Saturday 7 March 2009

Radio pirates and Establishment raiders

It seems to be open season again on pirate radio, or free radio as I prefer to call it (BBC News: Pirate radio 'puts lives at risk').

The allegations of pirate radio causing interference go back to at least the 1980's, probably before that, and are as grossly exaggerated now as they were then. Besides, the constant crackdowns on free radio stations can, if anything, have a counter-productive effect where it comes to the elimination of interference. As penalties for 'illegal broadcasting' increase and the severity of studio raids increase - now even records and CDs can be confiscated, as well as broadcasting equipment - free radio operators take steps to avoid the studio being located. One is the use of 'link transmitters' on non-broadcast frequencies, which massively increases the risk of them being on a frequency used by emergency services or aircraft. As is the case with drugs, criminalisation has created a risk which really need not have been there.

In any case, the Establishment are being hypocritical, whining about free radio 'putting lives at risk' while, at the same time, the maintenance of emergency service radio equipment is being cut back. For example, one of the companies involved in the maintenance of radios for the emergency services, Arqiva, has just made a large number of people redundant (including myself :-( ). I fail to see how scaling back the maintenance of such vital radio equipment can increase the reliability of emergency services' communications :-P

There are also constant - again grossly exaggerated - reports from the Establishment media, about pirate stations being involved with illegal drug-related rave parties. Again, when the mainstream broadcasters continue to irresponsibly promote alcohol, which kills more people and causes more violence than illegal drugs, the stench of hypocrisy is overpowering!

The real reasons for the crackdown on free radio are twofold. The most obvious one is that the legal stations - which, despite calling themselves 'local radio', are increasingly owned by a handful of medis giants - don't want competition eating into their fat profits.

The less obvious, but maybe more important, reason for the Establishment's hatred for free radio, is also to do with competition - for ideas. The mainstream broadcasters have, over the past few years, increasingly become a mouthpiece for Establishment propaganda. For example, the broadcast media played an important part in encouraging people to support the Iraq war in 2003, and during the Gaza conflict, the mainstream news reports were heavily biased in favour of Israel. Then there's the endless adverts for military recruitment, against 'benefit fraud', etc. The last thing the Establishment want is alternative broadcasters eroding the ability of their media to indoctrinate the masses.

Not that all pirate radio is inherently progressive. In my time on the free radio scene, I came across a few characters who were just as alienated and brainwashed as many in wider society. But at their best, community-based pirates can and have given a side of the news not generally heard on the mainstream stations, and helped promote local activity against racism. For example, in the 90's, the Birmingham pirate PCRL had a phone-in programme about the threat of the BNP and how to deal with it.

What we need is broadcasting by the community, aiming to inform and serve the community. Not by big business, aiming to promote the Establishment's agenda and maximise profits.

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