Foreign broadcasters disinvited from Azerbaijan's FM band.

Posted: 01 Nov 2008   Print   Send a link
"Foreign radio stations will not be broadcasted in Azerbaijan late in 2008, Nushiravan Maharramli, Chairman of National Television and Radio Council told APA. ... 'We raised the issue some years ago and demanded that broadcasting of foreign radio stations should be stopped in Azerbaijan and the issue should be solved in accordance with the current world practice. We realized the issue by stages because of poor development of cable network at that time. First of all we stopped transmission of Russian and Turkish TV Channels and French Radio Channel and then Voice of America and Azadlig Channels. We have signed one–year contract with BBC and Turkish TRT Channel', he said. Maharramli stated that above-said Channels were reminded a year ago that national frequency resources belonged to national bodies. 'We are in the last stage and should solve the issue once and for all. Foreign radio stations will remain without transmission frequency late in 2008,' he said. The Chairman added that radio stations function in Azerbaijan could be broadcasted via sputnik [satellite], internet and cable network like in European countries." Azeri Press Agency, 31 October 2008.
     "The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) strongly objects to the proposal made by the government of Azerbaijan to discontinue local radio broadcasts of international media, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America (VOA). 'Millions of people in the region rely on our high-quality news, information and analysis and we urge the government of Azerbaijan to reconsider this plan,' says BBG Board Member Steven J. Simmons. Simmons added that this follows a 'disturbing pattern' that began with harsh restrictions on private broadcasters within the country two years ago, and now directly impacts international media." BBG press release, 31 October 2008.
     “'Unfortunately, some organizations politicize the decision of the Council to stop broadcast of foreign radio stations. The decision was legally based,' Nushiravan Maharramli, the Chairman of the Azerbaijan National Television and Radio Council, told Trend News on 1 November." Trend News Agency, 1 November 2008.
     "The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly come under fire from international rights groups and Western governments for limiting media freedoms, including by jailing local journalists. Critics say foreign-funded news broadcasts are among the only sources of independent information in the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic." AFP, 1 November 2008.
     As shortwave listenership declined and FM grew in popularity, the decision makers of U.S. international broadcasting have been cutting back on shortwave transmissions and transmitter sites in favor of "placement" on FM stations inside the target country.
     The problem is that many countries (e.g. China, Burma, Vietnam, Zimbabwe) have never allowed such FM placement. Others have disinvited it, either for political reasons or because the FM band has become too commercially viable to be occupied by foreign broadcasts.
     International broadcasters must therefore find ways to get content into the countries that do not welcome news and information from foreign sources.
     Perhaps the best way is satellite television, supplemented in some cases by cable television systems that carry these international channels. This has worked well for CNN International, BBC World News, and Al Jazeera. There is, however, no successful satellite channel under BBG auspices. It's an expensive undertaking. And it would never be possible to maintain a satellite channel in all of the languages traditionally transmitted on shortwave.
     The internet is another method, suggested by Mr. Maharramli himself. In many countries, internet penetration is still low, but it is growing almost everywhere. The problem is that websites can be blocked. There are methods to work around net censorship, but they are outgunned by much lucrative software industries dedicated to helping organizations and countries block unwanted internet content. The internet is also vulnerable because it almost always involved landlines inside the target country.
     Finally, there is shortwave, the original medium used to get content into hostile media environments. Of all the media available to international broadcasting, only shortwave is granted by physics immunity from interdiction. Because ionospheric skywave propagation, distant transmissions are often heard better than closer (e.g. jamming) signals. The problem with shortwave is that there are fewer shortwave radios available in the shops, fewer people owning radios with shortwave bands, fewer listening to shortwave even if they do own such a radio, and fewer shortwave broadcasts worth listening to.
     International broadcasters with access to terrestrial FM or television in the target country might be able to achieve large, mass audiences. In most cases, however, non-mainstream media such as satellite, the internet, and shortwave must be used. In this case, a small-audience strategy must be employed, in which the audience is distinguished more by its quality and influence than by its quantity.