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Iran targets media after disputed election

The international media have been targeted by Iranian authorities in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

The international media have been targeted by Iranian authorities in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections.

On Sunday, Iranian authorities criticized international reporting and took steps to control the flow of information from independent news sources.

The British Broadcasting Co. said that electronic jamming of its news report, which it said began on election day Friday, had worsened by Sunday, causing service disruptions for BBC viewers and listeners in Iran, the Middle East and Europe. It said it had traced the jamming of the satellite signal broadcasting its Farsi-language service to a spot inside Iran.

"It seems to be part of a pattern of behavior by the Iranian authorities to limit the reporting of the aftermath of the disputed election," said Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC World Service in London.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the media shortly after he claimed victory in the election that critics contend was marked by widespread voter fraud. At a news conference Sunday, he accused international media of launching a "psychological war" against the country.

NBC's Richard Engel reported Monday that, in addition to the violent response to street protests, a "quiet crackdown" has snared more than 100 opposition leaders, student activists and journalists, including an NBC reporter. The reporter, who has not been named by the network, was subsequently released.

Street protests in Tehran
Street protests broke out in Tehran and were fiercely battled by anti-riot police.

A range of communications have been disrupted inside Iran since election day, including those which could be used to organize protests.

Iran restored cell phone service Sunday that had been down in the capital since Saturday. But Iranians still could not send text messages from their mobile phones, and the government increased its Internet filtering in an apparent attempt to undercut opposition voices. Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter were also not working.

Iran's government has not commented on the restrictions but has accused international media of exaggerating the extent of the street protests in Tehran and of trying to destabilize the government.

Iran regulates and monitors the activities of international and independent media operating within its borders, and it closely watches and guides its own internal state media. Many reformist newspapers, magazines and Web sites have emerged in the past decade, but often come under restrictions or are shut down.

International media normally are allowed to work without censorship in Iran, subject to certain rules, such as seeking advance permission to travel to certain locations outside the capital or to interview government officials.

But Iran is more sensitive about news reports or blogs and Internet communications in Farsi, apparently concerned about the effect on its internal political situation.

Clamp-down steps
On Saturday, Iranian officials contacted television journalists for The Associated Press in Iran and warned that the government would enforce an existing law banning provision of news video to the Farsi-language services of the BBC and the Voice of America. Both agencies broadcast to Iranians via satellite in their own language.

AP employees then contacted the BBC and VOA to discuss the order.

"It is the AP practice to comply with local laws regarding media. We are nonetheless determined to continue to provide accurate coverage of events in Iran," said AP's Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.

There were a variety of other clamp-down steps affecting both international and domestic news organizations. For instance, officials telephoned several visiting international journalists with visas to cover the elections and told them that their visas would not be extended after the vote, a courtesy often offered in the past.

Reporters 'prevented from doing their jobs'
Two other international news agencies that operate in Iran, Reuters and Agence France-Press, could not be immediately reached for comment. Neither reported any restrictions on their journalists.

  • A spokesman for the Swedish network SVT, Geronimo Akerlund, said its reporter, Lena Pettersson, had been asked to "leave Iran as soon as possible because the elections are over."
  • Dubai-based news network Al Arabiya said the station's correspondent in Tehran was given a verbal order from Iranian authorities that its office would be closed for one week, said Executive News Editor Nabil Khatib. No reason was given, but the station was warned several times Saturday that it needed to be careful in reporting "chaos" accurately, he said.
  • German television network ZDF said Sunday on air that its reporter in Iran and other reporters were being "prevented from doing their jobs in a massive form." The network said it was unable to show a broadcast feed from the network's correspondent depicting protests.
  • Italian state TV RAI said one of its crews was caught in a street clash. An Iranian interpreter was beaten with clubs by riot police and officers confiscated the cameraman's videotapes, the station said.
  • Within Iran, state-run newspapers carried no news Sunday about the widespread street clashes the day before. But on Sunday, state TV showed some video footage from the two days of protests.
  • A newspaper started by the main reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, did not appear on newsstands Sunday. An editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the paper, called Kalemeh Sabz or the Green Word, never left the printing house because authorities were upset with Mousavi's statements after the elections.