Does demand justify it??
Considering that the big three alone
of International radio have a weekly audience of some 300 million
people, more than half of this for the BBC World Service, it's clear
that there is a significant demand for various reasons for this kind
of eye on the world from inernational radio services.
They serve a variety of purposes: for some people they're a way of
keeping in tough when on their travels; for others a major source
of less-biased news about their home countries than is permitted where
they live; and for yet others an opening to understanding a different
culture or language .
To us such services should be multi faceted; they should certainly
add to the diversity of views and programming that people in any
locality can listen to; they should ideally not just offer news
of world events but also a different and varied perspective on these
events and they should do this in as many languages as possible.
Fortunately that is what they have been doing for many years, with
more or less of a propaganda element depending upon the station;
unfortunately the funding for these services seems to be coming
under strain in many areas, foolishly so in our view, as their cost
is small compared to the goodwill they can engender towards their
country of origin.
So who are they for?
For many of the services, the objective from the
governments that back them is a matter of engendering goodwill
from those of other nations.
And what tools for influencing opinion they can be: During the
Cold War many services saw themselves as "on one side" which may
well have worked for some but in our view was a weakness.
In the case of the predominant player, the BBC World Service which
now has more than 150 million listeners a week, policy was to
play a straight editorial game and this certainly seems to have
paid off both then and in today's changed climate.
Another element deserving consideration is the service these broadcasts
can be to expatriate community. Where there is license-fee funding
of a service there is often argument that this is skewing priorities
but we would argue that expatriate listeners are just as valuable
an audience as foreign nationals; if nothing else what they hear
gives them a context in which to react to events and may well
make them indirect propagandists for their homeland.
How should they be broadcast?
There are three main ways in which a broadcast can be international
nowadays: via short wave, or AM over wider areas, via FM (and
soon digital) re-broadcasts; via satellite and the Internet.
In our view there is no doubt that short wave/AM will still
retain its primacy as a distribution method for some time
yet, whatever may be said about changes in technology and
the Internet. aslthough we have some hopes yet for satellite
The argument in terms of local re-distribution has weight
as in some ways does the availability of streaming Internet
audio, and in the future satellite distribution may yet have
an edge. One of our concerns here is that of universal standards
-something which does apply to AM, FM and short wave analogue
broadcasts but may not apply to digital transmissions where
there is still a battle between standards. And just as differing
TV standards limit International TV transmissions by satellite
so could the fight between different digital standards, much
to the detriment of listeners, as we would see it.
Currently for a comparatively small sum, an international
traveler can purchase a portable radio that can function on
the beach or in a hotel where no other service is currently
viable; it seems to us that no other service can yet match
this flexibility and portability.
To lose this, probably because governments can raise more
money from the spectrum if it is put to different telecommunications
uses, would in our view be a criminal waste.
The availability of thousands of digital channels in the future
may well sound attractive and indeed be attractive in allowing
new voices on air but we think that it is a future which would
be all the better for a leavening of the old stalwarts and
much worse if traveling from place to place meant that your
receiver became useless. Long live universality and probably
long-live short wave, for all its faults! .
Any views? Please comment
on the above. For that matter, if you can put the time aside,
we'd like your "Guest comment" pages this year to stimulate
more feedback and dialogue.