Other young men complained of government corruption. Ahmed, a 37-year-old entrepreneur, found himself shut out of a computer-importing business when he ran up against government officials who had their own interests in computer importing. “If they tell you to stop, there is nothing you can do,” Ahmed complained. “I had to abandon my business entirely.” When we met him, he was working as a translator and tour guide at the same time that he tried to get an internet marketing business off the ground. A 34-year-old would-be businessman added, “If I want to get anything done, I have to bribe government officials—not much, but enough to get the paperwork moved up the chain.”
Iranians tend to view their theocratic regime as hypocritical because official corruption is so prevalent. “The connection between regime piety and corrupt wealth dominates how Iranians see the world,” a journalist wrote after describing a police crackdown on illegal satellite dishes. While the dishes are ostensibly banned because they are conduits for Western influence, the journalist’s informants asserted that dishes began to be confiscated only when the son of a prominent regime-connected ayatollah obtained a contract to import laptop-size satellite dishes. The well-connected dish trader wanted to make sure of demand for his new product, according to the journalist’s sources on the episode.
Satellite TV dishes are widespread, despite official prohibitions. When a Network 20/20 delegate visited relatives in Shiraz, his cousin told him that thanks to ingenious connecting and sharing devices, Iranians can now access Showtime, Cinemax, and even pay-as-you-go porn channels from the United States. “How will the Iranian government ever be able to regulate what channels are available to us?” asked the cousin. DVDs of Western films are widely available, and despite the fact that high-speed Internet access is the exception, not the rule, many young people we met reported use of the Internet on a daily basis, tolerating long delays online to download media-rich content from international websites. Young Iranian men and women publish more than 90,000 blogs, making Farsi the world’s third most popular language on the Web, according to the Iran Civil Society Organization’s Training and Research Center.