External Broadcasts in Eastern Europe in the Post-Cold War Era: New Trends and Contributing Factors

2006-01-15

External broadcast is a form of transnational broadcasting, owned and operated mostly by states, transmitted mainly by shortwave radio targeting foreign countries. It is to be considered separate from spillover signals, surrogate domestic services, unofficial political services, and trans-border commercial stations. This study deals with the nations located in Eastern Europe and investigates the present and future of the Eastern European external broadcasts (EEEBs, hereafter).

Regime Transition and Derivative Changes of EEEBs
Eastern Europe refers to the nations that belonged to the communists’ regime during the Cold War era. They include Belarus, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia.

The new winds Eastern Europe confronted were: political regime change from socialism to democracy and the economic system’s alteration from communism to capitalism. These changes came with diverse turmoil, such as ideological confusion, the hike of market prices, and political instability. The collapse of communism accounts much for the transition of EEEBs.

Radio Moscow as a central player of the Cold War propaganda from the communist side once ran as many as 80 languages. It also helped the former Soviet Union’s member republics to initiate their own external services, which was aimed to support the psychological war against capitalism. Radio Moscow's influence on North American audiences is unexpectedly high, and listening to the broadcast significantly increase favorable attitudes to the former USSR. However, since the end of the Cold War, the influence of Russia lessened, so that many Eastern European nations activated their own external broadcasts. Russian external service has decreased in terms of scale and number of languages.

The former USSR had assisted EEEBs by giving them technical support, counseling on programming and financial aid until the 1950s. But the EEEBs' financial dependence on government and government surveillance on EEEBs are being partly replaced by parliament, civil groups, labor unions or a combination of them. The end of the Cold War witnessed the changes of its role from government's propaganda medium to the supporter of national interest. Being run-by-state media, external broadcasters are less susceptible to liberalization than other mass media. Radio Moscow shows that only slow progress toward less control from government is on air.

The sudden collapse of the Soviet regime pushed most East European nations into confusion. Countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Poland were “Liberalized” through rapid regime change. The major outcome of their reform for media was privatization. What is needed for Eastern European media is to create a new kind of public service that should be based on public funding and should be free from the state's control. However, the free press system is not ready for them. There are differences in the degree of liberalization among them. Latvia and Lithuania, for instance, have shown relatively greater progress in liberalization. In contrast Russia and Serbia have revealed slow and little change.

The media of Eastern Europe has suffered from the dilemma between the "Westification" and the European (or Asian) model. Eastern Europe's social expectation for the U.S. media model has been changed to disappointment because the Western model has turned out to be anti-intellectual, provincial, and less receptive to cultural variances. The persistence of institutional linkages, not checks and balances, among the media, the government, and political parties has kept the media dependent on political parties in Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic.

Multi-faceted Changes of EEEBs

Russia is still running the largest-scale external broadcasting system that, as of 2004, covered 32 languages, though it once covered over 80 languages during the Cold War era. The end of the Cold War dethroned Radio Moscow from the status of the largest external broadcaster in the world for a while. However, in or around 1993, Yeltsin took an action to try to bring back its capability as a national propaganda medium. Voice of Russia (renamed in 1994 from Radio Moscow) still covers every continent in the world. But as the former Soviet nations tried to establish their own external broadcasting services in the 1990s, it is becoming more difficult for them to cooperate with each other in transmission and services.

On the other hand, the end of the communist system imposed a different difficulty on the former Socialist Federation Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR) nations: Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia. The Balkan nations could not enjoy the sweet tides of liberalization in the early 1990s. Instead, they suffered from so-called ethnic-cleansing war between Croats and Serbs. Lots of broadcasting stations, transponders and staffs were sacrificed during the tragic war.

Among the 20 nations investigated in this study, 85 percent of them are operating the external services. Only three nations, Macedonia, Latvia, and Estonia seem to have no public external broadcast. Estonia suspended its service in 1993.

Coverage, Language and Waves

Geographical coverage, languages and waves in service are important because they are directly related to the influence of the external broadcasters. The average number of languages for 17 broadcasters is 7.76 hours, and the most common language among them is English. This denotes that they consider the English-speaking audience as the number one target-audience. As of 2004, the largest language provider is Radio Moscow with 32 languages, followed by Radio Romania offering 18 languages. Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Georgia are also nations that offer more than 10 languages. Radio Polonia is unique in that it broadcasts in Esperanto, a sort of common language in the world.

The most remarkable fact about coverage is that many EEEBs are using satellites to compensate for the lack of coverage and definition of shortwave transmission. Since WRN (World Radio Network, a private company) began to offer a transformation service from-shortwave- to-satellite, and from-satellite-to-local radio in 1992, most EEEBs have adopted their service as a means of broadening their coverage. WRN (2004) focuses on news contents offered by external broadcasters, and also deals with documentaries about economics, health, environment, arts, culture, and music. WRN's geographical coverage includes North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. WRN significantly changed the way external broadcasters disseminate their content. Its service includes relaying between different media and regions as well as editing the content for audiences. The Internet is another new medium used to extend coverage. Satellite and Internet helped EEEBs get rid of difficulties that they have had since the 1920s. Internet and satellite added new possibility to the external broadcasting industry. Radio Moscow's Internet channel offers 6 languages, while its satellite channel offers 11 languages. Radio Yugoslavia offers 6 languages on the web and 13 languages by shortwave channel.

Other than new media, two rare channels are being used by the Czech Republic's external broadcaster. Radio Prague reduced its capability of shortwave transmission in the early 1990s, but it has been using cassette tape and telephone broadcasting: Radio Prague disseminates its content to phone-callers. The Czech Republic utilizes all possible channels other than television, including shortwave, Internet, satellite, cassette tape, and even NPR of the United States. This diverse outlet of external broadcasting content implies Radio Prague's advanced usage of media channels.

In terms of programming, the most common content is news. Ever since the start of EEEBs, news has been a major content and most of EEEBs has been focusing on disseminating news.

Other content items are documentary, culture, society, economics, investment, and sports. Most EEEBs are disseminating economic information to inform the listeners of their effort to be a capitalized society, to attract foreign investors, and to publicize the vitality of their economy.

■ Junhao Hong
Associate Professor

■ Jang Hyun Kim
Ph.D. candidate
Department of Communication,
State University of New York at Buffalo, U.S.A.
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