The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has sparked a resurgence of interest in shortwave broadcasting, as nations strategically harness this medium to serve their individual interests. As in the case of the newly founded Ifrikya FM, which operates from Algeria to sub-Saharan countries.
While the transition to digital is being considered for FM, the war in Ukraine has shown that the ‘old’ short and medium waves are the only ones capable of bypassing the blocks that freedom of information might suffer from an authoritarian regime. By launching the signal from thousands of kilometers away, they cannot be countered except by jamming transmitted in isofrequency by the other side’s transmitters, a practice much used during the Cold War but now almost in disuse. So much so that many broadcasters, from the BBCto RFE-Radio Liberty and Vatican Radio, have dusted off old transmitters or created new transmissions aimed at crisis areas. But international services are also at the service of political propaganda, as in the case of Algerian Ifrikya FM.
The multi-ethnic editorial staff and correspondents in nine countries
Inaugurated in Algiers on 3 May 2023, to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, Ifrikya FM was created ‘to give a voice to African listeners‘ and its slogan is ‘The African voice’. It is actually a strategy of rapprochement with the sub-Saharan area, supported by the relaunch of new air and sea lines between Algeria and Senegal, a country with which diplomatic relations have been renewed. The station broadcasts 24 hours in French, Arabic, Targui, Hausa, and Bambara and has a staff of young journalists from Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Lesotho, Mali, Cameroon, and Niger as well as a network of correspondents in nine African countries. It broadcasts on shortwave on 13790 kHz, on the AlcomSat satellite, and on FM on 105.6 MHz (Algiers/Bouzaréah, replacing Radio Coran) and 98.4 (Tamanrasset, replacing Radio Sahel, which goes off the air).
Schedule and frequency updates for the shortwave service are available through WRTH (World Radio TV Handbook) at https://wrth.info/news/.
Two years ago we spoke (seehere) about the frequency allocation plan wanted by the government to free up channels and allow new broadcasters access to the FM band. But once the channeling was done, the wave of protest from the radio stations mounted, struggling with more interference than before. So the regulatory authority (Macra) froze the allocations and is reviewing the authorisations, removing the channels requested but not activated, and checking the payments of the concessions. As Red Tech magazine explains, there is now an attempt to make room by ‘tightening the bolts’: six radio stations in arrears with their license fees (Angaliba FM, Capital Radio, Sapitwa FM, Joy Radio, Ufulu FM, and Galaxy FM) have already been affected, but this could become 23 of the 54 actives in the country. But couldn’t this have been thought of earlier, saving the consultancy costs?
The West African country’s military junta suspended RFI’s broadcasts on December 4, 2022, accusing it of broadcasting a message of intimidation from a terrorist leader and misleading information. The broadcaster rejects the charges, saying the interruption occurred without warning and without implementing the procedures prepared by Burkina Faso’s High Council for Communication. According to RFI, the programs are widely listened to by the population: more than 40 % of citizens tune in at least once a week. RFI was broadcast on FM, free-to-air on several satellites, through about 50 partner radio stations and remains receivable on shortwave.
An uncomfortable voice
Burkina Faso is the second African country to shut down RFI: in Mali, the international broadcaster had been silenced on March 17, 2022 along with France 24 TV after reports implicating the army in abuses against civilians were published. Radio France Internationale has foreign programs in 19 languages, broadcasts on shortwave, and has 145 FM repeaters in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, as well as Central and South America. These are mainly countries of the former colonial empire, with a predominance on the African continent, which has as many as 108 installations.
The Angolan government has earmarked USD 40 million to modernize Rádio Nacional de Angola (RNA), which will enable it to complete its coverage of the territory (currently 52.77%) to 95%. The announcement was made by Pedro Afonso Cabral, chairman of the public broadcaster’s board of directors, on the occasion of the station’s 45th anniversary, celebrated on October 5, 2022. The station, said Cabral in an interview with the Jornal de Angola, spends 98% of its state funding on staff salaries (1795 people) and has not received investment support for eight years. The broadcaster operates national radio stations (Canal A, Ngola Yetu, Rádio Cinco, and Rádio Cultura, three regional, 18 provincial, and seven municipal. It has 29 production centers and 80 repeaters throughout the country.
Established on 14 July 2022, Radio Daar Dheer is the first community radio station in Dhusamareb created by the UNSOS (United Nations Support Office) in Somalia, which provided the technical support and equipment. Operating for six hours a day on 87.7 MHz, the station has ten staff members, seven of them journalists, including two female reporters. It is the sixth station established as part of the UN mission’s efforts to consolidate peace and strengthen the Somali state. The other five are Radio Beer Lulain Beletweyne (88.8 MHz, established on December 10, 2018), Radio Waamo in Kismayo (December 15, 2018), Radio Arlaadi in Baidoa (November 15, 2018), Radio Isnay in Jowhar (87.7 MHz, on May 15, 2020) and Radio Sanguuni in Dhobley (87.7 MHz). In the country, characterized by oral culture and a high illiteracy rate, radio is the most reliable and accessible means of communication for the majority of the population, and radio consumption is very high.
Closing inconvenient broadcasters by claiming that their licence has expired is a typical vice of authoritarian regimes. Which, in the most perfidious guises, do not respond to broadcasters or do not issue a receipt even if the publisher delivers the application in person (this happened in Nicaragua to the bishop Rolando José Álvarez, we reported on it here). But in a democratic state, gagging stations is a little more difficult. As the recent case of Nigeria shows: last week, the chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had given 53 radio and television stations 24 hours to pay the fee or else be suspended from broadcasting.
An appeal was immediately lodged against the article in the regulation that NBC wanted to use to revoke the licences (claiming that it is unconstitutional and illegal, as it violates freedom of expression), and also against President Muhammadu Buhari. In defence of the broadcasters, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation that protects economic and social rights in Nigeria, and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have come to the defence. Justice was swift: on 29 August, Judge Akintayo Aluko of the Federal High Court in Lagos issued an interim orderpreventing the revocation of the licences and adjourned the case until 8 September 2022.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the focus is on radio to educate young people about active citizenship and how to deal with the challenges they face, such as idleness and unemployment. Choosing the airwaves to dialogue with young people are the heads of state of the G5 Sahel, an organization that since 2014 has brought together Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad to unite efforts in the fight against terrorism. The initiative was also created with support from the OIF (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie) and the European Union. Radio Jeunesse Sahel will begin FM operations on October 1 from Ouagadougou, where the last staff training courses are being held: 26 media professionals deployed between headquarters and national branches. The editorial and administrative directors are both from Niger. Aimed at the audience between the ages of 15 and 35, it will have six hours of programming in French and the main languages of the region, with repeaters in each country.
It sounds incredible, as the world of radio is full of anecdotes. However, this is a true fact, which happened in June 2022. An anchorwoman of the Egyptian state radio station Wast al-Delta (Mid-Delta Radio) in Tanta, which broadcasts on 1161 kHzmedium wave, was abused by her boss, who also raised his hands on her. She demanded payment of a monthly salary. Fearing a violent reaction, the presenter filmed the scene, and in the video (which can be seen on the Middle East Eye website) one can distinctly hear the heated tones of the argument, followed by the woman’s screams of pain when she was hit and injured. Amani al-Sabah filed a complaint against the CEO of the broadcaster. Amani is an uncomfortable character: in 2014, she had expressed views against the government and criticism of the media authority (National Media Committee) and has since had problems with the Egyptian authorities.
The global Radio Maria network adds a new element in Africa, opening in Nigeria. It is the 27th African country (out of 54 on the continent) where the radio station is present. In Africa, Radio Maria also has another 29 radio stations with programmes in local languages. Fr Patrick Alumuku, director of communications for the archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, announced in February 2022 that broadcasting would begin in the city on 91.3 MHz. The inauguration took place on 18 March 2022, while streaming was activated on 4 April 2022. In order to expand its presence in the country (where out of 206 million inhabitants 49.3% are Christian and of these 24.8% are Catholic), an initial group of five frequencies will be switched on in Kaduna, Owerri, Makurdi, Gboko and Ibadan, upon completion of fundraising.
Radio Maria, which finances itself with donations from listeners, periodically launches extraordinary subscriptions to expand into new countries. These are long live broadcasts called “mariatone”: the one for Nigeria was launched on 7th September 2020 by Father Livio Fanzaga, the true “soul” of the radio station, which he has been directing for 35 years.
While in South America it strengthens
The focus on the African continent does not divert attention from other locations: the broadcaster continues to improve even where it is already active. It was only a few days ago that a frequency was activated in Mexico at Guasave Sinaloa on 90.5 MHz. In Argentina (where it has 270 repeaters), the cities of Colonia Caroya (95.3), Jesús María (95.5), Villa de Totoral (96.1), Laborde (97.0) and Monte Maíz (97.0) have been added in the province of Córdoba; in the province of Santa Fe, the cities of Rosario (103.9, flanking 89.1) and María Teresa (94.9). The World Family of Radio Maria takes care of the affiliates: founded in 1988, it is a non-profit association that helps to spread the radio station by taking charge of the organisation and exchange of experiences of all the activities which can promote and develop the project in the world. The World Family of Radio Maria brings together all the national associations which develop a Radio Maria radio station in their own country.
Religious broadcaster Zitouna FM has joined the group of Tunisian national radio stations. Founded in 2007 by Sakher El Materi, son-in-law of then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it was confiscated after the revolution of 14 January 2011. Ten years later, the station was officially incorporated into the National Radio Authority. On the Tunisian radio portal, however, it is not yet listed among the stations that can be listened to online, which include Radio Nationale, RTCI (Radio Tunis Chaîne Internationale), Radio Jeunes, Radio Culturelle, Radio Sfax, Radio Monastir, Radio El Kef, Radio Gafsa, Radio Tataouine.