If you have a Pacific connection, act now.
The ABC shut down its shortwave radio transmitters to the Pacific last year, drastically reducing the reach of Radio Australia programs in the region.
Now the Federal Government is holding a Review of Australian Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific, raising hopes for a Radio Australia revival.
You can help by making a submission to the review.
Reporting the region
I spent a lively and personally rewarding decade reporting on the Pacific, six of those years with the ABC.
Three years living in Papua New Guinea, and a further three roving the other island nations, observing these relatively young democracies trying, sometimes imperfectly, to make a go of their independence.
I had the privilege of helping the exchange of stories, culture and ideas between the Pacific nations, and between Australia and the region in which it lives.
Radio Australia was, in many places, the only available media service, often the only one reporting on and from the region.
It informed, entertained, crossed borders and political divides, and, in times of emergency, it saved lives.
Last year, the ABC made the astonishing decision to turn off its shortwave, calling it “old technology” it could no longer afford.
But that technology is an effective way to reach an audience scattered over vast distances, where computers, smartphones and the Internet are still luxury items.
“If shortwave had been discovered today instead of eight decades ago it would be hailed as an amazing new technology with great potential for the world”
Sir John Tusa ex BBC World Service chief
Shortwave, not short range
The ABC continues to make some content for the Pacific, and Radio Australia can still be heard on FM transmitters in some capitals and towns.
But the signal can’t get over high terrain, often reaching less than 100 kilometres, so an urban elite might hear Radio Australia, but the grass-roots communities of rural areas and remote islands no longer receive it.
Shortwave radio was available to all, its long-range signals travelling many thousands of kilometres from transmitters on the Australian mainland, well out of reach of Pacific cyclones, power failures or censorship.
A shortwave radio receiver is within the means of most in the region – families or villages often getting together to fund one – and recent advances in hand-crank or solar power have made them a sustainable resource.
Hopes for radio revival
Those hoping Australian broadcasting into the Pacific region gets a new lease of life have welcomed the Federal Government review of Australian media services in the Asia-Pacific region, including the role of shortwave radio.
The review is born of a curious mix of political circumstances, considered by my former colleague Graeme Dobell, who has covered the region with distinction since 1975,
It’s an opportunity for everyone with a connection to the Pacific to help create a 21st-century Australian broadcast service to the region.
Make a submission
Have your say. Tell the review what you want Australia to offer to the Pacific – what you want to hear and how you want to hear it.
You can read the terms of reference and write a submission to the review by going to https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/review-australian-broadcasting-services-asia-pacific
Or you can record some thoughts on a short smartphone video. Send it to me and we’ll include it in a submission from supporters of Pacific broadcasting. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us where you are, your connection to the Pacific, and what you want Australia to offer.
This is a historic opportunity to shape the future of broadcast media in the Pacific region, to create something that benefits all of its peoples. You can make a difference.
Submissions close on August 3rd
The Radio Australia story
Set up in 1939 by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies. It broadcast on shortwave to Asia and the Pacific.
Transmitters at Shepparton (Victoria), Cox’s Peninsula (Northern Territory) and Brandon (Queensland).
News and programs in English, French, and several Asia-Pacific regional languages including Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin, the only local language radio service in many areas of PNG.
Broadcasts featured stories from and about the region – it was the main way Pacific nations could hear news of each other for many decades.
Radio Australia wasn’t an expensive service to run, but ABC management didn’t always appreciate its value. Lack of a domestic audience made RA more vulnerable to budget cuts.
In 1997, Pacific leaders and peoples told the the Howard Government to get its hands off Radio Australia, averting an ill-conceived plan to shut it down.
R.A has adapted to new technologies and ways to deliver material to the Pacific, as all broadcasters must in the 21st century. But those online and social media successes seemed to encourage elements of the ABC leadership who saw a short-term budget gain in closing the shortwave service.
Other broadcasters are strengthening their shortwave, and proponents say it’s as useful and relevant as ever, maybe more so.
Former BBC World Service chief Sir John Tusa says if shortwave was new now, everyone would want it.
“If shortwave had been discovered today instead of eight decades ago it would be hailed as an amazing new technology with great potential for the world we live in today,” he said.