This article was published 9 years ago

Don’t believe Iran’s changing of censorship

Tehran Iran Alborz mountains
Tehran, Iran with the Alborz mountains in the background – Image credit: Flickr / Ninara

Remarks made by Iran’s Culture of Minister suggests that the country has given up on censorship. The suggestion of free expression in Iran should be met with skepticism as the minister also suggested another way to control the media.

Speaking to police commanders on Sunday, Ali Jannati bluntly stated that attempts to censor all forms of media is becoming futile in today’s landscape.

Per the Daily Star of Beirut, Lebanon (via Agence-France Presse)

“In the past, through pressuring the media or guiding the information, we could direct public news and take control of it,” state media quoted him as saying. “But today the scene has changed dramatically. Controlling the media is no longer possible technically or geographically.”

“The news moves quickly and there is no way anyone can stop or control it … it cannot be governed.”

The Washington Post’s Timothy B. Lee wrote in 2013 how Iran censors the Internet that included details from a University of Michigan research paper show how Iranians get Internet access, how fast it is and how citizens get around the filter – including media outlets inside Iran.

What’s causing the change in censorship is satellite television. Iranians can receive 4,500 channels with a satellite dish, which is illegal to own. When officials confiscate their satellite dishes, Iranians continue to defy the law and purchase a new dish.

According to an entry in Wikipedia, 56% of Iranian’s 70 million people is under the age of 25. 23 million Iranian users have Internet access (2010) and 61 million have mobile phone service (2014).

The world is moving to the mobile phone and the Minister knows this, which is why they anticipate users will cut the cord and watch TV through proxy services like Tor.

However millions of Iranians reach such sites using relatively inexpensive and easily available illegal software.

Jannati said that Western technology that could make 2,000 satellite channels available on cellphones in Iran meant that soon “there will be no satellite dishes to confiscate.”

Don’t get the idea that Iran will abandon censoring media entering the country. The minister is suggesting the government needs new ways to curtain public opinion by borrowing the success of Russia Today where the government has their own news network to control the message.

Jannati said that with 4,500 satellite channels received in Iran, the authorities needed to adopt a new approach based not censorship but on production to get their message across.

“The news moves quickly and there is no way anyone can stop or control it … it cannot be governed,” he said.

“The most important solution one can suggest is content production. We should take control of the scene and produce content, because we can only control public opinion by as much as the content we produce,” he continued.

Even with the potential change in plans, it sends a clear message that PRESSTV – the state-owned but “independent” international news network – is a failure. The channel failed because it could not gain traction on cable outlets across the world, unlike Russia Today – the Russian government-funded news network – which is on cable systems across Europe as well as some parts of the United States (New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.).

While it may sound like Iran is open to become a censorship-free country, it’s actually the opposite. They’re just looking for new ways to control the message.