The live, distressing images of the shooting of the young Iranian woman Nada Soltan during the Tehran demonstrations, and the minutes in which she breathed her last as her father screamed hysterically in shock, further consolidated the role of alternative media – the use of mobile phones and the internet – during the current situation in Iran after the authorities violently blocked local and international media coverage.
Nada, whose family was prevented from holding a memorial service for her, became a symbol of what is now known as Iran’s green revolution, which has been disrupting the country since the results of the recent presidential elections were announced. The world is now relying on mobile phones and small cameras to learn Iran’s news.
It is true that shocking scenes such as the scene of Nada’s death, clashes, and arrests in Iran that have been transmitted via mobile phones and the internet have further consolidated the idea that the regime has failed to control modern means of communication. However, it also suggests a new dilemma that concerns the limits and comprehensiveness of such coverage.
The mobile phone revolution in Iran firstly transmitted images of oppression and blatant targeting.
Is there more to it?
It would be an exaggeration to say that the policies of restriction and prohibition to which the Iranian press has been subjected have not been fruitful and that the scenes that have been shown are a slap in the face for the Iranian regime.
I believe that these scenes are a slap in the regime’s face, but at the same time this slap will not paralyse the regime or even prevent it from mounting more pressure and exercising more restrictions, as the space that is still available to conventional forms of communication are capable of covering much more than mobile snapshots can cover regardless of the international impact they have had.
What the information technology breakthrough managed to transmit were the moments the crisis exploded such as the murder of young Nada and the clashes that took place during demonstrations. Whereas the complete picture of the Iranian scene could not be broadcast via mobile phones and small cameras. This is where the oppression succeeded.
We can see Nada as she is murdered, but the fact that the authorities prohibited her family from holding a memorial service means that her entire family is under tight surveillance. We cannot see where Nada lived, nor can we know what she used to dream about or what she was thinking the moment she took to the streets. The images showed us demonstrators escaping from cudgels but do not show us where they escaped to and do not answer questions like what will they do tomorrow? Who are they? What really happened to them?
The limitation of images sent by mobile phones causes confusion. When news is delivered by an individual or group it cannot be verified, and this causes problems in covering Iran.
For instance, there is a vital need to be accurate about what the opposition says with regards to vote rigging. The media blackout has also hampered this and mobile phone cameras will not be able to monitor this.
In conclusion, despite the extreme importance of new means of communication, conventional media is also a necessity.