University of Pennsylvania researchers are helping to provide a snapshot of how Iranians access news and information and what technologies Iranians use to learn about current events under restrictive laws.
In a groundbreaking report by the Annenberg School for Communication’s Iran Media Program, authors Magdalena Wojcieszak, Briar Smith and Mahmood Enayat reveal results of surveys showing how Iranians use digital media as well as television, radio and publications.
Surveys were conducted online and in person during the past year in Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz and Shiraz. The report is entitled “Finding a Way – How Iranians Reach for News and Information.”
“We wanted to get a better and more nuanced understanding of the media environment in Iran,” says Smith. “The survey will contribute to the public knowledge of media in Iran.”
Iran blocks or filters access to Web sites considered politically or culturally sensitive. The government also prohibits circumvention tools that allow users to get around blocked or filtered sites. The use of television satellites is also banned in an attempt to prevent Iranians from accessing what leaders consider objectionable programming from abroad.
The survey shows Iranians overwhelmingly rely on state-run television for their news, followed by getting information from newspapers and then from interpersonal contacts such as family, friends and neighbors.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in Iran, but tech-savvy Iranians find ways to access the micro-blogging platforms.
After Iran’s contested elections in 2009 and following the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the researchers wanted to see if social-media platforms are helping to spur change in Iran.
“We polled people about the extent to which they thought that new media was empowering to the citizenry,” Smith says, “because there’s so much talk in the press about Twitter and Facebook effecting social change and political change.”
Most people felt that new media was not empowering them as citizens, and they feel that new media has not made politicians more accountable or more likely to listen to their needs, Smith says.
“This finding,” Wojcieszak says, “may suggest that the role played by Twitter was overstated to begin with. Or, it may also be the case that Twitter was more frequently used two years prior and its sociopolitical role has simply diminished since then.”
Wojcieszak, Smith and Enayat found that Iranian Twitter and Facebook users most commonly discussed news, health, personal issues, science and Internet technology.
The surveys show that in addition to watching TV via illegal satellites, Iranians are using circumvention tools, but many respondents said they felt very insecure in doing so.
For information about the Annenberg School for Communications’ Iran Media Program, go to: