Satellite and internet jamming rises as broadcast industry seek to uphold UN Article 19

Satellite jamming is a growing scourge and a threat to the vital flow of free information. Throughout its history the BBC World Service has countered the efforts of jammers, whether on old shortwave or new satellites."Peter Horrocks, Director, BBC Global News
Date: 20.11.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.08
Category: World Service
At a conference hosted by the BBC today, broadcasters and satellite operators condemned the sharp increase in jamming of broadcasts, and considered what steps can be taken to address the growing threat of intentional blocking of international broadcasts and internet services.

Article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights states that individuals should have ‘the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’, but this right is not universally respected.

Satellite owner Eutelsat reports that jamming incidents doubled between 2010 and 2011. The number of incidents has increased three fold from 2011 to 2102. From January 2012 to November 2012, 340 incidents have been recorded. The Middle East-based operator Arabsat has recorded an increase in incidents of deliberate jamming of between 2011 and 2012 of nearly three times. Eutelsat estimates that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of jamming in 2010 originated in Iran. In 2011, the source was mainly Iran with some interference traced to Syria and Bahrain. This year, most of the interference has been traced to Syria, but jamming also continues in Bahrain and Iran. The current regulatory process offers no direct sanction against countries that allow jamming to originate from within their borders.

Michel de Rosen, Eutelsat CEO says: "Today’s meeting adds more weight to the growing voice of condemnation of pollution of the airwaves and the need for decisive action to combat jamming."

Keynote speaker Jamie Saunders, Director International Cyber Policy at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, says: “The FCO is a strong supporter of freedom of expression, and we believe that the existing framework of international human rights law is as equally applicable in the digital environment as it is on the off-line world. Specifically, we believe that efforts to block and suppress broadcasting are wrong and are bound to fail over time: we need to understand what more can be done to address deliberate interference, and what part the Government should play.”

Peter Horrocks, Director of Global News at the BBC, says: “Satellite jamming is a growing scourge and a threat to the vital flow of free information. Throughout its history the BBC World Service has countered the efforts of jammers, whether on old shortwave or new satellites. We always called on the guile of the best editorial and technical minds to overcome jamming. Today we do that again to help tackle the menace of jamming."

On the internet, BBC Chinese has been blocked in China since its launch in 1999. BBC Persian has been blocked intermittently from 2006 onwards, and routinely since 2009. The BBC has run pilot services with Psiphon (a Canadian corporation that develops advanced censorship circumvention systems and technologies specifically designed to support users in countries where access to the internet is restricted) to deliver content into China, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan so that people who want to read BBC news are still able to do so. Over one million pages are viewed weekly through the BBC's Psiphon web proxies. In a study commissioned by BBC in Iran, 97 per cent of respondents believed that unmonitored and uncensored access to the Internet is a universal right.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottaway MP says: “Gunboat diplomacy is history. Soft power is the future. We live in a globally networked world where human rights abuses cannot hide.”

The International Broadcasting without Barriers Conference brought over 100 delegates from a variety of satellite operators, broadcasters and stakeholders together to consider what political and technical steps that can be taken to make the distribution of media less vulnerable to interference. They face the challenge that jamming is becoming more frequent and there is currently no viable technical solution that can protect direct to home broadcast satellites.

Conference twitter hashtag: #BBCEndJamming

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