The U.S. government has authorized European satellite providers Intelsat and Eutelsat Communications an additional six-month waiver to broadcast Iranian programming after U.S. and European authorities had banned them from working with state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
The decision, taken earlier this month, was confirmed Thursday by a senior official from the International Broadcasting Bureau, the official support agency for all U.S. civilian international broadcasters.
The ban had prevented Iran’s 24-hour English-language news channel, Press TV, as well as its main Farsi-language channels, from reaching audiences abroad via the Luxembourg and French satellite companies.
“U.S. lawmakers imposed the ban to penalize Iran because it had allegedly filmed and aired forced confessions and jammed international satellite signals carrying news channels like the VOA’s [Persian News Network] and BBC Persian Television,” the IBB official said.
Unlike other sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear capabilities, these measures were imposed “because Iran had violated statues of the International Telecommunication Union,” the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technologies, said the official, who asked not to be named because sensitive negotiations were continuing.
Last year, Iranian and U.S. diplomats reached an agreement that Tehran would stop all satellite jamming. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry then waived the ban for a six-month trial period that was extended this month.
“VOA is grateful to our own and European governments for working to prevent countries that jam satellites from having their own access to them, said VOA Director David Ensor.
“We hope Iran will allow its people free access to all news and information without interference,” he said.
Rights advocates urge continued ban
Rights groups, like the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, have presented evidence that the Islamic Republic has merely altered its method of jamming, while continuing to engage in it.
In a report released last month, the Campaign wrote that “instead of sending jamming signals directly to the broadcasting satellites, Iran has intensified its practice of local jamming.” This usually involves targeting rooftop satellite dishes with equipment moved around neighborhoods in trucks.
“The result is still the same,” the Campaign said. “The authorities are able to block all content at will. Persian-language news broadcasts such as BBC Persian, VOA Persian and Radio Farda are particularly targeted.”
But local, or “terrestrial,” jamming is far less effective than targeting satellites, a process known as “uplink” jamming, communications experts say.
Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebabi and the director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, have criticized European satellite companies for broadcasting “libelous programs” of Iran’s state-run media.
Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and former judge who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work promoting human rights in Iran, accused Western powers again last year of focusing too little attention on rights abuses as they pursue a deal with Tehran aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.