New Pressure on Jammers of International Broadcasts

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has called upon the world’s nations to take “necessary actions” to stop intentional interference with satellite transmissions.

The change in ITU regulations, which was approved at the just-concluded World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) in Geneva, Switzerland, came after numerous complaints that international satellite TV programs in Persian and Arabic were suffering from deliberate interference, known as “jamming”.

Two satellite operators that have been targeted, Eutelsat and Arabsat, said the interfering signals originated from Iran and Syria.

“We are gratified to see the World Radiocommunication Conference take a position on this vital issue,” said Richard M. Lobo, Director of the United States International Broadcasting Bureau.

“Of course, it remains to be seen whether Iran, Syria and other countries which interfere with international satellite communications will change their practices. Jamming is a fundamental violation, not only of international regulations and norms, but of the right of people everywhere to receive and impart information,” Lobo said.

The interference, which has increased since September, 2011, affected broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Broadcasting Board of Governors, Audiovisuel extérieur de la France (RFI) and France 24 TV and Deutsche Welle.  Joining in backing the ITW rule change were Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the European Broadcasting Union.

The change in the regulation came after hours of discussion and debate, both in small groups and on the floor of the WRC. A report by the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board noted “the persistent character of the harmful interference” and the fact that “in some cases, the administrations involved have not responded … and appear to take no action to resolve the interference.”

The revised language says administrations “shall ascertain the facts and take the necessary actions” when they encounter jamming.

Prior to the WRC action, the Directors-General of five major international broadcasters charged that jamming is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Reporters Without Borders called for nations to “firmly condemn countries that do not respect the fundamental principles of the free flow of information,” adding, “the ITU must not be the accomplice of regimes that obstruct the flow of news and information on their telecommunications networks.”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran termed satellite jamming part of a broader effort.  “The Iranian government is also engaged in comprehensive attempts to take complete control of online access to the internet as well as restricting mobile voice and data communications,” the group said in a statement urging the WRC to address the jamming issue.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).