Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Nigel Holmes–formerly of Radio Australia–for the following update regarding Nick Xenophon’s bill to resume ABC shortwave services:
Last Friday I travelled to Canberra and fronted the Senate Committee hearing testimony on the matter of HF broadcasting & Senator Xenophon’s Bill to compel ABC to resume HF domestically & for RA. I was grilled like a breakfast kipper. It went well.
Another witness was Graeme Dobell, a legendary radio & print journalist who has travelled & worked all over the Pacific region. Graeme has written some good articles on the current subject. See here:
Could Radio Outbackistan be the next shortwave broadcaster for rural Australia?
In response to the ABC abolishing its HF shortwave radio service, the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) president has turned to humour to propose his own broadcast alternative.
On Friday, in front of hundreds of cattle producers, Tom Stockwell addressed the association’s annual conference on the status of the beef industry, listing challenges, opportunities and grievances.
While the Bureau of Meteorology’s decision to remove the Tennant Creek weather radar and the National Broadband Network’s restrictions on download quotas for remote users were both highlighted, it was the loss of shortwave radio that Mr Stockwell took most issue with.
The NTCA has been heavily critical of the ABC for making the decision, which was made to allow for the reinvestment of funds into digital services.
Inspired by the band Roadtrippers, Mr Stockwell joked about his desire for a new broadcaster called Radio Outbackistan to fill a regional communications void.][…]
The ABC ends its short-wave service to the region from 1pm Solomon Islands time and says it will focus on FM and online services.
Ruth Liloqula said people from Choiseul to Malaita and as far south east as Tikopia tuned in to the ABC because the signal was stronger than that of the country’s public broadcaster SIBC.
Ms Liloqula who works with Transparency International says the ABC has been very valuable for the country and a good way to get her message across.
“We are very very mindful of the fact that the SIBC media here is owned by the government. I mean they don’t ask the questions that they need to ask for obvious reasons. I mean we do get asked those tough questions by ABC and that gives us the opportunity to talk about the issues that affect this country.”
Ms Liloqula said after the recent earthquake people in the bush in Choiseul only knew there was no tsunami by listening to the ABC.[…]
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phil Brennan, who shares the following letter sent to The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister, by Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition:
The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP Prime Minister
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Prime Minister
I write in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) decision to cease its shortwave transmission service in the Northern Territory from 31 January 2017.
My letter follows repeated representations from members of my Shadow Ministry, Northern Territory Caucus and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Senator Nigel Scullion to secure the continuation of this vital service.
As you know, shortwave radio provides vital news and information services, including local radio and emergency messages that are crucial to those living in remote areas, particularly in time of natural disaster.
The ABC’s claim that the majority of listeners will be able to access ABC services via AM/FM radio, digital radio and online streaming, or via VAST platform does not account for the reality of service availability in remote areas.
This helps to explain why listeners and users of the ABC shortwave in the Northern Territory have been unequivocal in voicing their concern at the Coalition’s failure to intervene in this matter. This includes emergency services workers and cattle growers.
I am also deeply concerned that the ABC took this decision without satisfactory consultation with affected listeners, community representatives and emergency service workers and agencies. ABC Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, has since acknowledged shortfalls in this regard.
For these reasons I ask that you work with Labor, ABC management and local stakeholders as a matter of urgency to ensure the continued provision of shortwave radio service in the NT beyond 31 January 2017.
Bill Shorten MP
Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
26 January 2017
cc: The Hon Mark Dreyfus MP, QC Mr Stephen Jones MP
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy Hon Warren Snowdon MP
Mr Luke Gosling OAM, MP Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, London Shortwave, who shares the following letter by Gary Baker, former district manager at Radio Australia, Shepparton–published in the Shepparton News. Here’s an excerpt:
Recently I heard that the HF radio transmission site at Shepparton, known as Radio Australia, is to be shut down.
[…]I understand the ABC needs to cut back on some services it provides and make use of the latest technology. This makes sense except in the case of the Shepparton facility.The Shepparton transmission site has the capability to direct radio signals into specific countries as we see fit.
This is unique to this site, as no other site can reach the countries this one can.
In my time as district manager at the Shepparton site, I recall some instances where the Shepparton site was called upon to direct radio signals to specific targets.
At one point the Fiji Government shut down the local Australian ABC transmitter.
Shepparton sent radio into that country to keep Australians informed during that time.
When there was a coup in the Solomon Islands, once again we sent signals into that country.
We also sent radio signals into Myanmar at the request of the Australian Government.
Another task that the Shepparton site fulfils is to send signals into northern Australia in times of need, for example during Cyclone Larry when the Northern Territory radio service was beamed back to the tropical north from Shepparton.
The Shepparton site is in a location that has good weather and is politically stable.
This makes it an ideal tool for widespread information broadcasting.
The ABC would argue that this HF radio service is old technology and can be replaced by the internet or satellite services.
This is true.
However, the ABC and the Federal Government do not control the internet or satellite services in other countries and therefore they are not reliable.
HF radio broadcasting from a secure location is very reliable.[…]
Yesterday, we posted a news item regarding the importance of the ABC’s shortwave service to those working and living in the Australian Outback. It appears the ABC has no intention of reversing the decision in any meaningful way. A follow-up piece from The Guardian:
The ABC has remained steadfast in its decision to scrap the shortwave radio service, despite pleadings from federal Labor politicians in a meeting with the managing director, Michelle Guthrie.
Federal senator and cabinet minister Nigel Scullion has joined the calls for ABC to reverse its “city-centric” decision and maintain the service.
[…]“It was certainly a good meeting in terms of being able to thrash out the concerns of the people of the Northern Territory and stakeholders, but in terms of the outcome, it certainly wasn’t a positive outcome,” she said. “The ABC has disappointingly continued to forget about the people of the Northern Territory and those concerns.
“They’re still going ahead with the decision to remove the shortwave at the end of the month due to contractual issues. Michelle Guthrie is keen to come to the Northern Territory but clearly not until after the removal of shortwave.”[…]
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ross, who has first-hand experience in rural, remote regions of Australia and shares the following:
As someone who spends a fair amount of time in remote areas of far Western Queensland and SE Northern Territory I regularly listen to Radio Australia broadcasts on my Pioneer 2 SW band truck radio.
The only reliable signals in English are Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand and China Drive Beijing. Local MW radio is virtually non existent during daylight hours with severe fading, FM just forget it , line of sight and no local transmitters for 100’s of kilometres.
Once again the city-centric values of Sydney/Canberra are imposed on those of us who live without the manifold benefits the coast and major cities take for granted.
A 100KW AM station broadcasting local ABC throughout Western QLD and southern territory would give us the road conditions, news, weather, flood/storm and fire warnings so necessary in a remote environment where conditions change quickly. [B]ut again HF facilities already exist, $1-2 million is a small cost and not if but when the digital/satellite networks fail HF will be more capable of maintaining communications.
Alternatively, smaller MW repeater stations relaying ABC maybe using microwave relay sites?
As for the comment that many of the complaints came from amateur radio ops , many of us use HF transceivers to keep contact over these large areas whether it be via the VKS-737 outback radio service, Royal Flying doctor radio service or the amateur radio network in an area where mobile telephone service is nonexistent and Satellite phones are not always reliable during severe weather events.
My point being that many of us have taken up HF for local and communications in comparison to other more populated parts of the country out of necessity for contact that city based politicians take for granted.
Not many homesteads (stations) in outback Australia without UHF and HF comms equipment and therefore the ability to tune in to the only reliable radio signals from R’Aust.
I have written to the local Federal member Bob Katter in MT ISA who I know is well versed in outback needs and trust he may be able to bang a few heads together in Canberra!
Ross AKA Farmlad.
Thank you for sharing your comments, Ross.
Are there other SWLing Post readers who live and/or work in the Outback of Australia? Please comment.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Phil Brennan and London Shortwave for sharing the following story from The Guardian (my comments follow):
‘It’s essential’: outback workers fight ABC decision to ditch shortwave radio
For some living and working in Australia’s outback, shortwave radio is the only way they can listen to the ABC – and their main daily contact with the rest of the world. But the ABC will end the service in two weeks
“People that live out in contracting camps or mustering stock camps or outstations, and even a lot of the people who live in the bush on cattle stations, spend probably 100% of their waking hours out on the land and have very minimal contact with other human beings,” says Tracey Hayes, the chief executive of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association.
“You can imagine how isolating that would be without having access to the outside world via radio during the day while you’re out in the workplace. But I don’t think they took that into consideration.”
Hayes is referring to a recent announcement by the ABC that, at the end of January, it would terminate its shortwave radio service, which broadcasts to the NT, Papua New Guinea and some parts of the Pacific region.
[…]For some people living and working in the outback, shortwave is the only way they can listen to the ABC.
AM and FM bands don’t have the geographic reach across the sparsely populated territory and online streaming and Vast satellite radio is largely only available at home, close to the required infrastructure.
But as essential as the service’s supporters say it is, they are few in number. And so the ABC decided in early December it would reinvest the $1.2m into bringing digital radio to Darwin and Hobart.
Hayes has spent her life on cattle stations. She suggests the ABC decision-makers on the east coast have little understanding of the isolation of outback living and how big a role the ABC can play in people’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
“It’s essential, to keep feeling mentally stimulated and feeling like you’re in touch with the world and the rest of the community, to listen to our national broadcaster,” she says, and accuses the ABC of “loftiness” in dismissing their reliance on shortwave.
Michael Mason, the ABC’s director of radio, said in December the broadcaster would service the “limited audience” of shortwave radio “through modern technology” instead.
Hayes says that technology is of little help to people who aren’t in an office or home, and she questions the fairness of the ABC sacrificing their only remote mobile service in order to give city-dwellers yet another way of tuning in.
“When I live in Darwin I enjoy listening to the radio via the broadcast app, I can hear it in my car, we don’t really need another one,” she says.
“I’d certainly like to see the provision of resources go to people to people who are already disadvantaged.”
[…]The ABC has largely dismissed the backlash, with the managing director, Michelle Guthrie, claiming just a handful of complaints had been made and many of them were from ham radio enthusiasts.
[…]ABC local radio is the official national emergency broadcaster and all Australians are instructed to tune in during events such as bushfires, floods and cyclones. Ranger services told the ABC’s Country Hour they relied on it during long remote trips, rather than secondhand reports over HF radio.
But the ABC has sought to reassure people emergency alerts and weather updates can still be heard, via the Bureau of Meteorology and the rural flying doctors service’s HF broadcasts. It’s also urged people to tune into VHF radio, primarily used by mariners.
“It’s not just about picking up the weather, it’s about picking up a lot more than that,” says Jay Mohr-Bell, a cattle station manager 100km southwest of Katherine.
“They’re discounting the value of everything else that’s being picked up – even just a bit of local news. You listen to a show like the Country Hour and it’s info you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”
Mohr-Bell claims he and others in the Katherine region approached the ABC a few years ago about moving local radio to the AM band so they could pick it up more often. He says the ABC refused at the time, specifically citing the shortwave service as a reason it was unnecessary.
“It just goes to show it’s a decision that was made and they don’t care about the consequences and it’s done and dusted,” he says.
[…]“You should be left in no doubt that the ABC has failed to adequately or properly assess the needs of Territorians who see shortwave as their only option.”
Mohr notes there are lower level ABC staff, including rural reporters, who understand the importance of the service, but there’s nothing they can do. It’s the final nail in the coffin for him.
“Once they shut this down for us out here, we’ve got no relevance with the ABC. We won’t be continuing to support them at all.”
The closure of the Northern Territory shortwave service reminds me very much of Radio Canada International’s closure in 2012. With the number of other quality international broadcasters on shortwave (The BBC, DW, Radio Australia, RFI, Radio Japan, etc.) and with the cuts to RCI’s programming from previous years, in comparison RCI wasn’t a big a player on the international scene.
However, the CBC North Quebec Service–which was relayed from the RCI Sackville site on 9,625 kHz shortwave–covered a vast broadcast footprint into the northern reaches of Canada. The North Quebec relay could be heard in remote First Nations communities scattered across Labrador, Quebec, Nunavut, Iqaluit, and even into the Northwest Territories. Many of these communities are only accessible by air or sea. The CBC replaced the service with FM relays, but of course the reach of an FM site in no way compares to that of a shortwave service.
Fortunately, some remote communities in Labrador and possibly further west can still receive the CKZN shortwave relay from St. John’s Newfoundland. At 1,000 watts of power, however, it has a less reliable reach than the North Quebec Service did for so many decades.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to communities with which you simply have no connection. I would never fault a commercial broadcaster from pulling the plug when they have no viable audience to cover the costs of sponsoring their content.
When you have a public broadcaster like the ABC–which is funded in part by taxpayers from remote, rural communities–I believe the needs of the full audience must be taken into consideration and must be taken…well…seriously.
The ABC should revisit their published Diversity and Inclusion statement which specifically points out providing quality, diverse content in audience-accessible forms.
1.2 million dollars–while a lot of money to most of us–is a drop in the bucket when compared with other items in the Australian budget.
In reality? It sounds like the ABC isn’t even prepared to acknowledge the needs of their rural audiences, let alone address them.
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