Iranians turn to USIM networks for critical information during protests

On December 28, 2017, a small group of young, working class Iranians in the city of Mashhad, began to protest to voice their frustration with the country’s economy.

Within days, the protests had spread to more than 90 cities and towns across the country, with protesters calling for economic and political change.

Expanded coverage

From the beginning, Iranians turned to trusted news sources to gather and share information: Voice of America’s Persian Service and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

VOA Persian immediately started sifting through the thousands of posts on social media to show the scale and impact of the protests, carefully vetting those pieces of citizen journalism and creating a clear and complete picture of what was happening. The network expanded its live broadcasts to Iran to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the protests and explained U.S. policies, perspectives and reaction, from President Trump’s tweets to exclusive interviews with Vice President Pence and U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster. VOA Persian also broadcast interviews with other key State Department officials, including Andrew Peek, U.S. State Department deputy assistant secretary for Iran and Iraq, former CIA director John Brennan and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, as well as with numerous regional experts from think tanks, academia and the media. In addition, VOA’s English newsroom worked with the Persian Service to turn their coverage into material for the entire network and ran a live blog as events unfolded.

Since the protests broke out, RFE/RL has added five hours of news coverage every day to its 24/7 program mix, offering comprehensive coverage of breaking developments across the country and interviews with political and economic experts both inside and outside Iran. Many Iranians took great risks to send user-generated video clips of the protests directly to Radio Farda and engaged in interviews with journalists via both social platforms and telephone. One eyewitness to protests outside of Tehran University was arrested right after he spoke with Radio Farda. Audience members from around the country sent videos of the protests directly to Radio Farda. The network received videos from numerous cities including Ahvaz, Arak, Behshahr, Delijan, Doroud, Ghouchan, Hamedan, Ispahan, Izeh, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Najafabad, Nishapour, Qom, Rasht, Saveh, Shahr-e-Kord, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, Tonekabon, Yazd, and Zanjan.

In addition to its Farsi coverage, RFE/RL also providing coverage in English on the Radio Farda English website and via an English-language live blog and extensive reporting on the RFE/RL website.

Expanding Access

With Iranian authorities limiting internet access, BBG expanded it transmissions to make sure the truth could be heard. Radio Farda is reaching Iranians via audio through its 24/7 Farda stream available on shortwave and AM radio, the Internet, and on the AsiaSat 7 and Eutelsat HotBird 13B satellites; on TV with the live morning program “Breakfast with News” and “Five Minutes with News” hourly highlights and on the USIM stream, which also includes original programing from VOA; and via available web and social platforms.

VOA reaches Iranians through daily radio broadcasts and six hours of original television programming. In addition to its website, it maintains more than a dozen Facebook pages, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram and Youtube profiles.

Both VOA Persian and Radio Farda also have mobile apps available for Android and iPhone.

Record Audiences

VOA Persian, which averaged around 250,000 visits per day in recent months, hit a new record with more than 800,000 visits per day during the first weekend of citizen protests.  During that week the site received 2.9 million visits, and content consumption has seen a tremendous surge (254% increase in article views at 1.3 million and 428% increase in video views with 490,000).

Radio Farda’s website recorded more than 5.2 million visits between December 29 and January 4, reaching a high of 960,000 on January 1.  Engagement was high as well, with more than 1,000 comments Friday and 1,200 comments Saturday; nearly 7,000 comments have been sent to Radio Farda’s live blog on the protests.

Regional Coverage

Stability in Iran is a key concern to many of its neighbors, and USIM networks provided extensive coverage of the protests and the Iranian government’s reaction to these countries.

Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa reported on the protests and provided analysis about what unrest could mean for the country and the region.

Alhurra’s newscasts provided a comprehensive recap of the daily activities of the protestors and the reaction of the Iranian leadership; comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley; as well as reaction across the globe from countries such as Iraq, Britain, France, Turkey and Germany. The network also reported on the pro-government protests that took place in Tehran. Alhurra’s flagship discussion program, Free Hour dedicated three episodes to the protests in Iran, with American, Iranian and Iraqi experts sharing their insights into the ripple affect it will have on the region. Free Hour guests also compared President Trump’s reaction to the protests now, compared to President Obama during the 2009 Green Revolution.

In addition to coverage on its hourly newscasts, Radio Sawa’s feature program Sawa Magazine reported on the clamp down by Iranian security forces in Tehran after Iranian President Rohani called for calm.

In addition to its increased Persian and English language coverage, Voice of America also ramped up several social media efforts for Pashto, Kurdish, Urdu and Turkish language content to keep audiences in the region informed.