What anyone can learn from the BBC guide to journalism in Persian

editor of the BBC Academy's language websites

The College of Journalism on the BBC Persian website

The language used in Persian media has always been relatively formal, as if presenters and journalists believe that the more formally they write and speak, the more sophisticated they will appear.

The BBC College of Journalism’s Persian site is trying change this and to encourage a more conversational tone.

It occurs to me that you don’t need to be a Persian speaker to benefit from some of what its editors are suggesting.  

For instance, they advise journalists to watch out for unnecessary words and phrases. Here are some of their examples:

  • You don’t need to talk about a ‘young baby’ or a ‘military general’: all babies are young and all generals are military, so ‘baby’ and ‘general’ are enough
  • They spotted this sentence: “The situation is surrounded by a halo of ambiguity” and suggest instead “The situation is unclear”
  • And ‘the men have been killed’ is better than ‘the men were sent to the palate of death’.

The profound influence of Arabic language in Iran and Afghanistan can be traced back to the 7th century when the Arabs invaded. Like many populations whose language is influenced by that of an invader, Persians are constantly debating the right balance between Arabic and Persian in their language.

Although most of the Arabic words in Persian are now pronounced, and in some cases spelt, the Persian way, there are Arab words for which the Persian equivalent is not only simpler but better understood. The same kind of choice exists in English, following the Norman Conquest, between the Norman French and the simpler Anglo-Saxon: ‘venison’ rather than ‘deer’, for instance, or ‘poultry’ rather than ‘hens’.

The BBC Persian Service editors remind their readers that the main aim of the BBC is to convey the news and information to every part of its audience. To do this you must avoid using antiquated words, such as talking about someone taking ‘zemame qodrat’ - literally ‘the helm of power’. Instead, you could just say ‘he took power’.

The Persian site also gives advice on the use of foreign names. Here again it’s a question of making things as clear as possible for the BBC audience. So, although 16 years ago Bombay changed its name to Mumbai, neither the Persian spoken media nor most of the population have changed how they refer to the city. So BBC Persian is happy to continue with ‘Bombay’. 

Persian language is spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Much of this advice could be useful not only to journalists but all Persian speakers. It is freely available via the BBC Persian website.


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