BBC Persian TV
The BBC launches its latest TV channel today - BBC Persian. It will be a daily eight hour service, for audiences in Iran, Afghanistan, and the wider region, broadcasting at peak times for the market. It will run from 1700 to 0100 local time in Iran (that's 1330 to 2130 GMT).
The backbone of the schedule will be news, together with a rich mix of current affairs, features and documentaries, culture, science, business and arts programmes - all broadcast in Persian from a new newsroom in central London.
Iran is obviously geopolitically important with significant influence across the Middle East. And Afghanistan is a high priority for BBC World Service, with very large radio audiences. The BBC has been providing news and information on radio in Persian for six decades. But these days, TV is the preferred news medium for Iranian audiences.
The BBC is well respected by opinion formers within Iran and brand awareness is high - despite government media restrictions. Media freedom is severely limited - so we hope BBC Persian TV will build a following by providing free and independent news and information - the traditional role of the BBC World Service over the last 75 years - and provide a window for Iranian viewers to the rest of the world in an open and unbiased way.
The Iranian authorities have been a little apprehensive about the launch, describing it as "an illegal channel", refusing us permission to work within Iran and suggesting anyone found working for it will be arrested as a spy. However, we hope once they have seen the service they may recognise the independence and quality of the channel - and hopefully take part in its programmes.
Persian TV is aimed at audiences in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan - totalling around 100m Persian speakers. The potential audience in Iran is young, highly educated and outward-looking. The projected audience figures for Persian TV are 10m within 3 years - with a total tri-media reach (radio, TV and online) of close to 20m by 2012.
The channel will cost £15m a year - funded by the Foreign Office via Grant in Aid.
The launch is much anticipated within the region and is already being discussed on blogs within Iran, Afghanistan and beyond. Clips have appeared on YouTube (see below). It will be available globally, streamed on the BBC Persian website.
Richard Sambrook is director, Global News.