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    Medium-wave shutdown is a step backward

    By Noreen Bowden | March 6, 2008

    Ean has released the following statement on RTE’s medium-wave shutdown.



    Statement on RTE’s intended shutdown of medium wave

    Éan – the Emigrant Advice Network

    Éan is an organization that represents the interests of the Irish abroad; we are a network comprised of those working with emigrants, as well as academics and interested individuals. Our work is aimed at improving the emigrant experience.

    The Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants specifically mentions radio as being crucial for communications with the Irish abroad, and provision for radio broadcasting to Irish communities outside the island of Ireland was included in last year’s broadcasting bill.

    Éan believes the shutdown of medium wave should be postponed until there is a long-term solution in place.

    1) The shutdown is a reversal of recent trends in which Ireland has acknowledged its debt to the Irish abroad, and the need for maintaining strong links.

    2) Medium wave and long-wave are complementary solutions for the Irish abroad – longwave on its own is inadequate and presents problems for the future.

    3) The move is premature – it will make the transition to digital more difficult.

    1. Dropping medium wave is a step backward in our relationship with the Irish abroad.

    In recent years, Ireland has made enormous progress in recognizing the importance of its relationship with the Irish abroad. The 2002 report of the Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants – which stated explicitly, “We owe much to our emigrants? – has provided the foundation for improving the links between Ireland and the Irish abroad.

    In that report, radio was recognized as being ‘of critical importance? in providing “access to news and information about Ireland (as an) important means of retaining links and cultural identity for the Irish abroad?.

    Last year’s broadcasting legislation allowed for license money to be spent on radio broadcasting for the Irish abroad.

    The shutdown of a service valued by the Irish abroad, and RTE’s refusal to help older Irish emigrants with a voucher scheme similar to the one it says it will adopt for older people here, seems contradictory to the spirit of last year’s legislation.

    Recent trends in our relationship with the Irish abroad would suggest that RTE should be working to improve access to its services by the Irish abroad – particularly the most vulnerable, who are most likely to experience difficulty making the transition from medium wave to any other format.

    RTÉ is not acknowledging its listenership abroad. It says that fewer than 10% of its listeners tune in on medium wave – but this figure is solely for the Irish in the Republic, and does not take into account listeners in regions where FM is not an option, including the North (where FM is available in only some areas), Britain, and Northern Europe.

    Listeners can switch to the internet or cable systems, but this is not a good enough solution for the vulnerable elderly among the Irish abroad, who may not be able to access or afford such services. This move is a serious setback to the tremendous progress made by the Government in reaching out to our older emigrants.

    2. There are significant problems with the long-wave alternative.

    Neither long wave nor medium wave alone is an ideal solution for Irish listeners abroad – but the combination of the two is a far better solution than long wave alone. While most people in London cannot get medium wave, there are large parts of the UK where they can, and people who live in areas like Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds should be allowed to continue to listen to the service that has existed for decades. Additionally, the medium wave signal reaches many places throughout near Europe, including Brussels.

    Longwave is an unsuitable solution for the Irish abroad, as it is not available at night to most people due to the interference from a competing station. RTÉ has acknowledged this problem; an RTÉ spokesperson is quoted in this week’s Irish Post as saying

    “we are currently pursuing this issue with specific broadcasters and hope that this might improve the reception of LW 252 in the evening? (emphasis added).

    We believe it would be better to resolve the problem before cutting off the alternative – what incentive will there be for RTE to resolve the difficulties after the switchover date?

    Another problem is the fact that long wave is declining in popularity in the UK, and receivers will become increasingly hard to find. Long wave is already being phased out as standard equipment in cars. While some years ago most cars had long wave, many of the leading manufacturers have stopped supplying long wave radios as standard equipment in the UK.

    Vauxhall, Renault, Toyota and BMW have all phased out long wave in recent years, and the trend is likely to continue. This will be an additional burden on those who would like to listen to longwave in their cars, as people will need to replace their radios.

    We believe that long wave still has an important role to play for Irish radio listeners abroad but it is inadequate on its own. For those who can recieve it in Britain and in near Europe, medium wave still has a vital role to play. It is not true that long wave is a better alternative.

    3. RTÉ’s move is premature.

    Ultimately, a switchover to digital broadcasting (specifically, DRM) will have enormous benefits for the Irish abroad. RTÉ has invested in a DRM-capable longwave transmitter and has initiated testing DRM (with tests performed last August). We welcome this move – but the transition would be more easily accomplished if RTE maintains its current services. Medium wave can be used as the fallback during the testing phases, and when the time comes to make the switchover, there can be an appropriate information campaign aimed at assisting the Irish abroad in making the move. It makes more sense to delay the switchover until there is a solution that will adequately address the needs of the listenership abroad.

    Within a few years, there is likely to be a permanent, technologically superior solution in digital radio – keeping medium wave until that solution is ready will make the switchover easier, and prevent people from having to make two switches – the first to a longwave service that is frequently not available, and the second to a digital service that will genuinely meet the needs of the Irish abroad.

    5 March 2008

    For further information contact:

    Noreen Bowden, Director, Éan. 087 2111397

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