World Agenda

Last updated: 7 september, 2009 - 10:37 GMT

Children of the revolution

Iranians posted thousands of video clips on popular social websites

Iranians posted thousands of images and video clips on popular social websites

Post-election protests and access to new technology met head-on, bringing the Iranian story to life as never before.

When then-Mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to his first term as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in June of 2005, the domain name click youtube.com had barely been registered. The first video had only been posted on that site some weeks before.

Access to the social networking website click Facebook was largely limited to university students in the United States and Canada, and Twitter did not even exist.

A mere four Junes later, the world looked quite different. For one thing, how we communicate had changed dramatically.

Today, hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day, Facebook claims 250 million members, and click Twitter is reportedly the world’s third most-used social network.

For Iran, the explosive growth of new media has manifested itself in the ‘blogosphere’, where Persian is one of the most blogged-in languages.

Spread of satellite TV

Iran went from fewer than one million internet users in 2005 to around 23 million in 2008; now accounting for approximately 35% of the population of Iran.

And, where nearly 30% of Iranian adults used text messaging weekly in 2006, that proportion has climbed to nearly 49% today. Sixty-five percent of Iranians are estimated to have a mobile phone.

Meanwhile, readership of newspapers, the traditional way of disseminating news and conducting public debate in so many societies, is plummeting in Iran. There are 20 daily newspapers in the country, and the number is declining.

Finally, the use of satellite television has spread across Iran, despite both the use and ownership of satellite dishes having been banned in 1994. It is estimated that one quarter of the 70 million people in Iran have access to satellite TV.

Until this year, what was on offer on satellite stations in the Persian language, however, was largely limited to entertainment channels and émigré stations providing their own take on Iranian politics.

Expanding offer

It was in this media context that in January of this year, the BBC launched its own Persian-language television station, to join BBC Persian radio and click bbcpersian.com.

After just a few months on air, BBC Persian was named in Newsweek magazine’s list of the 20 Most Powerful People in Iran.

Part of that power may be centred in the multitude of unprecedented opportunities the channel offers for the Persian-speaking audience to converse, engage, and express views, through debates, and interactivity.

As the hard-fought electoral campaign got into full swing, the debate inside Iran grew vigorous, and it was inevitable that in this election, the media – and technology-savvy people of Iran took full advantage of every means of expression available.

Rallies were organised via text message, and videos of the turnout posted on YouTube.

When doubts emerged about the accuracy of the official posted results, it was perhaps just as inevitable that those active in the country’s political dialogue would continue communicating via the same channels.

And increasingly in the days and weeks following the poll, many channelled their now well-honed video and interactivity skills toward the newest credible outlet: BBC Persian TV. A prime platform on which to express their views.

Interactivity growth

After initial hesitation to take part when the channel launched, viewers came to make the station their own, participating enthusiastically in live on-air debates on such programmes as Nowbat-e Shoma (Your Turn), sending in texts, calling, even appearing on video-cams to tell others how they felt, and inviting debate.

The BBC Persian website had largely been blocked by the Iranian authorities for some years now, and such social networking and video-sharing sites as Facebook and YouTube intermittently blocked, unblocked, and blocked again.

Around election time, text messaging systems were shut down, and BBC Persian TV began suffering interference.

Yet at one point in the aftermath of the election, against all odds, the BBC Persian service was receiving up to eight user-generated communications a minute: videos, text messages, and emails, all offering up-to-the-minute coverage of breaking news, while presenting the service with unprecedented challenges of verification and ascertaining accuracy.

Our online TV stream was requested up to 600,000 times per day – more than 30 times higher than on an average day in the preceding month.

At click BBC World Service, we live for such moments.

In Iran, they made history. We reported it.

Related links

click Reporting Iran: Getting around restrictions

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