The sabotaging of broadcasts by radio stations based abroad is continuing in Zimbabwe, Reporters Without Borders said today after learning that programmes of the US government radio station Voice of America (VOA) have become the latest target of the jamming carried out by the Harare government with Chinese complicity.
“This new case of jamming shows how the Zimbabwean government despises its own people, blocking their ears to the news outlets it dislikes,” the press freedom organisation said. “It would be useful if United Nations mediator Benjamin M’Kapa, the former president of Tanzania, would demand an end to this perverse campaign. The UN and the African Union should realise that Chinese penetration of African markets brings more sophisticated means of repression and censorship in its wake.”
The broadcasts of Studio 7, a VOA programme targeted at Zimbabwe, have been jammed since mid-June by the same shrill noise that have been blotting out the short wave broadcasts of the privately-owned, London-based SW Radio Africa since February 2005 and the broadcasts of the Amsterdam-based Voice of the People since September 2005. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a recording of the SW Radio Africa jamming and has posted it on its site (see below).
VOA director David S. Jackson said: “There has been some jamming of our broadcasts of Studio 7, but so far the interference appears to be limited to medium wave broadcasts to Harare, so many of our loyal listeners throughout Zimbabwe have been able to hear our shows on short wave and in other locations of the country without any problem.” Jackson added: “We take any interference seriously, however, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Produced by Zimbabwean journalists who have gone into exile, Studio 7 aims to be an alternative source of news for the people of Zimbabwe, where there are no privately-owned radio or TV stations. Broadcast Monday to Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (1700 to 1830 GMT), it is divided into three 30-minute segments in English and the two leading local languages, Shona and Ndebele.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official with Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) told the South Africa-based news site Zim Online on 26 June: “There has been marked improvement on trying to block the US propaganda from reaching us since the beginning of this month. The team is now aiming to look for ways to completely block the signal coming via a transmitter in Botswana.”
SW Radio Africa’s morning medium wave broadcasts have been jammed since 26 June, the station’s director, Gerry Jackson, said. “The jamming appears to be quite localised and focused on Harare,” she said. “We can still be heard in other parts of the country. This seems to follow the same pattern and began at the same time as the jamming of VOA’s Studio 7 broadcasts on medium wave in the evening.”
Jamming of SW Radio Africa’s short wave broadcasts began in February 2005, a few weeks before controversial legislative elections. Zimbabwean presidential spokesman George Charamba publicly hailed the interference on 29 March while refusing to acknowledge that the government was responsible. “If the Zimbabwe government is jamming SW Radio Africa, kudos to them,” he said. “If they are not and do not have the equipment (to jam), then it is time they look for that equipment.”
The broadcasts of the privately-owned Voice of the People (VOP) from a Madagascar-based relay station belonging to the Dutch public radio corporation began being jammed in September 2005 by the same noise as SW Radio Africa, making its programmes inaudible.
VOP was created in June 2000 by former employees of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) with help from the Soros foundation and a Dutch NGO, the Hivos foundation. The police raided its studio in Harare on 4 July 2002 and took away equipment. It was subsequently the target of a bombing on 29 August 2002 which wrecked the entire studio. It was nonetheless able to resume broadcasting.
All of its staff in Zimbabwe was detained for several days in December 2005 and charged with practising journalism without permission from the government-controlled Media and Information Commission. They were supposed to be tried last month, but the trial was postponed. The VOP management and staff face up to five years in prison.
According to sources in Zimbabwe, the jamming of Zimbabwean exile radio stations began after a group of Chinese technicians arrived in Harare in January 2005 under a trade accord between China and Zimbabwe. Housed at the Sheraton Hotel for three months, they reportedly carried out a number of installations including a radio jamming system using a ZBC transmitter in Gweru, in the centre of the country, and the ZBC Pockets Hill broadcasting centre in Highlands, a suburb of Harare.
These illegal practices, which violate international regulations governing telecommunications, are one of the specialities of the Chinese government. Jamming is standard practice in China, especially the jamming of Tibetan radio stations and foreign radio stations beaming programmes to the west of the country. A Reporters Without Borders release described this policy as the “Great Wall of the airwaves.”
SW Radio Africa jammed (March 2005)