Digital Media in Iran

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Iran جمهوری اسلامی ایرانis an Islamic Republic formerly known as Persia before 1935. With an estimated 78 million people, it is the 18th most populous country in the world. Iran occupies a key Geo-strategic position in the Middle East and has vast energy resources - making it an important and powerful player in the region.

In 1979 revolution, the country was declared an Islamic Republic after the ruling monarchy was overthrown.Islamic conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader.[1]

TWITTER REVOLUTION: The Islamic state found itself in the the midst of its largest uprising since the 1979 Islamic revolution following the disputed results of the June2009 Presidential elections. The official results declared a sweeping victory and second-term for Ahmadinejad,which has resulted in accusations of vote rigging by the opposition. The subsequent protests highlight significant urban-rural divides, a growing urban middle-class and the power of a young and communications-savvy population.

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Asia Society shared a short summary Iran profileof the country which you will find as useful starting point and context to understand the digital media trends in Iran.


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Digital Literacy In Iran

Telecommunications

The fixed-line penetration rate is one of the highest in the Middle East region standing at 75.2% in 2009 but the sector is monopolised by Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI).[2]


Mobile Penetration

  • Iran's mobile subscriber base is growing fast and increased a massive 61.5% during the period 2004-2009.
  • The country still has a low mobile penetration rate standing at 34.8% in 2009 meaning there will be strong growth potential.
  • Communications emerged as the fastest-growing category of consumer spending, increasing by 92.1% in real terms between 2003 and 2008.
  • Mobile phones saw a meteoric rise in popularity with the number of mobile phone subscriptions reaching 30.0 million in 2009


Internet Penetration

In 2009, Iran had 33.2 million internet users, accounting for 36.0% of the population. This level of internet user penetration is higher than the Middle East average of 26.0%. However, only19.1% of Iranian internet users were also internet subscribers in 2009, which underlines the importance of cyber cafés and other non-residential access points for internet usage.

Iran had the highest number of Internet users in the Middle East and Africa at 41.1 million in 2008, although it is now third in the list as of 2012.

Iran's Internet History

Iran first connected to the internet in 1993, the second country in the Middle East to do so.The level of internet penetration is, however, still modest, at only 8.2% of households in 2009,compared to 2.3% in 2004. Both dial-up and broadband services are available, but the latter are largely restricted to major cities. In 2010, 9.8% of households had internet-enabled computers.

Online Behaviour of Iranians

  • Iranians are also renowned for their keen use of the Internet: in 2008 it was estimated that there were 100,000 active Iranian bloggers
  • Iranian bloggers were overwhelmingly young (under the age of 35). Most bloggers were male, while the share of women among younger bloggers (under 25 years old) was almost equal to men, which suggests that the digital gap between men and women is closing.
  • Judging by blogs, Internet users seek primarily content relating closely to their country, rather than regional issues. Thus, bloggers tend to cluster according to country with interests varying between politics, religion and culture.


Digital Media Platforms

Blogs

Blogging in Iran operates under special circumstances because the government restricts certain views. Blogs in general tend to be unregulated compared to other forms of expression in Iranian society. This characteristic can account for the huge popularity of blogs especially among Iranian youths. As of October 2005, there are estimated to be about 700,000 Iranian blogs (out of an estimated total of 100 million worldwide, of which about 40,000-110,000 are active, mostly written in Persian, the Iranian language). There are also many weblogs written by Iranians in English and other languages. Most of them, though, belong to expatriates who live in North America, Europe, Japan, etc. Iran is the third-largest country of bloggers in the world after the United States and China. With more than 700,000 Persian blogs, mostly based in Iran, the Persian language is ranked as the second-most-popular language in the entire blogosphere. Blogs are particularly popular indicated by the fact that Iran has one of the highest rates of blogging in the world. In 2010, the most frequently visited blogging sites are Blogfa.com, Mihanblog.com, Blogger.com and Persianblog.ir. 1.1 Iranian Blogs of interest: www.iraniansblogs.com/ A Directory of Iranians' English-Language Blogs. Survey of Iranian Blogs from inland and abroad assembled by Fariborz Shamshiri publisher of the Blog www.rottengods.com

photoblogs.ir Photographic Blog covering sub to everyday culture to landscape photography. Remarkable visual insight into day-to-day Iran and the works of Iranian photographers.

irannewsblog.blogspot.com/ Up-to-date collection of global media coverage concerning Iran.

globalvoicesonline.org/ The Iran Blog Site established in 2005 by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; currently includes 150 voluntary authors and translators and more than 20 publishers.

www.thememriblog.org/ Blog close to the government, disseminating daily political reports.

omidmemarian.com Blog by Iranian born journalist Omid Memarian, currently World Peace Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. This Blog contains a series of previously published articles and interviews as well as videos and photo essays.

Microblogging

During the protests in Iran, Twitter was alive with activity as people on the ground in Iran posted updates about what was going on. Despite the fact the Iranian government tried to block media from seeing the protests, the ability for someone to type a quick microblog entry right on their mobile device made it very possible for media to still get their hands on news. Because of the ease of microblogging, many politicians and businesses have also tried to gain support through microblogging. Instead of writing a long article on an issue, a politician might post a link and say a few words on it and call it a day. If the story goes viral, which they typically do, the politician can gain a considerable amount of respect from other microbloggers. 3) Social networking sites

Cloob Cloob.com is a Persian-language social networking website, mainly popular in Iran. After the locally (and internationally) popular social networking website Orkut was blocked by the Iranian government, a series of local sites and networks, including Cloob, emerged to fill the gap. Its main page contains the title Iranian Virtual Society and states that all content is controlled in accordance with Iranian law, a policy intended to lower the risk of government censorship. It has an invite-only registration system. The website claims to have around 1 million members and over 100 million page views per month. Users have access to features like: internal email (for individual friends, groups of friends and community members), communities and community discussions (clubs), personal and community photo albums, article archive for communities, live messaging and chat rooms for communities, weblog, job and resume database, virtual money (called coroob), income/expense book keeping for individual members, online shops for offering goods and services, classifieds, questions and answers, link and content sharing, news, member updates and extensive permission setting capabilities. Some of the services consume virtual money. For example, advanced search in community discussions, advanced member search, receipt for email messages, list of profile visitors and a few other services will use different amounts of member's available virtual money. It is possible to buy virtual money or transfer it to other users. Cloob was censored on 7 March 2008 (the period of Parliament elections) by Iran Government. However, after what the Cloob management called "removal of illegal and controversial content" access was restored to Iranian internet users on 29 April 2008. On 25 December 2009 it was once again censored and remained so for some time, but as of 2011 Cloob appears to be in working order once again.

Balatarin Balatarin (in Persian: بالاترین, meaning the highest) is a community website through which users can post links to the webpages of their interest, with an emphasis on Iranian audience. Although only registered users can post links to Balatarin, registration was firstly free, but after a while moderator banned all new membership applications!. New links initially go to the "recently posted" page and once they collect enough positive votes, they are moved to the front page, which increases their chance of being viewed. The underlying idea is a mixture ofreddit, digg, newsvine, and del.icio.us. Balatarin was named editors' pick in 1386 (March 2007 to March 2008) in 7 Sang, a Persian Internet magazine, and it was voted the second most popular Persian website in the same year.[1] Balatarin was also voted the best "News Website" in 1385 by readers of the same magazine.[2] Balatarin proved to be a very effective social network after the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009. Many Iranians used Balatarin for getting news about the green movement against claimed fraud in elections as the Government had started censoring all the news about the unprecedented protest movement of the Iranians.Balatarin was also used as a platform for coordinating the protest actions against the regime. The effectiveness of such actions were proved during the demonstration of Quds day on Sept.18th 2009. Tens of thousands [3] of Iranians demonstrated against the Iranian government in Tehran and subverted the government sanctioned anti-Israeli demonstration.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube

Iran is testing a domestic Internet, a “Halal” network that will restrict citizens from penetrating foreign sites. Internet users this week reported delays in their network connections, which is believed to be connected to the new network’s trial run. The Wall Street Journal says the domestic Internet replacement aims to restrict the influence of non-Islamic culture and western ideology. The network — technically an Intranet — should be ready to go live within a few weeks, Iranian media reported. Internet users in Iran have reported slower network connections, access to political sites restricted and blocked VPNs. They have been unable to access sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in the last week. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, were the technical solution many Iranians were using to access their social networks. Facebook An official of the Iranian regime just recently expressed his fear for the growing number of people in Iran who use Facebook to socialize and warned that the most damage the website does to the society is “taking away minds and beliefs” of the Iranian young. He noted that at least 6 million people in Iran use Facebook to find friends and share information and discuss issues. To counteract, the official suggested that members of Basij force enter the media and be trained to use the media, become members and takeover the media.

The Iranian presidential elections and the subsequent protests about the results that saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attract 66% of the votes cast while rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi received 33%, Twitter has emerged as a key tool used by many Iranians to talk about what’s happening. Twitter’s value as a communications tool was highlighted when the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance so Iranians would have access to the service at a time when thousands were taking to the streets to protest. In 2009, there are 19,235 Twitter users in Iran, compared with 8,654 in mid-May. (Note: the number of users is determined by reindexing over 13 million Twitter accounts. Location is based on the information provided in a user’s profile. Update: Locations are based on information as disclosed in May for users who joined before June to avoid counting those who changed it later to Tehran).

News Website

Gooya News Gooya (Persian: گویا‎) is a Persian-language website started by Belgium-based journalist Farshad Bayan in 1998. At that time, there were a few Iran-related websites and most Persian media did not have online editions. Manually prepared electronic copies of popular Persian journals (prepared by Bayan), such as the magazine Payam-e Emrooz, were a popular feature of Gooya. With the wave of Iranian websites and weblogs in the following years, their links appeared on Gooya and the website remained one of the most popular Persian websites. Gooya started its own independent news section, Gooya News, a few years later. Analyses by journalists and political figures, with political opinions ranging from far left to far right, are an exclusive feature of Gooya News among Persian websites.

Rooz Rooz (Persian: روز‎, literally day) is a Persian and English news website. It is mostly staffed by exiled Iranian journalists including Masoud Behnoud, Ebrahim Nabavi and Nikahang Kowsar with occasional articles by activists and journalists inside Iran, including Shirin Ebadi and Ahmad Zeidabadi. Another contributor is the Hossein Derakhshan, who has been under arrest in Tehran since 1 November 2008.[1] It was first published on the web on May 10, 2005. It is published by "Iran Gooya" (registered in France).


10 Essential follows for Iran

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Feeds

1. New York Times - Iran

Subscribe at: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iran/index.html
This RSS feed provided by New York Times’ page for Iran provides a stream of breaking news and archival information .

2. Iran Daily

Subscribe at: [1]
The Iran Daily is an English language newspaper published in Tehran, Iran. The paper is published by the Islamic Republic News Agency (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Republic_News_Agency) which is the official official news agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hence, news in this source may be aligned with Government policies.

Tweets

3. @IranNewsNow

Iran News Now was founded in April 2009, ahead of the monumental Iranian elections in June 2009. Over time @IranNewsNow has built a network of contacts both inside and outside of Iran. With the aid of its contacts @IranNewsNow is active in disseminating latest news bia Twitter and its website http://www.irannewsnow.com/.

4. @TehranBureau

Tehran Bureau is an independent news organisation committed to connecting journalists, Iran experts and readers around the world. Given the impediments to independent journalism in Iran, the organisation seeks to provide original reporting and comment on Iran.
The tweets by @TehranBureau provide regular updates about the Iranian market.

5. http://socialmediairan.com/

This site is a great one-stop portal for viewing a wide collection of tweet streams pertaining to Iran. The site has topically curated and embedded a variety of tweet streams about Iran.

6. @UKforIranians

This Twitter channel is part of UK’s attempts to relaunch its Iran website and social media presence in Iran.

Blogs

7. Iranians’ Blogs

http://www.iraniansblogs.com/
This site has curated a large number of popular blogs by both bloggers inside and outside of Iran. The selected blogs are solely a collection of blogs in the English language.

Video Channels

8. Iran by Press TV

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL16854443F24DFDE9&feature=plcp
Iran by Press TV is the first Iranian international news network, broadcasting in English on a round-the-clock basis.

9. Iran English Radio

http://english.irib.ir/
This channel provides around 180 minutes of programs in the form of recorded programs, live news, commentaries and news reports are produced in the English section each day.The radio’s schedule includes the recitation of Quranic verses, news, political commentaries, different series and features on special occasions.

Facebook Pages

10. The Iran page on Facebook by Tehran Bureau

http://www.facebook.com/tehran.bureau/info
This page features the work of Tehran Bureau, other news outlets and blogs. With 211,500 likes, and 6,345 talking about this, the page is a touch-down point for establishing an information network about Iran.


Hear it from the Experts

Interview with Dr. Mohammed el-Nawawy

Mohamad.jpg Dr. Mohammed el-Nawawy is a Knight-Crane endowed chair in the School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. He teaches international communication, mass communication, media globalization, and Middle East media courses. Dr. el-Nawawy has professional journalistic experience in the United States and the Middle East. (Retreived from http://www.queens.edu/Academics-and-Schools/Schools-and-Colleges/Knight-School-of-Communication/School-of-Communication-Faculty/School-of-Communication-Profile.html?profileId=194318 )

What is your general opinion on digital media in Iran? My research is mostly on Social Media in Arab world. I did a couple of studies on comparing the use of social media in Iran and Egypt. Because I think Iran is a good comparison model with the Arab world, and to conceptualize things for the Arab social media. And I’m aware that social media in Iran is used more widely than they are used in the Arab world. Internet access and penetration are at a much higher rate than in the Arab world.

Is the Iranian social media usuage mostly political? No, the government has a tight control over what goes on online. The Iran regime is very savvy in terms of control, not just in blocking certain websites, but in the sense that they are trying to co-opt the online activist. Not much use for political issues. Every government official has a social media account, so they are very polished when it comes to controlling social media in subtle ways, more so as compared to the Arab world.

So, if I can add to that, most of the activism on Iran that is done online, is mostly done by Iranians living outside of Iran.

In your research, you mostly liaised with people outside of Iran? Yes, I wanted very much to talk to people in Iran but they are very afraid to talk to me. There is very high censorship, and they cannot honestly say what they feel. They put themselves in danger if they do.

How prevalent is digital media usage in Iran? It is quite prevalent. From my latest information, around 40% of the Iranian population have access to the Internet. Blogging is ranked very high amongst social media platforms in Iran. Even the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has his own blog. However, the blogs are mostly written in Persian, and that creates a barrier for scholars like myself who want to analyze some of these blogs.

Blogging is much more prominent in Iran than Facebook and Twitter, so it’s actually ironic that activists used Twitter as the platform and it is more commonly known as the Twitter Revolution. They called it the “Twitter Uprising” without actually considering how many twitter users actually come from inside Iran. In fact, most of the activists came from outside of Iran.

Tehran Bureau

Title: Interview with Kelly G. Niknejad, founder of Tehran Bureau Website link: TehranBureau.com Twitter: @TehranBureau

We came across an amazing website that is dedicated to reporting news on Iran. The website is comprehensive as it covers a wide variety of topics, and it’s all about Iran. As described in the website, “Tehran Bureau is an independent news organization. It is not affiliated with or funded by any government, religious organization, political party, lobby or interest group.”

Founded in November 2008, Tehran Bureau has grown to become one of the most influential news reporting websites on Iran. To date, the Bureau has garnered 29,400 and 211,900 followers on Twitter and Facebook respectively, and it continues to grow. We wanted to understand what the Bureau really aims to do, and how they view the outlook of digital media in Iran in the near future.

We had a quick chat with, Kelly G. Niknejad, the editor-in-chief and founder of Tehran Bureau.

What is the motivation in setting up Tehran Bureau? Tehran Bureau really aims to improve reporting on Iran. I wanted to open a window on to a fascinating country, and you do that by opening as many windows as possible, showing not only its politics, but its music, culture, history and food. And of course its people.

What are some of the obstacles that you face? Trying to find a sustainable business model and sourcing for funding is a problem that we are constantly facing. I guess it is something a lot of news organizations are struggling with.

We’ve seen a huge increase in Internet and social media usage in Iran in the past few years. However, it seems that the information that are shared, are largely political issues. Why do you think Iranians are so motivated and passionate to talk about politics? Well, politics looms heavy over every aspects of their lives. You can’t really escape that.

That is true, but how is that different from other countries that also face political unrest? Maybe it's not all that different. Iranians are highly educated and sophisticated. They're highly curious about people and the world. It's only natural they would be interested.

What do you think is the outlook of digital media in Iran in the near future? Right now it doesn't look very promising. Officials there have said they will implement a national "halal" intranet, one that won't allow most Iranians to connect to the World Wide Web. They've pushed back the date of its launch several times.

What is the one thing you would like people to know about Tehran Bureau? The website. TehranBureau.com

We like that. Straight to the point. Totally inline with what Tehran Bureau is all about.


Case Studies

On 12 June 2009, Iran held its Presidential elections. The official vote count results claimed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had secured 24.5 million votes, or 62.5% of the votes, while Mir-Hossein Mousavi had gathered 13.2 million votes, or 33.7% of the votes. However, the outcome of the elections was disputed with both leading candidates claiming victory, and Mousavi warned the Iranian people of possible vote fraud.

Between June 13th and 14th, protests started surfacing as the results of the election still remained unclear. This was also the weekend in which the tweet hashtag #CNNFail grew in prominence. #CNNFail spurred a stream of tweets condemning popular news networks for failing to provide proper news coverage of the protests in Iran.

Although many sites including Twitter, Flickr and Facebook were blocked in Iran, Iranians were using proxy servers to route around government-controlled gateways and publish images, video and blog posts about the protests.

On 16 June 2009, the number of tweets mentioning Iran peaked at 221,744 tweets in one hour.

In particular the term #Iranelection gained traction around the world. Twitter’s chief scientist Abdur Chowdhury wrote as follows on the company's official blog: "Twitter users found the Iranian elections the most engaging topic of the year. The terms #iranelection, Iran and Tehran were all in the top-21 of Trending Topics, and #iranelection finished in a close second behind the regular weekly favourite #musicmonday."Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag
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