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11/1/02 - CHINA BLOCKS INFORMATION FLOW - 2002-11-07

Governments that don’t want their people to hear international radio broadcasts sometimes engage in jamming. That means they either transmit noise or another program over the same frequency as the international broadcaster. To get around jamming, broadcasters have to transmit over multiple or changing frequencies, or greatly increase the strength of their signal.

United States international broadcasters include the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Both V-O-A and R-F-A broadcast in Mandarin, the language spoken by the majority of the Chinese people. They also broadcast in Cantonese and Tibetan. And R-F-A broadcasts in Uighur, which is spoken by millions of Chinese Muslims.

In an attempt to block these broadcasts, the Chinese government has been jamming V-O-A since 1989 and R-F-A since it went on the air in 1996. And as monitoring reports make clear, the jamming has become worse in the last couple of years, especially for broadcasts in Tibetan. In addition, China has been blocking the Internet sites of V-O-A and R-F-A, as well as their e-mail services.

To counter jamming, V-O-A and R-F-A use powerful transmitters and broadcast on multiple frequencies. As a result, large numbers of Chinese are still able to hear their programs. But this is very costly -- both to the U.S. and China. It is estimated that if the jamming were halted, the U.S. could save as much as half of the more than nine-million dollars it spends every year to transmit programs to China. And because jamming is about as expensive as broadcasting, China could save a lot of money too.

Frustrated Chinese radio listeners and Internet users must wonder: Why does their government continue to spend China’s scarce resources to try to keep information from them? This is all the more curious in view of the commitments to free exchange and openness that China made upon joining the World Trade Organization this year.

Despite China’s jamming, the U.S. continues to keep its commitments to the free flow of information. The U.S. does not interfere with broadcasts of China’s government radio on short-wave and on a number of affiliated A-M and F-M stations in the U.S. And China’s government television, C-C-T-V, is available on many cable systems across the U.S.

Jamming international broadcasts clearly violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, says that, “Everyone has the right. . .to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” It is past time for the Chinese government to live up to its commitment to insure a free flow of information.