Even amid tightening U.S. and E.U. sanctions on Iran, this stands out: Eutelsat Communications, one of the largest satellite providers in Europe, has just nixed its contract with IRIB, the Iranian state broadcasting company. While IRIB’s programming is still mostly up and running in Iran, the decision means that 19 IRIB TV and radio channels have now been axed from Europe and much of the Middle East.
Eutelsat, a French company, said that a decision by France’s broadcast regulator, along with hardening E.U. sanctions in general, forced the move. The E.U. listed IRIB’s chief executive as a “sanctioned person” during a round of sanctions in March, after ruling that some of IRIB’s programming violated human rights. Eutelsat’s announcement that it would stop routing Iranian broadcasts through its Hot Bird satellite came as the E.U. approved even tighter sanctions aimed at Iran’s bedrock economic sectors — finance, energy, and trade.
While sanctions are causing the Iranian rial to plummet — and causing leaders to ponder drastic measures like sabotaging the Strait of Hormuz — the move by Eutelsat is particularly interesting because it blocks one of Iranian state media’s broadest avenues for sharing information. Because Iran is so restrictive — Eutelsat itself has claimed that Iran has been jamming its satellite broadcasts into the country since 2009 — IRIB broadcasts provide the basis for much of the information that leaves the country.
That’s led Iranian human rights organizations to laud Eutelsat’s move, which they say has cut off the flow of state-run propaganda out of the country. “The most important aspect of this decision is to recognize that IRIB is an integral arm of the Iranian intelligence and security services,” Hadi Ghaemi, the director for the New York-based Iran Campaign for Human Rights, told the Wall Street Journal. “There was no justification for providing services.”
Press TV, one of IRIB’s biggest networks, is predictably unhappy with the Eutelsat cutoff. In a post using rhetoric that’s oddly familiar in the U.S., Press TV blames “pop-culture press” for spreading the lie that the Eutelsat decision is a positive change that’s backed by legitimate E.U. sanctions, and saying that the decision violates the E.U.‘s supposed policy of free speech. Rather than note that a private company deciding to end a contract with a country that’s repeatedly attacked its services does not constitute an assault on free speech, Press TV’s missive descends into blaming everything on Israel.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Eutelstat decision is troubling for Iran. If U.S. and E.U. sanctions are tools of an economic war on Iran, then Iran’s main weapon (that isn’t, you know, a bomb or tanks) is to try to woo popular support. But if its state-approved message — and there’s no denying that IRIB has directed its broadcasts to present a positive image of the current regime — can’t leave the country, it’s going to find more trouble trying to counter Western statements. Combined with the fact that Iran has increased its blocking of Western media within the country, which includes the plan to build its own internet, it looks like increasing info-isolation is in Iran’s immediate future.
Image via NPR
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derekmtead.