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The challenges for media, 30 years after my hostage ordeal

Thirty years ago this Wednesday, I was sitting, chain smoking, in the basement of a children’s needlework school in Kensington, London. It was a few doors away from the Iranian Embassy, which for six days had been under siege as six Iranian dissidents held two dozen hostages captive. Five days earlier, on April 30th, I had been released from the embassy after suffering what the hostage-takers, and myself, thought was a heart attack, though it was probably self-induced through terror and self survival.

The needlework school had another function that day – it was the HQ for the police and  military preparing to break the siege. I had been summoned there to assist in the hostage negotiations, though as I arrived the Iranians dumped one dead hostage onto the street. They had shot him in the head and threatened to shoot another within the hour.

Within minutes members of Britain’s Special Air Services (SAS) were given orders to storm the embassy and break the siege. They did so in 43 minutes, rescuing all but one of the hostages and shooting dead five of the six dissidents. The sixth later stood trial at the Old Bailey and was jailed for life.

It was history in the making. The SAS’s finest hour. All covered live on television (though, remarkably, the interruption of regular programming – a John Wayne western on one channel, the final of a snooker contest on the other – was considered a bold move on the part of the programmers, subject to much criticism from viewers in the days after.)

Blogging Iran: Politics and Poetry


Blogging is big in Iran. We already knew that from Technorati statistics on the prevalence of Farsi language blogs on the Web. But now comes a fascinating insight into what all those bloggers are blogging about.

This is what the Iranian blogosphere looks like, according to John Kelly – a Columbia University academic who isn’t joking when he tells audiences he thinks there isn’t a human phenomenon that can’t be reduced to a series of coloured dots.