The censoring and blocking inside of Iran

BBC Persian blocked

I've been wanting to blog this for quite some time now. When we think of blocking and censorship, everyone goes on about China. Well theres many other nations which have levels of censorship and blocking. So it started with the blockage of BBC Persian content in Iran, then we started to syndicate more via public RSS and Email. Then Mario wrote a Instant messenger bot which takes BBC Persian RSS feeds and republishes them on the MSN network if you subscribe to the bot (just add to your buddy list). Then Mario added support for the Jabbber network (just add to your buddy list) and tried to get YIM (Yahoo) working, as thats the most popular Instant messenging tool in Iran. Now he's trying out JRS which is a publishing tool for the XMPP (jabber) network as the Perl Yahoo module is broken or/and out of date. Then Hoder (Hossein Derakhshan) gave a good talk about censorship in Iran to the BBC.

Some observations along the way. Although right to left text should be easy with most unicode complient instant messenging clients. This simply is not the case. The markup of right to left languages is still a very difficult thing to do. Dan Brickley send a good email into the W3C internationalisation core group. I keep meaning to respond myself, but still have a draft ready which I keep rewriting. I'm happy Martin Duerst and others have read my paper from Xtech 2005. But I would like a little more clarity on Martin's reply.

In Ian's article and in Mario's messages, there is also some extent of confusion with regards to bidi. If the text in a line or paragraph contains only rtl characters, or neutral characters such as punctuation, any application is supposed to display it in the correct order. No attributes are neccessary, except for where to start the line (flush left or flush right), which can be considered a matter of taste (in mixed English/Farsi text, I wouldn't consider having all English messages flush left and all Farsi messages flush right necessarily
always the best display) and which could be handled by a switch in the user agent.

It's only when a line or paragraph mixes both rtl and ltr text where having additional information becomes really necessary, to indicate whether the text is a (e.g.) Farsi sentence with some English embedded or the other way round (or even a more complicated structure).

See this is great in theory but the practice or reality Applications don't do this correctly. Its good to see I was correct about ATOM and RSS when it comes to language support.

It very clearly shows that more thought should go into supporting internationalization markup in all kinds of document or document-like (in the sense that they use free text rather than data items) formats.

The only blog format that got that right (sic!) from the start is Atom ( Elements such as title all allow for embedded XHTML markup, which then can take a dir attribute. RSS 1.0 has a content module that could do the same thing, but I'm not sure how well it is supported.

Certainly, its hardly supported in the RSS space. ATOM is the only one which had this from the start, so all the developers who build there readers have build in the ability to have markup inside of content module including directionality.

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BBC Persian filtered out of Iran, what can we do?

When ever the great firewall is mentioned, everyone thinks of China. Even I have to add myself to that list. Interestingly I read a blog on globalvoices (need to find link) which was talking about the fact that filtering happens all over the world and China just happens to be the most high profile one at the moment. One of the things eating up most of my time at work has been the new BBC China site. It has no news content on it at all and it does not link to any news content, which sets its self apart from most of the other 32 language sites we run. This should be acceptable enough to not trigger any alarms on the great firewall china has deployed.

The same certainly does not look true of Iran's firewall which seems to be simply filtering BBC Persian full stop. Hossein Derakhshan has a little about the filtering and i've find some other stuff online. But this is a subset from a much larger email which got sent around

Based on past procedures, the committee in charge of deciding which websites should be filtered has announced a list of sites to the ICT (Information Communication Technology) Ministry to have them blocked and the BBC's Persian news site is one of the sites.

I won't even try and attempt to stake a view on if this is good or bad. But I will say like China information has funny habit of getting around these things. Which leads me on to one of the most interesting moves we've made recently in the Syndication space.

Now for those who do not know I work for the BBC World Service and here comes a disclaimer (thanks Ben). The views stated on this site are mine and are not endorsed by the BBC World Service. Although I am a new media developer for the BBC World Service I am not paid, hoodwinked or coerced into boosting the BBC World Service on this website. Nor does this blog form any part of their marketing strategy. I'm a big fan of Full text syndication but understand why the mainstream media do not use it. So it gives me great pleasure to say that today the Persian feeds were modified to output more content than a little teaser today (the full list is available here). This is not full text, but not your usual one line affair. I have to say its still work in progress and could be changed at any time. But looks like one in a range of innovative solutions for people seeking well written and timely farsi (persian) news content around the world. I would urge anyone who uses the feeds to give us feedback positive and negative. As it might influence what happens in the near future for not only Persian feeds but maybe other language feeds?

Lets hope I still got a job when I go in tomorrow. Although I don't see why not when both the filtering news is online already and the RSS feeds are for public consumption. I won't be suprise if someones already blogged about the change but I've seen nothing yet. Saying that I don't read Farsi.

And at long last some coverage. Iran blocks BBC Persian website on Zeropaid and Boingboing. 2 days after writing this blog post I was worried about the fact I was writing about what we were doing in the BBC World Service about this block. Well besides almost fulltext RSS were now rolling out almost full text daily news email in Persian. So I would say (not the bbc'of course), there's multiple ways around this block. It will be interesting to see if the take up of the Persian RSS and Persian email news will dramaticly increase now there is a block. Humm I wonder if there is anything else we could/should be doing?

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