1 March: Moscow tries to switch off the capital’s broadcasters
At the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia targeted social networks, which in response raised their defences to prevent tracking of users in the occupied territories and blocked Kremlin-controlled media. But since March, the target has been extended to radio and television infrastructures, even though the Russian army is keeping Ukrainian mobile phone networks intact for use due to technical problems with encrypted military communication systems). Europe’s response is not long in coming.
Ukraine is a largely flat country, and in the capital, even if antennas were placed on a skyscraper (the tallest, the 178-metre Klovsky Descent 7A, was inaugurated in 2015), the signal would be absorbed by the ground after a few tens of kilometres, due to the earth’s curvature. A respectable transmission tower is therefore used to extend coverage. Built between 1968 and 1973, during the time of the Soviet Union, it has a diameter at the base of 90 metres and is 380 metres high. It is the tallest in the world (among those made entirely of metal) and the tallest building in Ukraine. (Wikipedia info here).
On GoogleMaps, there are several pictures and with StreetView you can ‘walk’ around the tower, changing perspective.
2 March: BBC responds by dusting off the short waves
In order to inform the Ukrainian population, the BBC is reactivating two short-wave frequencies that used to broadcast the news of the World Service for four hours a day (broadcasts to Europe had ended in 2008). These are the British transmitters in Woofferton. Built during World War II, and privatised at the end of the Cold War, it is still used by the BBC to broadcast the World Service and leased to other broadcasters (Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Voice of Vietnam).
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.
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”.