BBC Resurrects Shortwave Broadcasts to Reach Russia


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(Photo: Sebastiandoe5/Wikimedia Commons)
The BBC has elected to resurrect shortwave radio broadcasts after its own websites were blocked in Russia. 

Millions of Russian citizens have turned their trust toward BBC since the beginning of the country’s most recent conflict with Ukraine. BBC web pages written in English received 252 percent more Russian traffic during the last week of February than is typical for the site, according to the organization itself. A Russian language page with live reporting on the conflict racked up 5.3 million views in the same timeframe, making it the most visited web page across all of the BBC World Service’s non-English language services. 

But Russia’s government is notorious for restricting news media that doesn’t support its actions, and it was only a matter of time before the country blocked the BBC entirely. Not to be bested, the BBC has chosen to revive shortwave radio broadcasts in an effort to keep its reporting available to a country that desperately needs it. 

“It’s often said truth is the first casualty of war,” BBC Director-General Tim Davie said in a statement. “In a conflict where disinformation and propaganda is rife, there is a clear need for factual and independent news people can trust—and in a significant development, millions more Russians are turning to the BBC.”

A modern handheld radio receiver with shortwave reception. (Photo: Maximilian Schönherr/Wikimedia Commons)

As of Wednesday, the organization now manages two shortwave frequencies (15735 kHz and 5875 kHz) delivering four total hours of World Service English news per day. The first frequency runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern European Standard Time, while the second runs from 10 p.m. to midnight. The BBC says both frequencies can be received clearly in Kyiv and “parts of Russia.”

Shortwave radio is best known for its role in WWII, when it was used to relay news, drum up domestic support, and communicate with enemies. But the technology’s golden years coincided with the Cold War, when it was used specifically because the government had little control over its use. Shortwave radio hasn’t been popular since then, and BBC World News stopped European broadcasting via shortwave in 2008.  

The BBC and other outlets have had to tread carefully when it comes to their on-the-ground coverage of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, due to obvious reasons and also because of a new Russian law punishing journalists who publish “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Along with CNN and Bloomberg, the BBC has pulled its journalists out of Russia until it can properly assess the law. 

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