19 February 2010

“The City Is Full of Dizzy People”: Iran and Jamming

An article recently appeared in Iran’s Mardomsalari newspaper by a doctor challenging claims by the country’s Health Minister that the jamming of TV and radio broadcasts has no negative health impact on humans.

The Minister’s comment contradicted a statement by the head of Iran’s parliamentary health committee, who had previously noted such negative effects as fatigue, dizziness and nervous and mental health disorders. The comment also came after a university medical department head told a health conference that jamming had resulted in a rise in the number of patients suffering from infertility.

The Mardomsalari article’s author said “we cannot just ignore the effects of jamming waves on people.” He reported the number of patients coming to health clinics because of dizziness has increased. He noted many others simply don’t visit a doctor.

He then went on to say: “The city is full of dizzy people. I have seen people leaning against the wall to avoid falling.”

This doctor acknowledges “we have no right to say the epidemic of dizziness is related to radio frequency waves without proper proof. Maybe we are dealing with an unknown virus…”

But he argues that jamming needs to be considered as the source of the problem.

VOA signals to some places like Iran are jammed from time to time. We obviously don’t approve as jamming violates the notion of the free flow of information. Jamming is wrong. And if authorities anywhere knowingly endanger their citizens' health through jamming, that is clearly wrong, too.

One of VOA’s transmission experts tells me there are distinct similarities between exposure to the microwaves from microwave ovens and exposure to the frequencies like those used in jamming.

One link the expert gave me was to a Radio Frequency Safety guide from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. One quote: “Biological effects that result from heating of tissue by RF [radio frequency] energy are often referred to as "thermal" effects. It has been known for many years that exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly. This is the principle by which microwave ovens cook food. Exposure to very high RF intensities can result in heating of biological tissue and an increase in body temperature. Tissue damage in humans could occur during exposure to high RF levels because of the body's inability to cope with or dissipate the excessive heat that could be generated. Two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because of the relative lack of available blood flow to dissipate the excess heat load.”

But let me conclude by noting that as in Iran, this is a topic of debate elsewhere. For its part, the World Health Organization says, “there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF [radio frequency] signals from base stations... cause adverse health effects.”

03 February 2010

Internet Freedom

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech on Internet freedom in which she observed “information has never been so free. There are more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history.”

Yet Mrs. Clinton also noted that there continue to be threats to the free flow of information. She mentioned several countries, including China, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Egypt, as well as Iran. She said restrictive practices in such countries mark the descent of what she called “a new information curtain” across parts of the world.

Predictably, some of these countries responded negatively to her remarks. A Chinese newspaper, “Global Times,” acknowledged that, in its words, “The free flow of information is a universal value treasured in all nations.” But it went on to accuse the United States of what it charged was “information imperialism.”

For their part, according to Iran’s "Press TV", Iranian officials charged “Washington… continues to meddle in the country's internal affairs.”

The Voice of America has long stood for the free flow of information worldwide. It is adapting to new technologies to make sure every avenue is used to disseminate accurate, objective and comprehensive news.

And VOA is counting on the continued assistance of brave individuals in countries like Iran who send out cell-phone and other video images of events the country’s government does not want the world and their own people to see. Such images, like the footage of a young woman’s murder in Tehran, represent what Mrs. Clinton called “a digital indictment of the government’s brutality.” She said the courage of those sending out such images “is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.”