A Chinese station has taken over some of the shortwave radio frequencies once used by the ABC in the Pacific region, following the broadcaster’s decision to end shortwave services.
Radio Australia switched off its shortwave transmissions to remote parts of northern Australia and across the Pacific in January 2017.
The decision was met by an outcry from affected listeners, and there has been continued agitation to bring the service back.
The Australian newspaper has reported Radio Australia’s former shortwave frequencies are now being used by China Radio International, the country’s state-owned overseas broadcaster.
Claire Moore, Labor’s spokeswoman for international development and the Pacific, said she was not surprised Chinese services snapped up Australia’s old frequencies.
“People in the Pacific were telling us that shortwave was a tried and true mechanism in their parts of the world, they relied on it and they knew about it,” Ms Moore said.
“It was always an issue to see if shortwave was available, if it was being used and we weren’t using it, that other players would come into the space.”
Ms Moore said the Government had, “dropped the ball in the Pacific, at great cost to our national interest” by allowing the ABC to give up its shortwave broadcasts.
Asked why the Government should take responsibility for the ABC’s decision, she said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade accepted the broadcaster’s decision, and did not believe it was necessary to inject more resources into maintaining the service.
“We have always felt, and from the evidence that we received from different people, that it was important to maintain a number of services until we were absolutely convinced that there was no further need for shortwaves,” Ms Moore said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement the move to end shortwave services to the Pacific was an independent decision made by the ABC.
She said the Government had articulated a clear vision for its engagement with the Pacific, and that the region was one of its “highest foreign policy priorities”, and that Labor’s record on Pacific engagement was, “one of neglect and disinterest”.
ABC’s presence ‘declining’ in Asia-Pacific
International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the Government had expressed concern at the time that the ABC’s decision might leave many vulnerable areas in the Pacific with communication blind spots.
“The Government is now having a review of overseas broadcasting in Asia Pacific,” she said.
That review, announced last September, will also investigate whether shortwave technology should be used in the region.
An ABC spokeswoman said the national broadcaster looked forward to making a submission to the review, setting out, “the significant contribution the ABC makes in maintaining and developing valuable relationships between Australia and our neighbours”.
“The ABC’s international strategy is focused on connecting with audiences across the world through the most effective means possible.
“This is a mixed broadcast and digital cross-platform approach, including the delivery of FM radio in the Pacific, TV across the Asia-Pacific, as well as digital content and services around the world.”
However Matthew Dornan from the Australian National University said many decisions made by the ABC, including the decision to end the shortwave service, had limited the broadcaster’s influence in the region.
“A whole lot of decisions at the ABC, which really have been driven by funding cuts to the ABC, have contributed to a declining presence in the Pacific and a decline in standards of reporting on the Pacific,” he said.
“And’s that’s problematic because really the commercial stations do such a poor job of reporting on the Pacific, that Australians really do rely on the ABC to hear about news from the region.”