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Iran Election Backlash: Major Media Outlets Blocked from Reporting on Protests

June 14, 2009

Both incoming and outgoing information is being censored in Iran as protests continue over the validity of the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government has reportedly disrupted the satellites of international media outlets and opposition websites, while unreliable cell phone and internet service is making communication increasingly difficult.

The BBC has announced that “heavy electronic jamming” coming from Iran has disrupted their satellites and blocked their broadcast in Iran, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. The interruptions began on Friday, election day, but had worsened by Sunday. BBC reporter John Simpson and his cameraman were briefly arrested and had their tapes confiscated right before filming this video of the protests.

Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai, announced that it was ordered to stop reporting for one week, while German reporters were banned from airing broadcasts and a Dutch broadcaster and cameraman were arrested and later ordered to leave Iran, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In an apparent attempt to stop any plans for protest, social media sites including Facebook, and cell phone service was blocked on Saturday, and although phone service was restored by Sunday, Iranians reported that they were still unable to send text messages.

Reporters Without Borders is urging European countries not to recognize the results of the election due to the media censorship and arrest of journalists that has hindered any investigation into the fraud allegations.

“A democratic election is one in which the media are free to monitor the electoral process and investigate fraud allegations but neither of these two conditions has been met for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supposed reelection,” RSF said.

The organization reports that at least 10 pro-opposition websites have been censored, and at least 14 journalists have been either arrested of gone into hiding.

Unlike recent incidents of censorship in China, Twitter seems to be flying under the censorship radar and many are moving to this platform to get their message out. News site Tehran Bureau reported that their website was inexplicable down and began Tweeting news from the protests. At the time of this post, their website was still unavailable in the U.S. ABC reporter Jim Sciutto was one of the first to move to Twitter to write on Saturday morning “Police confiscated our camera and videotapes. We are shooting protests and police violence on our cell phones.”

After YouTube videos showing the riots and brutal police retaliation were allegedly removed, citizen journalists began posting their evidence on Live Leak, where many amateur videos can still be found.

When CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (watch it here) about the arrests of opposition officials and if he could guarantee the safety of his opponent, he skirted the question completely and instead comparing the protesters to people coming out of a soccer game who might violate traffic laws and be arrested no matter who they are. When pressed by Amanpour, he continued to skirt the question.

The Iranian government has come out accusing the international media of exaggerating reports of the protests, which have still managed to form despite government attempts to keep its people from communicating. In response to that accusation we invite you to browse this collection of photos, this video, or this feed.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Iran 166th out of 173 countries in it’s 2008 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

Click here our post from last week about the deteriorating state of freedom of the press in Iran.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.