International shortwave radio monitors have confirmed that VOA broadcasts in the Amharic language are being jammed. Amharic is the main official language and the language of commerce in Ethiopia.
VOA representatives in Ethiopia have been received complaints from listeners about noise drowning out its Amharic Service broadcasts. People trying to tune in can hear occasional snippets of the VOA broadcast covered by a loud crackle.
The static began February 22 on all five VOA shortwave frequencies aimed at East Africa in the 25 and 31-meter shortwave bands.
The other foreign broadcast heard in Ethiopia, the German government's Deutsche Welle Amharic language program, also reports experiencing some interference, in the past few days.
Monitors say VOA transmissions in two other Ethiopian languages, Afan Oromo and Tigrinya, are being heard normally. They are broadcast on the same frequencies, before and after the hour-long Amharic program.
VOA and Deutsche Welle were jammed around the time of the last parliament election in 2005, and again before the 2008 nationwide local elections. The next crucial parliament vote is scheduled for May 23.
In 2008, the authoritative BBC monitoring service reported it was able to determine that the jamming signals originated from within Ethiopia. This time, however, no such determination has been made.
In a telephone interview, Ethiopian Communications Office spokesman Shimelis Kemal denied any government involvement in the jamming. "This is a baseless allegation. The government doesn't espouse a policy of restricting media outlets from disseminating their messages to Ethiopian audiences," he said.
Ethiopian officials have often described VOA's Amharic Service as the 'voice of the opposition', saying its broadcasts reveal an anti-government bias. Meleskachew Ameha, an Amharic Service reporter in Addis Ababa, was detained for two weeks, last year, in a case involving alleged possession of illegal broadcast equipment. He was released without charge.
Audience research in 2008 suggested about 11 percent of adult Ethiopians regularly tune in to VOA language service broadcasts.
Voice of America Director Danforth Austin issued a statement Wednesday saying, 'VOA deplores jamming and any other form of censorship of the media'.
The Voice of America is a multi-media international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government. VOA broadcasts more than 1,500 hours of news and other programming every week in 49 languages to an audience of more than 125 million people.