Young people in internet cafes




CAMPBELL: In Iran’s Internet cafes, a tech-savvy new generation is fighting the old order. Their only weapons – the gadgets of modern communication -


Montage of protest images/Twitter sites

Facebook and Twitter to share messages and mobile phones to record images, the vision sent secretly to video websites. This new media was once seen as the plaything of indulgent youth. Now it’s a powerful tool in a fight for freedom.

Name witheald: “Essentially this is being fought on two fronts -


Name withheld

on the streets between the protestors and the militia and the revolutionary guards, and on the internet by people, every day people in Iran getting their


YouTube images

mobile phones out when they see brutality and ensuring that it gets out to the world. If this sort of information wasn’t getting out, then who knows how much more brutal the crackdowns would have been”.


Super:  June 12 Iranian protestors

CAMPBELL: [June 12] The protests began over a disputed election. Supporters of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi claimed they’d been robbed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it’s become a battle for the soul of Iran with dissenters challenging the might of the mullahs and the government they consider a sham.



Internet footage montage

Intimidation, brutality and fear may have quashed most street protests but the resistance and rebellion continues online. Tonight we’ll follow this media revolution around the world. In Washington we’ll see how a blogger took a question from Iran’s dissidents directly to the President.



NICO PITNEY: “Under which conditions would you accept the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?”



CAMPBELL: In the UK we’ll see how old media wrestles with the authenticity of the new, and how Britain earned the ire of Iran’s supreme leader.



SUPREME LEADER KHAMENEI: “They are showing their enmity against the Islamic state”.



CAMPBELL: And thirteen thousand kilometres from the rebellion’s epicentre, how expat Iranians in a small Sydney apartment are helping the uprising.


Students watching internet footage

STUDENT: [Watching footage on YouTube] “They’re murderers”.

Name withheld: “They’re savage murderers and they say that we need to execute the leaders of the demonstrators and protestors”.


Negar Salek

NEGAR SALEK: “I mean this is unbelievable what I’m watching right now”.


Protest  footage




Students watching internet footage and Twittering

Name withheld: “All you can do is you know watch it on You Tube…”

CAMPBELL: Every night, Negar Salek and her friends tap into this virtual protest.

NEGAR SALEK: “Yeah, it’s reaching new levels.”

CAMPBELL: She left Iran as a child but has travelled back often to stay close to family and friends.



Contacts update her with the latest news from the streets, while she passes on information the regime is trying to keep from its own people.


Negar Salek

NEGAR SALEK: “One of my friends e-mailed me about an hour ago and said it’s quite busy still, I’m safe don’t worry about me, but it’s generally a state of emergency right now”.


Twitter on screen

CAMPBELL: One of their main tools is Twitter, an Internet message board that can be accessed by mobile phone or laptop. The messages known as ‘Tweets’ give real time information of what’s happening on the ground.

NEGAR SALEK: “For example, I’ve been reading tweets that said you know



Negar Salek. Super:
Negar Salek

this hospital has been guarded. Don’t bring any injured to this particular hospital. Tell… spread the news and re-tweet that injured should be sent to different hospitals”.

CAMPBELL: “So how much information can Twitter get out to people? Like can you reach you know tens of people, hundreds of people?”

NEGAR SALEK: “I think millions at this point”.


TweetDeck on screen

CAMPBELL: The tweets are sent anonymously to sites like Iran Election, reaching a global audience.


Shabab on computer

SHABAB: “They are also talking on Twitter right now, again protest in Koln, in Dublin, in Frankfurt, Paris –


Protest vision from YouTube

it looks like it’s continuously going around the world”.



CAMPBELL: It’s a phenomenon that’s taken the Iranian regime by surprise. When protests broke out, it tried to shut down communications to the outside world, blocking phone lines and expelling foreign journalists.

Name withheld: “You know the regime thought it could control what comes out of Iran by locking the journalists into their hotel rooms,


Name withheld. Super:  Name withheld

 but they didn’t count on people with mobile phones and video cameras being able to get that information out.”






Excerpt from Foreign Correspondent story. Farid. Super:
Foreign Correspondent 2004

CAMPBELL: To understand how this happened, you have to look back to when a few brave Iranians sowed the seeds of change. In 2004, Foreign Correspondent told the story of Farid Modaressi, a young journalist working for Iran’s government-run Internet news service. What his colleagues didn’t know was that Modaressi was secretly moonlighting as a dissident blogger.


Farid blogging

FARID MODARESSI: “Young journalists and young reformists


Farid interview

have non-ideological points of view. They don’t care about politics from the government’s point of view. They just represent the needs and demands of the grassroots”.


Protestors. Pro-government supporters

CAMPBELL: Like many young people, Modaressi turned to the Internet after losing faith in reformist politicians. By 2004 the hardline mullahs had crushed a brief flowering of democratic hopes under President Khatami. More than a hundred newspapers had been closed and dozens of prominent reformers jailed. Protests were banned except for hardliners denouncing Western evil.

FARID MODARESSI: “They are legitimate - legitimate from their own point of view. They are convincing the mass of the people



that their actions are quite within the religious boundaries. But they’re just using religion as a weapon.



This time reforms should be led by people who have no links to the government and can act independently”.


Men carrying computers into café



Internet café 

CAMPBELL: Farid Modaressi knew there were serious risks in talking to us, but felt history was on his side. Iran was experiencing an explosion in internet use. Nearly three-quarters of the population are under thirty with no memory of the 1979 revolution that brought the Islamists to power.



The internet offered millions a window to a more liberal world and a way to express their grievances anonymously.

FARID MODARESSI: “I’m definitely not ready to die



because it wouldn’t be worthwhile. It’s too high a price for an individual to pay”.


Basij Militia training Super:  Foreign Correspondent 1999




CAMPBELL: But as disgruntled youth turned to cyberspace, the government was grooming other young people to fight them. They were called the Basij militia, a volunteer army loyal to no one but the Supreme Leader. Foreign Correspondent infiltrated this world too. Five years earlier we filmed this 67-year-old karate instructor training them to be muscle for the clerical elite.




ISLAMIC KARATE INSTRUCTOR: “Basij is an organisation which participates in everything to defend Islam without getting any money. Their only desire is to become a martyr and have that martyrdom confirmed by the institution of the Supreme Leader.

CAMPBELL: Martial arts instruction was followed by weapons training and spiritual indoctrination.



If police or soldiers might hesitate to fire on the people, the Basijis could be relied on to do the government’s bidding.

BASIJIS LEADER: Give orders! The Basijis are ready!

BASIJIS FOLLOWERS CHANT: “Give orders! The Basijis are ready!”


Burning buses from 1999 story

CAMPBELL: The Basijis were building an intimidating catalogue of brutality. Here at the university of Tehran they’d crushed student protests and destroyed dormitories.


Destroyed dormitory

MAN: [Pointing to room] “Who has done this? Does this look like a dormitory?”



CAMPBELL: Since then they’ve become a powerful, if semi-official force in the security apparatus, willing to carry out acts from which uniformed police might flinch.



Militia Karate training from 1999

These boys we filmed ten years ago, some as young as six, are now leading the crackdown on cyber-dissidents.

NEGAR SALEK: “I got a post direct from Iran a couple of days ago saying these are children without parents, these are orphans that were orphaned at a young age and you know have been taken away by the government and manipulated. These are people who have been handed knives and axes, killing their own people”.


Neda Agha Soltan video




CAMPBELL: But one act of brutality in these protests has backfired with stunning force. On June 21, a young woman names Neda Agha Soltan was shot while watching the protests. This harrowing incident, a life and death moment caught on a mobile phone,


Negar and others watch video

has become the defining image of the uprising. The footage was emailed abroad and uploaded on the popular YouTube video site, galvanising protestors inside Iran and their supporters and followers outside.


YouTube screen

NEGAR SALEK: “I think if this movement was going to die down this seriously



remobilised everybody to get behind the cause and kind of re-motivated them, globally to get behind the cause and not forget what they’re fighting for”.


Protest footage

CAMPBELL: The Iranian regime has found it hard to accept that its own people are setting the news agenda. Instead, it’s blaming foreign governments, particularly the UK.


BBC Broadcast

In January, Britain’s public television network, the BBC, began satelliting a Persian-language service directly to Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Britain is using it to spread anti-Islamic propaganda.



SUPREME LEADER KHAMENEI: “They are displaying their enmity against the Islamic State and the most evil of them is the British Government”.


BBC Broadcast

CAMPBELL: In reality the BBC would have little to report without the input of Iran’s citizen journalists. Since the BBC’s correspondents were expelled, the Persian Service has had to rely on emailed vision to tell the story. Its biggest challenge has been sorting fact from fabrication in the flood of material streaming in.


Pooneh on air

Pooneh Ghoddoosi is a news presenter for BBC Persian Television in London.

POONEH GHODDOOSI: “If we use pictures or footage of video which we do a lot these days


Pooneh interview. Super:
Pooneh Ghoddoosi
BBC Persian News Presenter

of what the people send us from the demonstrations, from the clashes with the police forces and the anti riot police with the demonstrators, we do our best, we have expert


BBC Broadcast

UGC people which means “user generated content” experts that make sure that the videos are authentic, the pictures are authentic. We make sure to tell people to only send us photographs that they have taken themselves and they have the copyright to”.




CAMPBELL: The Persian Service also depends on people phoning from Tehran to report what they’re seeing.



POONEH GHODDOOSI: [To caller] “Saba from Tehran, what do you think was the extent of the role of foreign media in these events of the last few days?

SABA: “Those who caused the damage and brought the violence had military uniforms and batons and sticks”.



CAMPBELL: But the government has had more success cracking down on old-style communication.

POONEH GHODDOOSI: “We’ve heard of some cases


Pooneh interview

when some people have spoken not just to the BBC but any foreign media and then they get a phone call in their homes, the moment they pick up there’s an automated service that says “You have contacted a foreign news outlet. Do not ever do that again. If you do you will be legally persecuted” or something like that. However they call us right away and they tell us they’ve received that phone call and they still keep calling us which is pretty brave sometimes”.


Press TV control room

CAMPBELL: While Iran accuses Britain of broadcasting propaganda, it’s running its own spin on the uprising. Press TV is Iran’s official English-language news service with several correspondents in London. Here the rebels aren’t protestors, they’re terrorists.



Pitney on laptop

But clumsy propaganda is proving no match for the sophistication of the web. Nico Pitney is senior editor of the Huffington Post, an online news site produced in the US. A network of citizen journalists has enabled him to do quick turnaround coverage of Iran, all from a laptop in his Washington home.

NICO PITNEY: “What we’re doing is relying on a


Pitney. Super:
Nico Pitney
Senior Editor, Huffington Post

fully basically volunteer team of readers who search through papers, they help translate from Persian, you know, newspapers or blog posts, they’ll read Arabic papers and Russian papers, they’ll go through YouTube searching for videos and through Twitter looking for accurate information there. It’s a real group, communal effort at news gathering and that I think is pretty unique”.


Pitney at White House press conference

CAMPBELL: The Huffington Post was able to bring the concerns of protestors directly to the White House. Two weeks ago, Nico Pitney was invited to a press conference and went on line to get his questions.



PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Nico, I know that you and all across the Internet we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the internet. Do you have a question?”



Pitney question

NICO PITNEY: “Yes I did. I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian. We solicited questions last night from people who are still courageous enough to be communicating online and one of them wanted to ask you this. ‘Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn’t that a betrayal of what the demonstrators there are working for’.”


Obama answer

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Well look, we didn’t have international observers on the ground, we can’t say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country”.



CAMPBELL: Mainstream media networks took affront at what they saw as a preferential treatment for a blogger but the question at least brought measured support from the President.



PRESIDENT OBAMA: “I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognise that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it”.


Excerpt 2004 Foreign Correspondent story




CAMPBELL: Reaching the ears of the West doesn’t make dissidents any safer in Iran.



Farid driving

Farid Modaressi was sentenced to six months in prison after he spoke to this program in 2004. It was the second time he’d been jailed. After his release he went off the information grid. We were unable to contact him for this story.


YouTube footage. Protests

Others are continuing to fight.

STUDENT: “People are just standing there. People are still chanting, people are galvanised.


Negar and friends

People are fighting for what they believe in. They’re not going to be held back by things. There’s dead people, there’s people axing, there’s acid being thrown, but it’s not stopping the people”.


YouTube footage.

CAMPBELL: But as the conflict drags on, Negar and her friends fear some people on Twitter have met similar fates to Modaressi.

NEGAR SALEK: “At least three of them haven’t updated in about three days. That’s not to say something’s happened to them, it just means that either the internet has been even more tightly controlled



or, you know, we don’t want to think the worst, but they could have been captured, because apparently they are following IP addresses from Twitter posts”.

CAMPBELL: “And then tracking people down?”

NEGAR SALEK: “And then tracking people down”.



Computer screens




CAMPBELL: Ironically, the technology Iran is using to track them, came from Western communications companies. Called ‘deep-packet inspection’, it’s a software that allows governments to filter internet data, ostensibly to track child pornography


Clay into office

or terrorist chatter. Clay Shirky is a New York-based internet consultant.

CLAY SHIRKY: “What we should worry about I think with deep-packet inspection and all the other ways of intervening and distorting and censoring citizen communication,


Clay interview. Super:
Clay Shirky
Professor NYU graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program

is that if the government gains the upper hand, they will gain the upper hand through military force and the search for dissidents to round up and arrest, torture or kill will use retrospective looks at the material that’s flowing through the network now. Just yesterday an alarming site in Persian went up with photographs of the dissidents asking citizens to identify particular protestors. So clearly they’re going after locating individuals and hunting them down”.


Internet footage. Protestors

CAMPBELL: Even so, authorities will have trouble stopping the cyber-dissent. They’ve slowed the internet to make communication harder, but shutting it entirely could hurt the government even more.

CLAY SHIRKY: “What this class of dissidents has done is not just discomfort the government locally, it’s given them a kind of political auto-immune disease in which they have to


Clay interview

attack their own infrastructure to shut the dissent down. But that class of attack can’t be sustained for weeks, much less months. No advanced economy can survive the wholesale shutdown of its communications function and survive over the long haul.


On-line footage. Ahmadinejad rally

CAMPBELL: The on-line network will continue to keep pressure on President Ahmadinejad who’s already lost supporters in the clerical elite.


Candlelight rally

PEOPLE AT RALLY: “Ahmadinejad be alert! We’re people – we’re not vagabonds!



CAMPBELL: When they’re not online, Negar and her friends are at community vigils trying to keep the issue in public view. Iran’s vast Diaspora, made up largely of families who’ve fled the Islamist regime, is mostly behind the protests.



MAN AT MICROPHONE: “We ask the world not to recognise Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency, we ask the world to urge Iran and keep the pressure until the killings and the bashings of our brothers and sisters in Iran stop. We want a re-election”.



CAMPBELL: Yet for all the empowerment of the internet, unarmed students are no match for the batons and bullets of the Basiji militia.

Name withheld: “It’s starting to seem like there’s



Name withheld and Negar at rally

less and less going on at the moment. I mean the news we’re hearing is more about crackdowns and Basijis storming people’s homes, and less so about street demonstrations so we’re starting to get a bit more pessimistic but still hopeful that something will come out of all of this”.



CAMPBELL: It’s too early to predict if this will end as a Velvet Revolution or a Tiananmen Square-style massacre, but if nothing else, it has shown the world a different Iran. Not a nation of extremists and warmongers, but a people with hopes and dreams no different from our own.



NEGAR SALEK: “I think this is ultimately the most fundamental thing that has come out of this cause, that the world now sees that the Iranian people


Tehran protest footage

do not accept this illegitimate regime and they want change and they want freedom”.






Reporter: Eric Campbell

Camera:  Chris Taylor

Dan Sweetapple

Ron Ekkel 

Tim Cothren

Taren Southcombe

Pete Wilkinson

Sound: Bryan Milliss

Editor : Nick Brenner

Producer: Vivien Altman

UK Producer: Rebecca Stubbs

US Producer: Janet Silver













© 2013 Journeyman Pictures
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