Radio Australia shortwave shutdown: the state of play

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

With 10 days to go until Radio Australia shuts down its shortwave transmissions after close to 80 years of uninterrupted service, below is a short survey of significant reactions to this development and related media coverage:

From The Strategist: Silencing Australia’s shortwave voice in the South Pacific
Killing shortwave disregards—disenfranchises—an unknown number of listeners. As broadcasting policy, it’s highly questionable. As strategy, it’s dumb—another bout of recurring Oz amnesia about its South Pacific role, responsibilities and history.

ASPI asked the ABC: How many shortwave listeners does Radio Australia have in PNG and the South Pacific?

ABC spokesman: ‘While there are no firm figures on audiences numbers in these regions, they are understood to be low.’

Q: What percentage of RA’s users in PNG and the South Pacific get the content by shortwave?

ABC: ‘This level of data is not available.’

No evidence-based policy there. In its closure announcement, the ABC expressed future confidence based on no knowledge of present usage:

‘Due to the nature of the technology and the remote locations of shortwave users, it is very difficult to ascertain with any precision the number of listeners who use the service… There is no available data on audience numbers for the regions affected by the closure of ABC International services. The ABC believes that technological advancement has improved accessibility of FM and online services and will negate the impact of no longer offering shortwave services.’

To stress the strangeness: Australia has no idea of the numbers or listeners in the Pacific who’ll be affected when the shortwave transmitters go silent. It has been a vital service for 75 years; with two months notice it’s redundant.
Meanwhile, Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop raised the Pacific region’s concerns about the ABC’s planned abolition of Radio Australia’s shortwave service with the national broadcaster and sought "an update in the New Year". NT Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Northern Territory MP Warren Snowdon have been making repeated calls to halt the closure of Radio Australia's NT regional shortwave broadcasts, referring to the concerns of their constituents, only to be met with intransigence by the ABC's management.

In a related and somewhat ironic development, the ABC advised Northern Territory residents to obtain satellite phones for emergency use in an informational advert about the closure of its shortwave services.

Is the irony of this really lost on the ABC management? Replace shortwave radio (~$20) with a satellite phone (~$700 plus subscription). Source: Lisa Herbert on Twitter
For AM, FM and DAB services to be viable alternatives to the ABC's shortwave transmissions, the local power grids and wired infrastructure would need to remain intact during emergencies. The story about phone lines going down in a remote north Queensland community after storms demonstrates that this assumption is questionable at best.

More evidence that shutting off shortwave would have negative consequences for the entire region came from French Polynesia, where the national broadcaster's decision to switch off its local AM signal in favour of FM transmissions left multiple pockets of the population without any radio coverage (Radio New Zealand International: Loss of AM radio irks French Polynesia). Meanwhile, it has been reported that in Papua New Guinea, only 10% of the population have online access, while recent failed engineering works cut the Marshall Islands off from the Internet, leaving the country largely isolated from the outside world.

Reading all of the above while the ABC management shows no signs of paying attention to the concerns of their listeners in Australia and beyond feels like watching a train derail in slow motion, with the consequences already known well in advance.

Source: Melanie Horsnell on Twitter

About the author

This blog is written by a shortwave radio enthusiast based in London, UK. You can follow him on Twitter at @LondonShortwave

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