Since 28 March, the Taliban have banned the possibility of repeating foreign broadcasters’ programmes on Afghan territory. The first to stop broadcasting was the BBC, which asked for the decision to be revoked because programmes in Persian, Pashto and Uzbek are still only receivable by those with a satellite dish: 20% of the estimated six million listeners. Before the American withdrawal, the BBC also had dozens of FM installations in various parts of the country, including two in Kabul, on 89.0 and 101.6 MHz. The blockade makes no distinction and also affects the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and the China Global Television Network.
Free speech in free fall
According to a survey conducted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in collaboration with the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), in four months (15 August to 20 December 2021), 231 media outlets ceased operations, putting more than 6,400 journalists out of work. And women are the hardest hit: four out of five have been ‘sent home’. And who knows how many positions Afghanistan will lose in the world press freedom rankings drawn up by the World Press Freedom Index, which measures press freedom in 180 countries around the world: in the 2021 report, Afghanistan was already in 122nd place.
On 26 October 2021, one hundred days before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the first professional sports channel broadcast via satellite in 4K high and ultra-high definition began broadcasting. The Olympic Channel is the result of cooperation between China Central Radio and Television (CCTV) and the International Olympic Committee, and is the only channel authorised to use the Olympic name and logo with the five rings. CCTV16 will use the maximum transmission capacity to allow viewing: 5G + 4K and 8K + AI (upscaling with artificial intelligence) while the digital platform will be accessible from PCs, apps and the WeChat and Weibo multimedia platforms.
India’s broadcaster Prasar Bharatihas ordered the Doordarshan television division, which is also in charge of infrastructure, to switch off analogue TV transmitters by March 2022. Channels have already been switched off in large cities, and in areas where the switch-off is planned, financial aid will be provided for the switchover. However, it has been calculated that by now 98% of the population already use digital channels or DD Free Dish satellite TV. With the switch-off, Prasar Bharati will be able to auction the frequencies that become free, thus increasing the supply of digital channels. The analogue frequencies will remain on air only in strategic areas: Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim; the Andaman Islands, Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The shutdown will also have an impact on employment because the staff is redundant: 50% of the technicians will be dismissed and only a fraction will be replaced by more qualified elements.
In anticipation of the switchover to digital terrestrial TV in 2023, three of the Asian country’s major broadcasters have teamed up to operate the national digital TV platform. After signing a memorandum of understanding in February, the agreement was finalized in August by Bayon Media High System Group, Hang Meas Group and Cambodian Broadcasting Service Co Ltd (CBS). The partnership resulted in the Cambodia TV Alliance, a public-private partnership (PPP) company that will manage the transition phase. The broadcasters will transmit in DVB T2 but will also keep analogue signals on the air for a few years, which are scheduled to be switched off by the end of 2025.
More details and statements from the presidents of the broadcasters in The Phnom Penh Post article.
The American military disengagement has left the field open to the Taliban, who have resumed their ground offensive in three large cities in the south and west of the country: Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. In the course of the advance, the terrorists occupy the radio stations, using some of them to rebroadcast their radio signal, and intimidate the others, forcing them to switch off.
As happened on 2 August 2021 in Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 inhabitants in the south of the country, capital of the province of Helmand, which has been under attack for days by the Taliban, who now control several neighbourhoods. The Taliban started to broadcast Radio Voice of Sharia (Shariat Ghag) on 95.0 and 105.2 MHz of the former state radio station and switched off all other stations.
Before the American intervention, when the Islamic State controlled 90% of the country, there was only one radio station controlled by the Taliban, which broadcast religious messages. In the last twenty years, however, information has opened up to pluralism: television stations, 170 radio stations and over 100 newspapers have been set up. An interesting report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism takes stock of the situation. More than 50% of the population (a total of 38 million) is under the age of 19, and around 6.5 million Afghans are active on social networks.
Radio is once again the voice of the opposition against authoritarian regimes, because unlike the web and social networks, it is less traceable. The origin of a signal can only be identified with equipment that allows triangulation of the point of emission. In the case of Myanmar, after the army’s coup d’état against the government of Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February 2021, the opposition opened the pirate station Federal FM because only the technicians and operators who make the programmes are at risk.
Listeners remain anonymous, whereas if they read messages posted on the Internet or social networks, they can easily be identified. The military junta controls social media and regularly interrupts internet connections. Policy Maker magazine devotes an extensive article to Federal FM, a pirate radio station that has been covering the main region of Myanmar and the economic capital, Yangon, for some weeks now, operating on 90.2 MHz..
After the great enthusiasm for digital broadcasting in the DRM standard, the Indian government is rethinking the technology to be chosen for the future. Digitization began in 2010, and since then three shortwave and 35 mediumwave systems have been activated; the latter can serve an area of 300-350 km each and two or three are sufficient to cover one of the 29 federal states. However, there are few listeners because the receivers cost too much for the purchasing power of the average Indian: the price is at least 3000 rupees (equal to 42 US$), a huge amount considering that in the country one person out of four lives on 12 US$ per month (below the poverty line). India has been penalized by the fact that it was among the first countries to choose DRM because the industry, concentrating on DAB+ (a technology not considered usable in the country, given the vastness of the areas to be covered) has not realized economies of scale and the price of receivers has remained high. Yet the DRM technology could also be used for the FM band.
Further details in the interesting article by Sreejiraj Eluvangal appeared on ultra news, which reports the statements of Ruxandra Obreja, president of the DRM Consortium and Prakash Javadekar, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
In a bureaucratic statement that does not go into detail, the Chinese broadcasting regulator (NRTA-National Radio and Television Administration) has decreed the closure of the BBC World News satellite channel on 12 February 2021. This is despite the fact that the television channel cannot be seen by most Chinese, because in China it can only be viewed in international hotels and some diplomatic compounds. The British public broadcaster condemned the decision and stated on its website that the Chinese government had criticised the reports aired on the coronavirus and the persecution of the Uighur ethnic minorities. London’s response was not long in coming and was symmetrical: Ofcom (the British regulator) revoked the licence of the state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN), which will no longer be able to broadcast its programmes in the UK. Separately, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has aligned itself with the Chinese decision, stating that it will stop repeating BBC World Service programming in the region. This is despite the fact that the former British colony must retain certain rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press, until 2047, as part of a transfer agreement between China and Great Britain. More details can be read in the BBC News article available here.
The Chinese regulator’s press release
This is a translation of the statement published on 12 February 2021 on the NRTA National Radio and Television Administration website: “After investigation, the content of BBC World News’ China-related reports seriously violated the relevant provisions of the Regulations on the Administration of Radio and Television and the Measures for the Administration of the Landing of Overseas Satellite Television Channels, violated the requirement that news should be truthful and impartial, harmed China’s national interests and undermined China’s national unity. The State Administration of Radio and Television does not allow BBC World News to continue to operate in China, and will not accept its application to operate in the new year”.
The PBC (Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation) has asked the government to make it compulsory for cars to be equipped with digital receivers in the next five-year plan for the automobile industry. For some time now, public radio and television have been broadcasting using the DRM digital standard in the AM and FM bands. DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), unlike DAB (which uses VHF channels in band III), is a digital broadcasting system applicable to all frequencies, from the HF bands (LW, MW, SW) to VHF (bands I, II, the FM band, and band III). And it foresees investments to complete the digital migration in the next five to seven years, to improve audio quality (claimed to be equal to that of a CD) and energy efficiency.
In Cambodia, about 250,000 children of school age are not educated. While universal access to primary school has increased year on year, the same is not true for ethnic minorities. So, when schools were closed due to the pandemic, the NGO Aide et Action Internationalequipped children with portable battery-operated radios to receive educational courses, and trained them how to use them. And to allow even those who do not have electricity at home to do their homework while following the lessons in the evening, the programmes were also placed in morning time slots. Details in the Globearticle.