Why have satellite dishes been proliferating in Iran despite efforts by Islamic conservatives to ban them?

A Teheran joke pretty well explains it:

An Iranian calls in a TV repairman to fix his set.

“What’s the problem?” the repairman asks.

“There’s a mullah stuck inside my set,” the customer says, “and he won’t go away.”

In case that joke needs explaining, a mullah is an Islamic theologian or preacher, and the TV owner’s complaint was really about the high-octane religion and paucity of entertainment on Iran’s two state-run terrestrial channels.

Much of the Persian-lingo TV fare consists of sermons, Koran discussion shows and religious guidance programs.

The none-too-surprising result of this is that hundreds of thousands of sat dishes have mushroomed on rooftops all over the country, enabling viewers to tune out the old-time religion and switch to foreign entertainment shows.

National newspaper Kayhan recently reported that more than 100,000 of the devices were in use in Teheran alone. But in early January, dish owners received a warning from Iran’s conservative-dominated Parliament: dismantle your dishes in one month or face heavy fines.

But Parliament’s dish-ban bill has no effect in law under Iran’s constitution until it is firmly approved by Iran’s council of guardians – a kind of religious supreme court that scrutinizes legislation to ensure it conforms with the Islamic law, called the Sharia.

Parliament passed an earlier dish-ban bill in September (Variety, Oct. 3,1994) that the council sent back for “clarification.”

Since then, the dishes have continued to multiply, with prices dropping from about $1,000 to $500 largely because local electronics manufacturers have started producing the devices. The government of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has shown some reluctance to crack down on the dishes – apparently out of a realization that their use is so widespread that any police campaign to confiscate all of them would be prohibitively time-consuming, expensive and, in the end, probably not very effective.