Jannati told security forces that in the past the Iranian government was able to exert tight restrictions and fully bar citizens from accessing certain types and sources of information. But the culture minister acknowledged that the country’s overwhelmingly young population has been increasingly successful at circumventing blocks on internet sites, mobile applications, and satellite television.
Last week it was revealed that various types of blocked content were making it through Iran’s so-called smart filtering of Instagram. A single security upgrade by the image-sharing app was reported to be responsible for making smart filtering obsolete overnight, and only months after regime officials had boasted that it would allow them much greater control over online content without needing to block entire websites.
Other social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are banned in the Islamic Republic, but they are widely used nonetheless, thanks to proxy servers and other resources for circumventing technical restrictions.
Implying that the challenges to Iranian content restrictions are virtually insurmountable, Jannati went on to recommend a new approach for regime officials and loyalists tasked with controlling the flow of media and information throughout the country. “The most important solution one can suggest is content production,” he said. “We should take control of the scene and produce content, because we can only control public opinion by as much as the content we produce.”
Jannati’s remarks were quoted by Iran’s official state media, which has numerous outlets including television networks and newspapers. Such state-owned operations produce content for both Persian and English-speaking audiences, and the content ranges in tone from biased but straightforward news reporting to transparent propaganda.
In addition to official state media, there are a number of semi-official news outlets in Iran, which submit to extensive government controls or are closely associated with regime stakeholders such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Jannati’s statements can thus be regarded as advocacy for the expansion of an already very active and expansive content-producing infrastructure.
The apparent goal of overwhelming alternative content with officially-sanctioned information, propaganda, and entertainment is reminiscent of recent comments by a leading cleric in the city of Mashad, Imam Ahmad Almolhoda, who in April called for a ban on all live musical performances in the city. Almolhoda added that religiously motivated musicians, filmmakers, and other artists, should become more active in an attempt to overwhelm the currently larger quantities of secular and often Western-influenced media being produced in Iran.