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Stop the blocking now

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:03 UK time, Sunday, 14 June 2009

BBC audiences in Iran, the Middle East and Europe may be experiencing disruption to their BBC TV or radio services today. That is because there is heavy electronic jamming of one of the satellites the BBC uses in the Middle East to broadcast the BBC Persian TV signal to Iran.

Satellite technicians have traced that interference and it is coming from Iran. There has been intermittent interference from Iran since Friday, but this is the heaviest yet.

It seems to be part of a pattern of behaviour by the Iranian authorities to limit the reporting of the aftermath of the disputed election. In Tehran, John Simpson and his cameraman were briefly arrested after they had filmed the material for this piece. And at least one news agency in Tehran has come under pressure not to distribute internationally any pictures it might have of demonstrations on the streets in Iran.

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However, the availability of witness material from Iran is enabling international news organisations to be able to report the story. Viewers of BBC Persian TV have been in touch (in Farsi), sending videos, stills and providing personal accounts.

It is important that what is happening in Iran is reported to the world, but it is even more vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening. That is the role of the recently-launched BBC Persian TV which is fulfilling a crucial role in being a free and impartial source of information for many Iranians.

Any attempt to block this channel is wrong and against international treaties on satellite communication. Whoever is attempting the blocking should stop it now.

Peter Horrocks is the director of BBC World Service.

Comments

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  • Comment number 7.

    I will leave a message for His Excellency President Ahmadinejad to look into this. However, part of the difficulty is that the winner's power base is far more rural with few internet responses reach BBC and thus BBC's imbalanced comments may have been unintentional than provocative.

    Otherwise, BBC column's responses may seem from Iranian perspective intentionally unbalached and seeking a political twist to the events.

    It is also important to recollect that this was an important election and there is a need to deflate excess euphoria the lively campaings had stimulated. There is a certain justification for jamming if the media like BBC becomes unduly focused to the post-election riots and demonstrations. Indeed, the heated exchanges were rather expected.

    It is important to prevent unfortunate situation like in Kenya recently when the winners and opposition were grid-locked to a dysfunctional electorate conflict.

    The situation in Iran has not been like in case of Zimbabwe where there were a sustained obstruction of opposition to access media, in Iran the debates have been open including impartial TV access to opposition. Therefore, the feelings of undue inference and conspiracy from outside media is unlikely to get too much support and this soon dies out.

    BBC should do a fact finding missions to those regions which voted for the winner too rather than focus on the riots.

    However, it is very important to maintain a credible and accurrate vote counting systems and perhaps get international monitors to assist on non-biases. The monitoring of elections should be left for unbiased bodies rather than media whose focus, need is often on visualisation of things.

    Veli Albert Kallio
    Fellow of Royal Geograhpical Society
    Member of His Excellency President Ahmadinejad's Personal Facebook


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  • Comment number 11.

    Very disturbing to learn. If the government truly believes it is legitimate, why is it accosting the free press for reporting the facts? The fact that mass civil unrest has been touched off by the electoral result should not be suppressed, especially if the government truly feels it is the duly chosen voice of the people.

    Kudos to John Simpson and his team for their journalistic bravery--and for getting the truth out.

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  • Comment number 16.

    Have the Iranian government blocked the BBC Persian internet site? I have checked and BBC Persian is still broadcasting live to the site so if they have blocked the satellite signals it will not affect the channel being broadcasted via the internet, assuming the government have not already blocked it in Iran.

  • Comment number 17.

    That so many people on this thread can't tell the difference between a commercial organisation choosing to not spread its content to every location and a government censoring what its people can and can't see both depresses me and makes me believe that some people are very, very spoilt.

    Unlike those complaining, the people of Iran can't simply flip to CNN, FoxNews, or whatever. To compare your own situation to theirs is, frankly, insulting. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

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  • Comment number 22.

    If the Iranian authorities aren't afraid of the truth, they shouldn't bloc access to reliable and neutral news agencies such as the BBC. The blockage is an insult to Iranian intelligence. If the Iranians are set to challenge the Iranian regime, they can do so. After all, as I see it, the BBC isn't inciting trouble. It is just reprting what's going on. Happy safe return to the BBC staff from Iran once their duty of reporting the aftermath of the presidential elections is over.

  • Comment number 23.

    This should be a matter for the Foreign Office and not the BBC. Unless someone can correct me my understanding is that the BBC has no obligation to the people of Iran. Its only obligation is to fulfil its statutory agreements to the UK government.

    I would stick to your job and stop trying to take on powers that you do not have (nor should have).

  • Comment number 24.

    Perhaps the answer to this blocking Mr Horrocks is the BBC's lack of neutrality over Iranian affairs. It is noted that at least one BBC correspondent reported that there was plentiful support for the victors in this election. So is the BBC deliberately provoking dissent amongst the "minority" in order to report it and if so why?

    What is the BBC's agenda regarding Iran?

  • Comment number 25.

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  • Comment number 26.

    Peter Horrocks writes "..but it is even more vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening."

    and what would the (average) Iranian citizen gain? "knowledge" spread by western media on how Ahmadinejad "rigged" the elections? LOL

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    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

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  • Comment number 32.

    #17

    Perhaps you should reflect that the majority of people in Iran are a little more discerning than those who fight in the streets and would not wish to watch US outlets for their information. The election in Iran is an internal matter. The blocking of the satellite broadcasts a matter to be raised with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels I would suggest. However the overt censorship of material on the BBC website is much closer to home.

    I consider that the BBC is not exercising anything like the balance required of a neutral broadcaster in its affairs with Iran and has not be doing so for a long time. It is common knowledge that the core support for the President was rural rather than urban and so do these demonstrations reflect anything of what most Iranian's think?

  • Comment number 33.

    I trust that your colleagues in BBC Persian TV are in dialogue with the relevant Iranian authorities over just what has upset them about the output. I also look forward to a report about the Iranian response.

    I would also like to complain about the withdrawal of entries on this blog euphemistically stated as "breaking house rules". Is the BBC prepared to open a public dialogue about these removals?

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  • Comment number 37.

    So the BBC is the sole arbiter of what is and what is not the truth in Iran?

    Mmm.

    I'm not persuaded there were any provable facts behind Mr Simpson's opinions.

    Irregularities in the system? Like in the UK you mean?

    Mmm

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  • Comment number 43.

    "it is vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening."

    Surely there's an unspoken question here: who are you to feed your propaganda into another country at election time?

    Especially a country that's pivotal, absolutely pivotal, to foreign office concerns at the moment - to the UK, US and Israel?

    But I guess that's just a coincidence? As is the fact that this channel was only set up last year, just as the need for western "influence" is at its strongest?

    Are we honestly supposed to believe that the "British Broadcasting Corporation" caters to Iran out of the goodness of its heart?

    Stand back, view this from the panorama of history, and see your actions here for what they are... a more subtle version of colonialist meddling.

    I would personally love to see Ahmadinejad voted out, and a more Western-friendly government in place - but that's not the point. The BBC's exploits in Iran and throughout the Middle East are thinly-disguised tools to shape opinion towards western interests. Now if I believe that as an anti-Ahmadinejad, liberal secular Brit who shares your bias, you must surely be able to appreciate just how much hostility must be felt by the Iranian authorities and public, no?

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  • Comment number 46.

    I don't think we need to worry. The Iranian people seem far more capable of changing their system than us Brits are of changing our own political system. Unfortunately, our perception of Iran seems to be influenced by its leaders, rather than its people. I'm sure its people don't want us interfering in their affairs. Blocking of information doesn't always mean blocking the 'truth' when that information is imbalanced.

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  • Comment number 49.

    Be realistic - blocking "enemy media" is all part of the game. Iran is just showing that it can play hard-ball with the big boys.

    But looking on the bright side, at least they do not seem to be contemplating an air strike on Broadcasting House!

    P.S. Just for the record, I'm no fan of Iran, but I am even less a fan of hypocrisy. There are various means for censorship, but at the end of the day it is still all censorship.

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  • Comment number 51.

    I wonder if this is a good time for those in senior management at the World Service to think again about the recent trend to cut back on short wave transmissions.

    Short wave radio is a great way to broadcast news all around the world, and IMHO, the way that the World Service have slashed their short wave transmissions in recent years is a tragedy.

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  • Comment number 56.

    The political strategy of Iran has been to constantly say that it is under attack by Western countries. The American "devil" and such are distractions away from the internal probelms. Broadcast or not the problems remain. Information and media control is an extension of governmental oppression, it happens in many countries. Iran has a limited democracy: you can vote for whoever you want, it just may not count. Where technology has been expanded we can see that the next generation would like a different world and they can express this with a worldwide connection. The current ruling generation has very little to point too as justification for continued power, except force. Corruption only varies in degree around the world. In the West the bankers and politicans steal your money in other parts of the world they may put you in prison for seeking change. It is somewhat hypocritical to lament the lack of change in other regions when in the West the same power structure has been in power for well over 100 years. We can at least hope that the next generation does a better job.

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  • Comment number 65.

    #43

    This posting makes the crucial point about the content of BBC Persia TV and no comment is made about this in the opening blog. No doubt every media outlet has a different spin on matters to do with Iran even those who trot out the official Iranian line. So just what is it that your colleagues in BBC Persia TV feel has been missing from the official Iranian news channels that is so important that it should not be jammed?

    This is the BBC website and it can be posted here and debated. That may give Persia TV a rather different perspective on matters. That is provided you do not censor comment by removal.

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  • Comment number 67.

    Iran probably considers that "BBC" = Biased Broadcasting Corporation, being - in it's World Service radio and TV capacity - a voice of the UK Government in so much as it is funded by the Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and thus considers it is justified in blocking content that it deems could cause even greater civil unrest, the UK has made no secrete of it's official policy with regards to the region, as "dotconnect" asks at 43, just why was this service set up, it's not a service to the UK military serving in Iraq or Afghanistan (those people are served via the BFBS) and would need to be English language even if it was. So many question, so little opportunity to discuss them, but then we must stay on message - that said, bad Iran, stop blocking this satellite, and as "dotconnect" also said in #43, I'm no supporter of Ahmadinejad either, he is a brutal leader trying to become a dictator who is also trying to close-down free and fair criticism.

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  • Comment number 70.

    Peter Horrocks writes: "It is important that what is happening in Iran is reported to the world, but it is even more vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening. That is the role of the recently-launched BBC Persian TV which is fulfilling a crucial role in being a free and impartial source of information for many Iranians."

    perhaps Peter Horrocks would care to amend his blog post and elaborate on the above with view to the information/link given in #58 by monkeytempman (now incomprehensibly removed)?

    I am not familiar with 'BBC Persian TV' but would be very interested in knowing whether information regarding CIA operations in Iran was broadcast on this channel.

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  • Comment number 75.

    I made a comment on this article asking whether BBC Persia would be apologising to the Iranian people for the BBC's role in the coup of 1953 (the BBC broadcast the "go code" that started the coup). I now see that my comment was censored. Does the BBC not see the irony of censoring my comment in an article on Iran censoring the BBC?

  • Comment number 76.

    Mr Horrocks claims "(We) launched BBC Persian TV which is fulfilling a crucial role in being a free and impartial source of information for many Iranians."

    The key word, "impartial", means that it does not favour one side against the other. However it has been suggested that Persian TV (and broadcasting before it) has been partial on a number of matters by independent parties within Iran. The BBC's Persian broadcasting service is almost seventy years old and it has been in trouble many times for purveying perceived bias. Some of this has occurred under less hostile regimes. Mr Horrocks should understand how controversial even the slightest slip from accuracy becomes in such a volatile situation as Iran finds itself.

    I am still awaiting a much clearer statement from the BBC about the evidence it has (if any) that the election was flawed or is it just relying on the say so of those elements clearly angered by the official result whose main outlet is Persian broadcasting?

  • Comment number 77.

    Post 72: "Why BBC is spending UK's tax payer money to keep Iranians informed via their persian TV? Are Iranians so beloved in England?"

    It's being funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and not via the licence fee. There's an article in The Times which mentions this http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article5512228.ece

  • Comment number 78.

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  • Comment number 79.

    I wanted to post my comments here. Signed up just now to do so.

    What was said in this blog is entirely justified. BBC IS BEING IMPARTIAL AND BALANCED. Pictures don't lie, nothing biased about that. They are just trying to report the truth of what is going on. When disgruntled people that are more or less peacefully protesting are killed by security forces and/or militias and the Iranian government trys to block the news of it, THAT IS WRONG. Iran is trying to do a couple things with this jamming, one of which is to try to hide from the world that there is turmoil within their country in addition to the even more heinous crime of trying to hide the fact from their own citizens. Those that are in power cling to it and will do whatever to maintain that power. Including censorship. The Supreme Leader of Iran and Ahmadinejad are perfect examples.

    You commentators/posters who say that the BBC is out of line and Iran is justified in blocking/censoring news are out of your minds. Censoring news of this kind is NEVER JUSTIFIED. What if the body count by tomorrow evening is up to 20 or 30 or 100 protesters. Is Iran still justified with blocking BBC? Justified in still blocking the BBC from trying to tell the world what is going on within the borders of Iran and telling the Iranian people what is going on within their OWN country?

    Going to sound like a snobbish American here, but thank god I live in a country where censorship of this kind is ILLEGAL. America is the most scrutinized country in the world, we lay bare all our strengths, our weaknesses, our divided politics, and our faults, especially our faults. And... we get criticism, a lot of it, I see it every day online, but in the end as a country, we come out better because of it. Censorship is never and can never be the answer. Censorship catches up to you and usually ends up biting you in the ass in the long run. Iran is going to find that out sooner or later.

  • Comment number 80.

    #79

    There is no doubt that the world has many "regimes" that block protest, skew elections, hide their "truth" from their own, ignore human rights, and act in a dictatorial and sanctimonious fashion. Some of them even invade other countries on presumption that they can invite change for the better.

    Iran has its issues and outsiders may detest the current Iranian President, but they are not reasons to show a partisan approach to coverage for those outside Iran.

    Most Iranians, especially those in the cities have access to mobiles, the Internet, and to groups outside their country. They are well able to invoke their own strategies for change in their own country. Whether we choose to support them or not is up to the individual concerned.

    Censorship should be illegal everywhere but strangely even our most "enlightened" do not seem able to introduce it as an indelible mark of true freedom.

  • Comment number 81.

    It's rather silly for people to defend Iran's blocking of BBC signals on the basis that the BBC is biased or has an agenda. Of course the BBC has an agenda -- everyone and every organization does, whether they admit it or not.

    For example, I think an argument could be made that the BBC had a pro-Obama agenda in the recent U.S. elections (disclosure: I am an Obama supporter).

    So what? You didn't see the U.S. blocking BBC satellite transmissions. It's the mark of a free country, confident in its people, that free opinion (whether biased or not, whether by an individual or an organization) be allowed.

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  • Comment number 86.

    free speech it is freedom of information that counts, so what about Yemen and the killings there?

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  • Comment number 88.

    what happened in Yemen, to doctors and nurses and children???

  • Comment number 89.

    From #81

    "So what? You didn't see the U.S. blocking BBC satellite transmissions. It's the mark of a free country, confident in its people, that free opinion (whether biased or not, whether by an individual or an organization) be allowed."

    And so, in the interest of "free opinion" the US should not have entered either Iraq or Afghanistan as it is none of their business what goes on in another country? And, in so far as the election of Bush in 2000 was concerned, the alleged vote rigging and disputed outcome did not concern those "confident in their people" enough that a re-run was preferable to the messy option actually chosen? So far as Obama is concerned should any broadcasting channel have made a meal of the fact he was black (in the interests of "free opinion")?

    However you put the points up on the board they'll come straight back down unless you actually practice what you preach. Iran has issues not least with the constant pestering of a western media that has so many angles on the place I am surprised anyone knows what the original problem with Iran was. If the Iranian authorities detest western influence then it is up to them how they deal with it.

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  • Comment number 91.

    What's happening in Iran?

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  • Comment number 96.

    I'd say that moderation improved latterly, it appears.., thoughtful.

    Amount of doubt surrounding the outcome of election and its aftermath is remarkable.

    Propaganda this, propaganda that, one thing is sure though, people are dying, and people rarely die for ideas they don't care about.

    imo, as ever.

  • Comment number 97.

    My #84 has been removed. House Rules broken.
    My comment was regarding censorship - not off topic, as per the email from the moderators, and asking why so many posts had been removed. Likely this will be removed, or not allowed either.

    What is happening at the BBC? I've read some far more abusive comments from other posters, personally attacking individuals. I did not do this, but merely asked a question.

    Even more distruntled
    London
    UK

  • Comment number 98.

    I've know given up on the BBC - due to this blog - the BBC does = the Biased Broadcasting Corporation and Iran is CORRECT to block it, long may it continue - and before anyone asks, no I'm not Iranian, either by nationality or by ethnic background.

    Lets see how long this "off-message" comment stays up...

  • Comment number 99.

    I sincerely appeal to Iranian President and her government agencies for allowing a no one liberal,impartial mass media-bbc tv channel,bbc radio channel,and bbc!s websites,bbc!s journalists,photographers,news reporters,news agents,bbc staff to carry on their works without infringing of freedom of press,and without any obstcles for carring their professionalised tasks for entire world.
    All our sincere requested will be accepted by Iranian President,law makers,law regulating authorities.
    i ahave always admiration of Irnian people for their culture,oil resources for peace loving and to live with high repurtations in internation arena.

  • Comment number 100.

    The Iranian blocking is indeed worrying for their infant semi-democracy, but the BBC are a pot calling the kettle black here.

    A week into the BBC's introduction on this website of IP geolocation to discriminate and separate "home" from "international" users [I'd use the Africaans word for separate development but have already been moderated on the grounds of its being offensive] the BBC can hardly complain if others block its signals.

    In the run in to what may be the most important general election ever in the UK, with the least democratic electoral system in the EU and an English judge calling certain electoral practices worthy of a banana republic, the UK's democratic credentials are under threat now as never before and the BBC should be keeping both its domestic and world audiences both informed and in touch with each other.

    That might just give it back the high ground to be taken seriously on the issue of this thread.

    Post or reactive moderation for all except CBeebies, please!

 

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