It is possible that if you use the internet in Iran you will be less likely to see this page. At the beginning of this month, Iran stated that it is willing to negotiate with big internet firms. Stating that they would like to include firms such as Google and Twitter to operate in Iran as long as those firms respect their cultural values and rules they have set in place. This has been long awaited news for the people of Iran. They have been dealing with government censorship for a very long time and they are ready for some of this censorship to be relaxed. Even President Rouhani has a Twitter account.
But how does the Iranian government decide what will get censored? The blanket statement is anything that deviates from the country’s principles. Since Iran is a theocratic republic this includes anything that could go against Islamic standards and also anything that could cause instability in the country. Some examples of inappropriate topics include discontent among the citizens, Iran’s economic issues and any talk of reformation of the government. Everything is subject to being censored including television, the media, books, the internet, films, the radio and video games.
The internet in Iran is highly restricted by the government. There is a lot of site blocking and restricted access. The government keeps the internet speed at 128 kbps for average users. This is about two times faster than dial-up from the 90’s. If you require a faster internet speed you need special permission from the government. Usually you have to be a scientist or an important government employee to get a faster internet speed. The sites that are blocked are primarily adult sites, but about half of the top 500 websites are blocked. The list of blocked websites changes often usually to do with what is going on politically at the time. During the election between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, Facebook was blocked because it was providing a platform for Mousavi supporters to spread their ideas and become more organized. Other sites such as Twitter and Youtube get intermittently blocked. Since Ahmadinejad left office the government has started taking a more filtered approach to censorship than just banning every website that has something they don’t agree with. They started testing with Instagram. Instead of just blocking the whole site they blocked all images that could be a threat to their societal ideal. This method has spread to several other sites. They are also implementing a strategy that they are calling tailored censorship where they allow people above certain ages to access sites like Facebook. This method has gotten some backlash. In order to get to sites you have to pay the government for a proxy which has people questioning if their primary aim is censorship or having another way to make money.
The media in Iran is structured very differently than ours. There are a few different channels all of which are owned by the government and all are heavily censored. It is stated in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, “The freedom of expression and dissemination of thoughts in the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be guaranteed in keeping with the Islamic criteria and the best interests of the country.” The Leader of Iran also has the power to appoint the head of the radio and television. The Iranians get the vast majority of their news from government owned news stations. Even though there are strict censoring standards in television in Iran, the government has a hard time stopping the citizens from using satellite dishes. They are illegal, but even after several government crackdowns, the government estimates about 40% of the population has a satellite dish while other sources say the number is closer to 70%. With satellite dishes they can access channels from all over the Middle East and even Europe and Asia.
As far as print media goes this is a pretty common sight. These images were either edited by the government or by the people selling them so that they would not get in trouble with the government.
Things are looking hopeful for literature. After Ahmadinejad left office, the system of reviewing books has become more relaxed. There have been time frames put in place on how low in can take to review a book and fewer books are being completely banned. While the books are not being banned, the people who review the books still make changes. They still will not allow anything to be published that does not conform to the ideals of the country or to Islam. This could be whole themes that get removed from a book or in smaller cases it may involve just swapping words out. There are several words that the reviewers look for; some of them include pork, dog, kiss, wine, drunk, dance and meditation. These words will be replaced with more appropriate terms. There are still many books that are outright banned. Iran does not have a specified list of every book it does not allow in the country, but here are a few titles that are currently not suitable to be read in Iran. Plato’s Symposium, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Marjane Sarpi’s Persepolis. Most of these books were banned because of their inconsistency with Islam. Persepolis, both the book and the film, were banned because it criticizes the regime and even talks about censorship and the banning that occurs in Iran.
The films banned in Iran follow the same strategies as the books. Films that cast any type of negative light on Islam, Iran or the current government will be banned. Some of these include 300, Argo and Saturday Night Fever. Other movies get heavily censored. They often change translations, add modesty and remove any behavior such as kissing between two people of the opposite sex.
The censorship in Iran is strict, but a lot of it goes unenforced. The government often only punishes for some of these laws, such as owning a banned book or having a satellite dish as an excuse when they want to arrest someone for other reasons such as demonstrating or spreading reformist ideas. It seems that whatever the government bans becomes even more popular among the citizens. For example, a few years ago the government banned dogs from private apartments and from being walked on public streets, but to this day, dogs are more popular than they ever were before the ban. These actions give the government a weak appearance and show how you can have all of these strict laws, but without enforcement, they mean only what the people want them to mean.