American officials say Cuba is jamming international television broadcasts from several Los Angeles-based stations and the Voice of America, knocking out all programming critical of the Iranian government and supportive of pro-democracy demonstrations raging there.
Although the Caribbean nation has long blocked television broadcasts from the U.S. into Cuba, authorities and satellite operators said Tuesday that they are convinced that the island nation is now interfering with Iran-bound broadcasts.
“Cuba’s jamming of satellite transmissions is illegal and interferes with the free and open flow of international communications,” said Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees all U.S. non-military broadcasting. “This action is illegal, represents a major threat to satellite communication and must be stopped.”
Calls seeking comment from the Cuban Consulate in New York City were not returned Wednesday.
Signals from Iranian TV programmers in Los Angeles and the Voice of America turned to static July 6, the day the Voice of America launched a daily, 30-minute, Persian-language television news program.
Government sources and correspondence between broadcasters and the company that owns the affected satellite, Loral Skynet, said the source of the jamming is an old Soviet listening post “in the vicinity of Havana.”
The reported jamming followed several weeks of pro-democracy protests in Iran, public disturbances that Iranian officials blamed on television programs broadcast from Los Angeles. On Wednesday, owners of those stations said that they believed Cuba was probably promised money and oil for the act and that they have appealed to the federal government for help.
“This is like an act of terrorism,” said Zia Atabay, who operates the National Iranian Television network in Los Angeles. “It’s like someone going into a newspaper and shutting down the presses and burning all of the paper.”
Atabay’s station produces a 24-hour-a-day broadcast of news, politics, cooking programs, pop music videos, comedy and pre-revolutionary romance films. Several other area stations beam political programming into Iran as well and say they have encountered interference.
Kayvan Abbassi, whose family opened Azadi Television six months ago, said operators have tried several times to avoid the jamming by changing their signal, but have still lost their connection.
“The first time it took them five hours to jam it,” Abbassi said. The next day, “It took them minutes.”
Loran, the company that owns and operates Telstar 12, the affected satellite, released a brief statement on the problem Wednesday:
“Engineers at Loral Skynet have identified the source of the interference, which was coming from outside the United States. We have reported the situation to the FCC and State Department, who are now pursuing the matter. As of midday Monday, the interference has stopped.”
Despite Loral’s statement, Atabay and others insisted that the jamming continued Wednesday. “It’s still happening; two junk governments are doing whatever they want to this superpower,” Atabay said. “It’s sad.”
The broadcasting board urged satellite communication providers to stop giving service to countries that jam transmissions into Iran.
“The BBG calls upon the international community to censure the states that have caused the interference,” the nine-member board said in a unanimous resolution.
Times staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.