Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Radio: Transcending Political Boundaries

HM the Prince of Wales and French President Nicolas Sarkozy lay a wreath at the monument to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (18 June 2010).

by Benjamin Sacks

18 June 2010 marked the seventieth anniversary of one of the most important radio broadcasts of the twentieth century. On 18 June 1940 Charles de Gaulle, then leader of the French Government-in-Exile, announced on the European arm of the BBC Overseas Service (precursor to the modern World Service), that “the flame of French resistance must not and will not be extinguished”. The Daily Telegraph recalled that de Gaulle’s broadcasts were deemed so inflammatory by the Vichy Government that the Allied French leader was court martialled in absentia and sentenced to death. This week, His Majesty the Prince of Wales accompanied French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in commemorating de Gaulle’s momentous radio address.

This anniversary serves as a fitting reminder of the important role radio – particularly shortwave, or world-band radio – played in the development of twentieth century social geography. Indeed, the recognition of radio as an instrument of influencing social opinion and change occurred in the earliest years of international broadcasting. As was suggested in Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation, “The development of transmitters capable of broadcasting beyond the confines of regional, disparate cultural groups and national boundaries…presented an innovative medium for the conveyance of socio-economic and political perspectives of nation-state actors on the global stage”. Radio was a dynamic, malleable tour-de-force: warring governments vaulted propaganda at one another, peoples long suppressed found a new voice of survival, and global knowledge ceased to be optional. As international radio expanded, so too did a ‘communications generation’; in a 2001 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers article, Matthew Farish described the years between the world wars as a “golden age’ of foreign correspondence”. International radio continues to captivate and influence. Unfortunately, this can occasionally have dire consequences. On 8 July 1993 Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM) demanded that Rwanda’s Hutu majority massacre the Tutsi minority. Hundreds of thousands perished.  The RTLM episode is a reminder of the continuing influence of radio in the changing social geographic landscape.

“Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni Meet Prince of Wales as they Visit Britain,” The Daily Telegraph, 18 June 2010.

Matthew Farish, “Modern Witnesses: Foreign Correspondents, Geopolitical Vision, and the First World War,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26 (2001): pp. 273-287.

Benjamin J. Sacks, “Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation: International Broadcasting in the Context of Civil Society,” Hemispheres: the Tufts University Journal of International Affairs 30 (2007): pp. 152-155.

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