Shortwave radio still has a role in reaching closed and poor nations, BBG employee union said

BBG Watch Commentary

AFGE Local 1812In an article posted on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) employee union website, American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, argues that shortwave radio is an important and effective tool for reaching audiences in war zones, closed societies, nations where Internet is censored, and in areas of the world where impoverished populations lack access to modern media options or can’t afford them.

A CASE FOR SHORTWAVE RADIO

For the past several years, the Agency has been relentless in eliminating shortwave programming, even as events around the world continue to prove its usefulness as a broadcasting tool, especially to countries which block the Internet and TV.

While the Agency yet again these past few months tried to shut down our last domestic shortwave transmitting station located in Greenville, North Carolina, it is worth noting that in Paris, a new radio station aimed at Syria, Radio Rozana, is broadcasting via satellite but plans to add FM and shortwave broadcasts from bordering countries.
Founded by Syrian journalists in exile and funded by the French government, Radio Netherlands and NGOs like Reporters Sans Frontieres, Radio Rozana apparently knows that a repressive regime that desires to block news that it wants to suppress can easily shut down the Internet inside its borders. That’s when radio broadcasts prove their value.

Shortwave radio has also been an effective mechanism for bringing news into Zimbabwe. So much so, that the Mugabe regime recently banned the use of shortwave radios, with police confiscating solar-powered shortwave radios wherever they can find them. We mention solar-powered because in most of Africa electricity shortages are such a permanent fact of life that people have to rely on solar-powered devices to carry out basic tasks such as cooking in the evening, studying, and listening to the news.

It’s the sort of fact Agency management has ignored while pushing TV and web technologies which for hundreds of millions of people, in Africa and Asia, are unreliable due to lack of electricity alone.

And need we remind the Agency management that in China censorship is still so heavy that a shortwave radio policy, especially to the northern and more restless populations, makes much more sense than TV programs that Beijing can block in a minute. The Agency also dismissed as anecdotal the testimony of blind dissident, Cheng Guangcheng, who listened to Western radio programs while in internal exile in rural China where TVs and I-phones are not realistic options.

Internet and TV audiences have hundreds if not thousands of options to choose from and as we have seen, they now select BBC, Al-Jazeera or even Russia Today before they turn to Voice of America. The VOA does not have the means to pursue TV programming on the same scale as these broadcasters and judging by recent reports, evidently its Internet output is also far less interesting and attractive to global audiences.

Of course, shortwave radio broadcasts in English can reach a large percentage of the population in every country of the world. An arena where shortwave radio can make a significant difference is in niche programming among populations that are the most deprived of information by repressive governments whether in China, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba or North Korea.

We were glad to see that both the U.S. Senate and the House, in their Committee reports for FY2014 appropriations, supported shortwave broadcasting initiatives, and that thanks to Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Victor Ashe, his colleagues Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, and intervention from North Carolina congressmen G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Walter B. Jones (R-NC), the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station in Greenville will not be closed, as officials of BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) had planned, yet again.

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