ABC Pacific shortwave exit a 'diplomatic misstep'

ABC Pacific shortwave exit a 'diplomatic misstep'

SBS World News Radio: The ABC's decision to end 80 years of shortwave radio broadcasts into the Pacific region is being criticised as a diplomatic misstep.

Shortwave radio is old, but simple and reliable, technology for reaching even the remotest parts of the Pacific.

It's considered a lifesaver, especially when nature strikes with cyclones, flooding or earthquakes that destroy local communications infrastructure.

Peter Korisa is the Operations Manager for the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office.

"I think this is the most perfect kind of radio the community could have. Some tend to use mobile phones and to scan digital smaller radio."

For 80 years, Radio Australia shortwave has reached out to the Pacific.

"This is the world new from Radio Australia read by John Cook, the headlines."

Now the ABC has killed off the shortwave signal to a chorus of criticism, including from former ABC Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney.

We seem to be turning our back on the Pacific Islands in many, many ways, and this is another example of it and it's not doing Australia any favours at all in those countries out there that have relied on this service for so long.

Donald Pelam is the Vanuatu Trade Commissioner to Australia and posted this appeal on YouTube.

"If the ABC shortwave shuts down it will be a really big disaster, for us we really do not want this to happen."

When the Pacific's first category five cyclone hit Vanuatu in 2015, ABC shortwave was a vital link.

When military coups censored the media in Fiji, ABC shortwave was there providing independent coverage of events.

The ABC will save about $2 million a year in transmission costs with the end of shortwave.

Pacific foreign policy analyst Tess Newton-Cain says it is a big loss for a small gain compared to the near one billion dollars Australia spends on foreign aid in the Pacific.

"That's quite ironic considering this year we're going to see a new foreign policy White Paper and a new Pacific Strategy coming out of Canberra. With the one hand they're going to be doing all this creative thinking and with the other hand the ABC is going to be removing a tool that could be very beneficial for that sort of work. I think this is a foreign policy misstep."

In a statement, the ABC says it is replacing what it calls "outdated technology" and will expand its digital content together with FM services for international audiences, and has fully briefed relevant government ministers.

The federal opposition's spokeswoman for international development and the Pacific, Senator Claire Moore, says the ABC and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will be questioned at Senate Estimates in February about the decision.

"Now we know there are new technologies being developed, and we celebrate that, and we want that to happen, but you make sure you have the new stuff before you cut the old stuff."

The reach of FM is limited.

In Papua New Guinea, only one in ten of its eight million people have internet access.

Shortwave broadcast from Australia reaches thousands of kilometres across the Pacific from the Indonesian province of West Papua, to Nauru, the Micronesia, and east to the Cook Islands.

A spokesperson for the foreign minister did not respond to the question of whether Julie Bishop is opposed the ABC's decision, but says she "is aware of concerns regarding more remote parts of the Pacific where alternative services may not be readily available" and "will continue to seek information from the ABC and other partners in the region on the impact of this decision".



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