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Radio Farda Says Record Number of Iranians Visit Its Website

U.S.-funded international broadcaster uses proxy server to get around censors

The Internet has become an increasingly important part of the distribution channels for U.S.-funded international broadcasting operations. Here’s one example.

Radio Liberty’s Persian-language radio service Radio Farda broadcasts on short- and medium-wave, the Internet and satellite radio to Iran 24/7.

The broadcaster says more than a million people inside Iran circumvented censorship and logged on to its website in July through a proxy server, a system ensuring anonymity. The U.S.-funded broadcaster says it’s the first time Radio Farda’s proxy server recorded that many visits since the server was put in place in April 2009.

In addition, the site received 40,000 visits on Aug. 15, a record high for a day without breaking news.

In total, the proxy server plus regular web traffic, Radio Farda says its website drew more than 4.3 million visits last month. Users viewed nearly 13 million web pages and downloaded more than a million hours of audio programming.

The more Tehran starves Iranians of accurate news, the hungrier the people become for reliable information, according to Radio Farda Director Armand Mostofi, who says the server spike is the latest milestone in a year of great growth for the radio service.

Radio Farda claims that one of its live shows, “Pas Farda” or “The Day After Tomorrow,” generates hundreds of comments each weekday from its 8,500+ Facebook fans and that host Farshid Manafi is an Iranian satirist whose programs on state television and radio were shut down by censors.

Mostofi believes the Iranian government will keep trying to jam Radio Farda’s signals and disrupt the website.

We’ve been reporting for years how U.S. international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — as well as other similar broadcasters worldwide, like the BBC World Service and Radio Netherlands — are putting more of their distribution resources into Internet, television and FM, and less on shortwave as more of their audience migrates to these newer distribution methods. The transition has been contentious, with some critics saying the Broadcasting Board of Governors has cut its shortwave resources too deeply.

Despite newer audience avenues, some things, like censorship, are still around.

When I worked as an on-air journalist at VOA in the mid-’80s on a program that delivered news and entertainment to Haiti, the Russians frequently tried to jam our shortwave frequencies. (And what a cat and mouse game that was. On-air and technical operations personnel wouldn’t know until right before the program aired each day what frequency we’d be using; that mattered, to get the control room and studio in-sync.)

It appears, at least in Radio Farda’s case, that with a greater arsenal of program distribution methods, U.S.-funded international broadcasters can stay a step ahead of censors.