TEHRAN - The Internet and the proliferation of satellite technology mean Iran can no longer control foreign news and television broadcasts, the country's culture minister said on Sunday, urging a new approach.
In remarks that signal the government's intention to open Iran up to the world, Ali Jannati told police commanders that new delivery systems ignore borders, making censorship measures redundant.
"In the past, through pressuring the media or guiding the information, we could direct public news and take control of it," state media quoted him as saying.
"But today the scene has changed dramatically. Controlling the media is no longer possible technically or geographically." Although satellite television remains illegal, Iran is a technologically wired country with a youthful population, more than half of which is under the age of 30.
Smartphone use is very high and millions of homes have satellite dishes and receivers that capture and decode signals from foreign news and entertainment channels.
Despite occasional clampdowns and confiscations of equipment, families more often than not buy another dish and continue to watch officially banned content.
The election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013 has seen the government move to loosen Internet censorship but it has faced resistance from the judiciary and high-ranking officials who say it would lead to "Westernisation" and immoral content use.
Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the culture ministry has been charged with ensuring books, films, art and other media are compatible with the country's predominant Shiite Muslim faith.
Jannati said that with 4,500 satellite channels received in Iran, the authorities needed to adopt a new approach based not censorship but on production to get their message across.
"The news moves quickly and there is no way anyone can stop or control it... it cannot be governed," he said.
"The most important solution one can suggest is content production.
"We should take control of the scene and produce content, because we can only control public opinion by as much as the content we produce." Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook remain banned in Iran and thousands of websites are filtered by the authorities.
However millions of Iranians reach such sites using relatively inexpensive and easily available illegal software.
Jannati said that Western technology that could make 2,000 satellite channels available on cellphones in Iran meant that soon "there will be no satellite dishes to confiscate".
"Of course, it is the duty of the police to enforce the law... but we should look at our performance and consider how effective our measures have been and what results they have produced.
"The best way to control public opinion is to go with it not to fight it."