U.S. TV for Iran Might Be Free, Doesn’t Have to Be Cheap: View

U.S. TV for Iran Might Be Free, Doesn’t Have to Be Cheap: View

Bloomberg View

Programs that go on and on. Shows that lack focus. Graphics and production values that make Iranian state TV look hip by comparison. Why has the U.S.-run Persian News Network been so bad for so long?

It’s not for lack of importance. In the absence of a diplomatic mission for 33 years, America’s principal voice in Iran is the actual Voice of America, the U.S. government-run, multimedia news agency. Especially in these times of high tension over U.S.-led efforts to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-weapons capability, the U.S. has a strong interest in being heard by Iran’s people. But the VOA’s Persian News Network has fallen far short of that aim. According to a survey last year, only 6 percent of adults in Iran watched a PNN program at least once a week.

Iranians depend on external sources for an objective view of current events. Iranian broadcast networks are completely under state control. With one of the highest concentrations of jailed journalists in the world, the country ranks among the worst in terms of media freedom, according to the watchdog group Freedom House. About 13 percent of the population can regularly access the Internet, but the government makes efforts to filter its content.

From its 2007 start, PNN -- which provides six hours of original, Persian-language TV programming a day, repeated over 24 hours, via satellite TV -- has been pretty lousy. The one notable exception is the hit “Parazit,” introduced in 2009 and inspired by “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” An internal 2009 report documented issues of poor technical and journalistic standards that cropped up again in an informal review last year.

The network can ill-afford to be complacent. Since 2010, it has had stiff competition from the British Broadcasting Corporation, whose superior Persian-language service immediately ate up a third of PNN’s 29 percent market share. Later that year, the Iranian government began jamming both signals, forcing PNN and BBC off the satellite to which most Iranian households tune their dishes. Since then, viewers have had to physically manipulate their devices to watch PNN or BBC. Most don’t bother for PNN; in the 2011 viewership survey, its market share plunged from 20 percent to 6 percent. Yet BBC’s actually grew -- from 10 percent to 12 percent.

To its credit, PNN responded to its weaknesses with a fresh program lineup introduced in mid-January. A more diversified mix includes shows on technology, arts and music, and Iran’s economy, breaking up the previous, heavy diet of news and debate. Several unprofessional hosts are gone, and the network’s stronger personalities have been given greater exposure.

Still, whereas BBC Persian offers world-class entertainment, watching PNN feels dutiful. This is unacceptable. At a time when speaking to more than 6 percent of Iranians should be an urgent U.S. priority, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA, should make producing first-rate television at PNN an imperative. President Barack Obama should bear this in mind when he nominates a replacement for Walter Isaacson, a seasoned media executive who resigned as chairman of the board last month. Isaacson’s predecessor was a politician.

Even on PNN’s new shows, content is sometimes frustratingly unprofessional. For instance, PNN’s technology show, created in response to the popularity of a well-conceived, well-edited tech program on BBC Persian, is slapdash. An episode might consist of a journalist simply meandering around a trade show ogling new gadgets.

If resources aren’t available to make low-quality shows like this one creditable -- the Broadcasting Board of Governors just announced a 2013 budget that would cut VOA’s allocation by $17 million -- the network should cancel them and focus on what it can do well. “Parazit,” whose popularity with Iranian youth provoked state television to produce a number of rival programs mimicking its style, demonstrates what can be done.

In addition to the broadcast, PNN should improve its website. Television remains by far the most important way Iranians consume news, but the Internet is significant, too, especially given jamming of TV satellite signals. Though the government periodically blocks access to PNN’s website, many Iranians have software to breach the firewall.

The PNN site, however, is off-putting. Even without knowing Persian, a user can easily see why the BBC site is better. PNN’s staid look should be ditched for something livelier. And a new design should enable users to easily discern the most important news of the day.

From the start, President Barack Obama has been an advocate for American soft power. With the prospect of a shooting war looming in Iran, there is no more pressing place to deploy that power. When a well-executed show like “Parazit” can begin to undercut the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, there’s no telling what a superlative network could do.

Press TV signals jammed in Europe: Report

Press TV signals jammed in Europe: Report
Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:49PM GMT
Jamming signals have been reportedly interrupting the broadcast of Press TV, Iran’s 24-hour English-language news channel, in various locations across Europe.

Press TV viewers in Europe say the frequent attacks last three to four minutes each time.

Some reports indicate that the news channel’s online stream is also targeted at the same time as jamming signals disrupt the broadcast of the channel.

Italian viewers said Saturday was the fifth consecutive day of “Press TV signal black-out in Italy.”

“Today (Saturday) was the worst day of all - almost all day no signal - neither on Satellite TV, nor online streaming,” one Italian viewer said.

This is not the first time that Iran’s television waves have come under attack. Last month, the signals for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) channels on Hotbird were jammed from Bahrain.



New Pressure on Jammers of International Broadcasts

New Pressure on Jammers of International Broadcasts

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has called upon the world’s nations to take “necessary actions” to stop intentional interference with satellite transmissions.

The change in ITU regulations, which was approved at the just-concluded World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) in Geneva, Switzerland, came after numerous complaints that international satellite TV programs in Persian and Arabic were suffering from deliberate interference, known as “jamming”.

Two satellite operators that have been targeted, Eutelsat and Arabsat, said the interfering signals originated from Iran and Syria.

“We are gratified to see the World Radiocommunication Conference take a position on this vital issue,” said Richard M. Lobo, Director of the United States International Broadcasting Bureau.

“Of course, it remains to be seen whether Iran, Syria and other countries which interfere with international satellite communications will change their practices. Jamming is a fundamental violation, not only of international regulations and norms, but of the right of people everywhere to receive and impart information,” Lobo said.

The interference, which has increased since September, 2011, affected broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting Board of Governors, Audiovisuel extérieur de la France (RFI) and France 24 TV and Deutsche Welle. Joining in backing the ITW rule change were Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the European Broadcasting Union.

The change in the regulation came after hours of discussion and debate, both in small groups and on the floor of the WRC. A report by the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board noted “the persistent character of the harmful interference” and the fact that “in some cases, the administrations involved have not responded … and appear to take no action to resolve the interference.”

The revised language says administrations “shall ascertain the facts and take the necessary actions” when they encounter jamming.

Prior to the WRC action, the Directors-General of five major international broadcasters charged that jamming is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Reporters Without Borders called for nations to “firmly condemn countries that do not respect the fundamental principles of the free flow of information,” adding, “the ITU must not be the accomplice of regimes that obstruct the flow of news and information on their telecommunications networks.”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran termed satellite jamming part of a broader effort. “The Iranian government is also engaged in comprehensive attempts to take complete control of online access to the internet as well as restricting mobile voice and data communications,” the group said in a statement urging the WRC to address the jamming issue.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).


Arabsat transmissions jammed from Ethiopia

Arabsat transmissions jammed from Ethiopia

Preliminary investigations into the jamming of Arabsat satellite transmission shows that it is originating from Ethiopia, Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sahnawi said on Wednesday.

He called on Arabsat's operator to secure new frequencies for its transmission in Lebanon. "Arabsat told us that the source of the jamming is Ethiopia and it handed us a copy of their complaint they have passed to Ethiopian authorities on this matter," said Sahnawi. Speaking to reporters during a visit to a local satellite station in Mount Lebanon's Jouret al-Balout, Sahnawi said that the political atmosphere in the region is likely to be behind the jamming of certain satellite operators.

"The political atmosphere in the region could push some countries to take such a step and start jamming on some operators," Sahnawi said. Several Lebanese channels and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera have been jammed in the past year, and the frequencies of Arabsat and Nilesat network providers have been jammed since the pro-democracy uprisings and ensuing unrest in Libya and Egypt.

"There needs to be a permanent solution to this jamming problem," said Sahnawi, adding that contacts are ongoing with the administration of Arabsat to assign a new frequency for their transmission in Lebanon.



Broadcasters Complain About Iran’s Signal Jamming

Broadcasters Complain About Iran’s Signal Jamming

Five major international broadcasters — Voice of America, British Broadcasting Corp., Deutsche Welle, Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France and Radio Netherlands Worldwide — recently called on Iran to stop jamming radio and TV signals targeted at that country.

“It has been going on intermittently for at least two years,” says Jan Hoek, RNW’s director general.

“Stations affected have been VOA’s Persian network, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda and Radio Sawa, the BBC’s Persian TV channel and Deutsche Welle. On occasions, other stations such as RNW’s Dutch TV channel and Radio Sawa (a U.S. Arabic-language station) that use subcarriers on the same satellite transponder have been affected, even though they have no broadcasts aimed at Iran.”

According to David Hartshorn, secretary of the Global VSAT Forum, a satellite industry group: “Without question, Iran’s jamming of satellite broadcasters has been on the rise, and markedly so. This is due to the ‘Arab Spring’ domino effect and Iran’s concern that the reform movement will take hold in Tehran and destabilize or, indeed, upend the government.”

To stay ahead of the jamming, the broadcasters have been hopping from one satellite to another.

“In fact, since June 2009, we have changed satellites 10 times,” says Dave Shiben, head of the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau’s Satellite Engineering & Transmission department. IBB is VOA’s parent organization.

“Because of the jamming that has been aimed at our satellite channels, we’ve been kicked off some satellites and told not to return.”


Jamming — transmitting radio waves on the same channel as a broadcast, to destroy reception through destructive interference — is nothing new. The Nazis jammed the BBC during World War II. The Soviets jammed VOA and BBC during the Cold War.

Even today, jamming is a fact of life.

“We still have a lot of situations where shortwave radio broadcasts are jammed by certain countries such as Cuba, for example,” says Jeff White, general manager of U.S. commercial shortwave station WRMI/Radio Miami International — which broadcasts to Cuba — and an officer of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters.

Fortunately for WRMI and other international broadcasters, “Shortwave is hard to jam effectively,” he said. “The jammer’s effectiveness is usually limited to the local groundwave around the jamming transmitter site. The same is true with jamming in Iran, China, Ethiopia and other places where it’s taking place today.”

Unfortunately, the same is not true for satellite jamming. If you uplink an interfering signal directly to the satellite itself (uplink jamming) on the same channel as the one being targeted, a nation can be blacked out.

Of course, this requires a lot of power. This is why the Iranians also use “downlink jamming,” broadcasting interfering signals at ground level, to disrupt satellite receivers.

According to the five international broadcasters named earlier, Iran is jamming signals on a variety of satellites operated by Eutelsat (France), Intelsat (U.S./Europe) and Arqiva (UK).

Ironically, the Iranian government rents channels on these same satellites to deliver its own programming. Given the corporate location of these carriers, one might expect their governments to force them to retaliate against Iran. At the least, since Iran’s jamming causes “collateral damage” to their other broadcast clients, perhaps the carriers themselves would fight back.

Then again, maybe not.

“Governments cannot order private companies, which most of them are, to stop carrying certain channels,” says Jan Hoek. Further, “The satellite carriers know that if they refuse to carry Iranian channels, a competitor will pick up the business, which is worth a lot of money. The only way it would work would be if every satellite carrier signed an agreement not to carry certain signals, but that’s never going to happen.”

Says Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “As a collective trade group, all satellite carriers should be concerned about the precedent set by (the) Iranian government’s extensive jamming and work together to bring an end to it.

“Specific satellite carriers, like Eutelsat, that provide broadcasting services both to the Iranian government as well as the channels that it jams, have a much more serious responsibility. By continuing to carry Iranian government broadcasts, they are effectively accepting one of their clients (Iranian government) to harm and destroy the products of their other clients. And that is nothing short of allowing Iranian government getting away with jamming.”

What about fighting fire with fire — say, with VOA jamming Iran’s satellite TV and terrestrial radio signals on a tit-for-tat basis?

“To do so would violate international law,” said André Mendes, director of technology, services and innovation at IBB. “We don’t do that.”

For its part, Eutelsat says it has filed “multiple complaints” about Iranian jamming to “the relevant French and international regulatory authorities” since May 2009, according to a Eutelsat statement released in November 2011. As for taking unilateral action against the Iranians? “We will not do anything about a channel if we do not get a clear order backed by law,” said Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen in a December 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal.


Ultimately, “It is the role of the U.N. to address Iran’s actions,” says David Hartshorn. “But so far there has been no forceful action undertaken.”

As a result, Iran can continue to jam VOA, BBC and others with impunity. Thus a statement issued by the Big Five broadcasters may seem hollow:

“We call upon the regulatory authorities to take action against those who deliberately cause interference to satellite signals on the grounds that this is contrary to international conventions for the use of satellites. We specifically ask national telecommunications authorities to take up the issue at an upcoming meeting of the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva.”

For his part, IBB’s Dave Shiben expects Iran’s jamming “to be a hot topic” at the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC 2012) taking place this month. Will the WRC bring the Iranians to heel? RNW’s Jan Hoek doesn’t think so.

“Formal complaints to the ITU can help to raise awareness of what Iran is believed to be doing, and cause some embarrassment to the Iranian government, but so far this has not stopped the jamming,” he told Radio World.

“It’s impossible to stop someone uploading a signal to a satellite if they know the technical parameters ... In the short term, the only answer is to switch to a different satellite and hope it takes a while for the Iranians to discover the new parameters.”


International Broadcasters Call for End of Satellite Jamming

International Broadcasters Call for End of Satellite Jamming

Geneva, Switzerland — Five of the largest international broadcasters have called upon delegates now convening in Geneva for an international treaty-making conference to address the problem of intentional interference with satellite transmissions.

The practice, known as “satellite uplink jamming,” seeks to disrupt international broadcast coverage. And it is spreading, according to the Directors General of five international broadcast organizations: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Deutsche Welle (DW), Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France (AEF), Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) and the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

They also noted that satellite uplink jamming is contrary Article 15 of the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunication Union, and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the largest association of national broadcasters in the world, conveyed the views of the five broadcasters in a note to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12), which convenes in Geneva from January 23 through February 17. The Conference is held every three to four years at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – a specialized agency of the United Nations – and is mandated to review and revise the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

The statement (reproduced below) appeals to “Member States, working with the support of the satellite industry and broadcasters from all regions, to work to end this increasingly prevalent practice of deliberate interference to satellite broadcasting signals.”

VOA Director Condemns Iranian Satellite Jamming

VOA Director Condemns Iranian Satellite Jamming

Washington, D.C. — VOA Director David Ensor has condemned Iranian satellite jamming in a new blog posted on the Voice of America Public Relations webpage, www.insidevoa.com.

From the VOA Director:

Satellites are extraordinary devices, hovering quietly above the earth, beaming everyone’s favorite TV shows into living rooms around the world.

Satellites are one of the things I think about when I hear the term “global village.” It’s technology that makes it possible to instantly share information and ideas.

We’ve come to depend on satellites to experience the great events of our time. Whether it’s the opening ceremony of the international Olympic Games or live video of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan last year, satellites bring us together.

Unfortunately, some governments have decided they want to try to block this flow of information.
Since September, the Iranian government has radically increased its deliberate interference with satellites, a practice we all know as jamming. It works like this. Iran sends a bogus signal to a satellite, which overwhelms the legitimate signal and renders it useless to TV and radio audiences on the ground.

VOA’s Persian broadcasts have been a particular target. In fact, the satirical VOA Persian program, Parazit, is a play on words that makes fun of this practice. Parazit, which means static in Persian, is what many Iranians sometimes see when they try to watch this popular program.

Other international broadcasters including BBC and BBC Persian TV, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda, Radio France International, Germany’s Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands Worldwide have all suffered from radio, TV or web interference by Iran.

This week in Geneva, delegates to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) begin a series of meetings that only come along once every four years. Satellite jamming is likely to be on the agenda at this important session in one form or another.

For VOA and other international broadcasters, it can’t come a moment too soon. Satellites form the critical backbone of our ability to reach our audience.

It is however, much more than a broadcast industry issue. It goes to the very heart of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

That language couldn’t be clearer, and it is part and parcel of everything we do at the Voice of America. By jamming satellites, Iran is limiting a fundamental human right of its own citizens.
Unfortunately, jamming by Iran has increased. Worse, the practice seems to be spreading, with new reports of jamming by Syria, one of Iran’s few allies, and a regime increasingly at war with its own people.

VOA and other international broadcasters and organizations have been drawing attention to this issue at every opportunity. The WRC is one forum where governments, regulatory authorities and broadcasters from across the world can become more aware of this insidious problem, and act against it.

On January 24th, five of the world’s largest international broadcasting organizations, including the Voice of America’s parent organization, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, called on delegates meeting in Geneva to address the problem of Iranian uplink jamming.

The statement, issued by the Directors General of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Deutsche Welle, Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, appeals to member states to “work to end this increasingly prevalent practice.” Other organizations, including the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, have urged delegates meeting in Geneva to act urgently.

Censorship and satellite jamming violate the fundamental right of access to the free flow of information enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and countries around the world should join together to end this practice.

David Ensor

For more information contact Kyle King at the VOA Public Relations office in Washington at kking@voanews.com. Visit our main website at www.voanews.com.

The Voice of America is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 141 million people. Programs are produced in 43 languages and are intended exclusively for audiences outside of the United States.

For more information, please call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail us at askvoa@voanews.com. Follow us on Twitter @VOABuzz and Facebook at InsideVOA.