Media Revolution in Iran

Ideas in Action host Jim Glassman moderates a panel discussion on how the internet and other cybertools are "revolutionizing revolution" in Iran. In the wake of Iran's disputed June 12, 2009 election, protesters are using cell phones, digital cameras and the internet to communicate with each other and to get their message to the outside world. Have YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter become the latest weapons in the war against tyranny? Jim and his four guests discuss the effect of these new technologies on movements for democracy and freedom in Iran and other parts of the world.

Transcript

GLASSMAN:  `00:00:02 Hello, I'm Jim Glassman.  Welcome to IDEAS IN ACTION a new kind of television series about ideas and their consequences.  This week the media war in Iran, how YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are revolutionizing revolution.  The internet is providing new weapons in the war against tyranny and repression.
`00:00:24 What can the United States do to help Democrats on the streets of Tehran and throughout the world.  Joining me to explore that topic are Goli Ameri, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs and a former US delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights;  Peter Ackerman, Chairman of the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict and one of the world's leading authorities on peaceful transitions of power; Mohsen Sazegara, a leader of the 1979 movement that brought the Ayatollah to power and a founder of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. He now sends YouTube videos back into Iran to encourage opposition to the regime that he helped create; and, David Nassar, executive director of the Alliance of Youth Movement, a non-profit group that promotes the internet as a way to advance human rights and democracy around the world.
`00:01:17 The topic this week:  Iran, new media and revolution.  This is IDEAS IN ACTION.
`00:01:33 In the wake of Iran's disputed June 12th, 2009 election the streets of Tehran exploded in protest.  Western journalists were barred from covering the demonstrations, but Iranian citizens armed with cell phones and digital cameras filled the internet with the sound and images of revolt, including digital footage of the shooting of Neda Agha Soltan at a street rally protest in Tehran.
`00:01:58 Her death, recorded and then viewed around the world became a rallying point for the opposition.  It has been called the Twitter revolution, but it really is a product of a host of new web applications that help activists communicate with each other and to reach the outside world.
`00:02:18 And it is not just happening in Iran.  At a recent conference in Mexico City young activists from around the globe gathered to compare notes on how to harness new communications technologies to bring democratic change to their countries.
`00:02:35 Mohsen, let's start with you.  How do you use the internet?
SAZEGARA:  `00:02:40 I record a home video every night in the basement of my house for ten minutes.  I post it on my web site at the same time I post it on YouTube. And we have a Google group, more than 15 thousand members send by email for the members of that group.  
`00:03:02 And we separate the audio from the video and it's in several formats, like G3, then in Iran -- the young generation are able to circulate through their Blue Tooth and cell phones as well and the text of my daily conversation, my daily messages which is sent again the next day.
`00:03:30 So, we evaluate that about half a million people in Iran can circulate whatever I say every day.
GLASSMAN:  `00:03:38 What's the content? Are you telling them what's going on in Iran or what's going on in the rest of the world?
SAZEGARA:  `00:03:42 I have a brief news and a brief assessment of some news every night.  But the most part of the home video is about the non-violent movement, the tactics of non-violent movement. To insure -- sometimes I introduce some articles for the young generation and encourage them to read them, to be trained for peaceful and non-violent movement in Iraq.
GLASSMAN:  `00:04:13 Goli, is this internet activity is it really having a political effect in Iran?
AMERI:  `00:04:18 We'll, I think, Jim, the fact that the Iranian government is so intent on controlling the internet tells us that it must be having an effect.  You know internet penetration in Iran is about 32 percent out of a population of about 71 million.  And that's about a six percent increase since just two years ago.  So, people are signing up as we speak.
`00:04:41 In addition the Iranian government stopped access to all sorts of broadband technologies in 2006 because they just decided that they didn't want people like Mohsen sending YouTube videos to everyone.  
`00:04:55 So, you know I think because of the fact that also the government is so intent on using filtering software, they're so intent on having black lists of about five million web sites that they block access to in just late 2008.  And also we can't forget mobile technology, mobile phones and SMS which are by far a larger penetration.
GLASSMAN:  `00:05:23 So, the fact that the regime is trying to stop this is a good indication that it's working, or that the internet is having an effect.  Just to go back to you quickly Mohsen, how do people access what you're doing? Are they able with all these attempts to block access to the internet -- are they able to get through and see what you've done?
SAZEGARA:  `00:05:43 My website and YouTube are filtrated in Iran.  But the young generation first of all they know how to break the filters.  And, so, they can have the access to these sites.
`00:05:57 But the most effective way is Facebook because the different pages of Facebook -- more than 20 thousand people are my friends and they share it with their friends as well and like a tree, very soon it will be circulated.
GLASSMAN:  `00:06:17 And Facebook is not blocked in Iran?
SAZEGARA:  `00:06:19 It is blocked, but again, they know how to break it -- 
GLASSMAN:  `00:06:24 Speaking of Facebook, David your organization, the Alliance of Youth Movements, which is the group that had that conference in Mexico City was really started as the result of some activity on Facebook by someone in Colombia, Oscar Morales.  Are you really writing a new playbook for these pro democracy anti violence pro human rights organizations?
NASSAR:  `00:06:47 I actually think the activists are writing the playbook themselves all around the world and what the Alliance of Youth Movements is doing is trying to capture some of the best lessons learned from these different movements and then share them and distribute them with many of the new fledgling activists that are coming up everyday.
`00:07:05 There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from the people -- what happened in Iran -- from what happened in Moldova, from what happened in Colombia and those experiences are as Mohsen said -- it's like a tree and it just -- it sends out shoots and new trees sprout all the time.
GLASSMAN:  `00:07:26 And you're organization is not -- it's not just made up of these -- these groups themselves, these online groups -- but there are technology companies, there are representatives of technology companies that are helping as well.
NASSAR:  `00:07:38 That's right.  What's happened is that -- I think there's a growing recognition of the importance of these online movements around the world to promote democracies for freedom and there are many leaders of technology companies around the United States and around the world who are interested in exploring how the technologies they're developing can not only be used for business purposes, but can also be used to try to support these movements.
`00:08:03 Both in an initial conference we did in 2008 and then in Mexico City just back in October of 2009, we had representatives from Google, from AT&T, from Omnicom, from a variety of companies, from Twitter that were there and sharing their experiences and their knowledge with the activists.
GLASSMAN:  `00:08:23 Peter, you're one of the world's experts on regime change, how it happens, why it happens.  How important are these new tools. During the cold war for example we had different kinds of tools, Xerox machines and shortwave radio.  Are these new tools making a big difference?
ACKERMAN:  `00:08:40 They'll make a big difference to the extent that people who use them recognize their ultimate purpose.  The tools have extraordinary potential, to basically put a tremendous amount of power on the side of those who are in existence.  But part of that is the need to understand what its ultimate purpose is.
`00:09:03 Technology itself is not enough.  Understanding how it's to be used for a sustained civil resistance is critical.
GLASSMAN:  `00:09:12 So, the question is coordinating for what?  But the main use of the tools, the main effectiveness of the tools is in coordination, communication, telling people what's going on in different parts of their own country and what -- suggesting what to do next?
ACKERMAN:  `00:09:28 Yes and also discovering -- I think one of the things that Mohsen would be able to comment on more clearly than I would -- but one of the things that happened with the sustained protests after January 12th was people started to discover how dissatisfied so many people were.  
`00:09:43 And this process of discovery of latent dissent even amongst people who seem to be fixed into the system is really what gives people courage to continue and basically undermines what we would call the pillars of support that the Iranian regime needs to stay in power.
`00:09:58 And that's what technology has the enormous potential to do, not just to communicate with some of the dissenters but to discover other points of latent dissent, people in the military, in the bureaucracy, in clerical --
SAZEGARA:  `00:10:12 In green movement the last five months from June and so far -- it has been a good opportunity for not the world to watch the people of Iran but how to see that -- I think that is a good opportunity for the people of Iran as well.
`00:10:32 Especially when the cell phone camera -- videos -- come out of Iran and then are shown by some satellite TVs here or from Europe -- the people in very very small towns of Iran -- they can watch what's going on for instance in Tehran.
`00:10:53 Because as you know in Iran we have only a state run exclusive radio and television -- which they censor everything.  And we evaluate that about 70 percent of the people of Iran are now supporting the green movement.  Twenty percent are somehow neutral, they are still thinking about it.  And ten percent at most support the regime.
GLASSMAN:  `00:11:17 How do you know that?
SAZEGARA:  `00:11:19 We have some evaluation by some groups in Iran that they get quick poll for 200 or 250 samples from some -- sometimes.
GLASSMAN:  `00:11:34 You can use this technology in three ways.  One is to communicate from the country that's involved, Iran, to the outside world, hey what's going on here.  Another way is for the outside world to communicate into Iran to tell them we support you, we hear you.
`00:11:55 And the third way is this communication within Iran where people are telling each other how they feel, which is the most important of these three?
NASSAR:  `00:12:06 Well, I think that's a very difficult question to try to evaluate which is the most important.  What I would do is I would look at all three of them and look at the transformational aspect that's occurring, which I think Peter alluded to in the use of the term discovery.
`00:12:16 Now, I referred to it in a blog piece I did during the protests as -- I described it as the individuals involved in the protest creating their own credibility which is something transformational in the world.  
`00:12:34 You have a situation where over the last 70 - 80 years, if you were to do a protest whether or not it was covered by the television would determine whether or not the event was substantial.
`00:12:47 What's happened -- what happened in this case is that people were able to post the videos up on YouTube, put references on Twitter, but references on Facebook and in essence if I am an activist sitting in my house in Iran or I am a potential supporter sitting in Los Angeles, I no longer need to go to CNN to decide whether or not something is actually happening in Iran. I can see from the activists themselves the messages that they are posting.  And that's transformational.
GLASSMAN:  00:13:15 Let's say people do get the strategic part right with this new technology, does that mean we're going to see more regime change?
ACKERMAN:  `00:13:26 That's impossible to predict because you know regime change -- I think that's a term that's loaded.  I think transformation of regimes where -- you know, for example in Poland, we didn't see regime change during the Gdansk Shipyard strike.  The result of the Gdansk Shipyard strike was the creation of free trade union.  That morphed over time into an election.
`00:13:48 And, so, I think regime change is too constrained an ending for what this sort of thing might look like and I think Mohsen would probably say that at the end of all this, even if you're successful, it's still going to be an Islamic Republic of Iran.  It just will have a different character perhaps.  He's not so sure.
GLASSMAN:  `00:14:09 The point is we don't really know what's going to happen, but you agree that maybe it's speeding up the process?
ACKERMAN:  `00:14:15 I don't know.  One point that I think is worth noting here is that civil resistance is not just street protest.  In the time of Gandhi -- it was a salt march, it was creation of illegal salt.  In the case of Poland, it was a strike at a major source of foreign exchange.
`00:14:36 If you look at South Africa it was consumed with boycotts. And this is why I want to go back to the fact that technology aids in the coordination of strategic planning, which means that a movement that's going to succeed is going have to use a variety of tactics, not just street protests because they'll be counted over time, so it has to morph into a series of different kinds of tactics and technology really allows that to happen more quickly, it allows for a more certainty in planning and more confidence in planning.
`00:15:04 But we get a bit enamored with the technology because we see Neda and it's very dramatic and it creates international outrage, but that is not going to be enough to change the circumstances in Iran.
`00:15:16 What's going to be required - and again I'll defer to Mohsen -- is a series of sustained acts of civic disruption that forces people to shift their loyalties or allows them to do that.  And that's what's happened in so many civil resistance movements before and I think for Iran to succeed that's what's going to have to happen.
GLASSMAN:  `00:15:39 I would like to look at what we can do, what Americans and the United States Government can do.  And, Goli, you were in the State Department.  There is a kind of delicate balance here -- some people say anyway -- between encouraging the kinds of activities we've been seeing on the streets of Tehran and through that encouragement perhaps delegitimizing this movement.
`00:15:58 We hear this criticism a lot and some people say that the Obama Administration has taken that to heart and has been less active than one might suspect in its support.  What's your response to that?
AMERI:  `00:16:14 My idea is that you know certainly the administration can do more to support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people and that is by the President coming out and talking more directly to the Iranian people, talking about what are the costs of the nuclear program in Iran, through the pocketbook of the average Iranian.  What's the real actual cost.  Exactly the way we do it in a political campaign in this country.
`00:16:44 When President Obama ran and he talked about change and he talked about taxes and he talked about standard of living and he talked about health care and education, these are all issues that are important to the average Iranian as well.
GLASSMAN:  `00:16:56 He could use these new technologies which this administration certainly has in the case of sending cell phone messages in Africa and that sort of thing.  I want to get Mohsen's response to that.  What does the opposition think? -- what do individuals on the ground in Iran think about the response of the United States Government to what's happened?
SAZEGARA:  `00:17:23 I can say that there is a very important question in the minds of Iranian people.  I think that on November 4th, the anniversary of hostage taking in Iran demonstration people of Iran shouted on the street.  They ask President Obama that if you are with them or with us.  Then people say with them, they mean the coup government of Iran.
`00:17:46 This is something that not only the people in Iran but for me here as well we don't understand that -- how is the administration of President Obama so wait and see and looking at what's going on.  They can defend their own values, the value of democracy, human rights.  Not only the people of Iraq.  But they don't say anything about the people of Iran's struggle.
GLASSMAN:  `00:18:23 They meaning the United States Government.  
SAZEGARA:  `00:18:27 US government.
GLASSMAN:  `00:18:29 Let's talk about the technology of this here.  That there is blockage of websites, there are lots of people in Iran who don't have access, even though many do, to the kinds of technologies that we've been talking about today.  Is there something the United States Government can do to encourage more communication without actually promoting, let's say, regime change?  Are there things that can be done technologically, David?
NASSAR:  `00:18:59 Well, you've already spoken about some of the traditional tools, broadcasting tools that the US government has at its disposal and I think they're doing quite a lot with those to try to get a message out.
`00:19:08 I also think that they have in the past had conversations with technology companies in the US about how to open things up more.  In fact, during the Iran protests I know there was a conversation between the State Department and Twitter to make sure that Twitter did not go down for regularly scheduled maintenance during the course of the protest so people would continue to have access to that.
`00:19:33 That was in some ways a small thing, but it was also very important. I think that by their recognition of the importance of technology in helping to reach the audiences -- I think that that will be useful as well. So, I think the playbook is somewhat still being written.
ACKERMAN:  `00:19:53 I think you're absolutely right, I think also it's a constant competition because we've learned recently that Nokia Siemens was providing technology to the regime to help shut down communications. And so I think that -- I think the US can certainly figure out ways to be a counter to that and certainly has support under Article 19, the Universal Declaration of Human rights which prohibits any interference of information crossing borders from anyone to anyone.  So I think it's very easy for the US -- for any administration to basically say information should be freely -- should travel freely and should not be restricted and under those circumstances, they can easily support more direct involvement in making sure people are -- get communications and information they need.
GLASSMAN:  `00:20:43 And that's what we're really talking about here, right, Goli, we're talking about exchange of information, flow of information.  So, why aren't we seeing more encouragement of this flow of information?
AMERI:  `00:20:55 Well, you know, also just to add to what Peter just said, we have to remember that the Voice Act just passed -- and basically what it does is it improves the filter breaking mechanisms of Voice of America, but it also wants to provide free internet television to Iran.  I think that's part of it. So, that actually gets funded, that's about 50 million dollars, I think it can make a tremendous difference there.
`00:21:24 And just one other real quick thing, BBC during Ayatollah Khomeini's time was very active in getting the Ayatollah's message out, whether advertently or inadvertently.  It was happening.
`00:21:39 But nowadays I think when you look at VOA and BBC, you know, because of the fact that it's actually hard to get a verifiable piece of news out of Iran, they sort of have been a bit reticent about promoting a piece of information about people gathering somewhere in Iran. And this is the kind of reticence that you did not see on the part of BBC during the Ayatollah's time.
GLASSMAN:  `00:22:10 Do you agree with that?
SAZEGARA:  `00:22:10 Yes, I do.
GLASSMAN:  `00:22:12 Do you think that's true of US international broadcasting as well, Voice of America, Radio Farda -- Voice of America by the way -- a lot of viewers may not know this -- broadcasts seven hours a day by satellite into Iran.
SAZEGARA:  `00:22:27 The polls showed that about 50 million Iranians out of 73 million population can watch satellite TV.  And they --
GLASSMAN:  `00:22:36 Even though it's illegal to have a satellite receiver in your home.  But about half of the Iranians do have --
SAZEGARA:  `00:22:42 Yeah, more than half.  And especially Voice of America -- for instance I'm in a weekly show that polls show that about -- something between 20 to 30 million Iranians watch this weekly show. So, it's a powerful tool.
ACKERMAN:  `00:23:00 I want to step back and make another point.  It's technology -- the purposes and uses of technology and its character will best be understood when you think of the ultimate purpose.  For example, I believe in Iran there's going to have to be a shift from the original efforts to support Mousavi in the election to a more -- to a different strategy.
`00:23:23 One of the things we discovered in Iran is that there was tremendous latent dissent.  So, now that dissent needs to redirect itself to a series of goals that the maximum number of Iranians can subscribe to and this is like the free trade union movement in Poland.
`00:23:35 And the purpose of technology -- one of its purposes is to help people figure out together in Iran with greater recent communication what those common goals are.  Because with those new sets of common goals they may be for example dealing with changes in the Guardian Council edicts.  That's going to propel the next phase of this movement.
`00:23:55 So, technology to help people coordinate and to agree upon the set of goals that I think will be critical to the next step. 
GLASSMAN:  `00:24:05 Especially in a non-democratic state.
ACKERMAN:  `00:24:06 Exactly.
GLASSMAN:  `00:24:06 Usually these kinds of things are found out through the electoral process.
ACKERMAN:  `00:24:10 Exactly.
GLASSMAN:  `00:24:11 -- or through representatives.
ACKERMAN:  `00:24:12 The technology creates the completely new venue outside of what the government wants to restrict.  That's why when Mohsen is talking about polling, I would imagine that polling is the most frightful thing to Amajad and his group.  And technology allows that to increase and to disperse.
GLASSMAN:  `00:24:33 We're going to have to unfortunately wrap things up.  But I want to around the table and get your final thoughts very quickly about whether you believe that technology is going to effect change in Iran within the next year let's say.
AMERI:  `00:24:48 Absolutely, I think the Iranians have shown that they're incredibly technologically savvy and I think you know broadcasting, internet, mobile phone service will have a tremendous impact.
NASSAR:  `00:25:02 Without a doubt, because it's not just the speed of the technology but it's the confidence that the ability to be able to share information gives the dissidents and protesters -- to feel that they are not alone in either the sentiments that they have or in the actions that they take.
ACKERMAN:  `00:25:20 I'd have to agree.  We work with many dissidents from around the world. The Iranians are some of the most intelligent, energetic bright people and it would be the most natural thing to basically use cutting edge technology to advance what they want to accomplish.
SAZEGARA:  `00:25:33 Definitely yes and I hope the international community would help the Iranian people to put pressure on the other side as well.  For instance Revolutionary Guard has owned the telecom of Iran and help some other companies in the world to block the people, to use the technologies on the other side. So, this helped on the other side as well to help the democratic movement of people of Iran.
GLASSMAN:  `00:26:06 Thank you all for a spirited discussion.  Until next time, for IDEAS IN ACTION, I'm Jim Glassman.

6 Comments

Have any thoughts on this episode? We've got a special discussion thread on it up in our forums. Check it out:

http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/forum/read.php?2,3


George W. Bush is one of our greatest and finest Presidents ! He governed as General MacArthur said he had lived, " As god gave him the light to see". All of his decisions and actions were in the best interest of we the people whom he served. All true, good , and loyal Americans salute and thank him for his service. We also thank his wife and family for the wonderful example they set for all of us. Sincerely, Walter B Eidbo, M.D.

The protestors themselves should be profiled as well. If this is done I believe that you will find that they are westernized secular God haters that have not had the chance to show that this is characteristic about themselves. Their idea of peace if allowed to develop will result in the complete absence of religion and this is the most dangerous emerging group in the world. If this is not addressed overthrowing of the Islamic regime in Iran will result in a regime that will force atheism on the people of Iran, as is being done in the Europe and in the USA and I am not for this kind of people taking control of the government in Iran or any other government.

One way to help the Iranian opposition was to use communication technology satellite GPS. Using a satellite to transmit the GPS gender, to receive news on mobiles. Iran should have many phones with GPS.

Iranians have the lock on the internet, then going back to ancient times, and transmitted by radio stations in Short Wave and FM, as they did in World WarII against Germany in Disinformation. You can not use modern technology, then it uses the old technique. The protest movement in Iran has to have enough support, with all possible means.

Iran is an oil producing country and does not make investment in oil refineries, has to import refined fuels. Spends the money of citizens in Nuclear Power Plants, wants to reduce subsidies to people to support terrorism against Israel and USA, we'll see what will happen to this government when the people begin to feel the lack of food and fuel. What can we expect from a country that only invests in arms?

Leave a comment

Featured Guests

Peter Ackerman

Chairrman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

Peter Ackerman is Chairman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and one of the world’s leading authorities on peaceful transitions of power. He holds a Ph.D. from The Fletcher School, Tufts University, where he presently is the Chairman of the Board, and he is co-author of two books on nonviolent resistance: "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict " (Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press 2001) and "Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century" (Praeger 1994).

Goli Ameri

former US Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs

Goli Ameri is the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs and a former US delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights. She ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican in 2004 in Oregon’s First District. She was born in Tehran, Iran. Ameri was founder and president of eTinium, Inc., a telecommunications consulting firm in Portland, Oregon.[1] She is the author of over fifty market studies and wrote a bi-monthly industry analysis column for Telephony magazine. Prior to founding eTinium, Ameri was a director at U.S. Leasing, a former division of Ford Credit and Fleet Bank, in San Francisco.

David Nassar

Executive Director of the Alliance of Youth Movements

David Nassar is Executive Director of the Alliance of Youth Movements, a nonprofit group that promotes the internet as a way to advance human rights and democracy around the world. He is the former Vice President for Strategy at Blue State Digital, a leader in online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development programs for nonprofit organizations, political candidates and causes, and corporations.

Mohsen Sazegara

Iranian journalist and pro-democracy political activist

Mohsen Sazegara is an Iranian journalist and pro-democracty political activist. He was a leader of the 1979 movement that brought the Ayatollahs to power and a founder of that country’s Revolutionary Guard. Dr. Sazegara held several high ranking positions during the early years of the Iranian Revolution before becoming disillusioned with the government in 1989 and pushing for reforms. His reformist positions clashed with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, eventually resulting in his arrest in early-2003. Following his release in August 2003, he moved to the United Kingdom for medical attention. He currently resides in the United States. As of August 2009, Sazegara has been using the internet to create and send videos calling on Iranian dissidents to use non-violent means to avoid fragmentation and unite behind former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Episode Clips