As the Iranian opposition continue their protests against the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there are signs of growing unease at the heart of government in Tehran. Jamming of a satellite carrying the BBC’s Persian television service began about ten days ago, and the US government’s international broadcasts to Iran are now also being subjected to deliberate interference.
President Ahmadinejad claims that the United States, Great Britain and Israel are behind the opposition protests. The Revolutionary Guard says the foreign media and Iran's enemies are waging a psychological war aimed at bringing down the legitimate Iranian government.
BBC Persian television first reported "persistent interference" soon after it began extended coverage of the death of leading reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri. The jamming began on Sunday 20 December and affected the Hotbird 6 satellite which carries the BBC's international television and radio services in various languages as well as services from other broadcasters.
On 28 December, reader Duncan Hill reported to RNW’s Media Network Weblog that "it appears that BBC Persian has left the Hot Bird 6 satellite this afternoon, 28 December 2009, around 1500 UTC, replaced by an info card instructing viewers to turn to Telstar 12. The jamming has also thankfully stopped, which was affecting all unfortunate channels on the transponder, with R1 and Yes Italia also constantly suffering the same picture break-up and sound drop-outs, rendering them unwatchable".
BBC looking at options
The BBC says it is looking at ways to increase the options for its Farsi-speaking audiences in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, which may include broadcasting on other satellites. In June this year, BBC Persian television suffered similar deliberate attempts to interfere with its signal when airing extended coverage of the Iranian elections. At that time, the satellite operator traced the interference and confirmed it was coming from inside Iran.
BBC World Service Director, Peter Horrocks, said: "The fact that someone would go to these lengths to jam BBC Persian television's signal is indicative of the impact we make in Iran. The Iranian people want to know the truth about what is happening in their country, and they know they will get impartial and independent news from the BBC. We'll do everything we can to give them that news."
The US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is responsible for all US government-financed broadcasts to foreign countries, says its technical experts have determined that on 27 December, the Government of Iran engaged in the intentional jamming of satellite transmissions of the Voice of America's Persian News Network and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Radio Farda.
BBG issues statement
In a statement, the BBG said that "these efforts continue a pattern by the Iranian Government to block the broadcasting of objective and balanced news and information to the Iranian people, efforts which the Government of Iran has amplified since the June 12 Iranian elections. As Iranian citizens once again demonstrate against the current government, Iran has stepped up its measures to ensure that the Iranian people are deprived of the international reaction, as well as of accurate news about the protests taking place in various cities in Iran."
The BBG added that these latest actions of the Iranian government in jamming commercial satellites "appear calculated to intimidate the commercial satellite providers that are targets of the jamming into complicity with the actions of the Government of Iran and deprive the Iranian people access to free press and information."
BBG Governor D Jeffrey Hirschberg added: "Private industry is an essential partner in freedom of the press. We urge our satellite partners to stand united in the face of these authoritarian acts or risk even greater human rights losses. This type of intentional, harmful interference is not only a violation of the rules of the International Telecommunication Union to which the Government of Iran has subscribed, but is also a flagrant violation of the internationally recognized right of the people of Iran to receive news and information without government censorship."
There is increasing evidence that the Iranian government fears the situation in the country could get out of control. Reports from Iran indicate that the Supreme National Security Council has ordered a complete check-up of the jet on standby to fly Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei and his family to Russia should the situation in Iran spiral out of control. The order, to the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guard Corps, was dated Sunday, 27 December. A fax containing the order was sent to Dutch-based Shahrzad News.