Voice of America AM broadcasts jammed

New York, June 30, 2006—Zimbabwe is jamming medium wave news broadcasts by Voice of America (VOA) in English and local languages in the capital Harare. The U.S.-government funded broadcaster said its Studio 7 service, which is on the air for 90 minutes each weekday, was being blocked.

“We have had reports of jamming of our Zimbabwe broadcasts in the past, but we’ve never been able to confirm them,” VOA spokesman Joe O’Connell told the Committee to Protect Journalists.This time, he said, “we’ve determined and believe that it’s intentional.”

VOA short wave transmissions and AM broadcasts outside the capital were not affected.
Studio 7 is popular in news-starved Zimbabwe, where only a handful of independent newspapers have survived an onslaught against the media. Authorities have declined to license any local private broadcasters, despite legislation passed in 2001 allowing for their existence.

“It is outrageous that Zimbabwean authorities, not content with snuffing out the local media, are cutting off the few outside sources of information still available,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ.

Overseas broadcasters have been targeted in the past. The shortwave transmission of SW Radio Africa, a private broadcaster based in Britain and founded by exiled Zimbabwean journalists, was jammed during the run-up to March 2005 parliamentary elections, and its reception is still affected today.

Voice of the People (VOP), a private news production company based in Zimbabwe whose programs are transmitted via shortwave from overseas, has been repeatedly targeted. In 2005, VOP broadcasts were jammed in Zimbabwe, according to local sources. In December 2005, security agents raided the VOP offices in Harare, confiscating equipment, detaining staff, and rendering the company inoperative. A trial of VOP’s director, six members of the board of trustees, and three staff members on charges of operating illegal broadcasting equipment is ongoing. The VOP personnel deny the charges; their next court hearing is scheduled for September.

“The jamming of news broadcasts in Zimbabwe should cease immediately, as should the prosecution of VOP trustees and staff,” Cooper added.