U.S. Accuses Cuba of Jamming Broadcasts to Iran

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency which oversees non-military international broadcasting, denounced the Cuban government on Tuesday for blocking U.S.-based programming critical of the Iranian government and supportive of the ongoing student pro-democracy demonstrations.

“The BBG strongly condemns the deliberate and malicious interference with its legitimate efforts to impart truthful, objective, and balanced news to its Iranian audience,” the Board’s Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson said in a press statement released July 15.

U.S. officials first discovered the interference on July 6, the day the BBG’s Voice of America launched its new Farsi-language program, News & Views, described by the VOA as a news and analysis program to “help further the struggle for freedom and self-determination in Iran.”

Two other weekly VOA Persian-language programs, Next Chapter and Roundtable with You, were also blocked, the BBG said.

“Cuba’s jamming of satellite transmissions is illegal and interferes with the free and open flow of international communications… This action is illegal, represents a major threat to satellite communication and must be stopped,” Tomlinson said.

The inauguration of News & Views followed a recent wave of student demonstrations calling for greater freedom from the theocratic government in Tehran.

Four privately owned Farsi-language stations based in Los Angeles — National Iranian TV, Azadi TV, Channel 1, and ParsTV — discovered on July 5 that their broadcasts were not airing in Iran.

The National Iranian TV (NITV) said after it first detected transmission interference it requested that Loral Skynet, the company that provides satellite service for the VOA and the four private broadcasters, investigate the source of the interference.

“Investigations concluded an ellipse of the most probable location of the source of the interference… identified as being in the vicinity of Havana, Cuba,” NITV said in a statement posted on its Web site.

“It is believed that Iran has commissioned jammers in Cuba because of their mutually anti-American regime,” according to a press statement from NITV, a station operated by Iranian-Americans and Iranian exiles opposed to the current Iranian government.

NITV added that Loral Skynet had informed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the interference.

Similarly, the BBG’s nine-member board urged the FCC and the U.S. State Department to “lodge an appropriate formal protest against the government of Cuba for this unwarranted and wrongful interference.”

In its unanimous resolution, the board members on Tuesday furthermore called upon the commercial satellite companies to cut broadcast service to countries involved in jamming U.S. broadcasts to Iran.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed on Wednesday the disruption of U.S.-based transmissions to Iran, but said the State Department was still investigating the source of the interference.

“Here is what we know. There is a U.S. company, Loral Skynet, that reported interference with its commercial satellite transmissions,” Boucher said at a press briefing.

The U.S., Boucher said, had not yet determined whether the Cuban government was responsible for the satellite interference.

“We are looking into the source of interference with these broadcasts and we will be taking up with the Cubans the question of whether or not this interference is coming from Cuba,” the State Department spokesman said.

NBC News investigative producer Bob Windrem, who first reported the story, quoted an unidentifed Loral Skynet employee saying, “The jamming appears to be linked to the anniversary of the [Iranian] student uprisings… It’s malicious, not a prank.”

In an interview with the Washington Times, BBG Chairman Tomlinson also said he saw it as deliberate interference by Cuba.

“Cuba is obviously doing this at the behest of the mullahs in Iran,” Tomlinson said. “Iran needed someone in this hemisphere to do its dirty work.”

The Cuban Consulate in New York City has not returned calls made by several news agencies.