BBC, VOA Protest Radio Jamming

The British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America have both issued statements protesting the jamming of their shortwave radio broadcasts into China:

The BBC has received reports that World Service English shortwave frequencies are being jammed in China. Though it is not possible at this stage to attribute the source of the jamming definitively, the extensive and co-ordinated efforts are indicative of a well-resourced country such as China.

[…] Director of BBC Global News, Peter Horrocks says: “The jamming of shortwave transmissions is being timed to cause maximum disruption to BBC World Service English broadcasts in China. The deliberate and co-ordinated efforts by authorities in countries such as China and Iran illustrate the significance and importance of the role the BBC undertakes to provide impartial and accurate information to audiences around the world.”

“The Chinese government has for years jammed VOA and Radio Free Asia Chinese and Tibetan language programs and blocked VOA vernacular language websites,” said VOA Director David Ensor, “but English language programs have historically not been blocked.”

[…] Monitors say the interference affects about 75% of the English language transmissions to China and is similar to the type of jamming aimed at VOA Horn of Africa broadcasts, which are targeted by equipment installed by China in Ethiopia.

According to the BBC’s Jo Floto, the current block “started at the end of last year and has intensified this month.” The slightly anachronistic air to the news has puzzled some, not least China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which declined to comment. Other observers expressed similar bewilderment. From Jonathan Kaiman at The Guardian:

“I don’t understand this situation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily press briefing on Tuesday, when asked to comment on the allegations. She said reporters should contact “relevant departments” for further information, but did not specify which departments or how to contact them.

[…] Some analysts were confused by the timing of the BBC’s announcement. “This for me is very weird – it’s almost like 1990s,” said Michael Anti, a prominent media commentator in Beijing.

He said that in China people associate the BBC with its television dramas and Chinese-language news website, which is blocked but can be accessed using software to bypass internet censors.

“I doubt there is anyone listening to the BBC English radio in China,” he added.

At The Washington Post, Max Fisher suggested that the jamming might be retaliation for the BBC’s coverage of a recent report on alleged hackers in the Chinese military:

It’s hard to pinpoint the rationale behind the blocking, and not just because the Chinese government does not of course claim responsibility. But we have a pretty good hint in this story from last week, when members of the Chinese military detained some BBC journalists who were trying to film outside the Shanghai complex where China’s elite military hacker team is thought to work. The BBC journalists were held inside the building until they surrendered their footage, which sounds as it were mostly just banal exterior shots.

The incident, and now China’s possibly related move to block BBC broadcasts, are a sign of how serious the Chinese government is about keeping prying eyes away from the suspected military hackers.

VOA’s statement points in a different direction, however, noting that the interference is particularly intense in Tibet and along the Indian border. As self-immolations continue, Chinese authorities have fought to stem the flow of information into and out of Tibet, and state media have accused VOA broadcasts of fueling the protests by glorifying self-immolators. Officials have reportedly ordered the confiscation of TVs and dismantling of satellite dishes, but portable radios are easier to conceal, perhaps making jamming a more practical option.