People Have Became a Nonstop News Source
An interview with Seraz Aldin Mirdamadi
The arrest and obstruction of independent information sources, at a time when the nation of Iran is pursuing its civil demands in a movement resembling an uprising, demonstrates how the people can turn into reporters just as they did during the revolution. In times like this, while the regime has its strong hold on the public manifestation of this movement, differentiating between the factual and false news is complicated and problematic. In an environment where movements are collective, self–inspired, unorganized, and far reaching, the absence of a leader can create challenges and even lead to a crisis.
The government, in its attempt to stage what was called an election coup d’etat, in order to stop the movement of information, started to disconnect the cell phones, filter most of the internet sites, and jam satellite transmissions one day before the election started. The lack of communication has many damaging consequences. However, the main question is this: in the absence of the usual information channels, how are people being made aware of the news? Sarajedin Mirdamadi, a journalist and reporter of Zamaneh Radio station was in Iran during the last two weeks and agreed to answer a few of Gozaar’s questions: follows:
How is the information system in Iran at this time? What sources do people have access to?
All the information channels that were available to people before are completely disconnected. The SMS channel was disconnected the day before the election. Cell phones are disrupted and, in some cases, completely without service. Even telephone lines in some areas are off during certain hours. Internet speed is so slow that accessing e-mail is very difficult. All the information sites are filtered.
But people are not sitting idle in this situation. Many interesting innovations are being used to pass information around in Iran today. People place information posters on light poles; information that includes the time and the place of marches are passed to others in this way. Also information is passed by word of mouth, and that is working really well. The people are becoming a medium for the news that cannot be turned off.
How do the election headquarters get in touch with people and pass information?
The main structures of the headquarters do not exist anymore. The organizing power they had before the election is now dissolved and they cannot function in the same way. But still, a few remaining members distribute the news and information through their internet sites. They also pass the news from one person to another in a type of pyramid format. These members try to stay in touch with each other, for example, they meet at certain places at night to get news from each other. In places where fewer members of these headquarters have been arrested, they are more in touch and their presence, and organizing hand, can be seen in the marches. But in many areas almost all of them have been arrested and those headquarters are completely shut down.
The news sites of the headquarters are also filtered, but they are still active. For example, Mousavi’s headquarter could keep its site at Ghalam News working and can use it to pass announcements. As I said, people are now acting like media, for example, they print these announcements from the sites of the headquarters, copy, and distribute them to others. In some areas young people take these copies door to door. All these activities are unorganized, people oriented, and are conducted in partisan ways.
Good question. Radio stations are now the best sources for information. “Farda Radio” has a very good output and plays an important role, both as being informative and having good content, and also because of its availability. Most taxis and private vehicles used for public transportation listen to this radio station and their passengers can hear the news throughout the day. Fortunately, this radio station, which has a strong network, is playing a very important role. Of course, during the day time and in some areas, even this station cannot be heard clearly, but still, it works. At night, in areas outside Tehran, this station’s reception is very good and people can hear it clearly.
How is the relationship between people in exchanging news these days?
Even those not involved in politics follow the news these days. Mothers and home phones are now turned into news centers. Mothers, because of their worries, their curiosity, and their own political interests, keep in touch using their home phones to spread the news.
In this kind of situation the rumors spread fast. How do people distinguish between factual and false news?
Rumors can be spread as a tool. It is believed that the security organizations are making up and spreading fabricated stories, and the target of most of these rumors is the courage of the people. Still, distinguishing the factual news is not difficult for people, especially the educated ones. Young people only believe the news coming from their trusted sources. News coming from the “Ghalam News” website and other websites of the election headquarters are regarded as reliable by people.
After some protesters were killed during Monday’s march it was anticipated that the regime would want to reestablish the information channels in order to raise public safety. But the latest information from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards indicates that the regime still considers information systems as a threat and will do anything to obstruct them. Consequently in the notification issued by “The Center to Investigate Organized Crimes,” an organization affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, it is requested from those in charge of the internet sites that they eliminate all propaganda materials regarding riots, threats, and rumors. It goes on to warn them that violators will be punished severely, through legal channels. This center issued a notification on Wednesday, June 17th referencing an investigation of cyber space and the existence of some misleading news sites that have changed their approaches and are using different sites and blogs to create confusion in public, promote disorder, and public riots.
On the same day, the Guardian Council signed into law an Eight Parliament’s bill dealing with the computer crimes. It is said that this bill imposes more restrictions on internet service providers and their users. One of the articles of this bill says: The internet service providers must refine and filter the confidential contents, including those resulting from computer crimes and those used to commit those crimes, based on the technical criteria and the prescribed index of the Committee in charge of this bill’s application.