News / Middle East

    Denying Involvement, Iran Vows to Investigate Jamming of Foreign Media

    Radio Farda producer Sara Valinejad sits in the studio, Oct. 11, 2006, in Springfield, Virginia.
    Radio Farda producer Sara Valinejad sits in the studio, Oct. 11, 2006, in Springfield, Virginia.
    Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE
    Earlier this week, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taghipour denied his department's involvement in jamming satellite signals, and said the ministry was "seriously" pursuing the case.

    "It is essential to trace and identify the source of jamming as the practice has many negative consequences," he said in an interview with the Iranian parliament's Icana website in August.

    Foreign-based media channels – including VOA’s Persian service – have been routinely blocked for years in Iran and there are fears among Iranian health officials that the jamming equipment may cause cancer. 

    A report by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors estimates that about one-fourth of Iranians have access to a satellite dish and that an average of 32 percent watch satellite television weekly. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting considers 40 percent of those shows forbidden programming and responds by jamming satellite signals.

    While Iranian officials have acknowledged that signal jamming is taking place, and even warned of potentially negative consequences, no one in the government has stepped up to assume responsibility.

    The head of the Iranian parliament's health committee, Hossein Ali Shahriari, reacted to Taghipour's comments by saying that the communications ministry was "very well" aware of the source of the jamming.

    “But [the ministry] doesn’t want to announce it,” Shahriari said interview with the Asr-e Iran website, which is said to be close to Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Ghalibaf.

    Shahriari admitted that the source of the jamming is inside the country but declined to comment further.

    According to Icana, Iran's Communication Regulatory Authority, the country's sole radio and communications regulator, has also denied knowledge of the jamming source.

    The Iranian regime has long used signal jamming to disrupt the free flow of information, routinely jamming international broadcast signals, including the U.S.-funded  VOA Persian service, RFE/RL’s Persian Service, and Radio Farda in an attempt to prevent media coverage critical of Tehran from reaching Iranians.

    According to some observers, the government seems to intensify jamming efforts during sensitive times, such as the 2009 antigovernment protests and the Arab Spring revolutions.

    While officials insist that the source of the current jamming is a mystery, some opposition sources have reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Force (IRGC) is behind it.

    Meanwhile, there are growing health concerns about the impact of jamming.

    Massoumeh Ebtekar, a member of Tehran’s city council, said recently that jamming is dangerous for the health of Tehran’s residents.

    "What we know is that these signals have an impact on people’s health and the body’s cells,” said Ebtekar, who blames the government for the jamming. “As an immunologist and researcher, I'd say that these signals could be the source of many illnesses.”

    Other lawmakers and some physicians, have also warned about the health dangers posed by signal jamming.

    There have been media reports on Iranians, especially in Tehran, who felt dizzy and ill for no apparent reason.

    Jammers work by emitting signals at the same frequency as the device they’re attempting to block.

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