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Diaspora calling the homeland: the Persian Service and music radio in Iran

This project aims to assess the impact of popular music broadcasting by diasporic broadcasters of the BBC Persian Service. It also seeks to examine the implications of both the broadcasting and its reception in Iran for the BBC, particularly in the context of a rich Iranian music listening culture. A further aim emerging from the empirical research has been to consider to what extent such broadcasting can be considered ‘cosmopolitan’. The primary research was done by Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi who in 2008 conducted six focus group interviews with young adult music listeners in Tehran (in Farsi), and three interviewees with expatriate Iranian broadcasters at the BBC (in English). The material was translated (Tehran interviews only) and transcribed, and then both Jason and Leili analysed the transcriptions. The main finding was that almost no-one in our sample listened to Persian Service music broadcasts. This is partly to do with the nature of the medium (radio is unpopular among young people in Iran), but in addition there is the important factor of competition with the many music carrying channels and modes of distribution that are available in Tehran (cable TV, internet peer to peer, music streaming and blogging, copyright-free CD copying). The sheer availability of mediated music in Tehran contributes to a music culture which is rich and diverse, even though live music is limited through censorship. Such richness and availability effectively ‘drowns out’ the BBC. We reflect on the nature of the cosmopolitanism at stake in this musical culture, and in turn the gap between it and the form and kind of music programming on Persian Service radio.

Project contact: 

Dr Jason Toynbee, Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology,

    Project members: 

  • Jason Toynbee is Senior Lecturer in Media Studies in the Sociology Department at The Open University. He researches and writes on creativity, copyright, and race especially in relation to popular music. Among his books are Making Popular Music (2000) and Bob Marley: Herald of a Postcolonial World? (2007). He is currently leading the AHRC Beyond Text large grant project, What Is Black British Jazz? Routes, Ownership and Performance which is also based at The Open University. The project takes forward some of the ideas and approach developed in Migrating Music.

    Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi is studying for an MA in Digital Anthropology at University College, University of London. Formerly she was an independent journalist and scholar based in London and Tehran.