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Is Iran blocking international news broadcasts to the Middle East?

Multiple international news organizations are complaining about what they claim is the deliberate jamming of television and radio news broadcasts inside the Middle East, with at least one organization naming Iran as being responsible for the blockage.

Organizations including the BBC, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Voice of America have reported that satellite signals across the Middle East and parts of Europe are being jammed, in what is being termed a “blatant violation of international regulations.” The jamming of signals from multiple broadcasters was confirmed earlier this week by Eutelsat, a French-based satellite provider responsible for the broadcasting of the jammed channels, which reported that the “deliberate and intermittent interference that began earlier this week” originated from Syria.

The BBC issued a statement yesterday about the jamming, saying that “The BBC, together with a number of other broadcasters, is experiencing deliberate, intermittent interference to its transmissions to audiences in Europe and the Middle East. Impacted services include the BBC World News and BBC Arabic television channels and BBC World Service radio services in English and Arabic. Deliberate interference such as the jamming of transmissions is a blatant violation of international regulations concerning the use of satellites and we strongly condemn any practice designed to disrupt audiences’ free access to news and information.”

While the BBC refrained from identifying Iran as the source of the signals, Deutsche Welle director general Erik Betterman didn’t hold back, not only naming Iran as the source, but going on to say that the jamming was an act of censorship by the Iranian government, going on to say that his channel would join with others to issue a protest resolution.

It’s not entirely clear how the signals are being jammed, but one suggestion is that the Syrian source is transmitting another signal on the same frequency as the jammed programming, aimed directly at the Eutelsat satellite sending the original programming. Such a move would essentially made the original signal unavailable to all viewers.

Perhaps not coincidentally, on Monday of this week, Eutelsat dropped nineteen Iranian state television channels from its “Hotbird” service. The move was made following not only the blocking of news programming, but also the European Union tightening its sanctions against Iran in response to the country’s nuclear program (Reportedly, the French broadcasting authority also asked the satellite company to consider dropping one particular channel from the line-up, “Sahar 1 TV”). Amongst the channels dropped was the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s own international news channel, Press TV. At the time, Iran officially protested the decision, describing it as a way of “prevent[ing] a dissenting voice to the broadcasting of Western thinking,” and adding that “the Islamist Republic reserves the right to take legal action against these measures.”