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Radio and the Rule of Law

in Blog
the rule of law and freedom

The Great Firewall of China?

Radio did and still does more for spreading ideas of freedom, the rule of law and democracy than the World Wide Web.

When people think about how they access the internet they imagine a world of freedom and education. This is true, but radio has had a much bigger impact especially during the 20th century.

Radio played (literally!) a crucial role in global politics in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, even as the world wide web was spreading in 1995.

High levels of illiteracy, poor telecommunications links, and the difficult logistics of transporting leaflets and newspapers into rural areas in countries with poor infrastructure meant radio was a vital medium for education and culture, but also spreading international news and rebel propaganda. It was vital information for budding middle-class students of medicine and law. In fact this is still the case today especially in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and the jungles of Asia where there is no broadband access.

In countries today where governments control domestic radio because there is no political freedom such as China, North Korea, Algeria, or Angola, they often report the government’s version of the news because there is no free press, no plurality of political opinions, no legal freedom, nor even open and free access to the internet.

Many states today still control internal web traffic to and from their servers. For example, in China this is referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

This is nothing new. In the 1980’s MPLA rebels broadcast radio into Angola from border regions of The Congo. The ANC did the same into South Africa from Zimbabwe, rather ironically since Zimbabwe didn’t have its own free radio station, and hardly does today.

One unique thing about radio is that governments far and wide do not have the ability to jam radio signals. If they do it takes huge resources. For example, both China and the Soviet Union tried to block the BBC from broadcasting during the 1970’s and 80’s, they didn’t succeed. But the internet can be switched off at the flick of a wrist. So much for the rule of law.

*Source: Africa’s Long Road Since Independance by Keith Somerville