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Iran declares BBC Persian TV illegal

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  • Iran also bans Iranian journalists and artists from working for the channel
  • BBC spokesman says British broadcaster is breaking no laws in Iran
  • BBC Persian TV launched January 14, broadcasting in Farsi
  • Channel shows news, documentaries, debates on arts, culture and science
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- The activities of the week-old BBC Persian TV channel are illegal, a top Iranian official said Wednesday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

BBC says the news it broadcasts on the channel is gathered from abroad, using sources within Iran.

BBC says the news it broadcasts on the channel is gathered from abroad, using sources within Iran.

The minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, also banned Iranian journalists and artists from working for the channel.

A BBC spokesman in London, England, said the corporation is breaking no laws in Iran.

BBC Persian TV launched January 14, broadcasting in Farsi to Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the BBC spokesman said. It joins the 69-year-old BBC Persian radio service and the Web site BBCPersian.com, launched in 2001.

The TV channel offers mixed programming, with news and current affairs for eight hours a day and documentaries and debates on arts, culture and science filling out the schedule, the spokesman said.

Harandi did not say the BBC channel was breaking any laws in the remarks carried by Fars.

"Considering the BBC's history of creating chaos in Iran, and its efforts to set the various strata of Iranian society against each other, the presence of the BBC Persian TV in the Islamic Republic is deemed to be illegal," he said.

Harandi added that various government officials had declared that cooperating with the channel would lead to problems for Iranian professionals, the news agency said.

"We are closely monitoring the English language BBC as well, which is working in Iran legally, and if they produce programs for the use of the BBC Persian TV, we shall then take action against them (BBC English)," he said. "And in that case, the country's security officials will respond appropriately."

The BBC spokesman said it is against the law for the channel to report and gather news in Iran, so the news it broadcasts on the channel is gathered from abroad, using sources and contacts within Iran.

Correspondents for BBC Persian do not work in Iran, he added.

"We would like to have BBC Persian correspondents in Iran, and we continue to seek a dialogue with the Iranian authorities to get accreditation for that," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

"What we are doing is not illegal," he said.

The Iranian minister's comments call to mind modern broadcasting folklore about the BBC's role in the Iranian revolution.

A BBC Radio 4 documentary in 2005 said it had evidence that a radio newsreader inserted the word "exactly" into a midnight timecheck one summer night in 1953, a code word to the shah of Iran that Britain supported his plans for a coup.

The shah had selected the word, the documentary said, and the BBC broadcast the word at the request of the government.

Officially, the BBC has never acknowledged the code word plot. The BBC spokesman declined to comment on a possible connection.

Harandi said the planning of the BBC Persian TV channel "was not done with good will," Fars reported.

The minister asked Iranian artists to obtain the proper permits for working with any foreign arts and cultural group, "otherwise they shall have to accept responsibility for their cooperation with those foreign organizations," according to Fars.

-- CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Melissa Gray in London contributed to this report.

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