Monday, 20 August 2018

General Galtieri's mystery decree

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so. However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views.

Although Argentina was under a military dictatorship in 1982, the country's media was not entirely directed from above. The regime was authoritarian, not totalitarian.

Whatever censorship was happening behind the scenes, explicit action by the government against the privately owned media was limited. In any case, the Argentine media, like the public, largely supported the invasion of the Falklands, and self-censorship may have been just as important as formal official controls in determining reporting.

However, in early June  as the war entered its final 10 days  President Leopoldo Galtieri signed a decree ordering the temporary closure of a national news agency and a provincial newspaper. 

No official explanation was provided as to what had prompted the move. 

Galtieri's decree merely said the two outlets had "violated the guideline on the dissemination of information on the development of military operations in the South Atlantic".

The British explanation for Galtieri's decree 

Radio Atlantico del Sur regularly broadcast lists of captured Argentine soldiers. It was an excellent way of attracting the attention of the target audience, and then encouraging the idea that allowing themselves to be taken prisoner by the British might be a good idea.

A Ministry of Defence document written shortly after the end of the war said, in a list of the "effects caused" by its radio station:
On 1 June 1982 Noticias Argentinas, the Argentine press agency, mentioned RAdS and in particular the list of Argentine wounded and captured given out nightly. At this time this was the only source of this information available to Argentinians. As a result Noticias Argentinas was closed down by the junta for 72 hours.
I believe that 1 June was the date this particular list of the captured was broadcast by RAdS, with Noticias Argentinas (NA) filing its report of the list the following day. (RAdS's evening broadcasts went out at 2000 to 2300 Argentine time.)

NA's naughty dispatch

The Argentine newspaper Córdoba, published in the provincial city of the same name, printed the Noticias Argentinas dispatch which – according to the MoD – got the news agency into trouble

The clipping below of the Córdoba story is reproduced by Alejo Miguel Díaz in his 2016 thesis on the South Atlantic conflict.

Credit: Alejo Miguel Díaz

The clipping is from the 3 June edition of Córdoba, suggesting that the NA dispatch was indeed filed too late to make it into the 2 June edition of the paper.

Córdoba's report is headlined "Presumed prisoners", datelined Bahía Blanca (on the coast south of Buenos Aires) and starts:
Bahía Blanca (NA) – Radio Atlantico del Sur, a station heard here which transmits from the Ascension Island base, announced last night the list of presumed Argentine soldiers who are prisoners of British troops after the attacks on Goose Green and Port Darwin in the Malvinas.
The station, which transmits on shortwave, said the following soldiers were prisoners and in good condition:
It then lists 34 names, in most cases with their military numbers.

Noticias Argentinas and El Patagónico closed temporarily

Three days after the probable date of the Noticias Argentinas dispatch, the agency was closed by Galtieri's decree for a 72-hour period, 5-7 June. 

Also closed for the same period was the newspaper El Patagónicopublished in Comodoro Rivadavia, the site of a key air force base in southern Argentina.

Image result for comodoro rivadavia air base falklands war
Comodoro Rivadavia air base was used in Argentine operations

Other explanations

Why were Noticias Argentinas and El Patagónico closed?

There is the British MoD's apparently straightforward explanation: NA had published Radio Atlantico del Sur's list of Argentine POWs.

But there are other suggestions.

At the time (6 June 1982), The New York Times reported an editor at El Patagónico as saying: "There are guesses. It might have been some photographs or maybe a cable from June 1 that we published on June 2 saying that the air shuttle and movement of war material between Comodoro Rivadavia and the Malvinas was functioning perfectly well.''

The NYT cited the English-language Buenos Aires Herald as reporting an editor at NA, Raul Garcia, as saying that the closure was a discriminatory move as ''other media carried the reports which seemed to have prompted this with even more details''.

Unfortunately, nothing more was said about what those reports might have been.

A 2015 study of the press in Comodoro Rivadavia during the war, by María Laura Olivares of the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, says El Patagónico and Noticias Argentinas were suspended over their reporting of the possibility that British Vulcan bombers had been stationed in Brazil. 

Such a report was just the type of story that the British  through the MoD's Special Projects Group (SPG)  might have spread as an unavowable rumour.

If such a rumour had gone on to be repeated by a media outlet, perhaps in Chile, Radio Atlantico del Sur might have aired it. (The Chilean media was a fruitful source for RAdS of negative reporting about Argentina's military position.)

Finally, the book The Falklands War, published by Britain's Sunday Times shortly after the war, says the temporary closure of Noticias Argentinas came after it "published a story alleging that supplies to the troops on the islands were less than adequate".

Noticias Argentinas recalls its closure

The news agency itself appears to be unable resolve the mystery. 

An article  headlined "The day that Noticias Argentinas had to go underground"  written in 2010 by Fernando Aguinaga and still on NA's website, recalls the agency's "unjust and incomprehensible" closure by the Federal Police in June 1982. 

Aguinaga makes no mention of Radio Atlantico del Sur and says the reasons for the closure "remain hidden". 

He suggests theories about NA giving the weather forecast for the South Atlantic or filing a dispatch about British military equipment.

Aguinaga says that, during NA's temporary closure, it "went underground" and continued to distribute its output by hand from a secret location in the Buenos Aires district of Avellaneda.


Perhaps only the discovery of documentary evidence in Argentine archives would finally settle the question of exactly what prompted Galtieri to issue his decree.

The British MoD's explanation may yet prove to be correct. 

Another possibility is that it was not one single incident that triggered the move but a steady drip of reporting by Noticias Argentinas that was irritating the authorities.

Other Argentine news agencies

In 1982, Argentina's TV, radio and press were served by no fewer than four national news agencies: 
  • Télam - government run
  • Noticias Argentinas (NA) - run by a group of private news outlets
  • Diarios y Noticias (DyN) - another privately owned service, which had only been launched the month before the invasion
  • Saporiti (ANS) - originally a private firm, by 1982 it had fallen under the control of the state intelligence service SIDE
All transmitted their output via radiotelegraphy. One of my jobs at BBC Monitoring during the war was to intercept RT signals from all four of them.

One day I'll write a blog post about that particular work. I wrote about another aspect of my work during the war in my post The Incident at Crowsley Park on the Night of 20-21 May 1982.

© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Radio Atlantico del Sur's signature tunes

Someone asked me last month on Twitter if I could identify Radio Atlantico del Sur's theme music.

Two pieces of music were used at the start of RAdS broadcasts, and Kian Sharifi kindly (and very quickly!) confirmed their identities.

The evening broadcasts began at 2300 GMT (2000 Falklands time) with an identification jingle consisting of a three-note "sting" (in the US radio industry it would be called a sounder) played on an organ, followed by the announcement "nueve setenta uno" ("nine seventy one"), referring to the station's shortwave frequency of 9.71 MHz (9710 kHz). 

The canned announcement was made by the station's sole female presenter, who used the on-air name Mariana Flores.

After that ID jingle was repeated, the station played "Treasure of San Miguel" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (written by Roger Nichols and released in 1967). 

Some way into this, a presenter would make a brief live announcement to identify the station, give its transmission schedule and say that programmes would start in a few minutes.

The next piece of music played was "Argentina" by the group Conquistador, written by Hans van Hemert and Piet Souer to support the Dutch team during the 1978 football World Cup in Argentina. It's played on flute, guitar and conga drums.

During this, the presenters would preview some of the key points of that evening's broadcast.

The opening sequence described above lasted five minutes.

Listen to the music

A studio recording of the first 90 minutes of the Radio Atlantico del Sur broadcast on 20 May 1982, including the opening music, can be found on Jonathan Marks's website.

Were these good choices as the theme music for the station? They certainly met the main criteria for any signature tune, being distinctive and memorable.

They were also "shortwave friendly" – wind and percussion instruments generally coming across well through that medium.

© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Mariana Flores — Britain's psychological weapon against the Argentine forces

Unlike Axis Sally, Tokyo Rose or Argentine Annie she had no nickname, her real name remains unknown and there’s no known photo of her....

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so. However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views. 

Acknowledgements: I must thank Alejo Miguel Díaz, whose 2016 academic thesis Las Operaciones Psicológicas en el Conflicto del Atlántico Sur ("Psychological Operations in the South Atlantic Conflict") presented at the army university in Buenos Aires is a rich resource for anyone researching Radio Atlantico del Sur. The thesis has a section dedicated to the Pausas Sentimentales, which I am happy to acknowledge as a key source for this post.

I continue to be grateful for the encouragement from my Argentine friend Adrian Korol; and to professional researcher Lee Richards and his excellent website PsyWar.Org, without which I would probably not have started this blog last year.

Mariana Flores and her "Pausas Sentimentales"

A regular feature of Radio Atlantico del Sur's output was its Sentimental Breaks (or Interludes) ("Pausas Sentimentales").

In each Sentimental Break, the station's sole female presenter  who used the on-air name Mariana Flores  would dedicate some lines of poetry and a record to named individuals said to be among the Argentine forces on the islands. 

Flores put on her most empathetic manner to do this. For RAdS's producers, it was key that the segment be presented by a voice with which the target audience could form an emotional connection. [1]

written summary in the MoD files of the opening of the first day's RAdS broadcast put it bluntly: Sentimental Break was hosted by an "attractive girl presenter".

In his thesis, Alejo Miguel Díaz says Mariana Flores cultivated an ambiguity in how her (exclusively male) target listeners would see her, depending on their age, family circumstance and inclination: 
[She] set her voice in a gentle way, between mother and confidant, so as to awaken in the audience the feeling of being in front of a beloved and missed woman: a mother, a wife or a friend.
Psychological intent and technique

The sole aim (unspoken, of course) of the Sentimental Breaks was to demoralise the audience.

This was done across all of RAdS's output by reinforcing feelings of homesickness and unsettling the listener through an implicit but regular reminder of his predicament  he was a long way from home, isolated, facing a determined, well-equipped and well-trained enemy, and without hope of reinforcement or relief. (By the time RAdS was launched the islands were under a British air and sea blockade.)

Díaz notes the subtlety of Mariana Flores's approach. While speaking "in a gentle way", to gain the listener's attention, there was also "a hint of coldness in the intonation".

This reminded the listener of his hopeless situation and was in line with the first of the two aims that RAdS had formally set itself, to persuade Argentine troops to "consider positively the benefits of surrendering". (The other objective was to increase any inclination to "hesitate before firing on British troops".) 

Having seduced the listener with her sympathetic tone, Mariana let him down with cold comfort. 

With luck, RAdS's producers must have hoped, an Argentine soldier would feel miserable at the end of her little interludes – but not of course blame Mariana for that.

Examples of three Sentimental Breaks

Each Sentimental Break lasted just a few minutes. They went out every half an hour or so during each broadcast.

Three Sentimental Breaks can be heard in a studio recording of the first 90 minutes of the RAdS broadcast of 20 May 1982, on Jonathan Marks's website. 

On the recording's timeline, the three examples can be heard at 00:23:20, 00:49:50 and 01:21:05. 

Flirting on the airwaves

In this particular broadcast (the day after the station was launched), the two main presenters introduce themselves as Francisco Marín and José Miguel Antonov. 

In the first Sentimental Break of the evening (at 00:23:20 on the recording), Francisco Marín engages in some on-air flirting with Mariana Flores as he introduces her segment:
Francisco: The programme is called La Pausa Sentimental with Miss Mariana Flores. And here is the señorita again. How are you, Mariana? 
Mariana: Very well, Francisco, thank you. How are you? 
Francisco: I'm very well. But you are pretty, as always. [Mariana wordlessly acknowledges the compliment.] Hey, I think our audience has been waiting for you since we finished yesterday at 2300, because your dedications and your verses were magnificent. [2]
Mariana: Thanks. 
Francisco: Look, I hope you have more tonight.
Mariana: I hope so...
Mariana then reads a poem by the Spanish writer Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) which she says is from all the Argentine women "who regret being without husbands, sons or boyfriends" (in other words, because they are, most unfortunately, with the forces on the islands, and no doubt as unhappy about that as their womenfolk are). 

She ends this particular Sentimental Break by playing Julio Iglesias singing De niña a mujer (From girl to woman). Díaz notes that this song would have been intended to resonate with an older listener, perhaps an officer or a senior NCO, who might have a teenage daughter.

A mistake in translation

For the evening's second outing of Sentimental Break (at 00:49:50), Mariana is introduced in a rather more restrained fashion by the other main presenter, José Miguel Antonov.

It is in this segment that she makes a brief but serious mistake. 

After José Miguel's introduction, she reads some more poetry "for all of you in the Malvinas" and then introduces the song A Little Peace

This had been the winner of that year's Eurovision Song Contest, which had taken place the previous month and where it had been the West German entry, sung in German as Ein bißchen Frieden.

An English version of the song is then played (chorus: "A little loving, a little giving, to build a dream for the world we live in, a little patience and understanding, for our tomorrow, a little peace"...).

A good choice of song to undermine any martial ardour in the listener and, understandably, Mariana introduces the English-language disc by giving its title in English. But she then makes a homophonic error when translating its name into Spanish:
Y ahora, dedico una canción que se llama A Little Peace, un pedazo chico.
In short, rather than translating A Little Peace as "un poco de paz" she says "un pedazo chico" (a little piece).

It is perhaps unfair to highlight such a passing error, made on live radio (station manager Neil ffrench-Blake was insistent that all of RAdS's broadcasts be made live) in the early hours of the morning (almost 1 a.m. London time) by a young volunteer who possibly had no previous broadcast experience.

Dedication to a fictional lieutenant?

In the third outing of Sentimental Break that evening (on the recording at 01:21:05) you can hear Mariana send greetings to a second lieutenant, whose name she is careful to enunciate as Juan Esteban Olmedo Zigorraga, before her reading and musical dedication.

But did such an officer exist?

A listener's anecdote

Writing on a radio hobbyists' website in 2002, a shortwave listener in Brazil, Sérgio Dória Partamian, reminisced about Mariana Flores and her Sentimental Breaks.

Presumably recalling his own memories of listening twenty years earlier, he said Flores would suggest that "while the Argentinian soldiers suffered difficulties, their captured commanders would be amusing themselves with British women".

Assuming that Partamian's memory was correct, this was a classic demoralisation technique, used by both the British and Germans in the second world war: hinting that while the combat soldier endured his lonely hardships at the front, his more fortunate compatriots  civilians and senior officers back home, or those lucky enough to have been captured by a decent enemy – enjoyed an easier life.

Who was Mariana Flores?

We don't know. The identity of her Argentine counterpart, Silvia Fernández Barrio, who broadcast to British forces anonymously as "Liberty", became public knowledge soon after the war, and Silvia Fernández has been happy to talk about her secret work in 1982.

But Radio Atlantico del Sur's presenters  said to have numbered nine in total, with all except Mariana being male and serving members of the British armed forces  remain known only by their on-air pseudonyms. Along with Mariana they included Francisco Marín and José Miguel Antonov (both mentioned above)Mario Santana and the station's resident military commentator, Jaime Montero.

Perhaps this makes them the perfect psychological warriors. For eternity they will exist only as voices on the radio, that most ephemeral of media. 

Further listening

Thanks to Adrian Korol for pointing me towards a complete recording of Sentimental Break's theme music


[1] Contrary to misunderstandings at the time  including within the British government – and since, the sole target audience for Radio Atlantico del Sur was Argentine forces in the islands and, to a lesser extent, in their mainland coastal bases. It did not target an Argentine civilian audience, still less one elsewhere in Latin America (though the nature of shortwave meant that it had listeners in those places).

[2] Radio Atlantico del Sur's evening broadcasts went out at 2000 to 2300 local time (2300-0200 GMT). When Argentine forces invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982 the local time in the islands was 4 hours behind GMT. The occupying forces decreed that local time in the islands would be the same as that in Argentina, which was 3 hours behind GMT. As an act of civil disobedience, the islanders refused to recognise the imposed time zone. Throughout this blog, I use the Argentine-imposed time zone (GMT minus 3) as Radio Atlantico del Sur was only targeting Argentine troops, and announced that time on the air.

© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Did you work for Radio Atlantico del Sur?

Checking the settings on this blog, I spotted that they were configured only to allow comments from users with Google accounts. I changed that to allow anyone to post comments, including anonymously.

I would particularly welcome comments that correct any inaccuracies in any of my posts.

I'd also be very pleased to hear from anyone who was connected in any way with the operation of Radio Atlantico del Sur. Confidentiality is assured. I've chosen not to name in this blog anyone who was intimately associated with RAdS unless their identity is already published (to date, the only name in that category is that of the late Neil ffrench-Blake, the station's civilian manager) or they have confirmed to me that they are happy to be named.

Along with ffrench-Blake, I've come to know the names of six other people who worked on RAdS. A check through my blog will show that I've refrained from naming any of them. Four of the six were military officers, whose full names appear in MoD documents now released to the National Archives, but as I don't know how they or their families feel about that I've only referred to them by the initial of their surname and their rank at the time of the 1982 war. They were Colonel S. (who headed the MoD's Special Projects Group, SPG, for most of the war and was key to persuading his superiors to approve the radio project), Colonel L. (his successor), Lieutenant-Colonel B. and Squadron-Leader G. (who both worked directly with ffrench-Blake).

Last December I was contacted by one of the civilians who worked on RAdS, and was very happy to host his reminicences on this blog, naming him only as "A".

© 2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.