Monday, December 29, 2008

Radio jamming on the Korean Peninsula makes the border region one of the world's busiest places for radio signals. MW jamming is dominant in the Korean Metropolitan area including Seoul and the DMZ (the border area between South and North Korea). South Korea jams broadcasts from North Korea, but does not jam broadcasts from other countries. However North Korea jams both South Korean broadcasts and foreign shortwave broadcast services which it believes to be against the North Korean regime. These include the Korean-language service of the Voice of America (VOA), Free North Korea Radio (which originates from US transmitters in Guam), and several other services and broadcasts.

Radio jamming in South Korea

The South Korean government constantly jams most radio broadcasts from North Korea on medium-wave. According to the National Security Law in South Korea, it is illegal to tune into or publish frequencies of North Korean broadcasts. Despite the fact, one cannot be easily punished for just listening to those broadcasts individually. However, public listening and distribution of the recordings are criminal offences. A listener in the South Korean Metropolitan area (Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province) or near the DMZ who tunes across the MW band may hear strange signals on several MW frequencies, mixing with North Korean radio broadcasts. These include 657 kHz (PBS Pyongyang), 720 kHz (KCBS Wiwon), 819 kHz (KCBS Pyongyang), 882 kHz and 1080 kHz (KCBS Haeju).

The South Korean government broadcasts several bizarre-sounding jamming sounds (usually warbling or chugging) in an attempt to prevent their citizens from hearing radio broadcasts from the North. The medium-wave jamming by the South is sometimes too weak to completely block the North Korean broadcasts (the jamming transmission power seems to be between 20 and 50 kilowatts, while the targeted North Korean transmissions are of much higher transmission power -- typically over 500 kilowatts).

Radio jamming in North Korea

Since it is illegal for North Koreans to listen to anything other than state-run radio, all legal radio receivers are sold fixed so they can play only channels approved by the government. Because the receiver channels are fixed, North Korea does not need to jam any South Korean private television and radio broadcasts (such as MBC, SBS, etc). North Korea does jam some of South Korea's state-owned radio and television broadcasts. Before the (early 2007) closure of South Korean shortwave domestic radio broadcasts (which were often targeted at the North) 3930 kHz KBS Radio 1 and 6015 and 6135 kHz KBS Radio Korean Ethnicity (formerly KBS Radio Social Education) had been severely jammed by the North.

The type of the jamming on shortwave is 'Jet Plane Noise', which makes it very hard to hear the radio broadcasts. North Korea also jams South Korea's clandestine shortwave broadcast, Echo of Hope, and the South Korean international shortwave broadcasts of KBS World Radio on 5975 kHz (discontinued as of early 2007) and 7275 kHz. The South Korean national radio channel, KBS Radio 1 on 711 kHz medium-wave is also jammed by the North. Before the bilateral declaration in 2000, KBS Radio 1 used to deliver certain programmes (merged with then KBS Radio Social Education) which condemned the North Korean regime during at midnight. A visitor to coastal areas of the Yellow Sea (covering coastal parts of Gyeonggi Province, Incheon, Chungcheong, and sometimes Jeolla regions) who tunes into 711 kHz (KBS Radio 1 Seoul) may hear strange beeping sounds, which seem to be jamming signals from the North.

Strangely, the North does not usually jam the medium-wave transmissions of South Korea's broadcast towards-the-North, KBS Radio Korean Ethnicity (formerly KBS Radio Liberty Social Education) on 972 and 1134 kHz. It should be noted that KBS Radio Korean Ethnicity actually no longer targets North Koreans since the North-South Korea Joint Declaration on 15 June 2000. As of 15 August 2007, the radio channel has changed to a special radio broadcast for ethinic Koreans in Northeast China and Far Eastern Russia.

North Korean jamming of television broadcasting is relatively unusual, although the North Korean regime once severely jammed a South Korean state-owned television broadcast (KBS TV1 on VHF ch. 9 in Seoul) in the 1970s. Currently there seem to be some strange signals on VHF ch. 9 in Seoul which seem to be North Korean's jamming, especially in the evening. This jamming is not very effective.

Because of electricity shortages in North Korea these days, the radio jamming activities are not always consistent and are sometimes interrupted by power failures.

Protest to Libya after satellites jammed

British and US diplomats have protested to the Libyan government after two international satellites were illegally jammed, knocking off air dozens of TV and radio stations serving Britain and Europe and disrupting American diplomatic, military and FBI communications.

Among stations hit were digital broadcasts by Five, BBC World, CNN International, US sports channels, cable TV networks and 23 radio stations. According to an email sent by one of the satellite owners, Loral Skynet, the US state department said it "would take it into their own hands" unless the interference stopped.

Last night the Foreign Office confirmed it had raised the issue in talks between the British embassy in Tripoli and the Libyan government.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, said it was considering taking a complaint to the International Telecoms Union.

The jamming started on September 19 after the launch in London of a small British and Arab-owned commercial radio station broadcasting on human rights and freedom of speech issues to Libya.

Ten minutes after the station - initially known as Sout Libya - went on air a transponder carrying the station was jammed for 50 minutes along with other stations. The jamming stopped when Sout Libya stopped broadcasting.

The station relaunched as Sowt Alamel, this time through a new satellite called Telstar 12. As a precaution, the broadcasts were sent to the US first, and then beamed up to Telstar, making it impossible for anybody to jam it, except from America.

Yet the moment it went on air, the jamming started again, knocking out the other stations without affecting Sowt Alamel.

An anonymous email sent to a company which helped the station said: "We can tell you we know the reason for these problems, it is the presence of the so called 'ALAMAL' radio Audio channel on your satellite. This channel broadcasts terrorist propaganda, intended to spread terrorist ideas amongst the listeners mindes [sic]."

The station has now voluntarily agreed to suspend its service. Its director, Jalal Elgiathi, said: "Our radio station had commercial advertising and altogether we have lost £250,000."

Last night 10 parliamentary questions were tabled by Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock and a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee. "We need a full explanation of what has happened and whether Britain has insisted as part of its trade talks with the Libyans that it respected international law."

Industry sources confirmed that Five had lost its signal from the satellite, but said that the situation had been "quite quickly resolved". Other broadcasters were unaware their channels were affected. A BBC World spokeswoman said: "We're consulting with our cable and satellite partners in the region to clarify the situation."


Joint Statement on the 60th Anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration

Joint Statement on the 60th Anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration

PRESS RELEASE - Washington, D.C., December 10, 2008 - Sixty years ago, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The representatives of international broadcasters - BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale, Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the Voice of America – meeting in Paris today, recognized the important contribution the Declaration has made to promoting a better-informed world.

The meeting, at Radio France Internationale, noted the importance of Article 19 of the Declaration, which states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

They said that their organizations must continue to maintain the highest journalistic standards of accuracy, objectivity and truth in upholding the Declaration.

They noted that some governments have been implicated in harassing, detaining, expelling, threatening or - in extreme cases - killing journalists, committed as they are to freedom and information. They also expressed, with regret, the efforts by some governments to contravene the Declaration by interfering with international broadcasts through deliberate blocking of transmitters ("jamming") and blocking of websites.

The broadcasters underlined the continued determination of their broadcast organizations to overcome these obstacles in order to reach the largest possible audiences worldwide, through traditional means - radio and television - as well as the Internet and other emerging digital media.

These new media, they noted, offer unprecedented opportunities for interaction across national borders and between diverse groups of people, in keeping with the spirit of the Declaration, which enshrines the right to "receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Alain de Pouzilhac, CEO of Radio France Internationale said "Our meeting in Paris was very constructive and I am delighted that the five major international broadcasters share the same desire to broadcast objective and impartial news broadcasts to all publics."

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 134 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

For more information, call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail askvoa@voanews.com.


Ethiopia: Ginbot 7 radio program jammed

Ethiopia: Ginbot 7 radio program jammed

November 20th, 2008 | Categories: Ethiopia | 10 Comments

DebreTsion is in charge of the Ethiopian Information & Communicatiion Technology Development Agency, but his main job is to block most Ethiopians from having access to information.

The Meles dictatorship in Ethiopia has jammed a radio program that was being broadcast to Ethiopia from Europe by the Ginbot 7 Movement for Freedom and Democracy, according to Ethiopian Review sources in Addis Ababa.

Voice of Ginbot 7 was launched on September 11, 2008, and had been heard through out Ethiopia and most countries in eastern Africa.

Similar attempt by the Woyanne regime to jam the Voice of America (VOA) Amharic program had been successful only for a few days. The VOA countered by running its program on multiple frequencies, each with 500 kilowatt, making it too expensive to jam them. VOA's transmission power can go up to 100 megawatt per frequency when supplemented with powerful antennas.

According to experts, it costs up to U.S. $10,000 per kilowatt to jam a radio program. To build and operate a facility that is capable of jamming multiple frequencies with 100s of kilowatt each, the Meles regime could be spending tens of millions of dollars. This is the money that could have been used to feed and cloth so many of Ethiopia's starving children who are unable to attend school because they are too weak from hunger.

Sources inside ETC say that the facility that the Chinese built for the bloodsucking Woyanne regime can jam frequencies only up to 100 kilowatt.

The Meles dictatorship is also unable to jam Eritrean Radio's Amharic Service, which uses both Short and Medium wave frequencies.

The jamming of radio programs and blocking access to web sites that are deemed critical of the dictatorship in Ethiopia is being carried out by Ato DebreTsion GebreMichael, a central committee member of the ruling Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF) and a protoge of Meles Zenawi.

Ato DebreTsion is chairman of the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC) and Director General of the Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (EICTDA). His main assignment, however, is not the development of information technology in Ethiopia. His primary objective as Ethiopia's chief IT officer is to restrict access of such technology to most Ethiopians. He has been good at it. Under his watch, out of 80 million Ethiopians, only 2 million use mobile phones. There are only 20,000 internet service subscribers in Ethiopia — the lowest in Africa.


19 August 2008

China continues to jam international radio stations during Olympic Games

The Chinese authorities are continuing to jam the Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur-language broadcast of several international radio stations although they promised to respect press freedom and the free flow of information during the Olympic Games, Reporters Without Borders said today.

"An international media outcry forced the Chinese government to stop blocking access to websites, but there has been no similar gesture towards the international radio stations such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Voice of Tibet, which are being jammed within China," Reporters Without Borders said.

"The right of foreign journalists to unrestricted Internet access has been partially guaranteed, but what about the hundreds of millions of Chinese, Tibetans and Uyghurs who are denied independent news and information," the press freedom organisation said. "How will the Olympic Games have helped to loosen the government’s grip on the news media."

The organisation added: "It was partly in order to draw attention to this censorship that Reporters Without Borders organised a clandestine FM broadcast in Beijing on 8 August."

Reporters Without Borders has confirmed from various sources in China that the jamming of Chinese-language broadcasts by the BBC, VOA, RFA and Sound of Hope (a station linked to the Falun Gong) and Tibetan and Uyghur-language broadcasts by RFA and Voice of Tibet has not stopped before or during the Olympic Games. The jamming of Tibetan-language programmes has even been stepped up in recent months.

Except for one reporter with RFA’s Tibetan service, journalists with the BBC, VOA and RFA have been able to get visas to go to China during the Olympic Games but their potential listeners have not been permitted audible reception of their broadcasts.

The staff of Voice of Tibet, a station based in Norway that broadcasts Tibetan and Chinese-language programmes to Tibet, report an increase in jamming of their three short-wave frequencies. The Chinese authorities use eight broadcasts from six different points within China (Beijing, Xian, Urumqi, Kashi, Hainan and Fuzhou) to make Voice of Tibet inaudible. Around 100 antennae have been installed in Tibet to jam international radio broadcasts.

"Our three frequencies are registered internationally for exclusive use for the broadcasting of our station’s programming," Voice of Tibet director Oystein Alme said. "But no one is capable of defending us against the Chinese jamming and, what’s more, our website is still blocked."

Complaints have been filed with the international body that regulates broadcasting but the Chinese government cites "technical problems" and has never kept its promises to respect the relevant international regulations.



Short-wave radio

Snap and crackle goes pop
Jun 19th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Life in the old wireless yet

PROPAGANDA, news, curiosity and even espionage were the fuel of short-wave radio broadcasts. Readers of a certain age may recall the thrill of hearing a crackly, venomously worded broadcast from far away, such as the Voice of Free China denouncing the communist bandits on the mainland, or Radio Peace and Progress in Moscow deriding the imperialist hullabaloo about human rights.

The huge advantage of short-wave was that such material was simple to send and hard to stop. Thanks to their high frequency and short wavelength, even low-powered signals can bounce off the ionosphere halfway round the world; anyone can listen. Jamming them—a favourite Soviet tactic, still practised by China today—is an expensive and patchy business.

The end of the cold war, deregulation and new technology made short-wave look out of date. The propaganda war between east and west abated. Poor countries liberalised their broadcasting regimes, turning information famine into abundance. New stations, transmitting on crackle-free FM, soaked up listeners. Many started partnerships with international broadcasters who had previously used short-wave. Satellite-television news from stations such as CNN provided powerful competition in meeting the needs of the news-hungry. Broadband internet connections and even mobile phones can be used to listen to a plethora of radio stations.

But short-wave's retreat has slowed. Though the BBC's World Service uses around 15 different technologies to reach its listeners, short-wave is still king: latest figures, published last week, show 105m of its 182m-strong global audience still listen that way, the majority of them in Africa. In Nigeria the short-wave audience even grew slightly last year. That's not going to change soon: the BBC is upgrading its transmitters on Ascension Island (to be powered, greenly, by a new wind farm). Mike Cronk, a BBC bigwig, says the business case was “compelling”.

As competition for slots on the spectrum has eased, private broadcasters are moving in, notably American-based religious ones such as Assemblies of Yahweh, Adventist World Radio and the Fundamental Broadcasting Network. Short-wave also stays useful after natural disasters or political crises. Foreign broadcasters such as Voice of America have been stepping up their short-wave offerings to Zimbabwe in recent weeks.

Perhaps the most loyal users of all are intelligence services. So-called “Numbers stations” such as the Cyprus-based Lincolnshire Poacher (named after the jaunty tune that precedes the broadcasts) allow Britain's MI6 and others to send messages to anyone anywhere in the world, untraceably and in unbreakable code. No other medium is as ubiquitous and as secure. The only snag would be if owning a short-wave radio were to come to be seen as so eccentric as to arouse suspicion. Indeed, fewer such sets are sold these days. But as Simon Spanswick of the Association for International Broadcasting, an industry umbrella group, notes, people rarely throw their radios away.

Copyright © 2008 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: An Effective Tool for Winning Hearts and Minds
By Jeffrey Gedmin, Ph.D., 6/16/2008 9:53:52 AM

Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin is the President of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). This speech was delivered at the Heritage Foundation on April 10, 2008.

I've been on this job for one year and a week. When I started in Prague, working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I remember one of my first experiences was when the director of our Belarus Service came to me about a problem they had in Minsk. A young man, 18 years old, had been arrest ed on a street corner as he was passing out leaflets. The leaflets simply said, "Listen to Radio Liberty." Nothing more, nothing less. "Listen to Radio Liber ty." He was arrested; he was put in jail.

The director of this service said, "Would you make a statement on the radio about his imprison ment and why it's important to have the free flow of information and ideas and why we stand by him?" I said, of course I would. I was honored, and I went to the studio there in Prague and made my statement. This was maybe my second or third week on the job.

The gentleman who runs the Belarus Service pulled me aside afterward and diplomatically but directly said, "Mr. Gedmin, that was fine for a kind of Washington think tank statement"—I'm overstating for effect, he was probably gentler than this—"or a political statement inside the Beltway, but can I ask you to do that again? This 18-year-old kid who is in jail tonight, there's a good chance he's listening to this. A radio has been smuggled in, and for sure his family and for certain his friends are listening to this."

I was stunned. Of course he was right. And I thought about it. I mean, it sounds simple, maybe even trite. I hope it's not trite, but I thought about it, and gave another statement. I don't know if it was okay, but I thought about it in a completely different way.

I tell you that story because, with great sincerity, you cannot be anything but humble working for an organization like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Recently in Prague, we had two colleagues come up from our Baghdad Bureau, two young Iraqi gen tlemen—I would say 30-something. We sat down, over coffee, and I asked, "Well, why do you do what you do?" They got big smiles, both of them, sponta neous big smiles, and the first thing they both said was, "We love it. It's our country; we love it." And then they paused, and said, "Inside Iraq, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, there's been a proliferation of media—150 newspapers, opportunity, land scape—but we believe that what we do through Radio Liberty there is the only source of reliable, quality, independent news and information."

They said to me, "Everything else is in some way beholden to a constituency, a party, a foreign gov ernment, an ethnic group, a tribal group, a religious group. We're the only thing that gives straight, direct, honest, fair-minded information, and we have an audience and a following and a constituen cy." It's moving, and I'm happy to say, by the way, that these colleagues from the Iraqi Bureau just received a very prestigious award from our board. And they should, because they work under very dif ficult circumstances.

I've been in this job 12 months: In Iraq we've had two reporters killed; we've had one kidnapped; we've got one in Prague right now escaping—at this moment—death threats. So what they do is not light. It's really got gravitas. It's really got heft. It's impressive.

I could go on. We have a great market share in Afghanistan. We're a leader, we've got about 60 per cent audience size in Afghanistan, and we've got all sorts of qualitative ways to know that we have impact. The Taliban in Afghanistan regularly threatens, harasses, and intimidates our journalists. A couple of months ago they kidnapped one outside of Kabul.

The Taliban don't want us off the air, actually. They want equal time on the air. Because we play, we reach people, not just in Kabul, but throughout the country, the villages. We have dozens and dozens of stringers from the country, working in the two lan guages, Dari and Pashto, with impact.

Our Capabilities

This is a great opportunity for me to talk about what we're doing today and tell you a little bit about what our strategy is. I think you find out very quick ly, if you distill it, that what we're doing today is fun­damentally, at its core, the same kind of things that we did during the Cold War when our greatest admirers were [former Czech President] Vaclav Havel, [Soviet dissident] Natan Sharansky, [former Polish President] Lech Walesa, and others. Now, it's true, we've changed. We've moved east, we've moved south. We still have Europe in the name, but Europe is free.

So we have Russia, we go down through Central Asia, we have the Middle East—or a good bit of the Middle East. We've got Afghanistan, we've got Iraq, we've got Iran. We've had to change in terms of technology, too, in medium. We still do radio, but we've introduced and adopted television, and we do video and we do the World Wide Web. We do lots on the Internet. But at the end of the day, the core principles, the philosophy, the guidelines we follow are the same.

What does that mean? Number one, we have to rely on colleagues and allies from the countries to which we're broadcasting. They are our heart and soul, whether they're in bureaus or whether they are in our operational headquarters in Prague. They are us. They come from these countries. Number two, they broadcast in the languages that the people need to get the information in—28 different languages, as Kim mentioned earlier.

Last but not least, we are still in the business of "surrogate" broadcasting. What does that mean? Well, we're not Voice of America. I happen to love Voice of America. As an American, I think we need both. I think they're absolutely complementary and absolutely reinforcing. But Voice of America is chief ly about us, about explaining American foreign pol icies, American society, American culture, and so forth. We are mostly about them. It's mostly about the news and information that they in these coun tries do not have access to.

Now, there's a wrinkle to this. During the Cold War, maybe it was a little simpler and maybe it was in some ways easier. We are today working in some transitional countries, where, in fact, our job is always to put ourselves out of business. When a country becomes free, when it has fully established independent media, when it has an independent judiciary, when it has fair and free elections, there's no need for us. They generate this domestically, it's all indigenous.

But we've got countries that are transitional. Take one, Georgia. It's not an un-free country, it's not a dictatorship; it has a leadership that is pro-West, pro-NATO, pro-EU, pro-American. But it's not where it needs to be.

I was in Georgia last week, and I had a meeting with the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. We talked a little bit about what happened in the fall. If you recall that, there was a crackdown. There were about two weeks when there was a blackout on media. We can argue why. Was it the right thing? Was it a misguided thing to do?

I think it was a misguided thing to do, by the way, and in a very immodest way told the President of Georgia that I thought that it was an unwise thing to do. But that's not my bailiwick. My bailiwick is that we were there, and when there is a blackout in Georgia for about 13 days, the only source of genu inely independent news, information, and responsi ble discussion of the events of the day was Radio Liberty. Our folks on the ground and from Prague working in that language, who know the culture, provide what we think is not only useful, but indis­pensable in a free society—or a society that wants to be fully free and established as free.

In most cases, however, it's still a Cold War tem plate, because we're working—and this is the idea of surrogate broadcasting, and it's hard—in places where governments deny their peoples information and free media. As a surrogate, we provide that function.

Iran and the Difficult Flow of Information

How does it work in practice? I'll give you some examples from our Persian Service. It's called Radio Farda. It is radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it is a robust Web program.

Several instances have transpired in recent months. For example, when the Iranians do fuel rationing, there's a deficit of information inside the country about how it's working, and why an energy-rich country should have to lean on such devices. Well, we had reporters on the ground that would go into a gas line discreetly. (We don't have a bureau in Tehran; I don't want to shock you. Iranian reporters weren't doing this.) They'd stick a microphone, as one did, under someone's nose and say, "What are you doing here, sir?" He said, "Well, I've been wait ing in line for gas for my car for five hours." And then he paused, and he said, "It does bother me. My government makes me wait for gas, and then they're giving my tax money to Hezbollah." That's an inter esting comment. We put it on the Web; we put it on the radio. We got calls and we found out that he was not the only person in this country of 70 million who thought like that, who wanted a chance to vent, who wanted to make his opinion known or get it tested.

We also had a sad, bizarre story not so long ago, which is illustrative of a larger problem in Iran. The clerics directed police to crack down on pet owners with dogs. Some of you are nodding, you recall this story. The idea was that ownership of dogs is not consistent with a certain version of Islam. And so, among other things we reported on the social fis sure that occurred. Lo and behold, not surprisingly, we found out that some of the police didn't like this. Apparently some of the police in Tehran like catch ing criminals, but not teenage boys or girls walking their dogs in the park and then fining the boy or girl and taking away the dog to a kind of dog prison.

We reported on it. We got a very good response; it was picked up in a number of outlets in Europe. It bounced back to Tehran; they rescinded the order. Now, I'd like to argue it was all because of us. Maybe not, but I don't think it hurt, and it was a chance for people to hear about it, discuss it, be informed about it. It wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Another thing that we try, in Iran, is interactivity. It's not just about technology, it's about participa tion. We have a new program where we're sending and receiving SMS messages via cell phone to folks in the country. About three weeks ago, we received 500 overnight—one single day.

One of my Iranian colleagues said to me, "You have to understand, when someone sends an SMS, a) it costs money, and b) the security services are almost certainly monitoring it. There's some risk involved, but they're not just imparting information."

One of my Iranian colleagues—the director of the editorial side of our program there, is a terrific journalist named Golnaz Esfandiari. She said, "Peo ple are yearning for information, but they're also yearning for participation," and this is a way to help them participate. We think it works, by the way. The Iranians jam us, they block our Web site, and they harass our journalists. Now, we don't have a bureau in Iran, but we have 43 colleagues working for us in Prague because they harass our journalists. How do they do that? I'll give you one example.

They will summon one of our journalists to go home to Iran and face a court on anti-state propa ganda or—I love this—slandering the supreme leader or something like this. And, of course, they don't go. Then the authorities will say, "That's okay. We need 50,000 U.S. dollars in bail." The journalist will respectfully decline, and then they'll say, "You know what, I think the deed to your mother's home would be about right."

So they have a whole menu of options to harass us. They jam our signals, they block our broad casts, they harass our journalists—all of which mean we do have an audience. We have imper fect ways of measuring that, but one is the market test of the regime trying to prevent this free flow of information.

Russia and the Illusion of Choice

I'll give you one more country example. In the case of Russia, we have had dwindling radio oppor tunities there the last three years, and there's no tele vision opportunity. We're thinking and moving and intensifying our Web and our Internet operations. We have to, not by choice but by dictate. We're offering choice in a country that is increasingly infatuated with promoting "the illusion of choice."

Now, I'm borrowing an expression from my col league, Daniel Kimmage, one of our top research scholars. He has this reference in particular to the Internet in Russia, where there's the "illusion of choice" because there is a menu of options. There's music and there's art and there's theater and there's business, there's this, that, and the other.

There's everything except democratic ideas, democratic philosophy, genuine discourse about political pluralism, how it works, why it works, and why freedom matters. Everything other than that, to distract you, to entertain you, to seduce you—but not when it comes to the core values and discussion of political freedom, of liberty, the subject of Kim's book.

I'm going to repeat this: We are not Voice of America, which is a great institution. I'm going to say this: We're not propaganda, we're not psycho logical operations—all this, I think, is revealing. You know, these governments that loathe us, that are hostile to us, that work against us, it sounds obvious and self-evident but it bears repeating, they are desperately concerned to block the access of their citizens to information and ideas, everything that we in Western society take entirely for grant ed—shamefully, in some cases. They're deeply con­cerned about that, so concerned that they will do everything they can to block that access.

The Hard Edge of Soft Power

Why is this important? I leave you with a few thoughts to drive the point home, why I think it's important. We had a Belarusian come out of jail about two-and-a-half or three weeks ago, and he lit erally said, "Radio Liberty is like air. You have no idea. When you're behind bars and you're closed off and craving and yearning and needing information, it's like air." Well, I thought that was a brilliant thing to say, but I think it's also quite obvious.

If you care about democracy, if you care about civil society, you need lots of things. You need fair and free elections, you need an independent judi ciary, you need trade unions. You need all sorts of institutions and habits and values and behaviors. But if you don't have information, if you don't have a free and independent media, I think you have nothing. It may be air to him as an individual, but I think for any country or state or nation, it is the oxy gen of civil society. I can't think of any example in which you have any of this without a free and inde pendent media and the free flow of information.

I think, from an American foreign policy point of view, the free flow of information is American soft power at its best. Now, Kim, I told you I haven't read your book entirely yet, but I've started reading it. And in this book, Kim Holmes has a critique of soft power. He offers a very thoughtful and compelling critique of those who want soft power either as a substitute to the real needs of hard power and pro jection of military force, and of those who, even more shrewdly, use it to emasculate hard power and military force.

I don't mean that at all. I think it's a fact that if you are a superpower with our interests and our global responsibilities, then there are certain instances where—What was it Al Capone appar ently once said?—"You can get a lot more in this world with a gun and a smile than you can with a smile alone."

There's something to that. You don't deal with North Koreans with soft power in two pockets. We know that. But as a complement, as a reinforcing, additional, ancillary mechanism or instrument, you have to have other things. I think that this form of American soft power is real.

One of my colleagues calls it "the hard edge of soft power." Not diplomatic niceties, not communi qués, not signing documents, not false and phony multilateralism—the hard edge of soft power. It's not military power, but it's meaningful. It's consis tent with American values, and it actually has the chance to accomplish certain objectives. If I may say as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, it's soft power at a bargain price.

If you take all of American international broad casting—and that's Radio and Television Martí that covers Cuba, the Middle East Broadcast Network that covers the Middle East, Radio Free Asia, the Voice of America, and us—it's all costing us less than $1 billion, globally.

Our small piece of it is 500 people in Prague, our finance and legal experts and communications ana lysts in Washington, our 20 bureaus, and our 1,500 people in the field (if you include each and every stringer), with an audience size of 30 million. All of that costs the American taxpayers $80 million a year.

Now, I like hard power. But $80 million is the cost of roughly four Apache helicopters, or, for the locals here, one-third of the cost of rebuilding the Wilson Bridge—one bridge, in one city, Washing ton, D.C. Eighty million dollars is a bargain price for what you get, and it barely leaves a dent in the bud get of a global superpower.


I started by telling you it is humbling working for this organization. Let me make two comments about that, and we'll close. It is humbling and it's inspiring to work for this organization for the dra matic reasons I gave you at the beginning, and we have lots of them, I'm sorry to say.

We had an ethnic Uzbek colleague who worked for Voice of America and did freelance for us. He was murdered several months ago in Kyrgyzstan. He was 26 years old. It was a political assassination; he was shot in the head, and he left a widow and baby behind. He was a human rights reporter, a 26-year-old human rights reporter. In Washington, D.C., or Paris or London, he would be someone just doing his job—just a normal, decent, honorable citizen.

We've brought a Croatian colleague out of the region to Prague because he was under death threats for reporting on war crimes. That's what reporters do; they report, and they report on things like war crimes. We've had Afghans kidnapped; we've had Turkmens go missing.

But I'll tell you what, RFE/RL is a deeply impres sive organization and it is a deeply humbling expe rience to work for it and for these colleagues. The high drama is compelling, and kidnappings—while they are terrible—catch people's attention.

But what strikes me most of all is the following. We have these people working for us, hundreds of them, in 20 bureaus and in Prague and in Washing ton. Most of them are not under threat. Most of them are not in jeopardy, in truth.

I'll tell you what they all have in common, and I guarantee you wouldn't find one dissenting opinion in the whole organization. Number one, they all take their craft seriously. They are serious journalists who believe in their craft, and they believe in the importance and the responsibility of what they do. You wouldn't find one exception.

The second thing is that we have the whole political landscape represented. We've got monar chists and left-wing social democrats and those who love George W. Bush and those who hate George W. Bush. But they all believe in things like decent, accountable government; they believe in pluralism and tolerance; they believe in human rights and the rule of law; and the only reason why they do what they do is because they want a better shake for their country. I don't think any of them by choice would be living in Prague, for example. It's an accident of history. It's the invitation of Vaclav Havel.

Finally, I was in a café a couple of months ago, and sitting next to me were three American couples from Memphis. They overheard me speaking, and they asked me if I was American. They said "What do you do?" I told them, and—this is probably not uncommon—they said, "Well, Radio Free Europe, what is that again?" Which is a way of saying they didn't really know what it was, or they may have once known. I explained it a little bit (this is me idealizing a little bit), but all six of them said, "Wow, what a great thing! Worth every penny of taxpayer money!"

As we talked a little bit, they left me with two things, and I'll leave them with you. They said, "It seems completely part of American values," and they said, "And it sounds like it works."


30 March 2008
Recent declarations in the media have accused Thales of having sold to China equipment intended for the jamming of radio transmissions.

Recent declarations in the media have accused Thales of having sold to China equipment intended for the jamming of radio transmissions.

Thales wishes to clarify that in 2002, Thales Broadcast Multimedia had sold standard, short-wave radio-broadcasting equipment to China. The equipment has been exclusively designed for general public radio-broadcasting, and is identical with equipment installed in numerous countries world-wide. In this domain, no other equipment has been sold to China.

None of these common civil equipments have ever been subject to export restrictions.

Thales Broadcast Multimedia is no longer a subsidiary of the Thales group.

Press Contact:
Sylvie Dumaine
Communications Director


Moldova jams out Pridnestrovie TV and radio from the airwaves

TransnistriaStepping up the information war, Moldova has installed new equipment which interferes with Pridnestrovie-based broadcasts. Pridnestrovie's government protested the move in letters to Moldova, the OSCE and the two countries which will oversee and guarantee Pridnestrovie's legal status. No jamming takes place in Pridnestrovie against Moldovan radio or TV signals.
PMR President Igor Smirnov listens as Communications Minister Vladimir Belyayev explains Moldova's new jamming strategy
PMR President Igor Smirnov listens as Communications Minister Vladimir Belyayev explains Moldova's new jamming strategy

TIRASPOL (Tiraspol Times) - Throughout the length of the Dniester river, Moldova has placed a series of jamming devices which interfere with the radio- and TV signals that broadcasters in Pridnestrovie distribute to their customers.

The new jamming equipment was installed and turned on in the last week of April, Information and Telecommunications minister Vladimir Belyayev told Pridnestrovie's President Igor Smirnov during an emergency meeting at the offices of the unrecognized country's presidential administration in Tiraspol.

Established as the latest step in an "information war," Moldova's strategy is to interfere with the broadcasts from both public and private radio and TV stations in Pridnestrovie (also known as Transnistria or Transdniester). The worst hit TV station is a local community channel in Bender, Pridnestrovie's second largest city, which broadcasts with limited strength and whose equipment is located in close proximity to the new interference and blackout equipment that Moldova installed.

To protest this move, Pridnestrovie's Ministry of Information and Tele-communications sent letters of complaint to its counterpart in Moldova. The OSCE was also notified, as well as Russia and Ukraine which are designated as the two "guarantor"-countries for Pridnestrovie's eventual Permanent Status settlement with Moldova.

It is believed that the new Moldovan jamming serves a double purpose: On one hand, it prevents Moldova's citizens from finding out what is going on in Pridnestrovie straight from the source, and from hearing Pridnestrovie's viewpoint in the long running conflict between the two sides. On the other hand, and as an extra bonus, it also interferes with the broadcasting capability in Pridnestrovie domestically, and prevents a number of PMR households from picking up Pridnestrovie-based free-to-air TV and radio channels easily. It is the latter result that Pridnestrovie's government is now complaining to Moldova about.

No jamming in Pridnestrovie

Pridnestrovie does not jam or otherwise interfere with TV- or radio signals from Moldova in any way. Moldovan TV and radio, as well as Deutsche Welle and a number of other foreign stations, can freely be picked up in the PMR.

Some of these channels, including BBC, have been re-broadcast locally by Pridnestrovie-based cable TV stations. Since November 2007, Moldova's NIT TV channel has also been broadcast freely in Pridnestrovie despite the fact that NIT TV is a channel which is politically aligned with Moldova's government and in favor of letting Moldova rule over Pridnestrovie inside a single Moldovan-dominated state.

Moldovan newspapers are also available and sold openly in Pridnestrovie with no censorship whatsoever. The opposite is not the case.

Moldova originally signed an agreement in 2001 which allowed for newspapers from Moldova to be available to Pridnestrovie and newspapers from Pridnestrovie to be available in Moldova. However, only Pridnestrovie has kept the agreement. In 2005, Moldova broke the agreement and unilaterally banned the import and distribution of all newspapers and magazines from Pridnestrovie. Today, PMR news media is currently banned in Moldova and not a single newspaper from Pridnestrovie can be found legally anywhere in Moldova.

See also:
» Transdniestria to show Moldova TV freely, but Moldova won't reciprocate
» Pridnestrovie's newspapers banned in Moldova


Tibet Reports by U.S.-Funded Radio Anger China

The Perfect Foil
To Jamming:
Rubber Bands
April 29, 2008; Page A7

HONG KONG -- The earliest reports of unrest in Tibet last month didn't come from a major newspaper, wire service or TV station. They came from a U.S.-funded shortwave radio broadcaster that advises listeners to get around Chinese signal jamming with tinfoil, plywood and rubber bands.

With a current annual budget of $34 million from Congress, Washington-based Radio Free Asia broadcasts news about Asia across the region in nine languages, including Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur, a Turkic language used in China's Xinjiang province.

The Scoop: U.S.-funded shortwave broadcaster Radio Free Asia broke news about recent unrest in Tibet.
The Concern: RFA's federal backing has led to claims it's a propaganda tool, which station executives deny.
Bottom Line: Some listeners rely on RFA for news, and it has earned credit for its scoops.

RFA's reporting on the crisis in Tibet has reignited longstanding ill will with China over the U.S. government's Cold War-era broadcasting system, while also highlighting a question that hangs over the radio service's mission: Is it a news outlet or a propaganda tool?

The Chinese government says the station has done "non-objective, unfair and unbalanced coverage of China for a long time," according to a foreign ministry spokeswoman. "We know many foreign media reprinted their stories about Tibet. These incorrect stories have resulted in much criticism from Chinese people and foreign media professionals. We hope RFA can spread objective, fair, balanced and true information about China in the future," she said. She didn't specify the errors.

RFA defends its work. "We are all ferociously competitive in getting the best, most credible news out first," says Sarah Jackson-Han, spokeswoman for the radio station.

[Listen to a report]
Find out how to modify a radio to pick up RFA.
Listen to the Tibetan-language report that broke the news of the unrest in Tibet on March 10 around 9:30 p.m. Lhasa time (9:30 a.m. EST). Below, read the English translation.
Host, Lobsang Yeshi: We have very urgent breaking news coming from Tibet, with a source inside Tibet, informing us of a huge demonstration by Drepung Monastery, consisting close to 300 monks having staged protest rally against Chinese government. For details we have our reporter, Dolkar, to tell you more.
Dolkar: OK, thanks, Lobsang Yeshi. A source in Tibet who does not want to be identified has called me to inform that 10 March being the anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, the day on which Tibetans observe the Uprising Day anniversary, on this day in Tibetan capital Lhasa, close to 300 monks from Drepung monastery have staged a huge protest rally. The source reports that the monks from Drepung monastery began their protest from the monastery by marching towards the Chinese checkpoint, located towards the west of Lhasa, at which point, they were stopped and suppressed/beaten by People's armed police and other security personals.
We are also getting news that by around 4 p.m., Chinese have blockaded all the roads leading to the western part of the Lhasa city and military trucks and two other kinds of military vehicles are found moving. The military trucks are moving, in a set of sevens at same time along the road. Sources also reported seeing ambulances from hospitals going in the same direction. Sources are expressing fear that it seems the monks might have been hurt and injured under military repression.
Today being 10th March, the security in Lhasa city, especially near the Potala palace and Bakhor Street is reported to be very tight with Chinese personals checking the people's movement. So right now, this is the news we are getting from Tibet.
Source: Radio Free Asia

RFA has no paid staff in Tibet. It has two freelancers who traveled there frequently until the recent unrest and a staff of more than 30 people in Washington who put out the Tibetan-language service. Some Buddhist monks in Tibet say they tune in to RFA to keep up with the news.

The scoop on the unrest in Tibet came from RFA's Tibetan talk show. On the morning of March 10 in Washington, an RFA reporter received an instant message through a Skype account from a regular source. The message said about 300 monks heading toward Lhasa were blocked by Chinese police. "There were some clashes between security forces and monks," the message said, adding, "Some of the monks were injured and about 50 to 60 monks were detained."

Using Skype, RFA's reporter contacted another source in Tibet, who corroborated the news of detentions. RFA then went live with the news from the studio in its Washington headquarters, broadcasting it across China.

RFA was also the first to report deaths in the violence. According to Ms. Jackson-Han, it received several calls from people who said they witnessed the events, including one who "actually saw two people die right in front of him after they were shot by the police," she said.

RFA's report was cited by newspapers around the world, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. China's government has since said about two dozen people died during the rioting in Lhasa, most of them ethnic Han Chinese. Tibetan exile groups say more than a hundred Tibetans were killed in the ensuing crackdown. The radio station later broke news about unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang province, an area facing its own antigovernment, separatist tensions.

A Voice in the Wilderness

RFA broadcasts from the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and about a dozen undisclosed locations. It relies on shortwave radio because a single transmitter can broadcast to an entire continent, depending on weather conditions, time of day and bursts of energy from the sun. The technology was developed in the 1920s and was used throughout the British Empire to relay messages between London and its far-flung colonies.

The Chinese government jams RFA broadcasts by broadcasting Chinese opera, funeral music, gongs, static or other interference on the same frequency, effectively boxing out the RFA transmission. China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television didn't respond to questions about jamming RFA.

[Tibetan monks in India listen to a Radio Free Asia report in March  about a protest against the Beijing Olympics.]
Tibetan monks in India listen to a Radio Free Asia report in March about a protest against the Beijing Olympics.

The station's Web site, which is also blocked in China, features a recipe for how to modify a radio's antenna so that the jamming doesn't completely drown out RFA's broadcast. Necessary supplies include four cup hooks, two rubber bands or string, two sheets of tinfoil, two small wires and a piece of wood. "Plywood or a similar material is OK," the instructions read.

RFA was created by Congress in 1994. It runs under the aegis of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which also runs Voice of America. RFA executives deny claims that the station is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency. It says a station by the same name operating in the 1950s and unrelated to the current broadcaster may have had CIA ties.

RFA's scoops "have been won the hard way -- mainly by cultivating reliable sources in Tibet," the Broadcasting Board of Governors' chairman, James Glassman, wrote recently in a letter to Asia Times Online after the Hong Kong-based Web site published an article that said RFA worked for the CIA.

RFA has critics who say it gives too much air time to news about Chinese dissidents and internal strife. In a 1999 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, former VOA bureau chief Mark Hopkins wrote that "bias in programming is obvious" at RFA and its sister networks. Although they have a founding directive to be neutral, U.S. broadcasting directors "believe they have missions to influence the way foreigners think, live, and are governed," he wrote.

Hot Topic Again

Mr. Glassman's nomination to replace Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has made the objectivity of government-sponsored broadcasts a political issue once again. Taking the stand in Congress in January, Mr. Glassman faced criticism for not making broadcasts in Iran sufficiently pro-America.

[Conflict in Tibet]
Associated Press
Find complete coverage of the conflict in Tibet, including a timeline of the Dalai Lama's relationship with China and the latest news and a history of Tibetan resistance.

"We don't do propaganda," Mr. Glassman said. He said he would work to aggressively counter Islamist extremist messages, but he underscored that stations such as Voice of America "have to be honest." Mr. Glassman's nomination hasn't been approved.

Dick Richter, RFA's founding president, who retired in 2004, says when he first heard the idea for RFA, he was suspicious. "I thought this was going to be a broadcast station whose principle aim would be to appease the right wing Republican faction of the U.S. government and basically be a broadcaster whose principal aim would be to 'kill the Commies,'" he says. "But I said 'that is not what we are going to do.' The legislation says we have to be objective."

There are no reliable estimates of RFA's audience in China or around Asia. "In most of our target areas, people hide their listening from all but those they trust, and in North Korea, listeners have told us they hide their listening even from spouses and especially from children," says John Estrella, RFA's director of external relations.

RFA's reporters aren't officially allowed in many of the places it covers. They say they rely on telephone calls and encrypted Internet communication programs, such as Skype. The station sometimes hires people who have links to human-rights and labor organizations because they are well sourced, says Mr. Richter.

On RFA's call-in shows, listeners call collect to numbers that connect them with RFA's office in Washington and elsewhere, helping the broadcaster build sources and collect tips. RFA says its call-in numbers are sometimes jammed by computer-automated dialing.

Ms. Jackson-Han says RFA has covertly sent correspondents into areas closed off to journalists, such as the jungles around the border of Thailand and Myanmar, to investigate leads. Tipped off that a hospital in China might have been harvesting bodily organs from patients to sell, one reporter went through the hospital floor by floor, she says. "Our reporter could not confirm the organ harvesting, so we didn't touch the story," Ms. Jackson-Han says.

Write to Nicholas Zamiska at nicholas.zamiska@wsj.com and Geoffrey A. Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@wsj.com

[Find out how to modify a radio to pick up RFA]
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RFE/RL Websites Hit By Mass Cyberattack
Iraq -- computer user, generic, 29Nov2004
The attack prevented users from accessing some RFE/RL sites (file photo)
Several websites run by RFE/RL's broadcast services have been hit by an unprecedented cyberattack, making them inaccessible to the outside world.

The attack, which started on April 26, intially targeted the website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, but quickly spread to other sites. Within hours, eight RFE/RL websites (Belarus, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tatar-Bashkir, Radio Farda, South Slavic, Russian, and Tajik) were knocked out or otherwise affected.

The "denial-of-service" (DOS) attack was intended to make the targeted website unavailable to its users, according to RFE/RL's Director of Technology Luke Springer. "The way this is normally done is by flooding the target website with fake requests to communicate, thereby using up all [the website's] free sources and rendering the site useless to all the legitimate users," Springer said.

RFE/RL has been hit before by denial-of-service attacks, but this attack was unprecedented in its scale, as RFE/RL websites received up to 50,000 fake hits every second.

Springer says this more sophisticated assault is known as a "distributed denial-of-service" attack, in which "the attacker has made use of other machines, distributed its intentions out to other machines, and then all of these machines attack at the same time."

DOS attacks are difficult to protect against, and the software required to carry them out is available on the Internet.

Other Sites Attacked

RFE/RL Belarus Service Director Alexander Lukashuk said he began getting e-mails from frustrated web visitors about two hours after the attack began on April 26. He noted that the problems began on an important date in Belarus -- the 22nd anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear catastrophe.

Lukashuk said that a large Internet audience was relying on RFE/RL's Belarus Service to report live on a rally of thousands of people, organized by the Belarusian opposition. The demonstrators were protesting the plight of uncompensated Chornobyl victims and a government decision to build a new nuclear power station.

Other Belarusian websites were also hit, including the Minsk-based nongovernmental organization Charter 97. Since the attacks, many other independent websites in Belarus have carried content from RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin said he is deeply concerned by the attacks. "If free and independent media existed in these countries where we're working and broadcasting, we would have no reason to exist," Gedmin said. "The Belarusians, the Iranians -- they all have basically the same objective. They see free information -- flowing information of ideas and so forth -- as the oxygen of civil society. They'll do anything they can to cut it off. If it means jamming, if it means cyberattacks, that's what they'll do."

Cyberattacks have become more common in recent years, sometimes targeting government institutions or large corporations.

In May 2007, Estonian websites were hit by a wave of cyberattacks. Estonia accused Russia of launching the attacks after Tallinn relocated a monument honoring Soviet troops, sparking anger in Russia and among Estonia's ethnic-Russian population. Moscow denied any involvement.

RFE/RL has taken countermeasures and restored full service to most of its Internet sites. The primary target, the Belarus Service, is still affected.

All of the RFE/RL sites targeted are still being affected by the attack.


Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Radio Free What?

By Patricia H. Kushlis

In her April 22 column in The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum laments the lack of support in Congress and the Bush administration for Radio Free Europe (RFE) which she erroneously claims was the “only source of independent information in Eastern Europe” during the Cold War.

Now I’m not either a proponent or opponent of Radio Free Europe or its Russian language counterpart Radio Liberty. Both were surrogate radio stations operated first by the Central Intelligence Agency then when their covers were blown around 1970 - openly by the U.S. government. Their task was to broadcast information in local languages to Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union not available because of Communist government censorship so that the peoples “behind the Iron Curtain” could hear the unvarnished news of what was happening in their own countries in their own languages.

That few Americans knew – or today know – of RFE’s existence let alone support its continued existence does not surprise me.

Its name, by the way, is RFE/RL, a post-Cold War amalgamation of the once-upon-a-time two separate services.

RFE/RL operates under the restrictions of the little known Smith-Mundt Act which supposedly restricts the US government from propagandizing its own citizens. This means a special Congressional dispensation is required for Americans to have access to US government media products produced by and directed at foreigners. This Act, enacted in 1948 and strengthened in 1972, was, I suppose, fine in its day. But with the Internet, satellite broadcasting and the rise of medium wave stations, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and today’s Europeanization of much of Eastern Europe, Smith-Mundt has now become a 12 inch soft plastic barrier to the American public’s right to know what its government is saying abroad but, as Mountain Runner suggests, it's like the elephant under the table, no one wants to deal with it.

An aside: I was looking at data on Amazon’s Alexa Internet rankings a couple of weeks ago and discovered that the State Department’s newly launched America.gov, an Internet page of indeterminate quality and usefulness aimed at the world outside the US, had a readership that was about 20 percent American. But quiet please, don’t tell anyone in Congress or America.gov’s State Department bosses. America.gov comes under Smith-Mundt and Americans aren’t supposed to know about it or have access to its contents despite the fact our tax dollars fund it along with other entities like RFE/RL.

Given The New York Times story on Sunday of the Bush administration’s successful manipulation of American media coverage of US policy in the Middle East through tainted “expert military analysts” aka retired senior military officers now also raking in the dough from arms manufacturers suggests that continued Smith-Mundting of US government international information sources like RFE/RL and America.gov is a penny-ante farce.

In reality, RFE and RL’s short wave services from Munich during the Cold War provided only one, of several sources, of information that flew through the air from western government media outlets into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. When I lived in Moscow during the late 1970s, we tuned in daily Voice of America, the most universally popular, as well as the BBC. The Soviets and their Eastern European counterparts were far more effective at jamming RL than either VOA or BBC (see excellent comment by Morand Fachot, a former BBC correspondent, on Ms. Applebaum’s column). VOA – as Fachot indicates - was by far the most popular of all.

VOA – like RL and RFE broadcast on short wave. Unlike RL and RFE it brought news of the world in English and other languages to Russians and Eastern Europeans who, wisely, did not trust Mayak and their other own information sources. VOA also carried the immensely popular late night jazz program by the now deceased Willis Conover whose popularity rankings in the Soviet Union placed him – well – up in the stratosphere with the demigods if not the angels.

Applebaum laments that RFE’s operating budget is now reduced to $75 million in rapidly depreciating dollars (the cost of four Apache helicopters according to Jeff Gedmin, its current president) from $230 million at its peak. She has a point. If the US government is going to do something at all, it needs to do it well and that means funding it adequately.

But it seems to me RFE/RL’s continued existence needs reevaluation to be undertaken in a comprehensive review of all US government international information operations and soft power policies once we have a new administration. Under the Bush administration, they have been in shambles for seven years and the two previous administrations did nothing to help.

US government international broadcasting is an underfunded, poorly administered, unmitigated disaster – but then so are almost all the operations and programs which underpin much of the rest of America’s soft power projection abroad.

Between then and now, however, it would be really nice to see more political appointees wash out of the system. This means Gedmin but it also includes Diane Zeleny, RFE/RL’s Director of Communications, who quietly slipped from a teacher’s pet, cushy job in the former Public Diplomacy Czarina Karen Hughes’ office to the RFE/RL staff in September 2007 but only after the American Foreign Service Association objected to her assignment to a career Foreign Service position in Brussels to which she was unqualified.

One might wonder about her qualifications for the RFE/RL job as well. At the very least she could have informed Ms. Applebaum that she has the broadcasting service’s name wrong: please try to remember for the future, OK, it’s RFE/RL not simply RFE.

23 April 2008

With foreign media still barred from Tibet, what is the government hiding ?

Reporters Without Borders called today for the foreign news media to be allowed back immediately into Tibet and nearby provinces with a Tibetan population, where the Chinese authorities have maintained a news blackout and have been conducting a massive propaganda campaign for the past six weeks.

"What is the Chinese government hiding behind Tibet’s closed doors?" the press freedom organisation asked. "Things are clearly far from being back to normal, as the authorities claim. The few reports emerging suggest a very different situation, one of arrests and a climate of fear in the cities and around the monasteries."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The news blackout facilitates the work of the government’s propaganda machine but also the spread of rumours encouraged by certain groups abroad. We appeal to the European Union and the United Nations to try to get the government to allow foreign reporters to travel freely in Tibet and the neighbouring regions."

The organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games yesterday announced that a press trip to cover an attempt to take the Olympic torch to the top of Everest was being postponed indefinitely. Reporters were supposed to have gone to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa first to get adjusted to the altitude, but the Lhasa stage of the trip has been cancelled altogether because of "meteorological" problems, the authorities said. "Only coverage of the torch relay will be allowed," an official said.

No journalist has been allowed to move about freely in Tibet and the regions with a Tibetan population since 14 March. Two press trips were organised by the authorities to Lhasa and to Labrang monastery in Gansu province. Tourists have been banned from visiting the Himalayan region until further notice.

Reporters Without Borders has learned of about 50 violations of the right of foreign journalists to move about freely in the Tibetan regions since mid-March.

The authorities have waged a massive propaganda campaign designed to portray Tibetans as "rioters" and "terrorists." The official news agency Xinhua’s dispatches talk above all of a return to normal and the discovery of weapons in Buddhist temples. Xinhua announced that the authorities have found firearms, dynamite and satellite dishes in 11 monasteries in Gansu.

National and provincial TV stations have been asked to keep broadcasting footage of violence by Tibetans in Lhasa or in the city of Aba in Sichuan province, where Tibetans attacked public buildings.

To prevent the Tibetan population from getting access to uncensored news reports, the authorities have stepped up the jamming of international radio stations that broadcast in Tibetan such as Voice of Tibet and Radio Free Asia. Violating international rules governing short and medium wave broadcasting, the Chinese authorities transmit low-pitched noise on the same frequencies as the foreign stations.

Voice of Tibet manager Oystein Alme told Reporters Without Borders: "We have noted a significant increasing in jamming since 16 March, especially in the cities where the government has invested tens of millions of dollars to install antennae to prevent Tibetans from listening to us."

The propaganda campaign against the "Dalai Lama’s clique" gets a lot of space in the Chinese media based abroad. The state-owned CCTV’s stations that broadcast in foreign languages just show the violence by Tibetans and never refer to the reprisals that followed. Ouzhou Shibao (News of Europe), a newspaper based in France, published a full page on Tibet giving the government’s position.

Chinese Internet users and hackers are also harassing pro-Tibetan organisations. The Tibetan government-in-exile’s site was recently put out of commission by a group of hackers based in China. And several foreign news media, especially websites that allow visitors to post comments, are being flooded with messages that repeat government propaganda word for word.

The Chinese authorities have ordered the media to stick to the official toll of 13 innocent civilians killed and 300 wounded by "rioters." The Tibetan government-in-exile reported that about 100 Tibetans were killed and hundreds were arrested. Some pro-Tibetan groups say thousands are being held in camps where torture is practised.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Chinese government’s constant criticism of the foreign media’s coverage of the situation in Tibet. "Some media deliberately misrepresent the facts and wrongly portray a hateful crime as a peaceful demonstration," Tibetan communist leader Raidi said.