Berlin journalists create tiny transmitters for Syrian opposition

BERLIN -- On the top floor of an old brick building in the heart of Berlin, a group of journalists and tech enthusiasts are working to spur the Syrian media revolution.

See Full Article

Their weapon is an unassuming black case the size of a shoebox that allows opposition radio stations in Syria to transmit inside hostile territory.

Dubbed PocketFM, the device is basically a low-powered radio transmitter. Coupled with a satellite dish to receive new programs, a car battery for power and a one-metre antenna, it can broadcast FM radio within a 5-kilometre radius.

That's enough to cover a town or a city district, said Philipp Hochleichter, who oversees development of the device for the Berlin-based nonprofit organization Media in Cooperation and Transition.

The group has been training journalists in conflict zones for more than a decade and often relies on FM radio to reach populations in far-flung areas that don't have access to the Internet or smartphones. But when the group realized that shifting front lines and the brutal treatment of journalists meant operating large broadcast antenna could become too cumbersome or risky, it developed PocketFM.

It's now being used to covertly broadcast in nine locations, including two that are controlled by the Islamic State group, said Hochleichter. Connected to a solar panel, a PocketFM transmitter can theoretically work autonomously for long periods of time.

The project, which also includes compiling a daily best-of from nine cooperating radio stations that is beamed down by satellite, is financed by the German Foreign Ministry. It cooperates only with moderate opposition groups who have to abide by a code of conduct.

"Of course it's necessary for us to make sure they don't fall into propaganda scheme, which is very tough in Syria at the moment," said Najat Abdulhaq, a Palestinian journalist who manages the project.

Listeners might be surprised to find that aside from urgently needed information - which borders are open, what are the prices in the market, how are refugees abroad faring - there's a fair amount of light entertainment.

"People have a day-to-day life despite conflict," said Abdulhaq. "Despite the sadness and the war, people like to listen to music and even comedy."

Hochleichter said Monday the group is currently working on its third version of PocketFM, which it hopes to complete by the middle of next year. As with previous versions, the technology is decidedly low key, with a $40 Raspberry Pi computer at the heart of the device.

"We're not a hardware company that's got $100,000 to develop new technology," Hochleichter said.

The next version will be slightly more powerful and boast a new security feature that allows users to remotely switch off the device by text message to prevent it being traced.

With the war in Syria running for almost five years, the third version is almost certain to see use.

"I wish, but I would be very naive if I would believe, that the conflict would be over next year," said Abdulhaq.


Latest Tech & Science News

  • Energy saving rules mean more net zero home builds, incentives to retrofit older homes

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The federal government wants existing homes to be more energy efficient and for developers to build more net zero homes. Very shortly the Liberal government is expected to introduce changes to the national building code that will require builders to include more net zero homes — buildings that produce as much energy as they use — in housing developments in the next 15 years. Source
  • Sunflower sea star nearly wiped out by virus in B.C., Washington waters: report

    Tech & Science CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- There was once a galaxy of sunflower sea stars in the Salish Sea off the B.C. and Washington state coasts, but a new study says the animal's near disappearance from the ocean floor should be of special concern. Source
  • Canadians now spending more on Internet access than on television

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    OTTAWA - Canadians spent more on Internet access than television services for the first time last year, according to a report by the CRTC. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said that in 2015 communications service industry revenues from Internet access were $9.8 billion, while subscription television services accounted for $8.9 billion. Source
  • Stop looking at your phone: Majority of Canadians support legislation to ban distracted walking

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A new poll suggests the majority of Canadians are in support of regulations to ban distracted walking. Market research company Insights West asked 1,013 people across the country if they would support or oppose legislation that would forbid the use of hand-held cellphones while walking in roadways such as intersections. Source
  • Robotics conference in Beijing highlights intelligent robots

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Air Date: Oct 26, 2016 12:59 PM ET Source
  • Amazon's Alexa voice assistant arrives on Fire tablets

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Amazon's Fire tablets are getting the Alexa voice assistant. The previously announced feature will start rolling out to customers Wednesday. It's meant to complement what users get on other Alexa devices, such as the Echo speaker. Source
  • Rehabilitated orangutans freed in Borneo as species dwindles

    Tech & Science CTV News
    KEHJE SEWEN FOREST, Indonesia -- Jamur didn't hesitate as the door of her temporary cramped quarters slid open. In less than a second, the stocky red-haired orangutan was savoring freedom for the first time in nearly two decades. Source
  • Muskrat Falls unrest simmered for years: a look back at methylmercury concerns

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Concerns over methylmercury contamination at Muskrat Falls boiled over this month, but tensions around the multi-billion dollar hydroelectric project in Labrador have been percolating for years. Protesters marched on the Muskrat Falls construction site twice this month — worried that impending flooding would result in dangerous levels of methylmercury in Lake Melville, and would contaminate fish, seal and seabirds downstream. Source
  • 'There's no way for you to know': Why so-called smart devices are putting us all at risk

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Last Friday's massive cyberattacks should serve as a "wake-up call" and a warning to consumers that smart devices designed to make our lives more convenient are also making us unsafe, security analysts warn. Source
  • Updates and fixes in store for iOS and Android

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A few weeks after launching the latest versions of their mobile operating systems iOS and Android, Apple and Google are both rolling out updates to fix bugs and bring new functions to the platforms. iOS 10.1 Source