So much has happened technologically
over the past two years that we thought this month it was timely
to think again on what we'd like to happen in the world of radio
next year. In essence the wish list is the same as two years ago
- more choice and better quality - but this year we'd also like
to enter a plea for a little more responsibility in some areas but
not for an easy life as we'd like a little mroe cage rattling and
querying of the status quo as well.
In some ways technology is already bringing
this with the growth of broadband that makes listening to
audio on the Internet a practicable proposition rather than
one subject to the vagaries of dial-up, the growth of satellite
radio in the US enhancing choice for Americans and probably
soon for Canadians, and the growth of digital radio round
the world beginning to enhance choice in some areas as well
as increasing technical quality.
In particular we welcome the growth in availability of on-demand
audio on the Internet with particular praise here for the
BBC but also for a number of other broadcasters although the
best effort does seem to come in general from public broadcasters,
probably because the advertising-funded model still seems
to be having trouble financing streams for commercial broadcasters,
even when there aren't issues of paying extra royalties for
We also welcome the extra programming available in some countries
because of the way in which digital radio has been introduced;
we don't value the add-ons that sometimes come with such services
to anything like the extent we value the availability of extra
channels when the regulatory system licences extra digital
spectrum for DAB broadcasts as in the UK rather than adding
digital capability for broadcasting existing signals as in
North America so far.
Our views in this area have been coloured significantly over the
past few weeks by a number of stories we have reported or noted.
First comes a plea for more responsibility in fact checking before
mouth opening. Like the next plea, the spur for this illustrates
the degree to which US media's sense of responsibility seems to
be linked to the activism of groups that might be offended rather
than any real moral sense.
The plea was particularly spurred by a Rush Limbaugh comment
on the massacres in Rwanda and the decision of the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to jail three Rwandan media executives
for genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, and crimes against
humanity, extermination and persecution because their complicity
in the use of media to incite and carry out a genocidal campaign
in 1994 that led to the deaths of around 800,000 Rwandans.
Elsewhere there were some reasoned expressions of concern about
the way the ruling could be used by some governments to repress
journalistic freedom; Limbaugh in contrast summarized the issue
as "hateful words are now a war crime according to the United
Nations" -and then went on to compare the situation in Rwanda
to "hate speech against President Bush emanating from the
mouths of Democrats today".
He also became blustered and irritated when a caller said that
Limbaugh misstated what had happened and made his point more clear
and said he was trying to "make a joke about if the UN is
going to get on hate speech in Rwanda what will they do about
to the hate-Bush speech in this country."
The facts are that radio in Rwanda not only urged the "extermination"
of Tutsis and said they should be swept from the country but also
gave locations where Tutsis and called for named individuals to
be pursued and killed. He even half-ducked a suggestion that for
a Democratic station to call for all those with a Republican flag
on polling day to be killed would be a crime.
On that basis the fact that Limbaugh reacted as he did and then
had the gall later to say that the caller "passed the test.
You made the host look good" makes him ignorant, stupid or
a morally degenerate bigot or all of them and not much can be
said for the stations who carried his outburst without any additional
comment: To put things in perspective the Rwandan death toll was
around a tenth of the population and a proportionate number of
dead in the US would be around 30 million but some two-thirds
of European Jews perished during the Holocaust. We think it reasonable
to ask what would have been the reaction to the Limbaugh comparison
had incitement led to the deaths of just 3000 Americans (the 9-11
death toll was below this according to latest estimates).
Secondly a plea for some more sensitivity and effort to understand
cultural differences when commenting on matters alien or strange
to the commentator: This plea was spurred in particular by comments
on Islam made by Dr Laura Schlessinger (See
RNW Nov 22) and Paul Harvey (See
RNW Dec 7).
In the latter case there would seem to plenty of justification
for comments made on cockfighting and indeed on Iraqi culture
in the context but the comment on Islam was particularly ill-directed
and would have led to a much greater outcry had it been made about
various other religions. Maybe a case of insult through ignorance?
Thirdly a similar plea in terms of some of what most Americans
would consider excesses by various US hosts, spurred by in particular
the comments on the Deminski and Doyle show (See
RNW Dec 9); in
contrast to this, the actual content of the infamous Opie
and Anthony Sex in St Patrick's Cathedral stunt that led
to much heavier fines overall (because of syndication- see
RNW Oct 3) and
the ending of the show was rather mild.
All the cases, however, indicate a need for some of the broadcasters
involved to gain a better feeling of the sensitivities of the
public out there listening to broadcasts on leased public airwaves;
were they on subscription services or the Internet where a more
conscious decision has to be made to listen the situation would
Despite all the above, we don't want timid
radio, constructed on the basis of minimizing offence to any
person or group. We'd actually like to see more robust discussion
but with the added strength of a firmer factual foundation.
In fact we'd like to see rather more discussion in the sense
of dialogue on the airwaves almost anywhere; there is a place
for the ranting and monologues -probably better in a comedy
sketch in our view than on a talk show - but feeding closed
minds with confirmation of prejudices is not our idea of value
in radio and too many talk shows and phone-ins seem to us
far too based on iteration of prejudice than on examination
The latter to us need not make for dull radio as clashes of
ideas can be lively and illuminating without being rude or
rancorous but we do accept that making such dialogue interesting
and keeping it grounded on fact is likely to be more demanding
and expensive than the simpler process of a host appealing
to a particular group and, even more to the point, may be
regrettably less appealing to the narrow demographics often
favoured by advertisers.
In that frame of mind, we welcome the idea of a "liberal"
talk network in the US; if properly constructed it will be
of value even if its appeal is limited. If on the other hand
it just becomes an outlet for anti-Republican motormouths,
whatever the commercial success, it won't introduce that much
And finally, while on the issue of quality,
we are now convinced of the technical practicability and
superiority of digital transmissions but would like to
see more of the vaunted "convergence" by having
more equipment compatibility; We certainly retain our
previous view that without a universal world wide digital
system we wouldn't like to see AM and FM wither away.
So how about some bright spark coming up with suitable
electronics reasonably priced to allow a single set to
receive all the systems in use: If cellphones can take
and transmit stills this shouldn't be an impossible task
and indeed the receiver could even be a cellphone as well
with the capability to listen to wireless Internet transmissions
as well. Then all it has to do is dock with a satellite
dish and into an automobile docking station, link with
a computer or MP3 equipment for recording signals
What you think? Please E-mail