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.
The Indian army has opened a community broadcasting station in Anantnag, capital of the district of the same name in the federal state of Jammu and Kashmir. It operates on 90.8 MHz and is aimed at the population, with the intention of sending peace messages to young people to prevent them from joining Islamic independence groups. The region is at the centre of tensions between India (which controls two thirds of it) and Pakistan, but China also occupies a small portion of the territory. After Radio Raabta a second station will be opened in the Shopian district. More details in the ABP Live article.
The Japanese public broadcaster reduces the offer of radio and TV channels. Three satellite TV channels (BS1, BS Premium and BS4K) will be merged into one channel, and consideration is being given to closing down BS8K. With regard to radio, two medium wave channel should become one. The operation will reduce expenses by 120 billion yen (1.34 billion dollars). The broadcaster has not stated the timing of the closures, but the operation could be part of the three-year plan starting in 2021. NHK in 2019 increased revenues by 10% and is criticized by commercial stations because it collects not only the tax on television sets, but in addition generates revenues from advertising. Details in the Nikkei Asian Review article
The hard line taken by President Rodrigo Duderte has the upper hand. Parliament has refused to renew ABS-CBN’s broadcasting licence, that was due to last for another 25 years. The first problems began in March 2020 (we spoke about this here). The reasons for the dispute were unfavourable news coverage of the president and not broadcasting election commercials. Radio and TV frequencies have been turned off since May 5th, 2020, while awaiting a decision (we spoke about this here). The multimedia group that owns 16 radio stations and employs 11,000 people) has appealed.
‘The radio saved my life. By listening to doctors being interviewed on the radio, I discovered that I had Covid-19 symptoms and managed to be treated in time and recover’. This is the opening statement in the Asian Review’s report on the role played by the Indian community radio stations, which are often the only means available for millions of people to access information in the most remote rural communities. During the pandemic the usual programmes speaking about agricultural techniques were substituted by explanations of how to put social distancing into effect and how to recognise Covid-19 symptoms. Together with the government authorities, they also helped to coordinate the distribution of food and medicines. This was an enormous job considering that there are only 276 community radio stations in the whole country. The government’s intention was to see an increase to 4000 broadcasters, which is a number equal to the commercial stations, but the main obstacle to this is the cost of equipment, which is very high for a community (starting from INR ₹ 1.9 million, which is more than US $ 25.000), as explained in detail in this article.