Shortwave Democracy; the Rise of Pro-Freedom Radio Stations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Shortwave Democracy; the Rise of Pro-Freedom Radio Stations


Byline: Nir Boms and Erick Stakelbeck, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Although it often seems like a solitary outpost of democratic sanity, the United States is not alone in waging the war of ideas. Since September 11, more than a dozen privately owned pro-democracy radio stations have emerged in freedom-starved countries like North Korea, Syria, Iran and Cuba.

From the earliest days of World War II to its peak during the Cold War, clandestine radio played a critical role in the fight for liberty. Today is no exception. Iraq's Radio al-Mustaqbal figured prominently in the CIA's covert plans to topple Saddam Hussein throughout the past decade. Likewise, Voice of the People of Kurdistan played an integral part in the Pentagon's psychological war prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq last March, eventually helping to secure the surrender of 9,000 Iraqi soldiers at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Following the fall of Saddam, these clandestine outlets, now fully licensed, joined the rapidly growing Iraqi media market, which is comprised of more than 50 fledgling radio and television stations. Among them is Radio Dijla, Baghdad's only private, commercial radio station. Operating out of a modest house in the Baghdad suburbs, Radio Dijla allows listeners a forum to express their views and concerns, a concept unheard of in Iraq just 15 months ago.

In Afghanistan, clandestine radio also has begun to blossom. After the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, a pair of successful Afghan-Australian businessmen, Zaid and Sadd Moshen, returned to Afghanistan and developed the first commercial FM radio station in the country's history. Called "Arman" (the Afghan word for home), the station addresses issues such as human rights and social responsibility.

Beginning in 1979, Iran saw a similar rise in pro-democracy broadcasting spurred by the ascension of the Ayatollah Khomeini's tyrannical regime. Today, there are no less than 16 clandestine anti-government radio stations operating over Iranian airwaves.

"Whenever we hear of a political prisoner being arrested, we write to the U.S., the U.N. and the human- rights community and start a campaign," says Ali Reza Morovati, one of the founders of the Los Angeles-based KRSI Radio, which began broadcasting into Iran in 1999. "Now the people in Iran have a voice, and I sense that even the Ayatollahs are being more cautious."

Earlier this month, the U.S.-based Syrian Reform Party launched "Radio Free Syria." The station, which is available on a shortwave frequency and the Internet, plans to air cynical and humorous programs criticizing Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party as well as on-air plays written by dissident Syrian playwrights. …

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