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Iran’s user generation
Former head of BBC Persian Rob Beynon says that social networks may have been pivotal in the Iranian elections, but they don’t mean news is dead.
February 19, 2010 11:12 by Austyn Allison
Rob Beynon is CEO of DMA Media, a consultancy firm that helped Abu Dhabi Media Company set up twofour54, its media hub. DMA was also involved in launching the BBC’s Arabic and Farsi television services, and in June 2009 Beynon was the acting head of BBC Persian as the Iranian election result sparked mass protests, rioting and outbreaks of violence.
Communicate magazine sat down with Beynon to ask him about the role user-generated content played in the channel’s coverage of events.
Tell us about BBC Persian’s coverage of the election fallout.
It was a period of huge tension and activity in Iran, and we saw all the activities around the time of the presidential elections. Then we saw the explosion in the use of user-generated content that this created, with thousands and thousands of files and stills and videos being sent every day from people in Iran with mobile phones and cameras. This was largely filtered and contextualized by the journalists at BBC Persian for the rest of the BBC. We knew at the time that we had to put this into context and we had to source it because we were the BBC, not YouTube.
The channel is broadcast to Iran and Afghanistan out of London via satellite, and [its success] was a huge testament to the journalists’ professionalism; they felt very emotionally involved in the story, many of them having been recruited from Iran for the channel.
There were pressures from both sides [of Iranian politics] about what was being said, and the journalists behaved very professionally and impartially. Of all the start-ups I’ve been involved in – which is several dozen around the world – it was, in many ways, the most moving, and it gives me the most humility to have been involved in it because the team was so impressive in the way they delivered on that story. There was quite a lot of extreme pressure from all sides.