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Radio journalists' plight highlighted on World Radio Day

(RSF/IFEX) - On World Radio Day, 13 February, Reporters Without Borders regrets that at least 28 radio journalists are currently imprisoned and that 18 have been killed in the past 13 months, since the start of January 2012.

"We express our support for the 28 radio journalists currently in prison, including Mam Sonando in Cambodia, Hassan Ruvakuki in Burundi and Nestor Pasquini in Argentina, and our thoughts are with embattled radio stations that are targeted by the enemies of freedom of information, such as Radio Shabelle in Somalia, community radio in northern Mali and Latin America, and the most exposed stations in the Philippines," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

"At a time when video and new media get more and more attention, World Radio Day is an occasion to recall that traditional media still play a key role in providing news and information to people in many parts of the world, especially rural and remote areas."

"Radio reporters are often exposed to great danger and sometimes risk their freedom or their life. We pay tribute to their courage and dedication."

The countries where radio journalists are currently in prison are Eritrea (21), Somalia (1), Argentina (1), Uzbekistan (1), Turkey (1), Burundi (1), Cambodia (1) and Vietnam (1).

Since 1 January 2012, radio journalists have been killed in connection with their work in Somalia (9), Philippines (4), Pakistan (1), Paraguay (1), Brazil (1), Central African Republic (1) and Tanzania (1). Radio journalists have also been killed in other countries such as Honduras and Afghanistan without a clear link to their work being established.

Radio still has a big impact in Africa because of its oral tradition and because stations are well equipped, and Africa is the continent with the most cases of harassment and violence against radio stations. The persecution of stations by armed Islamists in countries such as Mali and Somalia is the most dramatic example.

The intermittent blocking of local retransmission by foreign stations such as RFI in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the BBC in Rwanda or Voice of America in Ethiopia and the jamming of exile radio stations such as Radio Erena in repressive Eritrea highlight the problem of government hostility to radio.

Community radio stations play a leading role in Latin America, where they are directly run by communities and minorities (including indigenous, people of African descent, peasants and women's groups) and constitute a model of media that are independent both of the state and commercial interests.

Non-profit entities operated by their own listeners, community radio stations often play a key role in educating people who have been excluded from institutions and decision centres. They are also often a vehicle for organizing protest in countries with many local conflicts about land or the environment and frequent human rights violations.

Often the target of persecution, radio stations operated by communities or associations are also the victims of legislation that criminalizes them or prevents them from having a legal broadcast frequency. In Brazil, for example, a country with thousands of community radio stations, only 4,600 have a legal frequency.

In Chile, where community radio demonstrated its usefulness after the 2010 earthquake (as in Haiti), stations can get into trouble for covering disputes between big landowners and Mapuche indigenous communities. The same goes in the militarized Aguán region of Honduras, where peasant radio station reporters have been killed in crackdowns by soldiers and private militias.

In Colombia, indigenous radio stations in the southwestern department of Cauca are caught in the crossfire between the military and the FARC guerrillas, who are still active in the area despite the negotiations currently under way between the government and guerrillas.

Iran has no privately-owned radio stations, but neighbouring Afghanistan has more than 150. They are exposed to two main threats - censorship by the government or by local officials, and Taliban violence. The Taliban attacked and ransacked at least two radio stations in 2012.

The many radio stations, especially local ones, help to sustain media pluralism in countries such as Turkey, Russia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, but radio broadcasting, like TV broadcasting, is closely controlled by the most authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There is no sign of political or social debate on Turkmenistan's radio stations, which are all state owned. There is no criticism of the government on Azerbaijani, Uzbek or Kazakh FM radio.

But foreign-based stations broadcasting mainly on the Internet - such as Echoes of Moscow, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the BBC - play a key role in breaking the news blockade in these countries. The local-language services of RFE/RL and the BBC (some of which are threatened with closure) provide rare job opportunities to Belarusian, Azerbaijani, Turkmen and Uzbek independent journalists.

The dangers are considerable. That is clear from Turkmen journalist Ogulsapar Muradova's death under torture in 2006, her Turkmen colleague Dovletmyrat Yazguliyev's imprisonment in 2011 and the attempts to smear Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan. Radio journalists nonetheless work courageously and effectively to satisfy their compatriots' right to news and information.

Despite the Internet's growing penetration, the rural population of many Asian countries still depend on radio for independently-reported news. Journalists with the many local stations throughout the Philippines are often the targets of deadly attacks for being critical or for hosting outspoken political programmes.

Four radio journalists were killed in the Philippines in 2012 - Aldion Layao of Super Radyo-dxRP on 8 April, Nestor Libaton of Radio dxHM on 8 May, Rommel "Jojo" Palma of dxMC-Bombo Radyo on 30 May and Julius Caesar Cauzo of DWJJ Radio on 8 November.

In Cambodia, where the print and broadcast media are mostly controlled by the government, independent Radio Beehive owner Mam Sonando was one of the few political commentators who expressed himself freely until his arrest in Phnom Penh on 15 July 2012. Aged 71, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 1 October. Reporters Without Borders and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media call for his immediate and unconditional release.

In Tunisia, there is no government agency to allocate frequencies to those who want to start up a radio station. They are the leading victims of a legal void. Despite repeated requests by the Union of Tunisian Independent Radio Stations, no law regulates the existence of community radio stations. Only a dozen stations have obtained a licence since the revolution and are now threatened with closure.

The Tunisian radio stations that signed a contract with the National Radio and TV Broadcasting Office (ONT) now find themselves unable to pay the exorbitant sums being demanded by this state agency, while those that refused to accept the ONT's monopoly and are broadcasting independently are currently illegal. They could be forced to stop broadcasting if reforms are not quickly enacted.

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