Many of the distributors have been of help in hacking into the signal decoders that make it possible to view hundreds of channels not only illegally but also for free. Fearing arrest, the distributors are now lying low and have switched off their mobile telephones.
"They blocked the street, rang the doorbells, announced it was the police, and then went straight to the rooftops. I guess they didn't have warrants to enter apartments and seize the receivers. They cut the cables and broke or took away the dishes but didn't confiscate the receivers as they used to do," said Ahmad Ramezani who lives in Tehran's uptown Elahieh district.
In some cases, the police were content with issuing warnings. For example, in Karaj, a city near the capital, residents of apartment blocks received letters from the police directing them to take down their equipment and deposit it at the local police station, the Fars News Agency reported.
"What difference does it make if we have to take away our dishes from the roofs?" asked Zahra Amani, a retired primary school teacher. "Since last year they have been jamming satellite signals so badly that it's almost impossible to watch anything. It was bad during the early days of Iran's nuclear crisisą almost all channels were affected."
Amani said she thought it odd that the jamming did nothing to channels with pornographic content but seemed to be directed at Farsi language channels run by dissidents. ‘'At first I thought there was something wrong with my receiver and called my satellite man (distributor) but then he told me many of his customers in our area were experiencing the same thing. I have heard that it (jamming) can be very harmful to people's health."
According to the Iranian Students' News Agency the police have been directed to deal only with dishes that are plainly visible. But in some places dishes were seen being thrown off rooftops. During the initial waves of the crackdown in the northern province of Gilan and Kurdistan province in the west, a couple of weeks ago, police reportedly broke into some "private domains."
"Iranian state TV channels are very boring. The music is always dull, there are no dances and the news is always censored," said a young college student who rued the thought that he would not be able to watch his favourite channels -- the Farsi language channels that are located outside the country and are far livelier with music, news and films.
Farsi language channels are privately owned unless they are propaganda channels like the Voice of America. Quite a few of them are run by exiles and have political agendas inimical to the regime and support anything from a return to monarchy and ethnic dissidence. There is even a channel promoting conversion to Christianity, an act punishable with death.
Testimony to the popularity of the Farsi channels is the fact that they are able to raise revenue through commercials that promote not only foreign products and services but also Iranian ones. But recently, the Islamic guidance ministry warned Iranian companies not to patronize "unauthorized" satellite channels. Government employees, academics and other have likewise been told not to give interviews to or appear in programs on such channels.
"We need to know what is really happening in the world. We have no private television or radio stations. All we know is what the government decides is good for us. It's natural that people will be attracted to other voices." says Negar (second name concealed), a student of medicine in Tehran University. Her family has been watching satellite TV for many years, taking down the equipment everytime there was talk of police raids.
One source of hope for people like Negar is technology in the shape of direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services which can be received using small, indoor dish antennae.
In fact, the ‘cultural committee' of the hardliner-dominated Iranian parliament has been drafting a motion to amend the 1994 law and authorize private service providers to offer DTH channels to the public.
"The motivation for the crackdown can be the increasing number of Farsi language channels as well as greater diversity in their contents. They can greatly influence social and political behavior," said a political analyst who asked not to be named.
"We are going to have elections to the ‘assembly of experts' and city council elections, simultaneously, in less than three months' time. Hardliners are determined to win these elections. They are not as united as they were in the previous election and are, therefore, more vulnerable now. They are making every effort to prevent these bodies from falling into the hands of moderate conservatives, let alone reformists," he added.
Before last year's presidential elections, Mehdi Kalhor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cultural advisor and representative on the board of supervisors of the state broadcasting organization had pledged that the new government would not limit people's freedoms -- including the use of satellite TV.
‘'Ahmadinejad is apparently distancing himself from advisors who encourage social freedom and is getting closer to people like the hardliner police chief who is, incidentally, his brother-in-law," says the political analyst.
"I have stored away my equipment for the time being," Reza, 34, a government employee says optimistically. "We have experienced this several times before. It's only a wave and it will pass soon. Hundreds of thousands of homes in Tehran alone have them. How can the police deal with them all?"
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Albion Monitor August 21 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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