We had talked about the disinformation travelling over the airwaves, in particular pirate transmissions in the 7 MHz amateur radio band. This was before the start of military operations, and especially in the areas of the Donbas, already in the hands of Russian separatists. But since the beginning of the invasion, the parallel war on the airwaves has spread to social networks and the web. Let us reconstruct the chronology of the escalation.
24 February: Russian authorities’ warning to free voices
On the day of his speech to the nation, in which Putin recognised the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and justified the invasion, the Russian authorities intervened to stem the flow of images and news from Ukraine. The Federal Service for the Supervision of Mass Communication (Roskomnadzor), notes that unverified information is on the rise and gives a warning: it reiterates that only official sources are reliable and recalls that the sanctions amount to five million roubles (over 50 thousand euros) and provide for the seizure of materials.
The pressure exerted by Russia on the former Soviet Republic is taking place on many fronts: from the military one, with the deployment of troops at the borders, to disinformation, which travels on social networks but also on the airwaves. Today the 7 MHz band, reserved for radio amateurs, is flooded with propaganda messages or messages denigrating radio operators on both sides. Francesco Cecconi discusses these messages on the Radio Hernica website, putting them into historical perspective (during the Cold War, Radio Tirana raged over the amateur radio bands). He then discusses the manoeuvres implemented by radio amateurs to counter “The Buzzer”, the Russian system that broadcasts encrypted messages on short waves, Army FM, a Ukrainian station created to counter Russian transmissions, and Vesti FM, a Russian channel broadcast from Moldavia. Audio documents with recordings of pirate broadcasts complete the in-depth analysis.
The US disengagement also has implications for propaganda radio stations. Such as Radio y TV Martí, a radio and television station based in Miami, Florida, and aimed at the Cuban people. The Biden administration had made an initial cut of 10 million dollars, and now another is on the horizon, which would also include a reduction in personnel. Many politicians of Cuban-American origin, from Senator Marco Rubio to some members of the Florida House of Representatives, have risen up against the decision.
A report by Diario Las Américas, a Spanish-language Florida daily, can be read here.
Jerusalem24 is a Palestinian station broadcasting from Ramallah on 106.1 MHz. Established in May 2021, and inaugurated on 7 October 2021, it’s funded by the European Union to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and talk about the impact on the lives of people in the territories. The editors say they criticise both Israel and the Palestinian Authority “but in a professional way“. Theprogrammes and website are in English, but news bulletins are broadcast in Hebrew with the intention of seeking Israeli “ears”, to give them a chance to hear another voice. A voice that speaks to them about the segregation of Palestinians and the daily difficulties they face, such as power cuts or long waiting times at checkpoints for border workers.
A success story
Jerusalem24 is owned by Afkar Productions Company, a company founded in 2014 by a group of young journalists. The business started with the multimedia platform “24FM“, which was created to disseminate professional information and became one of the most popular radio stations. Later Afkar started a news website and 7 years later created an English-language radio station linked to the “Jerusalem24″ website.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has vetoed the media law passed by the nationalist government, believing that it would be unpopular and undermine the confidence of foreign investors. The measure required companies to reduce their stake in radio and TV stations to 49% to ensure that no non-European companies could control the media that help shape public opinion. The loser would be U.S.-based Discovery, which was forced to relinquish control of TVN, the country’s most important network and the largest U.S. investment in Poland. Many Poles perceived the move by the ruling party (Law and Justice, on whose positions the president is aligned) as an attempt to silence TVN24, an inconvenient station with an evening news program watched by millions of people.
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.
In YouTube ads, he claimed to be a guru who had led more than a thousand clients to financial independence. But in reality, William Neil ‘Doc’ Gallagher was a fraudster, advertising his financial services from a Christian Protestant radio station in North Texas. With commercials promising returns of between 6 and 8%, he had convinced about two hundred pensioners, listeners of the Christian radio station, to entrust him with 32 million dollars, most of which he ‘burned’ in personal expenses. Financially, nothing new: Gallagher applied the classic ‘Ponzi scheme’, paying interest with money collected from new clients until the castle collapsed. The novelty lies in the fact that Gallagher exploited the notoriety and credibility of the Christian broadcasters (followed in the States by more than 20 million believers) to get rich. But in the end, justice presented him with his bill: the ‘money doctor’, now in his 80s, will have to serve three life sentences, in addition to the 25 years, he was sentenced to in 2020 by a Dallas court.
Despite the fact that DAB+ signals already reach 99 % of the population in Switzerland, as required by the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), the public broadcaster has further expanded the digital network in Italian and French-speaking Switzerland. Between 2020 and 2021, ten new transmitters were activated and twelve others were optimized. Improvements were made in the cantons of Jura, in the northwest of the country, and Ticino, located almost entirely south of the Alps, where the network was further expanded at the beginning of 2021 with the activation of the installation in Cardada. In Switzerland, the digital signal is also broadcast in tunnels longer than 300 meters: the list of the 193 road tunnels covered by DAB+ signals can be consulted on broadcast.ch.
The abandonment of thermic engines is a mandatory goal to reduce CO2 emissions. The automotive industry is getting ready and among the aspects that are being discussed, there is also radio listening. On electric cars, HF interference is generated primarily by the frequency converter, a device that controls the amount of power delivered by the electric motor by turning the voltage on and off thousands of times per second. This generates signals that fall in the medium wave broadcast band: electrical noises (such as distortion and crackling) similar to those emitted by smartphones, TVs, computers, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers. In addition, static electricity, which creates crackles, increases with the power of the motors. So much so that some manufacturers, such as BMW, Mini, Tesla and Volkswagen have eliminated the AM band on their current cars. Others, like General Motors, are studying the problem, but the solution isn’t around the corner. Xperi Corporation, a leading digital radio company, whose HD Radio standard (a patent it owns) is used both in the FM and AM band, claims that its transmission system is not afraid of interference. And it presented test results at NAB Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology, the annual conference of American broadcasters. According to Pooja Nair, an engineer at Xperi Corporation, a fully digital AM signal resists interference much better than an analogue one.
The conquest of the French media group by the Breton financier Vincent Bolloré is approaching its final stages. The Opa (the takeover bid aimed at shareholders to invite them to sell their shares to the company that would like to take control), initially scheduled for December 15, 2022, has been brought forward to February 2022.Vivendi will take control of Radio Europe 1, the RMF and Virgin Radio networks and the publishing houses Hachette and Editis. The Antitrust Authority and the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) have yet to pronounce on the acquisition. They could impose the sale of certain assets in the book sector, particularly in France, because with the acquisition of the two big names in publishing and book distribution in France, Vivendi would have a dominant position. This and other aspects are discussed in the Italian monthly Prima Comunicazione, specialized in the world of publishing.