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We propose a novel combined source and channel coding scheme for image transmission over noisy channels. The main feature of the proposed scheme is a systematic decomposition of image sources so that unequal error protection can be applied according to not only bit error sensitivity but also visual content importance. The wavelet transform is adopted to hierarchically decompose the image. The association between the wavelet coefficients and what they represent spatially in the original image is fully exploited so that wavelet blocks are classified based on their corresponding image content. The classification produces wavelet blocks in each class with similar content and statistics, therefore enables high performance source compression using the set partitioning in hierarchical trees (SPIHT) algorithm. To combat the channel noise, an unequal error protection strategy with rate-compatible punctured convolutional/cyclic redundancy check (RCPC/CRC) codes is implemented based on the bit contribution to both peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) and visual quality. At the receiving end, a postprocessing method making use of the SPIHT decoding structure and the classification map is developed to restore the degradation due to the residual error after channel decoding. Experimental results show that the proposed scheme is indeed able to provide protection both for the bits that are more sensitive to errors and for the more important visual content under a noisy transmission environment. In particular, the reconstructed images illustrate consistently better visual quality than using the single-bitstream-based schemes.