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Panorama producer imprisoned

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Sandy Smith | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Maziar Bahari, the Iranian film-maker who worked with Jane Corbin on the Panorama film Obama and the Ayatollah that ran before last month's fateful elections, was arrested in Tehran on 21 June. His laptop and some video tapes were also taken by men who didn't identify themselves.

Maziar BahariReliable information is hard to come by but to the best of our knowledge he is in Evin prison and a "confession" attributed to him has been released in which he was described as a "collaborator of British and American media" who had compiled "hostile and false" reports.

Maziar, who has dual Canadian nationality, is an independent film-maker who also works for a wide range of broadcasters and publications. He wasn't working for the BBC in the period after the elections when the country was gripped by demonstrations and widespread allegations that the election had been rigged in favour of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .

Maziar's contributions to Panorama would themselves have caused little complaint in Tehran. He worked on a 2008 film critical of the actions of the British Army in southern Iraq On Whose Orders? and as Jane Corbin points out anyone wanting a cliched and one-sided view of Iran would be wasting their time approaching Maziar.

"When I worked with Maziar in Tehran, I was able to appreciate how an experienced Iranian film-maker and journalist sees situations in his own country which the Western media and governments do not always appreciate or understand. We went to Shiraz to film where 14 people had been killed last year in a bomb attack by an anti-government group.
 
I was able to understand, through Maziar's explanations and translations of the views of people there, that while the West regards Iran as a perpetrator of terror, Iranians often see themselves as the victims of terror.
 
The deputy prosecutor of Tehran showed us documents, arrest warrants from Interpol, detailing how some of those associated with the group behind the crime were believed to be living freely in the UK and US. Maziar felt this was a very important story and I am glad we covered it.
 
Maziar was always very keen to explain to me the Iranian government's view of the political, social and economic situation inside the country.
 
We spent equal time covering the campaigns of President Ahmadinejad and Mir Hosein Mousavi. As a journalist, Maziar was only concerned with covering the issues and views of other people, not to let any personal preference become part of the story we were covering. He was always respectful and appreciative at all times of the achievements of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the contributions made by all sectors of Iranian society."

Maziar is a film-maker in his own right, with at least 10 films to his credit, and a playwright. His movie, And Along Came a Spider, was the first Iranian documentary to be aired on HBO in the US. He is active in the Iranian Documentary Film-makers Association, and has worked closely with young Iranians who aspire to be film-makers. Two years ago the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam organised a retrospective of his work.

He is also one of the few film-makers to work in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. His films have covered subjects as varied as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and his work on the difficulties faced by journalists in Iraq has been especially well regarded.

The Harvard Film Archives had this to say about his work:

"In a country known for neorealist fiction films that focus on small events in the lives of individuals, the work of Iranian director Maziar Bahari is somewhat anomalous. Employing a traditional documentary style to explore more far-reaching cultural events, Bahari's films provide a glimpse inside contemporary Iranian culture as they reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience.
 
Representing a new generation of young Iranian film-makers, Bahari's trenchant looks at social issues in his country have brought both controversy and international acclaim."

Sandy Smith is editor of Panorama.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.


    It's no surprise 'BBC' reporters have been detained - the reports from John Leyne, before and after the election, were highly biased and laden with innuendo. What went out on BBC Persian is anybody's guess.

    If BBC want their reporters to travel around without interference, perhaps they should be lobbying for a separation of the Foreign Office funded activities, and a re-naming of their division, maybe 'Voice of Britain.'


  • Comment number 2.

    Perhaps the headline and content of this item are at odds.

    Mr Maziar is called (within the text) both a contributor (to Panorama) and an independent film maker.

    No one wishes to have people gaoled for no good reason anywhere but I do wish the BBC would refrain from its implicit ant-Iran style. We know the regime is not up to the standards of an ideal world but then there are few countries that can claim that anywhere, least of all the UK, the USA, Israel and any number of other critics of Iran.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    This is very bad.
    This film producer must be very careful with Islamic nations.They are all conservatives.
    But what to do.As long as ,there is no alternative sources of energy for day today,massives uses from Ato Z,means of transport,for industries,for cooking purposes,we have to depend on it from Major shares from Middle east and from Russia.
    Hereafter,whoever sends reporters,editors,journalists,photo graphers,news makers,documentary film makers are to be covered by a permanent,world security agencies.
    Then only, these type of undemocrative actions will be moniterd,checked,and be stopped.
    Hope for immediate release from Iran prision.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    If he's Iranian and he's involved in making anti Iranian films, do you expect Iran to give him a medal. It's only in Britain that it's acceptable to make films detrimental to ones own country.

  • Comment number 7.

    The leaders of Iran are not very nice people.

    This guy has just been imprisoned, other people are flogged bloody with electric cables then strangled slowly to death by being hanged from a mobile crane - all done in public. Some of those subject to this treatment have been children (by UK or UN standards).

    I thought your policy towards regimes like Iran, Taleban etc was to be impartial - how come you can take sides regarding this guy?

    (All the same, I hope he is freed)

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm sorry the guys been taken and I really do hope he gets out soon.

    But i can't help but feel that the foreign office funded BBC Persia is the reason your organisation is treated with such hostility by the regime.I'm thinking in particular of certain allegations (too ridiculous to repeat) levelled at the beeb during the protests

    A british media organisation broadcasting in persian to Iranians in total contravention to the wishes of the Iranian government is inevitably going to be seen as a hostile act.

    If the government wants to broadcast to Iranians let them do it as the British Government Channel & remove the BBC branding, before the corporation or more likely its employees get sucked into something really nasty.

  • Comment number 9.

    BBC Persia should be thought through again; if it ever was.

    Persia? And this is not provocative?

    However, the man must be found and his state of health ascertained. The BBC should not desert him now.

  • Comment number 10.


    It is not suprising that BBC journalists get arrested. The output of the BBC is so biased against the legitimately elected government of Iran.

    The BBC needs to learn some basics of journalism. It is not the case for instance that the young vocal, web savvy residents of Tehran can be equated as being representative of the political aspirations of the country as a whole.

  • Comment number 11.

    This may intrigue Iran-watchers and indicate Maziar Bahari's prominence in Iranian society. These are quotes from an interview in November 2008 for the New Statesman. Mr Bahari is interviewing Akbar Etemad, the shah's chief atomic energy adviser.

    "Q Could you tell us about the history of Iran's nuclear technology?

    A When Dwight Eisenhower initiated his Atoms for Peace programme in 1953, Iran was one of the first countries to receive a small nuclear reactor. It was primarily used for university research. Then, in the early 1970s, the shah came to the conclusion that Iran should develop its nuclear technology. We needed nuclear power plants to generate electricity: the population was increasing and people were using more electricity than before.

    and later

    Q Did the shah ever tell you that he may have wanted to build nuclear weapons?

    A I always suspected that part of the shah's plan was to build bombs. So I came up with a plan to dissuade him. I asked the shah if I could spend a few hours every week teaching him about nuclear technology. I thought he should know enough about nuclear energy to know the dangers of a bomb. At the end of the sixth month I asked him, "So now that you have a good grasp of the technology, what direction do you want to take? Do you want to use it for peaceful purposes or to build bombs? I have to know that in order to plan it."

    We talked for about three hours, and the shah told me his ideas about Iranian defence strategy. He thought that Iran's conventional army was already the most powerful in the region, and believed that Iran didn't need nuclear weapons at that moment. He also realised that if Iran developed nuclear weapons, the Europeans and the Americans wouldn't co-operate with it. But I think that if the shah had remained in power he would have developed nuclear weapons because now Pakistan, India and Israel all have them."

    ****

    Perhaps the answer to the second question has some bearing on what is being witnessed now.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    hes showing watz going on in his own country iran.
    theres nothing wrong about it.

    hope he get freed soon.

  • Comment number 14.

    The BBC is doing a great job trying to report a very tricky situation in Iran with intrepid journalists risking their lives to provide the unadulterated truth. The Iranian government is losing its nerve. By arresting competent and highly regarded journalists, it is showing total callous disregard for civilized behaviour. In fact the regime is isolating itself. President Ahmadinejad cannot brook criticism. How long can he survive? If and when he loses the support of the Ayatollah, his days are mumbered!

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    No totalitarian regime will tolerate a free press. It is regarded as an alternative and dangerous power base (information=power). In a coup, some of the first buildings occupied will be TV and radio stations. Journalists are automatically suspect, regardless of their previous statements or writing, simply because they are in a position to reveal information that may not be the regime's preferred "truth". The regime is paranoid; if jounalists convey the truth as they see it they are "enemies of the people" and if they know the truth and do not convey it they must be "agents of foreign powers" pretending to be loyal to the regime while gathering intelligence.

  • Comment number 18.

    I know that the BBC is both an international and domestic service provider, but I think that those overseas 'viewers / readers / listeners' of the BBC have a view that would not be wholly held by its domestic audience.

    I could point to another blog that attracted a huge amount of responses - changes to the International Pages, 1, 2, 3 and 4 as to why this is the case, but any regular posters will no doubt remember that debacle.

    I don't often see how the BBC report overseas, but only how they are portrayed domestically, and in the main, I watch and rate the BBC News output highly. Their use of local people in the news is, to my mind, a positive. As this blog suggests, "As a journalist, Maziar was only concerned with covering the issues and views of other people, not to let any personal preference become part of the story", and that is the job of a reporter - to report the facts.

    The fact that he is Iranian, and has been reporting Iranian issues within Iran is a matter for the Iranian Govt to deal, however, he was working for, or had (in the past) worked for, the BBC. Since the Iranian Govt are at odds with the BBC, it would seem that this arrest and subsequent incarceration is a tit-for-tat action. I hope this is resolved in the same way as the Roxana Saberi incident earlier this year and becomes no more serious.

    As a Canadian / Iranian, it is a matter for the Canadian authorities.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    In Iran torture is an everyday occurrence, an everyday fear. A state that practices kidnapping on it's own citizens and visitors.

  • Comment number 21.

    Walrus I don't think it's particularly provocative to call the service "BBC Persia", considering it broadcasts in Persian, a language widely spoken throughout central Asia, not just Iran.

    Do you happen to know anyone who feels provoked by the name? Thought not.

  • Comment number 22.

    #21

    I agree that the name, BBC Persia, has been around for a long time and is not, of itself, provocative. However BBC Persia does have form and that may indeed be provocative.

  • Comment number 23.

    I have to agree also that it is no surprise that BBC staff were detained. It is a real shame that the so called "impartiality" of the BBC that is proudly boasted about by the network is so lacking.

    I would have to say that this lack of impartiality is not limited to the BBC but is indemic throughout the journalistic profession, along with a complete lack of any real investigative journalistic endeavour.

    I was looking today at discussions about Northern Iraq and it would seem that the BBC has managed to create a new country which is on none of the maps I have seen. Could someone explain to me when Kurdistan was added to the BBC Geopolitical Map of the world and who made the decision to add it?

  • Comment number 24.

    I know that the BBC is both an international and domestic service provider, but I think that those overseas 'viewers / readers / listeners' of the BBC have a view that would not be wholly held by its domestic audience.

    I could point to another blog that attracted a huge amount of responses - changes to the International Pages, 1, 2, 3 and 4 as to why this is the case, but any regular posters will no doubt remember that debacle.

    I don't often see how the BBC report overseas, but only how they are portrayed domestically, and in the main, I watch and rate the BBC News output highly. Their use of local people in the news is, to my mind, a positive. As this blog suggests, "As a journalist, Maziar was only concerned with covering the issues and views of other people, not to let any personal preference become part of the story", and that is the job of a reporter - to report the facts.

    The fact that he is Iranian, and has been reporting Iranian issues within Iran is a matter for the Iranian Govt to deal, however, he was working for, or had (in the past) worked for here the BBC. Since the Iranian Govt are at odds with the BBC, it would seem that this arrest and subsequent incarceration is a tit-for-tat action. I hope this is resolved in the same way as the Roxana Saberi incident earlier this year and becomes no more serious.

    As a Canadian / Iranian, it is a matter for the Canadian authorities.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hmm! Odd!

    I am surprised at some of the criticisms here. However, I may also be the victim of my own naivety.

    One thing I find strange is this sentence at the end of each report on Iran, "The poll was won by incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad." I believe the dispute in Iran is about that exactly. There seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether he won the poll or not.

    I think it would be more accurate to report, "The election was awarded to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad." Part of the West's problem in this respect is that many believe G W Bush enjoyed the same favour over A Gore in 2000.

 

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