The story begins in November when Barack Obama was announced the next Nobel Laureate in Peace.
I asked a total of ten intellectuals, poets, directors, and artists if they thought it would be a good idea to send an open letter to the committee in Oslo. The letter was to request an invite for the families of the victims from the protest movement to be invited to the ceremony.
Immediately, the idea received positive responses. We then decided to ask other artists and even political activists in exile to join us. Very soon we received over 100 signatures of mostly well-known dissenters in exile.
Despite the encouraging response, we also received a few negative reactions. A blogger in Stockholm ridiculed us and questioned why we would want to send a copy to the Nobel academy in Stockholm. The blogger also questioned why it was necessary to send copies of the letter to the EU foreign committee and the EU Parliament.
A member from the group who wrote the letter answered the blogger, "We will draw more attention to the current situation in Iran and this cause may contribute to that." Yet, the blogger still insisted on writing against me.
I also received negative feedback from a well-known satirist in London. He wrote to me: "This [letter] is only for amusement purposes and you are wasting your time." I answered that I knew this and explained how this could draw more attention to the human rights violations in Iran.
Surprisingly some famous leftist activists showed no sign of disagreement with sending a copy to US FM and some non- leftists didnt like it.
Even one of my friends who is a well-known lawyer and the daughter of a well-known author removed me from her friends list on Facebook.
It was obvious that some people did not agree with the idea. Since the American President was announced the winner of the Nobel Peace prize, some people were against sending a copy of the letter to the American Foreign Ministry.
However, for us, the only issue that mattered was to use the opportunity to draw more attention to the crisis in Iran.
Delivering the open letter was delayed significantly since it was not yet determined who should receive it. All polemics about who should receive the copy and how to send it caused a long delay. A few days before the ceremony I sent it to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo and nowhere else.
Perhaps the open letter was written at the wrong time since many main stream Persian media in abroad refused to publish or broadcast it; regardless of the many well-known names who signed it.
At the end, it proved difficult to find a large group of more than 10 intellectuals in the Iranian exile community who are able to work together. Even if they could, it was almost certain that they would be attacked verbally from other exiled Iranians, even friends. This is probably the reason why many people in exile prefer to work alone or in small groups.
In Persian we say that homework not yet written have no mistakes. But it seems like our homework are full of mistakes. While people in Iran are fighting in the streets, we cannot join together and perform our responsibilities by working as a united team; a real handicap for the Iranian community abroad.
Assignment KinnvallModern communication has a history about 150 years in Iran, but form the early beginning all media facing censorship, dictatorship and suppression.
Here we could take a quick look at the general situation of communication profile, hoping it makes more clearly some facts about Iran.
Publishing the newspaper and journals as the first modern media about 177 happened by the government.
Since that date till now thousands of newspapers and magazines has published in Iran, but only governmental related newspapers could continue to publish.
The oldest newspapers in Iran is Etelaat which has 83 years and managed by the leader representative.
Total number of national newspapers: 64 Circulate of national newspapers: 1.800.000 per day (estimated) Local newspapers: 111 Circulate of local newspapers: 300.000 per day (estimated) Magazines: 3328 Circulate of magazines: 950.000 per month (estimated) Ratio a newspaper for an Iranian over 17 years: one to 17.
Radio Tehran, The first radio station has began in May 1940 since that time till now only governmental radios are allowed broadcasting in Iran.
Television Iran’s national TV has began since march 1967, before it, Irans first and last private TV broadcasting its program for Tehran and some major cities for a few years but due to the government pressure forced to stop and replaced with National Radio and TV.
National channels: seven (188.8.131.52. Khabar, Amozesh and Quran)
State TV: 20
International TV channels: six (Jame Jam 1,2, PressTV, Khabar, Alalam and Sahar)
The first Iranian movie had screened in the second of January 1931 by Evanes Oganisians.
Film industry from the beginning pressured by harsh censorship by the government, but after establishing Islamic Republic the censorship wasted in many dimensions and gets structured.
All process of film making from pre- production to post production and screening are under governments control and should confirmed by authorities.
However every year some of products movies are not able to get screen license although all screen and production facilities are owned or regulated by the government.
Average of Iranian movies screening per year: 55 Movies shown in last year: 56
Movie Theaters. Less than 300 Average rate of going to cinema: less than three times per year for Iranians over 12 years in major cities.
Islamic Republic besides China is the notorious country in the world for censorship in Internet, also capturing, threaten and jailing online journalists and bloggers. Now the number of banned websites in Iran is over five millions.
Rate of Influence: More than 20% Internet Users: About 18 millions
Except entertainment Radio and TV channels inside and outside Iran, in recent years number of alternative media such as blogs, underground movies, videos and music has increased. Theses alternative media exploring hidden voices of the society facing dictatorship in Iran.
Sat TV: 49 (at least ten others are on the way) Radio (broadcasting from outside the country): 59 radio based on governmental budgets by foreign countries and more than 500 independent radio networks, mostly broadcasting on Internet. Blogs: about three millions Persian blog (third in the world after US and China)
About 55% of Iranians speak Persian among their families, however 45% speaking other languages other than Persian as the first language at home.
More than 70% of the population is under 33 old, these structure occurred to more dynamics and interaction in mass communications.
More than 65% of house holders in the major and medium sized cities using Satellite TV, regardless it is forbidden and based on law, it users may facing fine, confiscating the stuffs and in second time jail.
State TV viewers are about 85% and state radio listeners about 9%.
Persian radios broadcasting from outside in the normal situation, based on the state polls are about 7%.
The most visiting News Websites inside Iran are: Irna, Isna and Tabnak and from outside are: BBC Persian, Radio Farda and Balatarin.
In 90% of houses at least there is a TV set and in 97% of houses at least there is a radio.
Mobile users in Iran (who sometimes capture videos and pictures of demonstrations, protests and some news events and upload them on sharing websites) are more than 23 million with 34% influence rate.
Internet influent rate is increasing in last year, exceeding other Middle East countries and expecting next year reaches to about 30%, while gaining access Internet and speed and other service is in primary process. Some of these problems back to officials durecels to providing high speed Internet and increasing the quality in fear of using it as exchange multi/media against the regime.
Iran has a top place in publishing books and music products in the Middle East, but the average of publishing them are not matched with the rate of potential audience who are usually are youth.
The most of books publishing in Iran are religious texts which presenting by governmental publishers.
At the same underground, illegal music albums and videos has huge number of customers at underground market in the country.
Some estimated saying the amount of money in this underground market for illegal videos (mostly onscreen or even pre-screening Hollywood movies and sometimes illegal copies of pre-screening of some Iranian movies) is much more than screening movies in Iran's movies theater for the whole year.
In the last five years, social networking has not only introduced a new use of the internet, but has also changed our life style.
The first social networks were only used as means of amusement and pleasure, but today, the political and social lives of many users have been influenced by them as well. The three web sites of Facebook , good for exchange of information, groups, and friend finding, Youtube, best for sharing videos, and Twitter, capable of spreading news very fast, were most useful for those professional users of internet. The use of these three web sites in the American presidential elections, which became known as “net campaigns”, made clear just how effective these sites are for attracting the public. Most social networking sites, with the exception of sites like “Club”, have always been filtered in Iran. But it seems this was less due to religious and ethical worries than to the fear that those sites might be used as a new kind of media.
When Facebook, a symbol of a new generation of social networking, became famous amongst Iranians, it was quickly filtered in Iran, and it was filtered up to last February. Then, surprisingly, both Facebook and Youtube became accessible again!
Conspiracy delusion or intelligence machinations?
When Facebook was finally available in Iran, hundreds of thousands of users registered in the first month. This sudden and unexpected passion for Facebook caught the attention of the web site’s management as well. Some reports say that after four and a half months that Facebook was accessible in Iran, the number of registered Iranians increased by 7000% !! And statistics say that today more than six hundred thousand people within Iran are a member of this site. Even though Facebook never publishes membership numbers according to country, two indicators show that during the spring of 2009, this site became the most popular among Iranians. One is the report of international interactions in Facebook, which compared to the previous year’s season shows incredible increase of Facebook users in Iran. This compelled the Facebook management to make Facebook available in Persian, and by the beginning of the protests in June, Persian Facebook was already up and running. The second indicator was statistics from sites such as Aleksa, which showed unprecedented increase in the population of Iranian users. And in the last few days before the elections, Facebook was the third popular site in Iran, after Yahoo and Google. But what made those in charge of censorship on Iran, used to filtering every blog containing even the slightest anti-regime content, decide to make Facebook and Youtube available?
There were signs showing that the regime’s intelligence agents were monitoring and tracing opposition forces and journalists, and at the time some believed that Facebook was a great way to control secret and open movements. Others thought the government wanted to use Facebook and Youtube for election campaigning, as it had been used in USA, providing them with a reference base of 25 million users. However not only did we not see official Islamic Republic agents using Facebook and Youtube for advertising, but there also isn't a single fan page for Ahmadinejad in Facebook - where you find pages for all imaginable subjects! A third opinion, which was brought up later, was the possible part of Hossein Derakhshan and Payam Fazlinejad, theoreticians of the Revolutionary Guards and the Intelligence Ministery’s mental warfare, in directing an “election show”. Therefore Facebook, Youtube, and some other politically active sites were crossed off the must-be-filtered list of the country, then reformists were permited to use the new media freely, and in the end the televised debates helped to heat up the “elections”. In the history of television in Iran, there had never been this many viewers for a program and although most people also had access to alternative media, 90% of the population were watching presidential live debates on television. This means that almost everybody watched the debates. This previously unimaginable campaign of the reformists in both the real and the cyber world resulted in a decrease in number of long-time election boycotters. In the last few days before the election, many of them were caught in the “wave of propaganda” of the middle classes and went to the ballot on Election Day. However the curtain of the show went down on June 12th at midnight, when surprisingly Ahmadinejad was announced the winner. So the highest participation rate in elections since the beginning of the Islamic Republic and the referendum went down in history as a success for Ahmadinejad, the winner with 63% of the votes.
Therefore, according to those who believe in a conspiracy planned beforehand, it becomes obvious why Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and many other politically active sites were up made available until the “ election show”. In the morning of the election day, the TV channels Persian BBC network and Voice of America were no longer available, the Green Wave’s internet television center was raided, all information sites and social networks were blocked, and then journalists were arrested, newspapers were controlled or even blocked – in short, a kind of military coup. Facebook and Twitter, which had been made available to the public by the government itself, were called dangerous and conspiratorial; in his indictment against the protesters (or, as Iranian state media call them: “hooligans”), the Islamic Republic’s public prosecutor also identified them as tools in the intrigues and conspiracies of western countries and their intelligence agencies.
In this indictment, which was written based on past and present speculations of Hossein Derakhshan, the velvet coup d’état (the prosecutor prefers to use “coup d’état” instead of “revolution”) is said to have three branches: intellectual, executive, and media. In the indictment, Twitter is accused of having delayed its maintenance, which required that the site be down for a few days, in order to help and support the “trouble makers”. Facebook is accused of “facilitating the interactions of Iranians with other countries during the commotions, so the enemies had better access”. The third accused company is Google, who has put up “English to Persian and Persian to English translating software” to help “the hooligans”. So those modern media, which tried to spread the voice of the people after all other media were banned from doing so, are now incriminated by the system. Alternative sub-media killed the beast!
While in a court in Tehran people are facing trial for having sent an email, given an interview, or posted something on Facebook, blogs or Twitter, an independent media was created which had all the characteristics of a modern alternative media: Dynamics, independence, individuality, diversity, cooperation and self-encouragement. During this two-month movement, these minor media were the only source of true information for the major ones. They were used for transmitting information and news from the streets; footage shot on people’s cell phone cameras were the only evidence of the ongoing protests, Twitter became the number one resource of spreading news, and blogs and facebook were used for disseminating information that was less accessible. This means that due to extreme censorship, the normal flow of information was reversed, and now the major media had to use productions of normal citizens as news. The effect of this new phenomenon was that many people, whether consciously or not, became “reporters”, and the flow of information found a new course, based on small independent sources which are at the same time dynamic and wide spread. So the social networks had a strong impact against censorship, and at the same time created an atmosphere of cooperation, solidarity and mutual encouragement. Today, whether these protests are silenced or not, our economical and political life would not be the same without Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.
• Establishment of networks of likeminded people • Public and personal news publishing • Self-boosting and wave-creating • Effect on everyday lifestyle • Effective as a new model of public education • Facilitating cooperation between people of different backgrounds • Reflecting the cyber life • Reflecting and unifying the public view • Mental hygiene, and finding new connections
But it is obvious that the political applications of these networks are most important for those in charge of organizing the protests and spreading information, and, by the same token, also for security and judicial organs of the Islamic Republic. Although they can block television, radio and sites, images, news, rumors and information will find their way into social networks, and from there will be spread worldwide. Thus images like those of Neda Agha Soltan dying in front of the camera will remain recorded in history and in the mind of the people, becoming a symbol of protests against dictatorship in Iran.
Photos by: Raha Asgari Zadeh
Note: Footnote: Youtube cannot strictly be considered a social network, but its model of membership and exchange as well as the possibility to share links make it similar to a social network.