Today on International Press Freedom Day we are proud and delighted to proclaim that our colleagues on Radio Free Sarawak have won one of the world’s most prestigious journalism awards!
The International Press Institute, which comprises a global network of leading journalists, editors, and media executives, has selected Radio Free Sarawak as the recipient of this year’s Free Media Pioneer Award.
It is wonderful news to bring our loyal community of listeners in the longhouses of Sarawak that the wider world has taken notice of the radio station that is dedicated to supporting them and exposing their problems!
Sarawak Report also wants to take this opportunity to thank RFS’s tiny team of dedicated producers and DJs, who have sacrificed their home lives and indeed their safety to work in hiding for long hours over the past 2 and a half years to bring the Iban and Malay language programme each day to our increasingly enthusiastic audience of regular listeners.
It has been a combination of their talent and the spirited contributions of listeners from Sarawak’s numerous, but often isolated communities that has made Radio Free Sarawak so special to its audiences.
Despite a period of poor reception at the start of the year caused by atmospheric conditions and now the ferocious jamming during the election, the audience has stayed with us and reports indicate that the numbers are growing and growing.
RFS recently revised its start time for its two hour nightly show from 6pm to 7pm following pleas from villagers that it was hard to get back from their padi to the kampung in time for the start of the show!
We have also been forced to alter our frequency to avoid jamming and audiences have learnt to follow us, so that we have successfully kept on air during most of the election.
RFS also owes enormous tribute to all the patient staff who have helped us through these extraordinary challenges at the UK broadcaster WRN.
Over the past few days the jammers have “thrown everything at us” as a WRN spokesman has put it, including local and international jamming tactics, making it extremely hard to keep the show on air. But, together the team has done it.
And of course Radio Free Sarawak and its new sister station Radio Free Malaysia (on air during the election) have both suffered cyber-attacks on their websites, as has Sarawak Report over the past weeks.
One such ‘DDOS’ attack, amounting to 130 million hits in 3 and 1/2 hours brought down all three sites for seven days.
However, the longhouse folk have never drifted from supporting our project. Armed with mobile phones, listeners are frequently known to walk several hours to reach a reception area in order to ring into the show and to share their problems.
They have then been able to hear their contributions and the responses from other communities back home on the radio, often in isolated longhouses that are rarely visited by outsiders.
Shortwave radios have been snatched up like hotcakes from local stores and have been distributed by well-wishers and by campaigners and NGOs.
Comments to our team have included claims such as “RFS has opened our eyes”, “RFS has given us hope”, “RFS has saved our lives” and “Where is RFS tonight? I miss it like a second wife!”
And for the first time it seems that people who have long been intimidated by thugs and logging gangsters are finding the courage to speak out and share their problems.
Poisoning the minds of the people!
But, it seems that the more popular that RFS has become with local listeners the more unpopular it has become with Taib Mahmud’s BN state government and indeed the federal authorities in Malaysia.
They have been unable to stomach criticisms which have centred on the effects of logging and palm oil plantation and the land grabbing of NCR lands.
BN politicians have been particularly annoyed that RFS has exposed the dangers of the state government’s latest heavily promoted ‘perimeter survey’ initiative.
The initiative claims to be offering native communities long-awaited titles to their ancestral lands, but in fact it is being used to enable the authorities to wrest away their rights to all but a fraction of their previously recognised territories.
Many communities have started heeding the warnings and refusing to accept perimeter surveys!
It has prompted a deluge of recent threats and politically motivated police reports. Ministers such as the ‘Land Development Minister’, James Masing have been particularly angry.
“We have sent men to the moon and vehicles to Mars, so don’t tell me that we can’t even jam these radio stations”, he thundered to the Borneo Post. “We cannot allow them to continue broadcasting lies upon lies because at the end of the day many people would think that what they say is true. This is bad because both radio stations are running down the BN government.”
Radio Free Sarawak has been accused of being “illegal” and a “pirate station”, operating without a licence from the government.
However, we have pointed out that RFS is broadcasting legally out of the UK and it is the jammers who are breaking international protocols.
RFS provides the only independent voice in Sarawak when all the other ‘licensed’ media is owned either by Taib’s own family members or by his crony logging tycoons.
This has not prevented a deluge of accusations that RFS has been ‘poisoning minds’ against the government.
We reply that we are merely informing people of their rights and they seem very interested indeed to listen!
And it seems that by battling to reach the people of Sarawak RFS has also managed to catch the attention of the outside world to their problems.
A growing number of international TV, newspaper and radio reports have taken an interest in the station and, far more importantly the problems of logging, oil palm and corruption that have been afflicting our listeners.
We hope that the outside world will continue to follow and take note of the people of the once distant and remote longhouses of Sarawak and that their struggles will no longer be forgotten by others.
RFS will be receiving its award at the end of the month in Aman in Jordan. The International Press Institute was founded in New York in 1950 and is the world’s older press freedom advocacy organisation, based now in Vienna.
In announcing the award today IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills noted:
“It is this dogged commitment to pursuing and reporting the news, however difficult, that led to our decision to honour Radio Free Sarawak as IPI’s 2013 Free Media Pioneer. We salute their diligent efforts to offer listeners an independent voice for unbiased news and information in Sarawak, Malaysia.”
Once again, congratulations to the team and congratulations to our longhouse listeners!