Earlier this month, The Australian Broadcasting Commission announced plans to end shortwave radio broadcasts to the Pacific at the end of next month. A watchdog group called The Pacific Freedom Forum is urging governments around the region to put pressure on the ABC to reconsider. We have more from Neal Conan in today's Pacific News Minute.
In 2009, when the military government of Fiji shut down FM radio stations, the Australian Broadcasting Commission proudly cited a text message it received from a listener: "We are trying to listen to you online but are having difficulty, " it read, "Please keep broadcasting. You are all we have."
ABC shortwave transmissions have been a staple of news throughout the Pacific for almost eighty years, and especially important in remote areas of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. The source of independent news has been vital in political crises and in natural disasters alike, providing timely warning of tsunamis and cyclones.
Michael Mason, the ABC's director of radio said, "While shortwave technology has served audiences well for many decades, it's now nearly a century old and serves a very limited audience. The ABC is seeking efficiencies," he continued, "and will instead serve this audience through modern technology."
Critics point out that the Internet is slow, patchy or non-existent in some places, while FM signals can be unreliable in bad weather, or shut down by government decree. Jason Brown of the Pacific Freedom Forum told Radio New Zealand International that people he's heard from are horrified. "Especially in the remoter communities, outside the capitals.... shortwave is how they keep connected to the world," he said. RNZI and the BBC plan to continue their shortwave broadcasts to the region.