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Radio dissenters: the global struggle for free speech

World Radio DayAs the United Nation’s UNESCO agency celebrates World Radio Day, it is important to remember that independent radio broadcasters around the globe face constant hostility from their governments. They must contend with regimes that politicize the licensing process, explicitly forbid free speech, or even prosecute radio hosts in the courts. Radio Survivor has covered many of these cases, which often go badly for the broadcasters. Here are some updates from the front in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central Europe.

Indonesia and Vietnam

As of this writing, we are unable to determine the fate of Radio Era Baru. As Paul Riismandel reported in September, the Indonesian government cracked down on the Falun Gong based station following pressure from the Chinese government. The operation was forcibly closed by the police on September 13.

Era Baru broadcast from the city island of Batam in both Mandarin Chinese and the local language, and could be heard in part of China. The station reported on human rights issues in China, especially those involving the Falun Gong spiritualist movement.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 30 officials

“arrived at Radio Era Baru at around 11 a.m., forced the padlock on the door of the transmitting room and, despite the protests of the journalists present, removed transmitting equipment, thereby preventing the station from continuing to broadcast.”

This crackdown came four months after Vietnam arrested several Falun Gong broadcasters in that country, again in response to pressure from China. The government charged Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh with unlicensed broadcasting and streaming their program, The Sound of Hope Radio Network, to Chinese listeners. They operated on a farm about 800 km from China.

According to IEWY News, in November Trung received a prison sentence of three years for his activities, and Thanh a sentence of two.


That same month Zimbabwean pop music star Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi declared himself “at a loss for words” following the government denial of a license for his KISS-FM radio station. Instead the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe awarded two licenses to several prominent supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

The move was even denounced by Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The denial of KISS-FM and another applicant was “the final nail on the coffin of media plurality in Zimbabwe,” Tsvangirai declared in a statement following the ruling. “It is unacceptable. The essence of media plurality is to allow multiple, diverse voices not voices of people and institutions aligned to a political party.”

But it appears that KISS-FM has given up on an appeal of the decision, withdrawing its request for reconsideration from Zimbabwe’s Administrative Court.

“The media landscape, globally, has drastically changed, particularly with the migration of airwaves from the analogue to the digital platform,” a KISS-FM spokesperson told newspapers on February 2. “These advances have seen the seamless delivery of media across channels, creating new opportunities to participants and for channels of media previously excluded.”

The decision comes as the government says it is considering a move to ban foreign newspapers, including The Zimbabwean, run by exiles in the United Kingdom.

East Jerusalem

And around the same time that KISS-FM received its rebuke, Israel’s Communications Ministry shut down Radio Kol Hashalom in East Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian peace activists ran the station, which used broadcasting equipment in Ramallah and was licensed by the Palestinian authority. Kol Hashalom roughly translates as “All for Peace.”

The close was celebrated by Israel’s right wing Likud party. One Likud official called it “A radical leftist station that becomes an instrument of incitement must not be allowed to broadcast to the public.” Kol Hashalom published a statement about the action several days later:

It has been few days now, since ‘All for Peace Radio’ was ordered to turn off his transmitters.  Just like that. The Commissars commanded and the police executed. A call is presented to the supreme high court. Our hope is that the judges of Jerusalem will justify their brave reputation, as the defenders of freedoms, as an obstacle against repression.  We hope that the Supreme Court will remind the state this:  the freedom of expression, and all civilian rights, is not to be taken on and off as clothing, as if when the regime wishes he grants us with them or not. This is a fundamental character of the Israeli statehood. We shall not allow the state to neglect it.

Shortly after the closure, around 500 Israeli journalists held an “emergency conference” to protest the move and other attacks on independent media in Israel. Although All For Peace continues to stream online, its status as a broadcast station remains unclear. At the same time, Israel’s Knesset pursued a libel/slander law that would “dramatically increase defamation penalties,” according to The National.


Meanwhile residents of Budapest staged a big rally in late January on behalf of Klub Radio [Klubrádió], which brands itself as “the only talk & news radio station in Hungary with a scrutinizing attitude towards government and social issues.” The uproar was over Hungary’s Media Council (or Media Authority), now controlled by that country’s center-right government, which critics say shortchanged Klub in the license renewal process.

According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, in December the Council granted a frequency used by Klub “to an unknown company with no broadcasting experience”:

The Authority issued the tender for an all-music radio station, making it clear that Klubrádió cannot continue its operation in its present form unless it transformed its programming into a “light” radio station. The rules on tender procedures for broadcasting frequencies allow the Authority to arbitrarily apply the laws. The evaluation of the bids was not transparent.

This controversy aroused the attention of European Commission media maven Neelie Kroes, who repeatedly expressed her concerns about the license decision.

“I also just spoke to Hungarian Deputy PM Navracsics,” Kroes tweeted on January 12; “we are working towards a solution for # media # freedom & # pluralism”

All this is happening in the context of Hungary negotiating for help from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Observers in Brussels are upset at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s moves to push hundreds of judges into retirement and replace them with picks favorable to the government. The government’s control over media outlets is also causing static.

“No IMF deal will be contingent on the fate of Klubrádio,” noted The Economist in late January. “But the station’s uncertain future is certainly not helping Hungary’s cause. . . . The station, your correspondent predicts, will be saved.”

A resident of Budapest wrote to us and said that he was less optimistic.

I’m a bit more skeptical than Adam LeBor, who wrote the Economist piece. I kind of doubt Viktor Orbán really cares about Neelie Kroes too much, and giving in to demands of restoring Klubrádió would be politically damaging to him. So I suspect it won’t come back even though they might work out some other less acceptable solution. But this European involvement in Klubrádió is a good thing as it puts the government on notice that the EU is watching Hungary and its media situation and conceivably will prevent further similar abuses of the media law.

Since then Klub Radio has won a 60 day provisional license to broadcast. Hopefully, this should last until Hungary’s Capital Court of Appeals rules on the station’s Budapest 95.3 MHz frequency, which it is expected to do in March.

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