Remembering Radio Beijing: 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre

A long shot of the iconic "Tank Man" on Tiananmen Square. Photographer: Stuart Franklin

A long shot of the iconic “Tank Man” on Tiananmen Square. Photographer: Stuart Franklin

Today is the 25th anniversary of the horrible events that took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, during which Chinese troops opened fire on unarmed student demonstrators.

In this off-air shortwave radio recording of Radio Beijing, made on June 3rd, 1989, you’ll hear the news reader/editor depart from the script and comment on the massacre of protestors in Tiananmen Square:

It’s believed this brave news editor was detained shortly after the broadcast and spent years in a detention (re-training) camp.

Rest assured, you will hear no mention of the Tiananmen Square protests on China Radio International today–even though this year marks the 25th anniversary of the event. China’s state media goes to great lengths to keep this sort of on-air protest from happening again. State media even tries to limit on-line research of the protests; last year, we posted a fascinating article which listed banned search engine terms in China.

I also encourage you to check out Jonathan Marks’ comments (from a broadcaster’s perspective) on this particular Radio Beijing broadcast.

The 24th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square_man_blocks_tank_238Yesterday, I had two reminders of how important shortwave radio is in China.

The first was this incredible recording shared by David Goren–an unidentified Radio Beijing announcer who departed from the script and commented on the massacre of protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It’s believed this announcer is still imprisoned:

The second was an article that a journalist friend had posted. It’s simply a list of search terms that the Chinese government blocked on Sina as of June 4th. Of course, the list contains words you would assume would be included, like: 1989, 89, vigils, and memorial ceremony. But it also includes words like: Internet block, sensitive word, and inappropriate for the public. Think of how many sites and posts this blocked (certainly ours!). Of course, there are many more terms on the list–check out this article on China Digital Times for more information.

So why is shortwave radio still important in China? It’s impossible to block those search terms on radio.

RFE: Radio Farda Families A Target In Iran

One of the points I often make is that repressive regimes can track and take action against citizens who read online content from banned/blocked media sources. Here is a case in point:

(Source: Radio Free Europe)

In an escalation of ongoing efforts to thwart Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian-language Service, Iranian authorities are interrogating journalists’ family members in Iran.

Employees of Radio Farda believe that their journalism, which attracts over 10 million page views monthly on Radio Farda’s website, is the motive behind at least 20 incidents this year involving the interrogation and intimidation of their family members in Iran by officials of the country’s Intelligence Ministry.

In sessions that sometimes lasted for several hours, agents denounced the work of Radio Farda journalists and warned family members against having further contact with them. In several cases they instructed family members to tell their relatives to resign from their jobs and return to Iran; in one instance they demanded that a specific series of reports be discontinued. During questioning, family members were also asked about their foreign contacts and trips abroad.

The interrogations have targeted family members, who in some cases have been repeatedly summoned, in Tehran and at least six other Iranian towns and cities.

“This is a proxy war against Radio Farda. It shows the extremes to which the regime will go to prevent the exchange of information it doesn’t control,” said Steven W. Korn, RFE/RL president. “Our journalists make enormous sacrifices for the work they do and will not submit to this pressure on them and their families.”

Radio Farda, produced in and broadcast from Prague, is a leading source of uncensored information in Iran. Each month 1.5 million users inside the country defy the government by employing proxies to access Radio Farda’s website, which is blocked. Radio Farda and “Pasfarda,” its signature satire program, are active on social media, with a combined 300,000 Facebook fans. Iranians actively participate in Radio Farda’s weekly call-in shows, connect with it daily through hundreds of email and SMS messages, and despite government jamming, tune in to satellite radio and shortwave to hear its programs.

In media freedom surveys this year, Freedom House ranked Iran 192 among 197 countries surveyed and Reporters Without Borders ranked it 175 of 179.

Yet one more reason why shortwave radio is safer than the internet as a reliable source of news and information and one more reason why countries like Canada should not abandon this vital resource.

North Korea: Jamming shortwave radio 18 hours a day

(Source: Times Union)

[…]Martyn Williams, who writes the blog NorthKoreaTech.org, said that the government’s intense use of its scant resources and electricity to jam foreign news broadcasts reflected its concern about the impact of outside media.

North Korea targets between 10 and 15 frequencies used by international short-wave broadcasters, such as U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and stations operated by South Korea’s government, for up to 18 hours a day, and on major occasions like the April centennial, it jams radio signals around the clock, Williams said.

The North appears to have recently installed more sophisticated transmitters acquired from a Chinese company, although jamming operations have been up and down this year, likely because of technical problems or power shortages, he said.

Read the full article, the bulk of which deals with social media and mobile phones, on the Times Union website. Obviously, North Korea feels that shortwave radio is a threat to those in power. They should be afraid–shortwave radio signals easily cross their fortified borders. This article will be filed under why shortwave radio.

China blocks foreign websites for one hour

(Photo: International Herald Tribune)

(Source: The Guardian)

China’s internet users have been cut off from accessing all foreign websites for around an hour in an unexplained incident that sparked speculation the country’s censorship system was being tested or further tightened.

The “great firewall” already blocks many sites hosted from other countries, but users in Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China reported that they could not reach any foreign sites whatsoever on Thursday morning – although it was not clear whether the problems were universal.

Meanwhile, users abroad and in Hong Kong – which is part of China but not subject to Beijing’s net censorship – said they were unable to reach any sites on the Chinese mainland.

Some believed it was purely a technical failure, with several suggesting that Wednesday’s massive earthquakes had hit an undersea cable, disrupting services. In 2007, a tremor hit a major cable and dramatically slowed access to overseas sites for months.

Xu Chuanchao, an executive at Sohu, one of the country’s biggest internet portals, wrote on his microblog: “This malfunction is caused by the failure of China’s backbone network and is under renovation.”

But one company, Data Centre for China Internet, posted: “Latest news: most foreign websites can’t be accessed. Analysis: for commonly known reasons, a large number of foreign URLs are blocked. It is possible that the great firewall is undergoing some readjustment, mistakenly adding many foreign websites to the blocking list. The details are unclear.” (Continue reading article…)

What is clear is that we know China actively blocks foreign websites that criticize their government.   The Chinese website of the Voice of America and Radio Canada International have been blocked for years.  China also censors search engine results.

I believe this incident was most likely a fault in their “great firewall” rather than any network backbone. International broadcasters should take note: as you pull shortwave services targeting China, how will your audience there hear you?

Censorship in Djibouti: International broadcasters, take note

I just caught wind of a now all-too-familiar story in international broadcasting–this time, via Reporters Without Borders.

While I encourage you to read the full press release below, the summarized story is that Reporters Without Borders has launched a mirror web site for La Voix de Djibouti, an independent news source in Djibouti. Why? Because the regime in power in Djibouti, in an effort to stifle the free press, have decided to block the primary website of La Voix de Djibouti.

The article states (we add the boldface):

A Europe-based exile radio station that supports the opposition Renewal and Development Movement (MRD), La Voix de Djibouti, began by broadcasting on the short wave and then switched to being a web radio, but the authorities have blocked access to its website from within Djibouti.

The decision to move off of shortwave has, in essence, severely limited their freedom of the press and their listeners’/subscribers’ access to information. Reporters Without Borders is addressing this censorship by actively creating mirror sites of La Voix de Djibouti that are hosted outside of the blocked domains.

This is admirable, and we strongly support their worthy efforts in creating mirror sites.  However, this solution is, at best, full of holes:

  1. How do those who wish to follow the news find each new mirror site after it has been blocked?  And presuming they can do so, how long will this take to figure out?
  2. Will the website reader be tracked by the government and/or punished for attempting to circumvent imposed blocking? (Hint: Most regimes now have tools to do this: read this and this.) Has anyone considered these consequences to any individual  caught for circumventing a blocked site?
  3. What if the regime decides to simply turn off the internet? Can they do this?  Sure they can…and frustratingly, they may.

As we’ve stated here many times before, the Internet is a wonderful information resource and it is proliferating across the planet. But with the Internet, as with FM radio, cable TV and terrestrial TV, repressive regimes can and do hold the power button, as well as the ability to control the content, or even take it over.

Shortwave radio is comparatively immune to this, and moreover, is untraceable. When we eliminate the infrastructure that supports shortwave broadcasting (as is happening at RCI Sackville) we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Poor child.

Full article as follows:

(Source: Reporters Without Borders)

4 April 2012–Reporters Without Borders has today launched a mirror site of radio La Voix de Djibouti’s website, http://lavoixdedjibouti.com, in order to help circumvent the government’s censorship and allow the population to have access to a news sources to which it is being denied.

The media freedom organization invites Internet users to go to http://lavoixdedjibouti.rsf.org in order to access an exact copy of the original site.

“As this is a country without media freedom, where only government propaganda is tolerated, we think it is crucial to help the population to gain access to other news sources,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While it is true that the level of Internet use is still low in Djibouti, it is not negligible, and use of social networks in particular is growing. The population will now be able to read critical news bulletins online.”

A Europe-based exile radio station that supports the opposition Renewal and Development Movement (MRD), La Voix de Djibouti began by broadcasting on the short wave and then switched to being a web radio but the authorities have blocked access to its website from within Djibouti.

So that independent news websites that are targeted by cyber-attacks and government blocking can continue posting information online, Reporters Without Borders has started mirroring sites. The first sites to be mirrored were those of the Chechen magazine Dosh and the Sri Lankan online newspaper Lanka-e News. The organization has also been urging Internet users all over the world to create more mirrors of these sites in a chain of solidarity.

Mirror sites can be used to circumvent blocking by governments. Although the government of Djibouti is blocking access to La Voix de Djibouti’s site, http://lavoixdedjibouti.com, by blocking the site domain name or the hosting server’s IP address, Internet users can still access the Reporters Without Borders mirror site, http://lavoixdedjibouti.rsf.org, because it is hosted on another server with another domain name.

The mirror site will be regularly and automatically updated with all the new content posted on the original site. If the mirror is itself later also blocked, the creation of further mirror sites together with a regularly updated list of these mirrors will continue to render the blocking ineffective in what is known as a Streisand effect.

Reporters Without Borders urges Internet users who want to help combat censorship and have the ability to host a site on a web server to follow suit. Send the URL of the mirror site you have created to wefightcensorship [at] rsf.org. The next mirroring operations launched by Reporters Without Borders will be reported on the @RSF_RWB and @RSFNet Twitter accounts with the #RSFmirror hashtag.

NPR stories expose internet tracking (while shortwave remains immune)

This morning, NPR’s (National Public Radio’s) Weekend edition aired two intriguing stories sharing one strong common thread. First, “CIA Tracks Public Information For The Private Eye“–a look inside the CIA’s Open Source Center:

Secrets: the currency of spies around the world. The rise of social media, hash-tags, forums, blogs and online news sites has revealed a new kind of secret, those hiding in plain sight. The CIA calls all this information “open source” material, and it’s changing the way America’s top spy agency does business.

While you must listen to or read the full story to fully appreciate it, its gist is that this featured department of the CIA essentially uses readily-available public information in order to unlock and predict all sorts of activities they’ve traditionally tracked through covert operations. It’s a paradigm shift in how they’ve traditionally done business. Though not surprising, if you know the nature of the internet, it is fascinating nonetheless.

The second story, “Technological Innovations Help Dictators See All” dealt with the flip side:

As technology gets better–and cheaper–it’s becoming easier for authoritarian governments to watch and record their populations’ every move. John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution joins host Rachel Martin to discuss the phenomenon.

This discussion covers a real and growing problem:  the online Big Brother phenomenon.  Many people feel secure and anonymous online, but are not.  Moreover, as tracking technologies get better, I fear it will give these governments even more control over (and methods to intimidate) their people.

[Incidentally, NPR’s Fresh Air did a story in December 2011 which focused on tracking technologies regimes use–it’s a must-listen, as well.]

I hope international broadcasters are listening to stories like these. It’s more clear than ever that VOA, BBC World Service, Radio Australia, Radio France International, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, and the like still hold the key to getting uncensored information into oppressed countries without bringing harm to listeners, namely, via broadcasts over shortwave radio.

For, as we’ve often said, shortwave radio is impossible to track, works at the speed of light, is everywhere, and requires very simple and affordable technology on behalf of the listener. Let’s keep it alive and well:  burgeoning democracies rely upon it.

Yet more supporting stories for our ongoing series, “Why shortwave radio?