Persian cyberspace report: Iran bans two controversial films and the ‘Muppets’ make a New Year’s comeback

This week: An Iranian journalist is named International Journalist of the Year, the Iranian government introduces cyber defence courses in universities from next year, Iran’s Internet Police are searching internet cafes for anti-filter software and proxy use, Reuters have their accreditation suspended, two popular films are banned and a nostalgic children’s series from the 1990s makes a crucial comeback in the Iranian New Year.

News in brief:

  • Iranian journalist Amir Taheri won the ‘International Journalist of the year’ prize in the 2012 Press Awards. He won this prize for his contributions to the Times and the Times on Sunday
  • The information and communication deputy of Iran’s Defence Organisation (Padafand-e-gheire-amel) announced that a new course for 'Cyber Defence' will be established in some of Iran’s universities from next year
  • Eastern Azerbaijan’s provincial Iran Internet Police (FATA) department have launched new police patrols that are responsible for searching internet cafes for proxies and anti-filtering software
  • The Iranian government has suspended Reuters' accreditation after they published a video story about women’s martial arts in the Islamic republic. The video’s headline, which was the reason for the complaint, was “Thousands of female ninjas train as Iran’s assassins”. Reuters corrected the headline by removing the word assassins from it but the Iranian authorities suspended the accreditation anyway


Iran bans controversial films and the Iranian webosphere reacts

During the past week the Iranian authorities banned two movies. The first, Gashte Ershad (Morals Police), was banned because it was a satirical representation of the Iranian police force and the second, Zendegi Khosoosi (Private Life), was banned because it showed taboo images such as a man and a woman in a bedroom, which violates the laws of the Islamic Republic. Twitter was the social network that housed most of the Iranian reactions to these bans, and there seemed to be an equal number of people who agreed with the prohibition of these films as there were people who opposed the bans.

Twitter user Pooya criticised the bans: “Gashte Ershad was censored, then they disallowed it from being advertised on national TV, and then they [the Iranian authorities] banned it”. Akhoond [‘mullah’] completely disagreed with Pooya and argued “Zendegi Khososi must be banned”. Akhoond didn’t elaborate on why he thought the film should be banned.

Pooh thinks that some powerful Iranians might have supported Gashte Ershad because the film was shown in a cinema that was closed down for many years: “Farhangsara Bahman’s cinema was closed for so many years! The last film they showed was Kolah Ghemezi and Sarvenaz! Now, they are showing Gashte Ershad”. Nima Torabi said, “Gashte Ershad was brilliant. Everybody should go and see it. Africa Cinema is the only cinema that’s screening it ”.

Ehsan Tweeted, “I think it’s been about 10 years since I last went to the cinema but I’m seriously considering going to watch Gashte Ershad”. Marmolak Ravani responded to Ehsan’s tweet saying, “The movie is not important, it’s just propaganda … Buy the VCD later”. But Farshid agreed with Ehsan, “This heated debate about the ban of Gashte Ershad and Zendegi Khososi is exactly why I went to watch them”.

Abbas Reader worried that the banning of these films portrayed Iran in a bad light: “OK! Gashte Ershad and Zendegi Khososi were banned! But we are not a third world country”. Maryam said, “Tonight we went to ‘Zendegi Khososi’ movie, [it was] good and bad”.


Reincarnation of a puppet show creates great excitement in the Iranian webosphere

In this, the first week of Iranian new year (Norouz), a very popular Muppet-style show called Kolah-Ghermezi brought in viewers by the droves to Iran’s state-owned Channel 2. This show, which was initially made for children in the 1990s, has been reproduced for Norouz for the third time. The show was so popular in its heyday that a long film based on the formative story was produced and it became one of Iran’s best-selling films of all time. In 2009, the first Norouz series was broadcasted and, after nearly a decade of being absent from Iranian screens, it was a critical success. It was not broadcast in 2010 but, due to popular demand, was scheduled for 2011 and for this year.

Iraj Tahmasb and Hamid Jebeli, the writers and directors of the show, are two old friends who have been making many popular programmes for children over past 30 years.

This programme is also extremely popular in the diaspora and many Iranians outside the country follow the show on a daily basis on YouTube, GLWiz or download them from other file sharing sites. Each day, just a few moments after the show has been broadcast on Channel 2, the new episode is available for online users. Each episode of Kolah-Ghermezi 91 (the new series) has been watched around 20,000 times on YouTube, a mere 10 days after it first went to air.

FriendFeed user Faranak said, "When it's time for the Kolah-Ghermezi show we turn on the TV and when it ends we turn it off. This constitutes the entirety of functions for our TV set”. Iranian Facebook users share the videos amongst each other and write their favourite quotes from the show on their wall each night. The Kolah-Ghermezi fan page on Facebook had a massive increase in membership from March 20, which was the first day of the show. The page now has more than 345,000 likes. Twitter is also a place where discussions about Kolah-Ghermezi abound. Twitter user 21 Aban joked, “The coverage of Kolah-Ghermezi on Twitter is more accurate and complete than the coverage for Tehran’s derby”.

Although the programme is targeted at children, its most dedicated fans are people who watched the show when they were children in the 1990s. There is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia in their commentary. FriendFeed user Vishtasb asked, "We are a bunch of girls and boys in our 20s and 30s who watch Kolah-Ghermezi every night. Do you think we have a problem?" DonReza asked, “Do any of today’s children watch this show or is it only the giants of the old days who watch it”. Baback replied, “I told my 8-year-old cousin to watch Kolah-Ghermezi and he said it’s not good and that Tin Tin is better. You’re right, only the children of those years watch it now”. Twitter user Alooche said, "My only motivation for life is knowing that Kolah-Ghermezi starts at 8pm. When it ends, my motivation goes out the window". NeGar tweeted, "After 20 years, Kolah-Ghermezi is still amazing, it never gets boring or repetitive”. Sallar said that the programme’s creators deserve a higher degree of appreciation, "I still believe that Iraj Tahmasb and Hamid Jebeli should win an Oscar!"


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