The regime in Tehran has started tightened censorship beyond its customary draconian rule in anticipation of potential unrest caused by Iran’s upcoming elections in June. On Sunday, a mass arrest of at least 14 reporters for independent news media took place, the largest media crackdown since the presidential election of 2009, which gave birth to Iran’s Green protest movement.
The United States government is failing miserably in its efforts to broadcast to Iran with the information and encouragement badly needed by freedom-seeking Iranians.
As reported by The Guardian, security officials in Iran raided at least four newspapers—Etemaad, Shargh, Bahar, and Arman—that have sought to print the inconvenient truth about, among other things, Iran’s collapsing economy, which is tanking under the weight of international banking sanctions. According to The Guardian, plain-clothes officials “ransacked offices, filmed staff, confiscated documents and held several journalists.”
Officials also attacked an Iranian news service associated with the country’s Labor movement for publishing a satirical cartoon. Bloggers complain that their websites are being hacked and usurped. Family members of exiled journalist are also being targeted. These are classic methods of intimidation aimed at stamping out “sedition,” an elastic legal term cited by the Iranian authorities.
The Committee to Protect Journalists lists Iran as one of the world’s worst offenders in terms of jailing journalists, in the company of Turkey and China. Iran had 45 journalists behind bars in 2012 out of the 232 total journalists behind bars worldwide identified by the committee.
Under these circumstances, the efforts of foreign media to reach Iranians with reliable news are of critical importance. Some efforts are highly successful, such as Manoto television, an independent London-based broadcaster. Others, like BBC Persian and National Geographic Farsi, do pretty well, too.
What is not reaching Iranian audiences is broadcasting by the U.S. government’s Iranian broadcasters, the Persian News Network of VOA and Radio Farda. According to a one-month-old Facebook survey, less than 5 percent of the Iranian audience tuned into U.S. broadcasting.
For Iranians, who are under the thumb of a brutal and autocratic system, every bit of support, solidarity, and information from the outside world counts. We can do better to support them.