahat’ – which apparently means abomination. 

This is echoes official homophobic views of the Iranian tyranny.

The post also seems to praise this tyranny in words similar to those used by state propagandists in Tehran. It allegedly includes praise such as:

 “The Islamic Republic benefitted Iranian citizens by ‘cutting the hands of foreigners’, promoting…Jihad and martyrs culture”.

It is reprehensible and unacceptable that the BBC promotes hate speech and apologia for a dictatorship. 

Moreover, on 6 July 2019 BBC Persian TV broadcast a news story seemingly mocking what it allegedly described as “so-called” LGBT Pride: 

This video is still online and requests by LGBT+ Iranians to remove it have been ignored. 

The outcry among LGBT+ Iranians that these two incidents have prompted is evidence that they cannot be explained away as people not understanding Farsi or the nuances of Iranian culture. The fact LGBT+ Iranians are so angry and upset suggests that BBC Persian is guilty of gross repeated homophobia. 

I am urging the BBC to make the following amends: 

A. A public apology and correction issued to the UK mainstream and LGBT+ media and posted on the BBC website.

B. If the allegations are shown to be true, the Director of BBC Persian should be dismissed for allowing repeated homophobic content.

In addition: 

C. Please explain what LGBT+ content you intend to put out on BBC Persian to counter and amend this apparent anti-LGBT+ prejudice promoted by the BBC. 

This incident raises broader serious questions:  

D. I would like an inquiry into persistent allegations that BBC Persian is infiltrated by staff who are apologists or possibly agents for the Iranian dictatorship. It has been long alleged that the Iranian regime has a secret programme to place people supportive of its policies and objectives in western media and political circles. 

E. Please explain what vetting is undertaken by the BBC when appointing staff to BBC Persian to ensure they are not officially or unofficially agents or apologists for the Iranian dictatorship. 

F. Can you advise me what LGBT+ awareness and sensitivity training is given to BBC Persian and other BBC World Service staff, who are often from countries where anti-LGBT+ prejudice, discrimination and violence is the norm? 

G. I would be grateful to know what procedures are in place to monitor the content of BBC Persian to ensure that its output conforms to BBC journalistic and ethical standards. 

H. Furthermore, the alleged non-reporting or biased reporting by BBC Persian of human rights abuses of minority nationalities in Iran, such as the Baluch, Ahwazi Arabs and Kurds, has been subject to long standing criticisms and seems to defy the BBC’s remit of truthful, fair and objective reporting. It smacks of de facto racism by omission towards these persecuted ethnic minorities. I would like this investigated as well.

I. I am urging that you appoint an independent inquiry into the administration, staffing, monitoring and content of the BBC Persian service.

Please advise at your earliest convenience. 

Many thanks

Peter Tatchell 

Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation 

OutNewsGlobal would like to thank the Peter Tatchell Foundation for their kind permission to reproduce this article and Mr Tatchell’s letter.

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