Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from the BBC World Service
Internationally and nationally, the media landscape has changed radically since the Cold War years with liberalisation, deregulation and the advent of new technologies creating new opportunities and challenges for broadcasters. There remains, however, a tension between the concept of national sovereignty and the desire for the free-flow of information across national borders. International broadcasters are seeing an increase in the jamming, blocking and censorship of their services, as well as increased levels of intimidation and violence towards journalists and media workers.
Shortwave radio, satellite broadcasting (TV and radio) and the internet are all international distribution platforms which can deliver content across national borders. BBC World Service has suffered extensive deliberately-targeted interference to its satellite broadcasting services (in particular BBC Persian TV) and is working alongside other international broadcasters in technical, regulatory and political environments in attempts to address and resolve this issue. This year also saw a return to a level of jamming of shortwave radio which has not been seen for many years. The steady rise of blocking and control of internet services remains a cause for concern. FM radio is a national distribution platform and, although offering significant benefit to BBC World Service through access to local radio broadcasting facilities, also carries some degree of risk. Some of BBC World Service FM services have been closed down or subject to content restriction or censorship.
If Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to be upheld in our increasingly connected world, the problems international broadcasters like BBC World Service face in providing news and information to audiences need to be addressed. New technology can be introduced to mitigate the effect of jamming or blocking and political initiatives can be pursued. However, it is only at the appropriate international fora, and through the combined efforts of industry, users, regulators and nation states that threats to freedom of expression through the media can be properly addressed.
The BBC World Service December 2012 submission to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the FCO’s Performance and Finances 2011–12, included a section on media freedom and noted that “concerns have been growing about the global threat to impartial and independent news through censorship and intimidation”.
This year, to mark UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd May, BBC World Service and seven other major international broadcasters1 issued this joint press release:
“The jamming of satellite broadcasts has become a regular occurrence as regimes seek to block certain services from being received. This jamming affects areas stretching from Northern Europe to Afghanistan and as far south as Northern Africa. We have also seen internet blocking of services and cyber-attacks on media organisations of all over the world, shortwave jamming and disruption and interference with FM broadcasts. Media Freedom has not faced such a concerted campaign of disruption since the end of the Cold War.”
Challenges Thrown up by the Changing Media Landscape
Internationally and nationally, the media landscape has changed radically since the Cold War years with liberalisation, deregulation and the advent of new technologies creating new opportunities and challenges. Then, shortwave radio was the only platform available for international broadcasters to provide services to audiences around the world. Now we have both international and national distribution platforms available to us and radio, television and the internet accessible to audiences on an increasing variety of devices.
Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” However, Article 34 of the Constitution of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency for information and communication technology issues) gives Member States the right to cut off, in accordance with their national law, any telecommunication “which may appear dangerous to the security of the State or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency”.
The tension between the concept of national sovereignty and the desire for the free-flow of information across national borders means that international broadcasters are likely to continue to be jammed, blocked or censored at least somewhere on the globe.
In addition, as collection and production of content becomes more localised, intimidation of journalists and threats of physical violence are rising. 2012 was the deadliest year on record, with UNESCO condemning the killing of 121 journalists worldwide. The safety of reporters in the field is of paramount importance to the BBC and all staff operating in the field are given full health, safety and high-risk training. However, in many cases less well-supported journalists are killed with little or no reaction from governments. The BBC supports the creation of proper international frameworks to ensure that journalists are protected, and together with many other news media organisations it has publicly welcomed the UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity which was initiated in November last year.
The BBC continues to express concern that BBC Persian Service staff have suffered intimidation from the Iranian authorities who have harassed their families living in Iran, and there have been crude attempts to discredit individual staff members.
Jamming, Blocking, Censorship and Control
Shortwave radio, satellite broadcasting (TV and radio) and the internet are all international distribution platforms which can deliver across national borders. Medium wave and FM radio, terrestrial or cable television are more typically national platforms and regulated technically and in terms of content by a national administration.
(a) Satellite Jamming
In the past four years, BBC Persian TV, BBC Arabic TV and BBC World News (the international 24-hour news and information channel in English) have all been affected by satellite uplink jamming.
There has been a steady increase in deliberate interference targeted at satellite broadcasting. This has affected both public service and commercial broadcasters. Cases which have been brought before the ITU have identified jamming signals coming from Iran and Syria. In the past, accusations have also been levelled at Libya, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Jordan. However, it is Persian TV which has suffered the most, having been deliberately targeted.
Uplink jamming occurs when a second signal is transmitted up to the satellite on the frequency used by the legal user. This signal interferes with the main service and prevents it from being decoded by the viewers’ receivers. It affects all services on the transponder (not just the target service) and wipes out the whole footprint. Unlike downlink jamming, which blocks signals locally using local or mobile jammers and is a grey area in terms of regulation, uplink jamming breaks international radio regulations (Article 15 of the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunication Union).
BBC Persian television (PTV) is currently carried on four different satellites: Eutelsat Hotbird (HB13), Eutelsat 7A (7A—previously known as W3A), Eutelsat 25C (previously known as Eurobird 2), and Telstar 12 (T12). The main service is carried on HB13 because this is the satellite in Iran serving the biggest audience.
PTV was launched in Jan 2009 on Hotbird 6 (HB6) and first jammed in early June 2009. PTV was removed from the transponder by the satellite service provider (because of the impact on other users sharing the same transponder) and then returned later in the year when the jamming ceased. The source of the jamming was triangulated by Eutelsat to Tehran and formal complaints were lodged by the French regulator (AFNR). This pattern of reinstatement, jamming and removal, with long periods when PTV was off-air, was repeated until February 2012. At this point, Eutelsat (the satellite owner) provided a new service using technology which isolated PTV from other broadcasters. Additional carriage of PTV on alternative satellites to Hotbird was arranged, including a service provided by Eutelsat that was not easy to jam (W3A from Jan 2010). Despite this, W3A also suffered intermittent jamming during 2011.
After a period of relative calm, there was a return to the jamming in October 2012, when both HB13 and W3A were targeted whilst covering the financial crisis in Iran. This was followed by an
unprecedented level of jamming involving 3 Eutelsat satellites, 7 transponders and more than 500 TV channels (including BBC, CNN, Euronews, Voice of America, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Sky Italia and RAI) as well as the distribution of BBC World Service English, Arabic and Persian radio services. The source of the jamming was located to Syria and ANFR filed a formal complaint.
Additional detail on this summary can be found in Appendix 1.2
There has been no further jamming to BBC satellite services apart from to 7A (formerly W3A) on 9 February 2012, when PTV and other services sharing the same transponder were off-air for some of the day (no specific content on BBC PTV is considered likely to have triggered this, however).
We expect further jamming to PTV services in the run up to the presidential elections in Iran on 14 June and are working with Eutelsat and other satellite operators on ways to reduce its impact on our audiences.
Since 2010, the BBC World Service has been working alongside other international public broadcasting organisations to combat the increased prevalence of deliberate interference to satellite broadcasting. This involves working in technical, regulatory and political environments and, in the last 3 years, we have seen a steady and positive change in the way this issue is being addressed. We would like to record our thanks here for the invaluable support and advice we have received from Ofcom, FCO, BIS, DCMS and the UK Space Agency in our attempts to address this issue.
The “International Broadcasting without Barriers” event, hosted by BBC World Service at New Broadcasting House in November 2012, has been followed by a number of key initiatives from industry, regulators and broadcasters.
Eutelsat held a “Naming and Shaming the Jammers” workshop in January 2013 at their headquarters in Paris, showcasing geo-location techniques and concentrating on technical mitigation and developments in satellite design. Like the BBC event, this was attended by broadcasters, industry, regulators and governments. Significantly, 4 members of the ITU Radio Regulation Board (which considers reports of unresolved interference investigations) attended the workshop.
Discussion was continued in the Middle East in March by BBC visits to Arabsat in Saudi Arabia and Al Jazeera in Qatar (both have suffered extensive jamming like Eutelsat and the BBC). BBC World Service also gave a well-received presentation on satellite uplink interference to the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG) the group of Arab State regulators preparing positions for the next World Radio Conference in 2015. A session on deliberate satellite interference was also hosted by industry groups at CABSAT, the annual regional trade exhibition for the broadcast and satellite sectors, in Dubai in the same month.
Future events include: a workshop on preventing harmful interference to satellite systems in June hosted by the ITU at its headquarters in Geneva, and an event being planned for October in Tunis hosted by the Arab States Broadcasting Union.
Satellite operators are starting to introduce new technology on satellites that will make broadcasts more resistant to jamming. However the lead times within industry are such that it will take between five and ten years before such systems are widely available.
(b) Shortwave Radio Jamming
During the Cold War, the jamming of shortwave radio broadcasts to east of the Iron Curtain was commonplace. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, engineers from both East and West who had spent years frustrating each other’s efforts to escape the jamming, found themselves working together co-ordinating the international use of shortwave frequencies.
The jamming of the BBC did not go away completely, however. BBC Mandarin radio on shortwave was jammed for many years by the Chinese by transmitting a Chinese broadcast on the same frequency as the BBC, making it impossible to listen to. The impact was strongest in the cities and less effective in more rural areas. Shortwave jamming is only possible if the high-power transmitting facilities and specialist planning expertise is available—hence countries like China and Russia being able to employ it so easily.
BBC Uzbek radio on shortwave is still (and has been for many years) jammed by the Chinese on some frequencies using the same method as for the Mandarin.
The morning shortwave radio programmes of BBC Farsi shortwave have been jammed using bubble jamming since May 2012 (although programmes later in the day have not been jammed). Bubble jamming is the use of an interfering noise signal transmitted on the same frequency as the victim broadcast. Various methods have been employed to reduce the impact of the jamming (including the use of alternative frequencies and facilities) and the formal complaint procedure was initiated by the UK in June 2012 (and again in April 2013) once Ofcom had confirmed the source as Iran. Following a complaint the jamming has ceased, at least temporarily, since 20 April 2013.
Since early February 2013, BBC English shortwave radio to China has been intensively jammed using hash jamming (the transmission of white noise on the victim frequency), with other broadcasters like Voice of America and Radio Australia being similarly targeted. The source has been identified as China and the jamming is also affecting listeners outside China, for example in India, Bangladesh and South East Asia. A monitoring exercise carried out on 13 February checked 134 frequencies over the 24 hour period at a variety of locations and found 75% of them jammed. A formal complaint has been initiated on behalf of the UK and the matter has been raised with the Chinese Ambassador in the UK. This is the first time that English-language services have been targeted in such a widespread way.
(c) Internet Blocking
All 28 BBC World Service languages now have their own web page and many are also accessible via a mobile or other handheld device. The internet is an attractive means for international broadcasters to communicate with audiences because it is not subject to the same degree of regulation as other distribution platforms. Since 2000, however, denied access, blocking and filtering of content have increased and there are international discussions about changes to internet governance.
Both the English and Chinese (Mandarin) websites are subject to blocking by the Chinese authorities. BBCChinese.com has been completely blocked since its launch in 1999, while BBC.com is subject to a selective blocking practice (most of the site is accessible in China but some China-related story pages will be blocked).
BBC Persian.com has been blocked intermittently from 2006, and routinely since 2009. As the June presidential elections approach, the Iranian authorities have recently stepped up their efforts to filter information and block the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and circumvention software.
The BBC is committed to finding ways in which it can make its content available and works with Psiphon (a Canadian corporation that develops advanced censorship circumvention systems and technologies specifically designed to support users in countries where access to the internet is restricted) to deliver content into China, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in a manner that enables it to circumvent blocking. Over 1 million pages are viewed weekly through the BBC’s Psiphon web proxies.
More recently, “social engineering” type cyber-attacks have created fake Facebook accounts and blogs which mirror those of BBC journalists from the Persian service. Some of the fabricated content on these sites, designed to discredit them personally and also the BBC, has then been republished by Iranian state-affiliated news organisations.
(d) Problems which can arise with FM relays and partnerships
There is significant benefit to BBC World Service in having access to local radio broadcasting facilities for its English and vernacular programmes. A locally-available service of good quality audio helps to retain audiences in increasingly competitive markets. There are two ways that this can be done: via a BBC relay or via a partnership with a local broadcaster.
There are around 180 BBC World Service FM relays located in major cities around the world, broadcasting a 24-hour feed of English or vernacular programmes. These are either owned, supported by, or hired to the BBC and are usually located on a local broadcaster’s site. They broadcast on a dedicated frequency granted to the BBC by the local government broadcasting authority.
There are also around 1,200 partner broadcasters around the world who re-broadcast a variety of BBC English and vernacular programmes lasting from a few minutes to a few hours a day and inserted into the locally-produced material.
Operating locally will always carry some degree of risk in some countries in terms of gathering or distributing our content and that risk can change over time. Facilities can be closed down, licences withdrawn or content restricted or censored. Some examples in recent years of where BBC WS has adversely affected by this are:
Somalia—In 2010, BBC World Service was taken off-air by Al-Shabaab militants who seized the transmitters of the BBC relays in Mogadishu and 5 other cities. The FM relay in Mogadishu has only recently been reinstated.
Sudan—The 4 BBC World Service FM relays in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Wad Madani and El Obaid were closed in August 2010, after the Sudanese government decided not to allow the BBC to broadcast within Sudan any longer and terminated the licence agreement.
Azerbaijan—International broadcasters, including the BBC World Service, were banned from using local broadcasting facilities in January 2009.
Tajikistan—Licences were withdrawn for the BBC FM relays in Dushanbe and Khojand in 2006, when the Tajik authorities decided not to allow BBC World Service to use local broadcasting facilities any more.
Nigeria—Restrictions have tightened on local carriage of foreign broadcasters. BBC relays have never been allowed but, for the last 10 years, partners cannot carry foreign broadcasters’ news and only sport, documentary or business content is accepted by the Nigerian regulator.
BBC World Service suspended broadcasts on SLBC (the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation) in March 2013, following continued interruption and interference to the content of BBC Tamil programming. Despite requests for discussion about any complaints that SLBC might have had about any specific output, the issue has not been resolved. The BBC took similar action in 2009 when its services were also disrupted.
If Article 19 is to be upheld in our increasingly connected world, the problems international broadcasters like BBC World Service face in providing news and information to audiences need to be addressed. As shown by the efforts around satellite jamming, this involves working for resolution in technical, regulatory and political environments and a willingness to discuss difficult and often controversial subjects.
Satellite operators can introduce new technology on satellites to make broadcasts more resistant to jamming and internet security companies can develop more sophisticated circumvention tools, but technology will never solve these problems on its own. US OFAC and EU sanctions may have given some satellite operators grounds to withdraw broadcast satellite services from Iran but this has also resulted in accusations of censorship and a stalemate situation with Iran continuing to “illuminate” the satellite thus rendering re-use of the capacity impossible.
The issue of satellite jamming was raised and discussed at both the last Plenipotentiary and World Radio Conference of the ITU and the future of internet governance proved a controversial and divisive issue at the recent World Conference on International Telecommunications of the ITU.
However, the ITU (a body that predates the UN) is mandated to deal with technical matters and although it successfully provides a forum for the resolution of matters relating to broadcasting (the ITU R sector) and telecommunications (the ITU T sector), it primarily achieves progress in developing international standards through seeking consensus and, seeks to resolve matters of dispute through bi-lateral negotiation.
Matters relating to the freedom of the internet (within the T sector) and satellite jamming (within the R sector) are now challenging the processes and capabilities of the ITU. Some have suggested that the ITU mandate should change and some have suggested that the UN is a more appropriate body to address current issues associated with media freedom.
There will continue to be discussion about the technical, legal and political issues pertaining to threats to freedom of expression through the media. Whatever the final decisions might be regarding the appropriate international body to deal with these issues, all interested parties from industry to broadcasters to regulators to nation states need to continue to work together if the current and damaging ambiguity regarding the legitimacy of international broadcasting is to be addressed.
We have appreciated the UK Government’s support in addressing these issues and look forward to continuing to work closely with the Government and industry.
BBC MONITORING: SNAPSHOT OF WORLD INTERNET BLOCKING, BROADCAST JAMMING MAY 2013
Feature by BBC Monitoring on 20 May
Leading international broadcasters, including the BBC, used World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2013 to warn that media freedom faces its greatest challenge since the Cold War. In particular, they cited internet blocking and deliberate interference to broadcasts. The following is a snapshot, compiled by BBC Monitoring in May 2013, of the activities of countries that are routinely reported to be engaged in blocking the internet, and/or jamming over-the-air broadcasts.
Part One: Internet Blocking
Two billion people worldwide have internet access but, for a third of them, access is limited by government censorship, filtering and surveillance, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) declared in its 2013 “Enemies of the Internet” report.
Blocking techniques range from the automatic filtering of URLs and content types to the wholesale blocking of many thousands of sites, using extensive technical and human resources.
RSF identifies 12 countries—Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam—as Internet Enemies. The list focuses mainly on online surveillance.
China and Iran stand out as major players in the world of online censorship. Iran is reported to be developing a national internet, which would bar citizens from external websites, while China’s “Great Firewall” blocks many thousands of sites.
Bahrain: Filtering targets political, human rights and religious matters and content deemed obscene. During 2012, the government blocked a number of opposition websites including those carrying live coverage of protests, US-based Freedom House reported. The level of internet filtering and surveillance “is one of the highest in the world”, RSF reported in 2013.
Iran: Iran has significantly increased the sophistication of its web blocking since the disputed 2009 presidential election and has used advanced techniques to disable anti-censorship software.
Many thousands of sites are blocked. The authorities can limit internet speeds. Filtering takes place at central and ISP level. Religion-related and “obscene” content is targeted. Censorship extends to political and human rights sites. In February 2013, the filtering monitoring organization OpenNet Initiative (ONI) said it had found consistent filtering of websites “pertaining to social media, international news, non-Shi’i religion, social and religious taboos and anything remotely opposed to official government policies”. In March 2013, unauthorized virtual private networks (VPN), used to circumvent web blocks, were shut down.
An official from the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content stated in early 2013 that an average of 1,500 websites with “anti-Islamic” content are filtered on a monthly basis (Citizenlab.org).
Iran says it is developing a “national internet”; some observers say this will sever the country from the global web. “The construction of this parallel internet, with a high connection speed but fully monitored and censored, is supposed to be completed in the very near future,” RSF reported in March 2013.
Kuwait: The communications ministry blocks content considered to incite terrorism, or deemed immoral or politically-sensitive, the US State Department reports. The government has instructed ISPs to block certain sites for political or moral reasons, says US-based Freedom House. Kuwaiti filters block access to porn, gay and lesbian content, secular sites and those which present critical views of Islam, Arab Times newspaper reported in April 2013.
Oman: Extensive filtering of pornography, politically-sensitive material and criticism of Islam is in place, says ONI. Blocking criteria are not transparent or consistent, says the US State Department. Censorship is carried out using automation software operated by ISPs, Muscat Daily website reported in 2012.
Qatar: Authorities filter political criticism, material deemed offensive to Islam, pornographic content and privacy resources, reports ONI.
Saudi Arabia: Strict filtering is in place, targeting “pornographic”, Islam-related, human rights and political sites. The authorities say some 400,000 sites are blocked. Twitter, Facebook or YouTube accounts with “inappropriate” content will be blocked, an ICT official warned in February 2013.
Sudan: Officials “openly acknowledge” filtering “immoral” content and material that threatens public order, says ONI. The authorities regularly block access to YouTube, says the US State Department.
Syria: Automated filtering and internet surveillance were in place before the 2011 uprising. Targeted content includes political criticism, pornography, religion, and Israeli sites. Blocked sites include Facebook, Blogspot, Maktoob, Amazon, Skype, YouTube. An “ultra-centralized internet architecture” allows the government to cut off the country from the rest of the world, RSF reported in March 2013.
UAE: RSF says filtering targets pornography, political dissent, non-orthodox views of Islam, and criticisms of society and the royal family. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are partially blocked. Skype was unblocked in April 2013, reports Citizenlab.org.
Yemen: Filtering blocks independent and opposition news sites and some sites containing material deemed immoral. The depth of filtering is inconsistent, says ONI.
Burma: ONI in late 2012 noted a “significant reduction” in internet filtering, amid an apparent easing of political repression. ONI said filtration of political sites had dramatically decreased compared with test results in previous years. Filtering of sites relating to pornography, gambling, drug use and gay and lesbian content was still prevalent, it said.
China: An extensive filtering system, the “Great Firewall of China”, is one of the “most technologically-advanced in existence”, says RSF, and blocks tens of thousands of sites using URL filtering and keyword censoring. Thousands of cyber-police monitor the web for “subversion”. Filtering targets a wide range of material deemed politically and socially sensitive. Blocked sites include Facebook, Twitter, and human rights sites.
RSF says workaround tools such as Tor or Freegate are constantly targeted by the authorities. Following a “major upgrade” of the Great Firewall in late 2012, VPN services provided by non-Chinese companies were cut. The Great Firewall “now has the ability to dynamically block encrypted connections”, RSF says.
Korea (North): Access to the global internet is restricted to a “small section of the elite”, RSF reports. A state-run intranet—accessible to those with special clearance—provides an email inbox, a handful of propaganda sites and access to the databases of North Korea’s three largest libraries.
Korea (South): RSF says Seoul blocks access to some 40 pro-North websites, as well as social media accounts believed to be operated by the Pyongyang regime. In 2012 the government blocked access to the English-language website of North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun within hours of its launch. Under telecom laws, the government blocks violent, sexually-explicit, and gambling-oriented sites, says the US State Department.
Thailand: In 2011, RSF said online censorship had “reached new heights” with between 80,000–400,000 URLs blocked. Material that violates lese majeste laws is targeted, alongside opposition sites and some independent news sites. ISP-level filtering, based on state-mandated block lists, is complemented by automatic URL filtering, says ONI.
Vietnam: The authorities have established an “effective and increasingly sophisticated” content-filtering system, Freedom House reported in 2012. Blocked sites include newspapers and domestic and foreign blogs, and sites with content on the political opposition and human rights, ONI reported in 2012.
India: Amid violent inter-ethnic unrest in August 2012, Indian authorities ordered ISPs to block access to more than 300 pieces of online content, India’s Centre for Internet and Society reported. It added: “There are numerous mistakes and inconsistencies that make blocking pointless and ineffectual.”
Pakistan: “Relatively stable” internet filtering is employed, aimed at content deemed blasphemous, secessionist, anti-state, or anti-military, says ONI. A 2011 directive ordered ISPs to ban the use of online encryption, ostensibly for anti-terrorism reasons. Plans for a national internet filtering system, intended to block access to millions of sites using deep packet inspection (DPI), were reported in the press in early 2012.
Belarus: The government has for a number of years engaged in “ad hoc efforts to limit access to internet content deemed contrary to its interests”, Freedom House reported in 2012. ISPs are inconsistent in their blocking practices, Freedom House adds.
Kazakhstan: Opposition or sensitive political content is selectively filtered. In late 2012, legal moves were taken to ban leading opposition media, resulting in the blocking of websites carrying online versions of affected outlets, RSF reported. In 2011, the authorities blocked access to a number of sites—including Russian blog platform LiveJournal—which they said were being used to spread religious extremism and terrorism. The internet was “mysteriously down” across Kazakhstan during violent unrest in the west in December 2011, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Kyrgyzstan: Political and news websites are sporadically blocked, Freedom House reported in 2012. Russian-language news site Ferghana has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan since February 2012 as a result of a parliamentary resolution, reports RSF.
Tajikistan: In 2012, RSF reported “several waves” of blocking of prominent news websites, including the BBC, and social networks. It said the national telecom body “is now in the habit of issuing orders to ISPs to block access to any sensitive content”.
Turkey: Taboo topics are used to justify the blocking of “several thousand” sites, including YouTube. Also targeted are sites deemed to involve online “crimes” against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey’s founder. A controversial internet filtering application, the Secure Internet Service, was launched in late 2011 by the state telecom regulator, ostensibly to protect children. Filtering criteria are determined by the government, Eurasianet.org reports. Although adoption of the filter is not mandatory, tests show that access to sites is blocked “arbitrarily”, says RSF.
In December 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a Turkish court had violated the right to freedom of expression by ordering a block on all Google sites in Turkey because of one person’s post.
Turkmenistan: The authorities filter the main, state-run ISP. Facebook, Twitter and Russian blog platform LiveJournal are blocked, RSF reported in 2011. RSF added: “There is so much censorship that Turkmen only have access to a sort of national intranet.”
Uzbekistan: Strict internet censorship includes filtering at a central level. The authorities appear to have “fairly sophisticated” technology at their disposal, Freedom House reported in 2012. This allows them to block whole domains, and also to restrict access to individual pages. Targets include opposition and news websites. These have included the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Uzmetronom.com and Ferghana.ru. LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Flickr and blog platform Kloop are sporadically inaccessible.
Equatorial Guinea: The government blocked access to Facebook and some opposition websites ahead of May 2013 parliamentary elections. An AFP correspondent told RSF that Facebook had been blocked “at the request of the president’s office” following the announcement of anti-government protests by students.
Eritrea: Eritrea has been “stifled by internet censorship”, according to US-based African tech website oAfrica. RSF says that while there is no widespread internet filtering system, some diaspora websites have been blocked.
Ethiopia: The government owns the sole ISP “allowing it to censor when and where it sees fit”, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported in 2011. There is “substantial” filtering of political news, according to ONI. The government has restricted access to the sites of domestic “insurgent groups” and several blogs and websites run by opposition groups abroad, says the US State Department.
Part Two: Broadcast Jamming
Satellite uplink jamming (SUJ) has become increasingly problematic for broadcasters and satellite operators. SUJ has been traced to several countries; prominent among them is Iran. The practice is against International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulations, but there are few strategies available to stop it.
Meanwhile, jamming of shortwave and other AM radio broadcasts—a feature of Cold War-era international broadcasting—is still practised, notably by China.
The following is a summary of regular international jamming activity, affecting transmissions via satellite and terrestrial platforms.
Foreign satellite TV and radio broadcasts into Iran are consistently targeted by deliberate interference. Iran is widely accused of carrying out the jamming, which tends to peak at sensitive moments, including key anniversaries and times of regional tension.
Since 2009, Western broadcasters—including the BBC, VOA and Deutsche Welle—have reported intermittent, deliberate interference to their satellite broadcasts in Persian. Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat has lodged complaints about “deliberate jamming operations” and has said the interfering signals can clearly be traced to Iran. VOA noted in 2012 that satellite jamming often starts just before its Persian news bulletins.
Conversely, Iran has complained of deliberate interference to its own state-run satellite TV outlets, which are—or have been—carried by leading platforms, including Eutelsat. State media regularly blame the jamming on “British technicians, operating from Bahrain”. A regular programme for Bahraini viewers on Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam is a particular target for interference. Meanwhile, Al-Alam complained in early 2013 that its satellite transmissions were being jammed from within Syria by armed groups, overseen by Turkey and Qatar.
Iran also jams shortwave and mediumwave radio transmissions in Persian from the BBC and US-backed Radio Farda. Radio France Internationale reports intermittent jamming of its shortwave broadcasts in Persian.
Since 2012, Syria has regularly been accused of carrying out jamming activities. In January that year, the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) said recent jamming of VOA and BBC broadcasts in Persian emanated from “near Damascus”. At around the same time, satellite operator Arabsat said interference to Al-Jazeera broadcasts had been traced to locations in Iran and Syria, Eutelsat said jamming of Al-Jazeera “emanated from Syria”, and Al-Arabiya TV blamed Syria for jamming its transmissions via Arabsat.
In October 2012, a grouping of leading US and European broadcasters, known as the DG5, charged that deliberate interference emanating from Syria was disrupting satellite broadcasts “in an arc from Russia through Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East”. In early 2013, Syrian rebels said they had taken control of a satellite jamming centre near Damascus International Airport, which they said was being run by Iranians.
The wave of Arab uprisings in early 2011 witnessed a surge in satellite jamming. Al-Qadhafi’s Libya was seen as the source of much of this disruption, but it was also itself a target. In November 2012, an official from Egypt’s state-owned Nilesat satellite platform accused an unspecified “big institution” of jamming Egyptian state TV via Nilesat and Eutelsat. The interference coincided with protests against President Morsi.
China has for years jammed Chinese and Tibetan-language radio services from Western international broadcasters, including those of the BBC, VOA and US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA). In March 2013, it was observed that English-language shortwave broadcasts from the BBC, Radio Australia and VOA beamed towards China were subject to deliberate interference. English-language programmes had historically not been blocked. China has also jammed BBC broadcasts in Uzbek and RFA broadcasts in Uzbek and Uighur.
North Korea jams international shortwave broadcasters, including RFA and South Korean outlets. In May 2012, NorthKoreaTech.org reported that the North “appears to have recently installed more sophisticated transmitters acquired from a Chinese company”. RFA noted in December 2012 that North Korea had intensified jamming of foreign radios, blocking signals from South Korea and the US “almost every day” during the last month of a period of mourning for former leader Kim Jong-il.
South Korea routinely jams cross-border broadcasts from the North.
Malaysian exile station Radio Free Sarawak, based in the UK, has complained of deliberate interference to its shortwave broadcasts, most recently in May 2013, when it noted “ferocious jamming” during the election period.
Vietnamese shortwave broadcasts from RFA are subject to deliberate interference.
For many years, Ethiopia has jammed opposition and international broadcasts. Terrestrial and satellite broadcasts from Eritrea have also been disrupted. In January 2012, Eritrea said jamming of its satellite TV broadcasts via Arabsat “has been confirmed to be [from] Ethiopia”.
Other targets include the Amsterdam-based opposition Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), which has been jammed since soon after its launch in May 2010, and Amharic radio services via shortwave of VOA and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. VOA said in 2013 that jamming signals aimed at its Horn of Africa broadcasts are transmitted using equipment “installed by China in Ethiopia”.
Opposition site Ethiopian Review reported in 2008 that the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation was using Chinese-supplied jamming equipment. At that time, satellite TV channels in many other countries were reportedly affected by the jamming, putting the Ethiopian authorities at loggerheads with Saudi-based Arabsat.
In February 2012, Lebanese reports said investigations had confirmed that jamming of Arabsat satellite transmissions, which affected several Lebanese networks, originated in Ethiopia.
Eritrea was accused in November 2012 of jamming satellite broadcasts from Radio Erena, an Eritrean exile radio station based in Paris and backed by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF said Arabsat, which carried Radio Erena on its Badr-6 satellite, reacted by suspending the station because the jamming was disrupting other signals. “Geolocation indicates that the pirate transmission jamming the signal originates from within Eritrea,” RSF stated.
Zimbabwe has been reported to regularly jam external and exile radio broadcasters and has been accused of using Chinese-supplied technology to this end. In 2011, VOA said listeners in Harare may experience “intermittent jamming” of its Studio 7 mediumwave broadcasts to Zimbabwe via a transmitter in Botswana. UK-based exile broadcaster SW Radio Africa has reported intermittent jamming of its shortwave broadcasts. It has said Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization runs the operation.
Shortwave and mediumwave transmissions from US-backed Radio Marti are routinely jammed by Cuba. The Cuban authorities also target a powerful Miami-based Spanish-language AM station, WAQI, which airs some Radio Marti news broadcasts.
UHF terrestrial broadcasts from Iran’s state-run Sahar TV are jammed in southern Azerbaijan. Baku and Tehran have historically been at diplomatic loggerheads. Azerbaijan also attempts to block broadcasts from a powerful Iranian mediumwave transmitter on the Caspian coast. The jamming, which occurs at certain points of the day, comprises a relay of Azeri state radio on the same frequency as the Iranian broadcast.
3 June 2013
1 Audiovisuel Extérieur de la France (AEF), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) [Australia], British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) [United Kingdom], the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) [US], Deutsche Welle (DW) [Germany], Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) [Japan] and Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW)
2 Not published