In today's tour of state-sponsored propaganda: Iran cheers the end of a computer virus, paywalls give an unexpected boost to state-run newspapers and America's propaganda arms faces a setback in Iraq. We begin in Tehran.
Remember Stuxnet, the classified computer virus designed by the U.S. and Israel to destroy Iran's nuclear facility? Well, last night, it was destroyed and Iran's taking the opportunity to celebrate. With the headline "No Major Breakthrough," Iran's state-news service FARS reported that Stuxnet "failed to clandestinely infiltrate and then wreck Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program." Was Stuxnet's destruction due to some sophisticated Iranian cyber defense initiative? No. As The Christian Science Monitor's Mark Clayton reported prior to Stuxnet's destruction, the virus was actually designed to self-destruct at midnight. "Deep inside Stuxnet's labyrinth of software code are a few lines that will soon order the program to stop working altogether in a pre-programmed ... bid to prevent it from being detected and deciphered, say computer forensic experts who have examined the program's code."
Interestingly, the FARS report claims that Stuxnet failed to infiltrate Iran's facility. But according to David Sanger's report in The New York Times, that's not true: The virus temporarily "took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium." Was the disruption less permanent than some previously thought? Or is Iran lying about how significantly it was weakened? Regardless, few dispute now that any setback Stuxnet may have had to Iran's nuclear program was not in any way insurmountable.
State Propaganda Takes Over
The decline of independent newspapers is an old story, but the rise of propaganda rags is a fairly recent development. With state-run newspapers' subsidized budgets, The Globe and Mail's Mark MacKinnon worries that propaganda is increasingly creeping into the world's information diet.
As Western newspapers and broadcasters close bureaus, cut staff and erect paywalls, the emerging media companies owned by the Communist Party of China, the Emir of Qatar and Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin continue to expand their influence and reach.
Compounding the rise of state-sponsored media is the trend of the world's best newspapers going behind the paywall, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and even The Globe and Mail. Nobody wants to pay for news but some unfortunate things happen when you don't, MacKinnon argues. "Information is free all over the Internet, the argument goes," he says. "That’s true – if we’re only talking about money." Read the whole column here.
Iraq Orders Voice of America Shut Down
An Iraqi regulatory body has ordered the closure of 44 media outlets in the country including the BBC and Voice of America in a dispute over broadcast licenses, sources with knowledge of the order said on Sunday, but no action has yet been taken. Other organizations targeted for shutdown include privately-owned local TV channels Sharqiya and Baghdadia as well as U.S.-financed Radio Sawa.
It's not yet clear if if the dispute has anything to do with the way sectarian violence in Iraq has been reported (a Reuters source says it doesn't) but journalists are worried. "This is totally wrong and unwise as it comes at a time when the country is plunged into political uncertainty," Ziyad al-Ajili, head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, tells Reuters. While the BBC says this is just a matter of "technical difficulties" with a population of 30 million, cutting off 44 media companies seems like a pretty huge deal.