23 June 2009

Iran: “We do not know what is going on without you”

Over the past two weeks, since Iran’s disputed June 12th Presidential election, the number of visitors from Iran to the VOANewsBlog has surged to new heights. Despite heavy internet filtering by Iranian authorities, several hundred visits have been recorded from inside Iran – most of them from Tehran-based servers but also from 30 other locations in the country, including the holy city of Qom, home to some of Iran’s main religious leaders. Visits from Iran now exceed those from all other countries.

We view this as further evidence of the hunger of Iranians for news about developments in their own country. While the NewsBlog’s contributions have been limited, VOA’s main website and its Persian language site are also reporting record numbers of visits.Iranians are doing more than just visiting websites like ours. They are also sending thousands of emails, still photos and videos – many of which are being used in VOA programming. Iranian officials have denounced those who are sending out information and images to news organizations outside the country as foreign agents.

But the flow of information from what we call “citizen journalists” and others in Iran is unabated. Iranian officials have been trying to block the transmissions of VOA and other broadcasters from getting back into Iran – a technique known as jamming. We have been trying to stay ahead of this by increasing the number of satellites and frequencies we use.

Why is this so important? It’s simple. Here are the words of one Iranian who called us:

“Me and my family need your broadcasts to find out what is going on in our country. It is very important and we do not know what is going on without you.”

22 June 2009

Iranians Standing Up for Free Speech

There was a cartoon in the Boston Globe newspaper last week about developments in Iran since the country’s disputed presidential election. It shows two religious leaders standing on a balcony, overlooking a large crowd of protestors. One of the men is shouting “expel the correspondents,” a reference to the crackdown by Iranian authorities aimed at preventing foreign journalists from reporting on events.

But the other religious leader notes that in addition to protest signs, the crowd of demonstrators includes many holding up cellphones, cameras and other electronic devices – some labeled “Facebook”, “Twitter” and “email.” In response to the man shouting “expel the correspondents,” the other says, “but they’re all correspondents!”

Since the disputed June 12 election and the ensuing demonstrations and clashes between protestors and security forces, Voice of America’s Persian News Network, like other news organizations, has received hundreds of pieces of video sent in by ordinary Iranians. These videos are carefully evaluated by Farsi speaking staff before being used in airshows and posted on the web.

Some of these citizen contributions clearly reflect the courage of the contributors, like the one showing militia opening fire on protestors, clearly wounding some of them. Another shows a young woman, just moments after she has been fatally shot. Still another shows baton-wielding police lashing out at group of people that includes elderly women. The video-shooter, a man, can be heard shouting emotionally at the police to “stop beating old ladies” – even as he continues to film the scene.

The world owes these citizen journalists in Iran a deep debt of gratitude. With the government arrests, deportations and attacks on professional journalists, they continue to defy Iran’s effort to eliminate all potential witnesses to what is unfolding in the country.