BBC Enlisting New Satellites to Broadcast in Iran

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RAPHAEL G. SATTER
Associated Press Writer

LONDON—The BBC said Friday it is using two extra satellites to broadcast its Farsi-language service after days of jamming it blamed on Iran, as several Western broadcasters seek to overcome obstacles to transmitting coverage of the country's political turmoil.

The British state-funded news organization said the move was meant to help it reach its Iranian audience as the crisis over their country's disputed election deepens. It is also a challenge to Iran's religious government, which has accused foreign broadcasters of stirring unrest, singling out the BBC in particular.

"This is an important time for Iran," BBC World Service Director Peter Horrocks said in a statement. "We hope that by adding more ways to access BBC Persian television, Farsi-speaking audiences can get the high quality news, analysis and debate they clearly desire."

As huge protests have followed the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has moved to deprive people of independent sources of news.

BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and other sites have been blocked. Text messaging has been cut off for the past week, and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down. The BBC said the Hot Bird 6 satellite — which it and other broadcasters use to broadcast to the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe — has been subject to aggressive interference.

The BBC has covered the protests extensively. Its Farsi service, like that of U.S. broadcaster Voice of America, is followed by many Iranians.

The BBC said it was making its Farsi-language service available on satellite Eutelsat W2M, which it said Iranians could tune into by making a small adjustment to their satellite dishes. The BBC also said the service would soon be available on Egyptian satellite Nilesat and it was increasing the length of its Farsi radio program.

Joan Mower, Voice of America's director of public relations, said VOA began to see some jamming about a month ago and had added three new satellite paths, or channels, that allow transmission. VOA has a total of five paths. She said the VOA was still broadcasting to Iran despite intermittent jamming.

VOA broadcasts eight hours a day of TV programming on a 24-hour loop and began a new, hour-long morning show last week. Mower said VOA had been inundated with e-mail, videos and phone calls, and traffic to its VOA Persian sites rose more than 200 percent between June 10 and June 15.

U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in central Europe, is also working to step up its satellite program, according to spokesman Julian Knapp. He said interference had increased "on all fronts" but said the service used a variety of ways to stream content into the country, including stepping up shortwave broadcasting.

Even before the presidential election, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blasted foreign broadcasters for their coverage of the campaign, accusing them of demoralizing voters and trying to drive down turnout. Shortly after Ahmadinejad's victory, he accused international media of waging a "psychological war" against the country.

Ahmadinejad has bristled at the coverage. His supporters were shown earlier this week wielding signs with "BBC" crossed out in red, and Britain's ambassador was summoned to hear complaints from Iranian officials. In a nationally broadcast speech Friday, Khamenei accused Western broadcasters stirring up chaos.

"Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory," Khamenei said. "It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it."

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Associated Press Writers Foster Klug in Washington and Meera Selva in London contributed to this report.