Iran’s government just vowed to prosecute people who “cooperate with satellite television programming providers.” Along with blocking Twitter and messing with cell-phone networks, it means the power mongers are declaring war on 21st-Century news breaking.
It’s part of the ongoing crackdown on the media spurred by the recent elections, of course. In an attempt to establish some kind of control over the populace and how much information is getting out of the country, the government was at first barring access to certain websites and blocking Twitter–which was being used to organize demonstrations. Journalists visas were then revoked, cutting off much of the traditional old media system.
And now there’s this news that Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, head of the judiciary, has issued a statement targeting “individuals, who in any way collaborate with these networks or are entrenched in the nucleus of organizations which are active through internet sites” and stating that they “must be adequately and properly subject to legal actions.” It’s basically trying to sever the citizen journalism links that are feeding dribs and drabs of news data to organizations like CNN, the BBC, the AP and so on. It’s a tacit attempt to break the entire new-media news-breaking set-up, that extended network of technology and people that gets news to the world’s ears. And Iran’s preferred method is to label anyone who submits data to an international news organization as a collaborator–in effect, the satellite news channels and their websites are being treated as an enemy.
Because the proclamation uses phrases like people who “operate against the system” and trying to determine their “intentions, objectives” and “sources of financial, political and intelligence support” it’s entirely unclear how far government will press these actions. One suspects that with such wooly language, the speech is cover for a severe crackdown on anyone who expresses an opinion that vexes the government via any type of media.
It’s a tricky thing to try to do: unlike the government portrayed in Orwell’s 1984, which merely had to control the information feed over terrestrial TV, newspapers and radio, the Iranian government has to tackle these as well as technology like satellite phones, and portable satellite uplinks for video feeds. The population is often carrying cell phones with built-in video cameras, and nowadays memory chips are the size of a fingernail–easy to conceal and thus get information out despite the crackdown. To be effective in its control of information, the government would have to physically sever the nation’s internet trunk cables, switch off the cell-phone network and try to jam satellite transmissions: basically turn off the 21st Century. For advice on how to turn back the clock, they ought to consult an old ally: Kim Jong Il.
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