Why did Iran destroy 100,000 satellite dishes?

Iran destroyed 100,000 privately owned satellite dishes, which the government says 'deviate morality and culture' by delivering broadcast programming from other countries.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/File
Iranians vote in front of a large Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran, on February 26, 2016. The government recently destroyed 100,000 satellite dishes, which are illegal.

Iran destroyed 100,000 satellite dishes, which are illegal to own in the country, on Sunday. Iranian leaders say the satellite dishes "deviate morality and culture" and are un-Islamic, as Al Jazeera reported.  

All television broadcasting in Iran is controlled by the state, as PBS reported. However, 70 percent of Iranians violate the law and own satellite dishes which can gather television programming worldwide, as Culture Minister Ali Jannati told Al Jazeera. 

In response, the Iranian government conducts occasional raids, and frequently jams satellite signals. 

"What these televisions really achieve is increased divorce, addiction and insecurity in society," Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of Iran's Basij militia, said. General Naghdi oversaw the destruction of the satellite dishes in Tehran. 

"Most of these satellite channels not only weaken the foundation of families but also cause disruptions in children's education and children who are under the influence of satellite have improper behaviour," he said.

Under Iranian law distributing, using, or repairing satellite equipment can result in a fine of up to $2,800. More than 1 million Iranians had handed over their satellites voluntarily, Naghdi said. 

For Iran, maintaining control over the media consumption of its citizenry is a priority, as Small Media, a nongovernmental organization based in London, wrote in a report. 

"In a closed society like Iran, where the government maintains a tight grip over the media and all modes of communication, satellite television broadcasts from outside the country carry particular significance for both the authorities and the Iranian public," the report's authors wrote. "The Iranian government sees satellite channels as a Western front in the 'soft war' being waged against their rule, a 'weapon' intent on undermining the country's religious and cultural beliefs."

However, not all of Iran's leadership supports the ban. President Hassan Rouhani has spoken against the ban, and Culture Minister Jannati called for a change to the law. 

"Reforming this law is very necessary as using satellite is strictly prohibited, but most people use it," he said. 

The dishes are smuggled into the country and sold for less than $200, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting provides eight national and 30 provincial channels, but the dishes are used to access a much larger selection, including political talk shows. They are also used to watch popular Turkish soap operas that are particularly disliked by conservative Muslims in the country. Satellite dishes are most popular in the capital. 

"We are not against technology but against promiscuity and licentiousness, which are spread by these soap operas on satellite TV channels," a commenter in support of the ban explained on a news story about the crackdown, the Los Angeles Times reported. 

Raids often increase during Ramadan. "The law enforcement and judiciary here want to show off who is the boss in the public sphere," Nader, a Tehran resident in his 30s, told the Los Angeles Times. "Ramadan is a reminder for them to be to be tough and strict." 

Despite the raids to discourage the owning of satellites, they are still common. Often, those who have had satellite's confiscated replace them quickly. 

"Soap operas are good series, and young people can learn many things from them," Momtaz, a woman in her 60s told the Los Angeles Times. "Watching them is not against Islam."

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