Russian human rights groups fear return of radio jamming

Russian human rights groups fear return of radio jamming

Russia’s human rights groups have voiced concerns over the Defence Ministry’s plan to establish a new combat force responsible for radio frequency jamming devices, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reported today. The paper quoted its well-informed sources in the defence agency as saying that the plan to establish a new radio-electronic combat force has already been drawn up and awaits approval by the President.

The new force, the source reported, will be responsible for radio-electronic destruction of enemy’s targets in space, on land or sea, and protection of troops and installations. The radio-electronic combat department has already been set up at the General Staff of the Defence Ministry, headed by General Andrei Osin, who will most likely take over the command of the new force.

Commenting on the ministry’s plans, a prominent human rights advocate, Lev Ponomaryov, has voiced fear that the initiative could amount to restoration of the Soviet-era practice of jamming foreign radio and television broadcasts.

“It appears that our country is sliding back to the times when jamming devices were introduced in the Soviet Union. Measures taken against public rights groups will soon lead to their closure and dissidents will be working in their kitchens. Impeding dissemination of information via the Internet and radio will become the next logical step,” Ponomaryov told the paper.

(Source: MosNews.Com)

North Korea jams Japanese shortwave broadcasts tracing missing nationals

North Korea jams Japanese shortwave broadcasts tracing missing nationals

Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

Tokyo, 9 May: Shortwave radio broadcasts by a Japanese group investigating missing Japanese believed to have been abducted by North Korea have been jammed by North Korea since Friday [5 May], Japan’s top government spokesman said Tuesday.

“Unknown transmission emitted from within North Korea has been confirmed and is believed to have been jamming the shortwave radio broadcasts,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference and described such interference as “deplorable”.

The group, known as the Investigative Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, broadcasts the programme “Shiokaze” twice a day on shortwave radio through a British company. It can be heard in North Korea, as well as in areas near the North Korean border in China and in the northern part of South Korea.

The programme, which began 30 October last year according to the group’s website, is aimed at rescuing the missing Japanese nationals by broadcasting their information as well as messages from their families and relatives in Japan.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents abducted or lured 13 Japanese nationals in the late 1970s and early 1980s to the country, reportedly for using their identities and for teaching language and culture to spies.

The Japanese government has officially recognized 16 Japanese, including the 13, as having been abducted by North Korea. But the group believes that as many as 100 to 200 others have also been taken by the North.

(Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 0851 gmt 9 May 06 via BBC Monitoring)

Japanese radio programme for abductees jammed in North Korea

Japanese radio programme for abductees jammed in North Korea

Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

Tokyo, 31 May: A Japanese group investigating missing Japanese believed to have been abducted by North Korea said Wednesday [31 May] it will change its radio frequency so as to prevent North Korea from jamming it.

The group, known as the Investigative Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, broadcasts the programme “Shiokaze” twice a day on shortwave radio through a British company. It can be heard in North Korea, as well as in areas near the North Korean border in China and in the northern part of South Korea.

The group says the programme, which began 30 October last year, is aimed at rescuing the missing Japanese nationals by broadcasting information about them as well as messages from their families and relatives in Japan.

But unidentified radio waves have been jamming broadcasts since the beginning of May when they were aired in Korean, the group said.

The broadcasts, including those aired in Japanese, has become totally inaudible since 22 May, it said, adding Korean broadcasts have been blocked from being understood by North Koreans.

The group said it will give different radio frequencies to the programme.

The Japanese government has officially recognized 16 Japanese as having been abducted by North Korea, but the group believes that as many as 100 to 200 others have also been taken by the North.

(Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1318 gmt 31 May 06 via BBC Monitoring)

Russia “jamming” BBC radio - German paper

Russia “jamming” BBC radio - German paper

Text of report by Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 24 December

[Presenter] For the first time after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia has reverted to the practice of jamming Western radio stations. For instance, the German daily Tagesspiegel reports that jamming makes it practically impossible to listen to BBC Russian Service in Moscow. Here is Saken Aymurzayev with the details.

[Correspondent] According to the German daily, Russia has reverted to the seemingly long-forgotten method after the recent events in London: the poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko and the British authorities’ refusal to extradite businessman Boris Berezovskiy and the Chechen separatists’ envoy Akhmed Zakayev. It was probably these events, Tagesspiegel notes, that led to a cooling in relations between Moscow and London. The paper sees one of the signs of the cooling in a suspension of BBC Russian Service FM broadcasting. This happened in late November and those listeners who could started receiving the BBC signal through the Internet. However, those who by old habits decided to listen to the radio station on medium waves were disappointed: the level of noise is such that it is practically impossible to hear anything.

[Presenter] The German paper, citing a BBC presenter, believes that the suspension of BBC FM broadcasting in Moscow and the beginning of jamming were done on the Kremlin’s instructions.

(Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 0900 gmt 24 Dec 06 via BBC Monitoring)

Russian official for preservation of Soviet-era network of jamming stations:Ekho Moskvy

Russian official for preservation of Soviet-era network of jamming stations

Text of report by Russian news agency Ekho Moskvy

Moscow, 27 December: The head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications, Mikhail Seslavinskiy, has said that the Soviet-era network of radio jamming stations should be preserved and used in case of emergency. “It has been mothballed for the last 15 years and its economic condition is bad, but it still exists and, I think, it would be preserved,” he said.

“It should be kept on hold. All countries have some plans for war or serious emergency. There must be a technical opportunity to shut down radio communications if something extraordinary happens. This is a common world practice during anti-terrorist operations: jamming stations are switched on, and nobody can use mobile phones, listen to the radio or watch television,” Seslavinskiy said.

Speaking about the situation with background noise which makes it difficult to listen to the BBC in Russia, Seslavinskiy said that the problem was solely technical. “I think that the problem is generated by the transmission operator. The Russian partner of the BBC should examine on what bands it broadcasts and whether its signal interferes with anyone else’s,” he said.

(Source: Ekho Moskvy news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1257 gmt 27 Dec 06 via BBC Monitoring)

Uncertain future for BBC Chinese Service:Guardian

Frustrated by government jamming and dwindling audience figures, staff at the BBC's China service are worried about an increasingly uncertain future. John Plunkett reports on the dilemmas facing the corporation

Monday February 26, 2007
The Guardian

At the height of the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, a group of students paraded through Beijing with a banner reading "Thank you, BBC". Foreign radio stations, and the BBC World Service, in particular, were one of the few places where demonstrators were able to get any reliable information. It was graphic evidence of the influence of the BBC World Service.

Fast-forward 18 years and the World Service in China is facing an uncertain future. Frustrated by the Chinese government's tactics of blocking its short-wave radio broadcasts and website, World Service management is to "reallocate" its resources in a wholesale review of its multimedia services for China.

No one is predicting a closure - 10 of the World Service's other foreign language services were shut down last year - but staff past and present fear any watering down of its Chinese proposition will send the wrong signals to China and the rest of the world.

"I think the BBC needs to think carefully about what it's doing," says one former Chinese service producer.

"Yes, there is a big technical conundrum over getting the Chinese-language product to the audience. But whatever the audience research figures may say, the BBC does have a significant, almost intangible, presence in China. There is a distinct awareness and nervousness among officials and those in positions of power. You can sense an almost audible recoil on the other end of the line when you ring people up, asking for interviews.

"So given that the Chinese government is making efforts to tighten media control, what kind of signal are you sending out if you cut back the Chinese service?"

The BBC is not the only media organisation to be frustrated in China, one of the world's fastest growing economies and host to next year's Olympic games. Rupert Murdoch revealed at the 2007 Media Summit in New York that he was switching his attention from China to India. "China is immense [but its government] is not opening it up yet," said Murdoch. "[India] is a working democracy with rule of law. We find it most exciting."

The World Service currently broadcasts about four hours of output a day in Mandarin, split roughly equally between news and features programming. It also broadcasts news bulletins in Cantonese.

But awareness of the BBC has dwindled in China in recent years, presumably as a result of government filtering. The radio station has a Chinese audience of about 850,000 - 0.1% of the population. Its website, BBCChinese.com, gets 8m page impressions a month despite being heavily blocked. Listening online is as popular as listening via short-wave radio.

However, the corporation has been encouraged by its English learning site, which is growing rapidly with 13m page impressions a month.

The latest changes to the World Service are not restricted to China, with the Russian-language service also being scrutinised by management. This comes a year after Bush House axed 10 foreign language services, part of a shift in emphasis in which more resources were pumped into a new Arabic TV channel, which is due to launch this autumn. The World Service's Thai-language arm was closed just months before a military coup in the country last September.

But some World Service staff claim management is preoccupied with reaching a Muslim audience at the expense of other parts of the world. "The World Service is becoming the BBC Islam service," argues one journalist. It is a claim rejected by World Service management.

"It is right to view the Middle East as an important priority, but to concentrate all your resources there is short-sighted because it is clearly not going to be the only significant axis around which world affairs revolve in the next few decades," says a former producer.

"At the other end of the spectrum, away from politics, many Chinese might feel miffed at the suggestion that the BBC appears to be downgrading the country's importance at a time when everyone else seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

"Parallels with the world of business suggest that if you have a position in the China market, you don't cut back, hoping to regain your foothold at some point in the future."

Further details about the changes to the Chinese service are expected within the next two weeks. Sources said BBC management wanted to act more strategically in order to reach a bigger audience.

"In the past they have tried to use softer material in the hope that would slip through [the government restrictions]. It has worked in some markets but not in others," said a source.

But World Service sources have indicated that the reorganisation will see the axe fall on features output - music and lifestyle programming - rather than news and current affairs. A World Service spokesman said the latter would remain "sacrosanct" in the imminent shake-up of the Chinese service.

"The Middle East, China, Russia and the wider Islamic world are among the key priorities for the BBC World Service," he said in a statement.

"In a fast-moving international media marketplace with rapidly changing technology and audience demands, BBC World Service constantly looks at its services to ensure they are relevant, have the right mix of services, offer value for money and, importantly, have impact with audiences.

"The principles that underpin and shape our thinking are that news and current affairs are important and any possible changes will be designed to enhance the impact of our multimedia services for each language service."

World Service director Nigel Chapman met union representatives last week. The Chinese service employs about 39 journalists - 49 people in total, according to the National Union of Journalists - and some job losses are thought to be inevitable.

Pierre Vicary, one of the NUJ's two lay officials at the BBC, said the Chinese service had undergone a number of organisational changes in recent years. "Clearly as a union representative I would not be happy with any job cuts," he said. "But if the strategy is finally clear and the service is properly resourced, then security for 35 people is better than the existing uncertainty for 39."

But the fear remains that the service may suffer a death by a thousand cuts, with staff whittled down over a number of years until it is no longer tenable, at least in its present form.

Zimbabwe government confirms jamming foreign radio broadcasts

Zimbabwe government confirms jamming foreign radio broadcasts

A senior official in Zimbabwe has confirmed that President Robert Mugabe’s government is jamming foreign radio broadcasts into the country, reports said yesterday. The Zimbabwe government is jamming the signal of Voice of America’s Studio 7 programme, which broadcasts news and information into Zimbabwe most evenings, deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga was quoted as saying.

“We cannot allow foreigners to invade our airwaves without our authority,” Matonga told parliament, according to quotes carried by the official Herald newspaper. “We will continue to do it [jam their signal]. We need to protect our sovereignty. If you go to England you will not receive any foreign radio station,” he said.

It was the first official confirmation of the practice, which has been condemned by press freedom groups. Matonga was responding to a question from opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislator Willas Madzimure in parliament Wednesday on why the authorities were jamming Studio 7’s shortwave broadcasts, when most areas of the country cannot receive any local radio or television signal. Only around 30 per cent of areas in the southern African country can receive any signal from the four state-controlled radio stations and its sole television station.

The Zimbabwe government is believed to be using Chinese equipment to jam the signals of at least three private radio stations that broadcast into Zimbabwe. Studio 7, which is based in Washington, started to experience interference with its signal last year. Another two stations, London- based SW Radio Africa and Voice of the People [which broadcasts via the Radio Netherlands Madagascar relay station] have also had their signals jammed.

(Source: dpa)

Japan secures new radio frequency for service targeting North Korea:Kyodo

Japan secures new radio frequency for service targeting North Korea

Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

Tokyo, March 20 Kyodo - An international body regulating telecommunications told the Japanese government Monday it plans to grant Japan a new radio frequency it had been asking for in order to send family messages to possibly surviving Japanese abductees in North Korea, sources familiar with the matter said.

The Japanese government had been requesting the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union to allocate Japan a frequency for the shortwave radio service “Shiokaze” by the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea. The government is expected to permit the use of the frequency by the private group looking into possible abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents after the allocation becomes official.

The rare move to secure a radio frequency for a private group that is not primarily tasked with broadcasting is believed to reflect the government’s aim to push its view that the abduction issue is a top priority and pressure North Korea. The abduction issue was one of the points of focus at bilateral talks on normalization of ties held in Hanoi earlier this month, but Japan and North Korea failed to reach any agreement.

The group began broadcasting “Shiokaze” in October 2005, sending messages by families of victims of North Korea’s abductions and providing information on victims and other missing people in Japanese every day. The service covers North Korea, parts of China bordering North Korea and northern South Korea. But the service has been troubled by jamming, believed to be caused by North Korea, since last May, and was forced to change its frequency as well as broadcasting hours.

The group has engaged a British broadcaster to send its messages through facilities in countries surrounding North Korea, but because the company was not Japanese it complicated attempts to solve the problem of jamming. Once the new frequency is given to the group, it can ask the ITU to take measures against obstruction of services.

The Japanese government formally recognizes 17 citizens as having been abducted to North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while Pyongyang in 2002 admitted to abducting 13 Japanese and returned five of them afterward, but has since maintained the eight others are dead or never entered the country. The Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea claims there are over 30 Japanese suspected of being abduction victims.

(Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1716 gmt 19 Mar 07 via BBC Monitoring)

Zimbabwe Information Ministry Confirms Jamming of VOA Broadcasts

Zimbabwe Information Ministry Confirms Jamming of VOA Broadcasts

28 February 2007

Interview With Willas Madzimure audio clip
Listen to Interview With Willas Madzimure audio clip

A senior Zimbabwe Information Ministry officials confirmed in parliamentary testimony Wednesday that the government is jamming Voice of America broadcasts.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga, responding to a question from opposition legislator Willas Madzimure, confirmed that Harare is jamming VOA's Studio 7. He said authorities were generating electronic interference to prevent reception of Studio 7 broadcasts because the programs contained propaganda.

Reached later Wednesday by a Studio 7 reporter, Matonga declined to comment.

Madzimure told reporter Blessing Zulu of Studio 7 that he is perplexed that Harare is jamming the Voice of America program when broadcasts by Zimbabwe's national broadcast system are failing to reach citizens in some parts of the country.

Jamming of Studio 7 broadcasts began in June 2006 and continues. Broadcasts of the London-based private broadcaster SW Radio Africa are also being jammed.

Studio 7 has been providing radio news reports to Zimbabwe since 2003.

The Changing Scope of U.S. International Broadcasts:cfa

The Changing Scope of U.S. International Broadcasts

Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor

March 23, 2007


U.S. funding for non-military international broadcasting has surged since 9/11, with a special emphasis on reaching audiences in the Muslim world. The board that oversees such broadcasting is seeking about $670 million for the next fiscal year, part of which would go to expanding broadcasts to such crisis-prone states as North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan. Critics say the traditional U.S. broadcasting structure has become unwieldy and that some of the new ventures, including the use of pop-music formats in the main Farsi- and Arabic-language broadcasts, are lessening the impact of what should be news and information services. Analysts continue to raise questions about the goals of U.S. international broadcasting.

What is the purpose of U.S. international broadcasting?

U.S. policymakers consider broadcasting a pillar of U.S. public diplomacy, stressing its role in promoting freedom and democracy. The Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), an independent agency charged with administering U.S. broadcasting, lists its priorities as providing objective news and information to “priority areas in support of the war against terrorism” as well as regions “where freedom of information is suppressed or denied.” The BBG says it fulfills its mission of promoting freedom and democracy by disseminating “factual and balanced news and information” to “enable our audiences to make informed choices on the vital issues that affect their lives.” But it is careful (PDF) not to give the impression of actively promoting regime change.

Its oldest surrogate broadcast service, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, suggests a more transformative mission. It says its goal is to provide “objective news, analysis, and discussion of domestic and regional issues crucial to successful democratic and free-market transformations.”

In contrast, the mission of the largest service, the Voice of America, is to explain America to the world and provide reliable international affairs programming.

What is the Board of Broadcasting Governors?

The Board of Broadcasting Governors was created by Congress in 1994. Under the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act (PDF) it assumed responsibility for overseeing all non-military U.S. international broadcasting. Among many changes, the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were brought under the same organizational heading for the first time. The board is intended to be a firewall between the broadcast services and the government to avoid tampering. The BBG does not oversee day-to-day operations of the various broadcast services, but it was given more authority to micromanage the broadcast entities, such as its move in 2002 to create a new joint Farsi-language service composed of RFE/RL and VOA broadcasters. The bipartisan board consists of eight members from the fields of mass communications and foreign affairs, appointed by the president but reporting to Congress.U.S.public diplomacy chief Karen P. Hughes usually sits as the ninth, non-voting member. Some critics say the board has failed to adopt a strategy for gauging the impact of U.S. broadcasts, while others point to government neglect of its membership. The board currently has two openings and the terms of all other members have expired, leaving current members, including Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, to serve until replacements are appointed.

How extensive is U.S.-funded broadcasting?

After dipping to a post-Cold War low of about $420 million in 2000, spending on international broadcasting has risen to $650 million. U.S. broadcasters disseminate reports on satellite television, the Internet, and shortwave, FM, and middle wave radio in nearly sixty languages through the following agencies:

  • Voice of America (VOA). The flagship of U.S. broadcasters with programs in about forty-five languages on radio and twenty languages on television. It began broadcasting in 1942 as an effort by the Office of War Information to reach people in Nazi-occupied Europe. It took on a broader importance in the Cold War and has retained a central mission of informing other cultures about the United States and the world. It is mandated to include a U.S. government editorial in its daily reports. Its news reporting is generally well regarded and reports in English are widely cited on Internet news aggregator sites and blogs. The number of visitors to VOA’s site increased in 2006 to over 22.9 million, up from 17.3 million in 2005.

Some VOA supporters this year are protesting plans to eliminate broadcasts of the English-language “News Now” program. BBG officials say it is better to use existing resources to expand programming in Pashto to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as develop new broadcasts in other strategically important areas. Former VOA deputy director Alan L. Heil, Jr. says if the cuts are approved, VOA English-language radio broadcasts will be essentially reduced to a few hours a day of programming tailored to Africa. “This, as al-Jazeera and Radio Russia launch around-the-clock TV services in English, China Radio International in Beijing plans to create a 24/7 English Internet service, and Iran expands its English broadcasts,” Heil wrote recently in Transnational Broadcasting Studies.

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). The famous Cold War-era station, run by the CIA until exposure of that link resulted in overt congressional funding in 1972, is one of several “surrogate” broadcasters focused on reporting to countries or regions where local media is suppressed or limited in their ability to deliver news and information. The station in 2002 added limited broadcasts in three North Caucasuslanguages—Chechen, Circassian, and Avar—and remains one of the largest international broadcasters programming in Russian. Plans for the fiscal year 2008 budget call for RFE/RL to eliminate services in Macedonian, and cut broadcasts in Romanian and Kazakh, making it more like “Radio Free Eurasia,” with increasing emphasis on Central Asia and Afghanistan. Overall, RFE/RL broadcasts in twenty countries in twenty-eight languages, most addressing a primarily Muslim audience. RFE/RL, which once boasted one of the world’s top research institutes on the Soviet bloc, retains a small analytic unit.
  • Radio Farda. The BBG created the 24-hour station in 2002 as a joint editorial venture of RFE/RL and VOA staffers based in Washington and Prague, succeeding RFE/RL’s “Radio Azadi.” The move drew controversy because of a shift to a pop-music format with embedded newscasts. But the station remains at the center of U.S. public diplomacy efforts to Iran. Along with VOA’s Farsi-language TV, the station is receiving a boost in funding, including a planned $20 million for VOA’s Persian service and $8.1 million for Radio Farda in 2008. The BBG has also directed considerable resources at expanding Radio Farda’s Internet presence. The station’s revamped web site said it received 4.2 million page views in December, the first month after it was revised.

“Information is not today’s scarce resource, attention is,” says Bruce Gregory.

Surveys commissioned by the BBG show Radio Farda is the most widely listened to international broadcaster in Iran. But critics say its music format has undermined its effectiveness. They also say split editorial control by RFE and VOA has muddled its message. BBG officials say it has improved outreach to Iran’s large under-thirty population and the station’s jamming by the Iranian regime shows it is having an impact. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow S. Enders Wimbush, a former director of Radio Liberty, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2007 the changes at Radio Farda were a result of government neglect. “Iran is easily as resonant a milieu for idea-induced change as, say, Poland or Russia,” Wimbush said, “but unfortunately both the war of ideas and the instruments that gave them life have been largely ignored by this administration.” But U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told the same committee in March 2007 that the Farsi-language broadcasts were part of a comprehensive administration strategy aimed at fostering greater understanding between Iranians and Americans.

  • Radio Sawa. Concerned about low levels of listeners to VOA’s Arabic service, the BBC replaced it in 2002 with Radio Sawa, which broadcasts twenty-four hours per day on FM and medium-wave stations in Lebanon, Jordan, the Gulf States, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Morocco, and Egypt. The station is music and entertainment oriented, with embedded news and information. BBG officials say the radio station reached nearly 21 million people in its target region in 2006. It says Radio Sawa’s all-news web site averages more than 12 million page views per month. But some broadcasting veterans remain critical of the station’s music-oriented format, even while acknowledging it has attracted more listeners than the old VOA Arabic service. Former VOA Director Robert R. Reilly wrote recently in the Washington Post of Radio Sawa and Radio Farda: “We do not teach civics to American teenagers by asking them to listen to pop music, so why should we expect Arabs and Persians to learn about America or democracy this way?”

In a 2006 audit, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called for more regular reviews (PDF) of programming by both Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV, the U.S.-funded Arabic-language network. The GAO said it was not clear whether Radio Sawa and Alhurra met their targets of audience size because of “weakness” in survey methodology. It faulted the BBG for failing to take steps to clarify its audience estimates. The Board agreed that research could be improved but expressed concern that the GAO “displays a lack of understanding of field conditions and practical considerations that often require departures from ‘textbook’ survey methods.”

  • Alhurra TV. Created in 2004 in response to the explosion in Arab-language satellite stations like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, Alhurra was tuned in by 21.3 million people in 2006, according to BBG estimates. The three-year-old station’s annual report notes that its coverage included programs on the rights of women in Islam and comprehensive reporting on elections in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, and the Palestinian Territories. A survey of television viewing in 2006 in six Arab countries, led by the University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami showed Alhurra gained audiences (PDF) from 5 percent to 19 percent five days per week. Those numbers are lower than major Arab channels but seen as an improvement on previous U.S. efforts to broadcast to the region.
  • Radio Free Asia. Like RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia is a surrogate broadcaster created to broadcast news, information, and commentary to Asian countries with state-controlled media. It transmits programs to China, Tibet (including three local dialects), Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Korea. It has an especially active Internet presence in China and introduced expanded live coverage in Korean during 2006’s major developments in North Korea.
  • Radio/TV Marti. Radio Marti went on the air in 1985 and broadcasts twenty-four hours per day on AM and shortwave to Cuba. TV Marti first broadcast in 1990 and transmits four and a half hours per day from a balloon above Cudjoe Key, Florida. In accordance with the Broadcasting to Cuba Act of 1983, Radio and TV Marti follow the VOA journalistic code, mandating accuracy and objectivity. A 1999 report by the State Department inspector general accused Radio Marti of a “lack of balance, fairness, and objectivity” in its reporting. A Chicago Tribune article on the station in December 2006 cited recent internal reviews of the two Marti stations that found violations of basic journalism rules and reluctance to broadcast news “that could be perceived as adverse to the current presidential administration, the U.S. government, or the exile community.”

The number of listeners to Radio Marti has reportedly dropped in recent years and TV Marti’s audience is negligible. In both cases, BBG officials cite heavy jamming by Cuban authorities. Critics say the broadcasts are not credible for Cubans but others say the jamming efforts prove the Cuban regime fears their impact. “Castro would not take the hugely expensive and intensive efforts to block the Martis’ broadcast signals from reaching Havana if they were not doing their job,” writes Alvin Snyder, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy.

What impact do the broadcasts have?

BBG officials initially focused their retooling of the Middle Eastern broadcast services on raising listenership but have faced continuing questions from auditors like the GAO about measuring their impact. Unlike the days of broadcasting to the closed-off Soviet Bloc, experts say, today’s U.S. broadcasters face competition from a wide-open global media marketplace. “What is different today for the broadcasters as well as everyone else in public diplomacy is that information is not today’s scarce resource, attention is,” says Bruce Gregory, director of the Public Diplomacy Institute at the George Washington University.

“It’s hard enough to fund foreign assistance. Can you see Congress trying to fund an NPR for the world?” asks Mark Helmke.

One traditional goal of U.S. broadcasting, helping other cultures gain an understanding of the United States, seems to have become muddled, says Mark Helmke, a public diplomacy expert and senior Republican staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If the goal here is to make them understand the full complexity of America and America’s role in the world and American foreign policy, I don’t think they have the sophistication needed to do that,” says Helmke. Gregory says the BBG needs to go beyond market research and invest in research that tries to determine whether the broadcasts are making a difference.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Government Information, recently cited examples of what he said were biased reports from Radio Farda and VOA Persian services that undermined U.S. foreign policy in Iran. He has asked the BBG to provide English-language transcripts of the stations’ programming.

Are they likely to continue to get congressional support?

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remains a major supporter of U.S. international broadcasting. The appointment process for board governors this year will likely be an indicator of how much support, or attention, broadcasting receives from other senators. According to Helmke, most members of Congress think the broadcast services promote American interests. But a full-fledged debate on the broadcasters’ purpose could result in new scrutiny on their role as information providers, he said, with repercussions for the mission of the BBG. “Congress never intended the broadcasting services to be America’s BBC,” Helmke said. “If the debate in Congress got focused on that, they would lose big time. It’s hard enough to fund foreign assistance. Can you see Congress trying to fund an NPR for the world?”

DPRK 'jammed' Shiokaze broadcast:Yomiuri Shimbun


DPRK 'jammed' Shiokaze broadcast

Shiokaze, a radio program carrying the names of Japanese believed to have been abducted by North Korea, was the victim of apparent jamming, the group that conducts the broadcasts said Thursday.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry believes the interference was from North Korea.

The Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea said its Shiokaze broadcasts had been interrupted by radio countermeasures. The commission will consult the ministry, and consider making a request through the International Telecommunication Union that the North Korean authorities stop jamming the program.

According to the ministry, the jamming, which lasted for about 45 minutes, starting just before its 5:30 a.m. Thursday broadcast, was detected at a radio wave-monitoring center in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture.

(Mar. 30, 2007)