October 23, 2012 -
Right now, there is a battle taking place in the skies.
Last week, Eutelsat – a French company that is one of Europe’s leading satellite providers - announced that it was terminating its contract with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) company. It immediately pulled 19 of Iran’s state-owned television and radio channels off the company’s "Hotbird" satellite – affecting viewers in Europe, the Middle East, and even some inside Iran. IRIB broadcasts in Persian, Arabic and English.
The move came a few weeks after Iran had been cited as jamming Eutelsat’s "Hotbird" satellite. You see, the same satellite that Iran uses to spread its propaganda, is also used by the BBC and the Voice of America to beam information into Iran. When the BBC and VOA started reporting on the drop in Iran’s currency and street protests, the Iranian regime worked to block it.
The mullahs are hardly amused with being kicked off the "Hotbird." In a rich bit of irony, they are screaming against "free speech" violations. They have fired back with electronic interference aimed at the satellite, impacting not just the channels beaming information into Iran, but other Eutelsat customers – affecting millions in a swath from Europe to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Broadcasters from France 24, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Netherlands, are up in arms. This jamming violates international agreements that Iran is a part of, not that they care. Iran wants Eutelsat to pay a price – monetarily and figuratively – for its actions.
Interestingly, Eutelsat has identified Syria as the source of the jamming. There is obviously enough going on in Damascus these days that this would be an odd priority for the Syrian regime. But it shows you how much of a priority this propaganda is for the Iranians and how closely the two regimes are linked.
For its part, Eutelsat points to EU human rights sanctions as forcing its hand. Ezzatollah Zarghami, the head of IRIB who is directly appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, was put on the EU list apparently for programming that broadcast forced confessions and show trials in August 2009 and December 2011. Human rights watchers cheer the recognition that "IRIB is an integral arm of the Iranian intelligence and security service."
I’m hoping this is just the beginning of a new squeeze on the Iranian regime. Reportedly, Iranian state broadcasters beam their channels to 45 countries using at least eight international satellite companies, some of them Western. Iran hasn’t had reason to jam some of these other satellites as they don’t also broadcasts into Iran. But if IRIB is targeting one satellite, why should they have the right to transmit on any satellite?
The Iran sanctions bill signed into law in August adds those who facilitate satellite interference to a U.S. human rights sanction list. With IRIB’s jamming shots, that should be a long list.
Bravo to the Europeans here. Let’s hope they stay strong.