IBWBC warns of satellite jamming ‘scourge’

An international conference hosted by the BBC last week saw repeated condemnations of the recent increase in jamming of broadcasts, and examined the steps that might be taken to address the threat of intentional blocking of international broadcasts and internet services – activity that runs in direct contradiction to Article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights, which states that individuals should have “the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Taking place on 20 November, the International Broadcasting without Barriers Conference attracted more than 100 delegates from a variety of satellite operators, broadcasters and stakeholders to consider what political and technical measures can be taken to make the distribution of media less vulnerable to interference.

Extensive data provided by satellite owner Eutelsat illustrated the extent of the problem. Jamming incidents doubled between 2010 and 2011, while in 2012, 340 incidents were reported between the months of January and November. The Middle East-based operator Arabsat recorded an increase in incidents of deliberate jamming between 2011 and 2012 of nearly three times. Eutelsat estimates that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of jamming in 2010 originated in Iran. In 2011, the source was mainly Iran with some interference traced to Syria and Bahrain. This year, most of the interference has been traced to Syria, but jamming also continues in Bahrain and Iran.

At present, the regulatory process does not offer scope for direct sanction against countries that allow jamming to originate from within their borders.

Peter Horrocks, director of global news at the BBC, comments: “Satellite jamming is a growing scourge and a threat to the vital flow of free information. Throughout its history the BBC World Service has countered the efforts of jammers, whether on old shortwave or new satellites. We always called on the guile of the best editorial and technical minds to overcome jamming. Today we do that again to help tackle the menace of jamming.”

Providing a parliamentary perspective, MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottaway, declares that “gunboat diplomacy is history. Soft power is the future. We live in a globally networked world where human rights abuses cannot hide.”

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