On Friday, a popular satellite television network run by volunteer Iranian expatriates began its 21st public campaign to raise funding for its annual operations. The network, known in Farsi as Simay Azadi and in English as Iran National Television, reaches an audience inside Iran via satellite receiver equipment that is illegal to own or operate in the country. In spite of this restriction, millions of Iranians reportedly defy the ban, even re-acquiring such equipment after mass confiscation efforts by government authorities.
This defiance reflects a broader conflict between the Iranian public and the regime’s attempts to control the flow of information. Various websites and social media networks including Facebook and Twitter are also banned by Iran’s hardline theocracy but are routinely accessed by a young and tech-savvy population via virtual proxy networks.
The prominence of satellite receiver equipment also gives Iranians access to other non-government news sources, but INTV presents itself as being uniquely a voice for the Iranian people, insofar as it expresses the viewpoints of an organized resistance movement and gathers news with the help of that movement’s intelligence networks inside of Iran.
An INTV press release announcing this weekend’s pledge drive appealed to donors to support the network’s role as an alternative to the state media outlets that are virtually the only sources of information functioning openly inside the country, numerous outlets are shuttered by the government in any given year. The political imprisonment of journalists is also commonplace, resulting in the Committee to Protect Journalists consistently ranking Iran as one of the worst purveyors of this sort of repression.
The website Journalism is not a Crime identifies more than 50 reporters who are currently serving prison sentences in Iran. And this number does not account for the numerous political activists who have been jailed either partly or entirely because of their contribution to news gathering by dissident outlets like INTV.
INTV reports that many members of its network have been not only imprisoned but also tortured and in some cases executed for their work, including the coverage of banned political protests and the conditions of the Iranian prison system. The network’s press release adds that “political prisoners in Iran regularly use [INTV] to reveal news from inside prisons and to convey their resistance against the authorities’ brutality.”
Previous pledge drives have suggested strong public interest in support these sorts of projects. INTV is known to receive donations both from inside Iran and from Iranian expatriate communities; and those donations reportedly range from 10 dollars to hundreds of thousands. Similar success is expected from the current pledge drive, which runs through Sunday, because the network’s viewership has been steadily increasing in recent years.
INTV reports that its core staff works entirely on a volunteer basis, and that donations collected during the pledge drive will be used in the gathering of original news and to cover the costs associated with maintaining its 24-hour satellite broadcast and its website, IranNTV.com. It is noteworthy than on the homepage of Simaye Azadi there is a special tab in English labeled ‘Free Iran Telethon’ for those interested in donating.