Monday 20 February 2017

RTE ditches plans to axe longwave 252 radio service after criticism in Britain

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Presenter: Sean O'Rourke Photo: Brian McEvoy
Presenter: Sean O'Rourke Photo: Brian McEvoy

RTE is set to scrap controversial plans to axe its longwave radio service, aimed at saving the cash-strapped broadcaster €250,000 a year, the Sunday Independent has learned.

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As the station grapples with an unprecedented financial crisis, it was announced two years ago that it planned to wind down longwave 252 broadcasts before full shutdown in May 2017.

But the plan caused widespread anger, particularly among the Irish community in Britain, where the service is seen as a crucial lifeline for thousands of older emigrants who cannot access digital broadcasts.

RTE sources say the service was targeted for shutdown because it is considered outdated, and is an ongoing and unnecessary cost, during a time of increasing financial pressures.

However, as a result of a public backlash, the broadcaster was forced to temporarily postpone the closure until 2017, giving listeners more time to move over to digital platforms.

But the station has confirmed it is now carrying out a "review" of its previous announcement.

A spokesperson added that there is now no specific date for the termination of the service. However, it is understood there remains an ongoing risk as regards its long-term viability. RTE has argued that transition to better quality, more sustainable digital alternatives, is essential in the longer term. There are an estimated 600,000 Irish-born immigrants living in the UK.

Many of the older emigrants left Ireland in the 1950s - with only basic education - as Ireland grappled with widespread unemployment.

They are now elderly and a significant number are in difficult financial circumstances, according to social services.

This radio service is still a crucial 'link with home' for many thousands of older Irish in Britain, according to various immigrant groups working with social services.

The latest development comes as RTE grapples with an ongoing financial crisis, currently forecasting a loss of up to €20m in the current year. The organisation's new Director-General, Dee Forbes, faces a difficult challenge to stem the deficit.

In the wake of the station's announcement in 2014, 'Irish in Britain', an umbrella group representing various emigrant organisation, carried out research into RTE radio broadcasting in the UK.

It looked at the frequency of Radio 1 listenership, attitudes to its content, and perceived benefits and weaknesses of the service, in England, Scotland and Wales.

It found it gives listeners a 'sense of Irishness' and helps them keep up to date with news and current affairs 'back home'. Some participants referenced their remittance contributions back to Ireland during the depression years of the 1950s.

They argued they should not now be abandoned by the public service broadcaster.

The survey also found 92pc of respondents listen to RTE "every day" or "most days".

Charlotte Curran, national health coordinator with the 'Irish in Britain' community group, says the service is an "invaluable lifeline" for the Irish diaspora.

She said there is an ongoing need for older people to maintain a link with their homeland.

"They want to hear the familiar voice of Ireland and hear the stories from back home.

"They feel a connection to that - and these are people who don't frequently travel back to Ireland."

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said while it is ultimately an operational matter for RTE, it is hoped the broadcaster will be informed by "awareness of the role that the service plays in preserving and enhancing links with Ireland."

Sunday Independent

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