Monday, July 16, 2012

Emperor Duy Tân and the death of International Shortwave

This is Duy Tân, Emperor of Viet Nam for 9 years (1907-1916). He was enthroned as emperor at age 8 and deposed at age 17. He was both placed into position and forced to leave by the people already in power. He was played like a pawn through the desires of those more powerful than he.

International radio broadcasting is not quite 100 years old and is being forced out by something even more powerful - the Internet. Sadly, as international broadcasting goes, so goes a source of information and the anonymity through which we have enjoyed it.

Over the last few years, shortwave enthusiasts have said goodbye to many longtime friends. In the last month alone, two more broadcasters have discontinued shortwave in favor of the Internet - CBC and Radio Netherlands. When shortwave broadcasters discontinue shortwave programming they often dismantle their transmission sites as well, eliminating the ability to fall-back on radio broadcasting if needed.

Dissidents from the world over have been asked what they did when faced with regimes that limited freedoms (of information, religion, the press). The answer we continue to hear is "listen to international shortwave radio" - VOA, BBC, DW... Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Chen Guangcheng and others have cited the importance of international radio broadcasting in their lives.

So now we are being told the Internet is our information salvation, and perhaps it is. That is how you are reading this blog, but what about the Syrians, Iranians and the North Koreans? I wonder if we have any readers from those countries? I wonder if it would even be worth the risk for those people to try? How about for those without internet access at all, living under even less oppressive regimes?

What radio broadcasting does (that the Internet can't) is offer an anonymous way to learn about the rest of the world. We all know that Internet access can be shut off. Weather, earthquakes, sabotage and  governments can all accomplish that (remember Burma just a few short years ago or the recently reported internet "outage"?). I can't help but remember poor emperor Duy Tân. By the time he understood he was being duped by those around him, it was too late for him to do anything about it. People took advantage of his naïveté.

I appreciate the simple pleasures of international radio broadcasting. The Internet is so much more than radio broadcasting can ever be, but in turn it is vulnerable to the pitfalls I have already mentioned. Radio broadcasting, especially when deploying technologies available through DRM, offers so much to broadcasters and listeners. And what about Duy Tân? He died in a plane crash on Christmas day 1945 on his way back to Viet Nam, hoping to reclaim his former status.