Friday, February 29, 2008

War With the Free Media

The recent banning of 5 Internet sites by Tehran’s Public ‎Prosecutor on charges that they are “poisoning” the elections ‎atmosphere, which was followed by similar threats made by the ‎minister of Islamic Guidance, attests to the growing power of ‎the Internet in Iran’s world of media.‎

In the five years since the Internet has been established in Iran, ‎many plans to control it have been launched, and all have failed. ‎After Khatami’s administration, the first thought that came to ‎the minds of the new right-wingers was to limit the Internet ‎lines, reduce the expansion of fiber optics and escape ‎commitments to expand high band width resources and ‎communications facilities. But they soon realized that the needs ‎of the military-defense, industry-services, and education and ‎research sectors of the country for cyber resources were so high ‎that they could not minimize their availability and usage.‎

At the same time, policies and projects that had succeeded in the ‎realm of television (controlling them) did not work for the ‎Internet. The creation of hundreds of pro-government and right-‎wing Internet sites did not diminish the interest of Internet users ‎in using independent websites.‎

In the nineties, the Iranian regime had tried for 2 or 3 years to ‎dissuade the public from installing satellite dishes to gain access ‎to foreign sources of information through police tactics. But ‎those failed and it came up with another strategy which was ‎partly successful. It began showing foreign serial programs and ‎all international sporting events on its own government ‎channels, thus making it unattractive for the public to watch the ‎foreign channels, whose content many could not follow because ‎of language limitations. So after a passage of about a decade and ‎a half, one can say that even though the government news media ‎is one sided and its programs are propagandist, the entertainment ‎aspect of the controls have worked.‎

The same can be said of Persian speaking foreign media such as ‎the Voice of America. The VOA which may appear to be ‎successful has turned into a propaganda tool because ‎professionally it has the same mission as the Iranian government ‎television network. Rather than producing independent ‎programs, it has become a propaganda tool and thus has a ‎limited appeal among Iranians. With this state of affairs, one can ‎say that the professional and non-ideological aspect of news ‎dissemination in Persian is now absent. The Iranian public is ‎thus deprived of a Persian news media that is independent and ‎credible. The visual and propagandist media is lost in its ‎extreme and non-professional activities. So the only outlet that is ‎left for the news-hungry Iranians is the Internet. The Internet ‎remains and independent source and is thus effective in reaching ‎Iranians.‎

So the publishing media is now controlled by the Iranian ‎government which has tens and tens of its own publications. It ‎also controls the national radio and television network which is ‎for all practical purposes under the monopoly of the right-wing ‎elements of the regime. Iranian opposition television stations ‎outside Iran have little impact on Iranian society because they ‎are now very distant from the actual events inside Iran and not in ‎touch with what is really going on. So despite all the controls ‎that the regime has imposed on public access to the Internet, this ‎media remains its greatest concern to the effect that it fears that ‎even this narrow channel could suddenly create the eruption that ‎it most fears. ‎

Even from the perspective of the rulers of Iran, the practice of ‎filtering websites, arresting Internet activists, and identifying ‎websites that it deems inappropriate have not produced the ‎desired results. And this is why on the eve of the parliamentary ‎elections in Iran on March 14, the government is increasing its ‎efforts to control the Internet, which it will probably intensify ‎even more.‎