Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Emigrants are making RTÉ listen

How a campaign to stop RTÉ closing its longwave service has gathered momentum

An online petition calling for RTÉ to abandon plans to close down their longwave service for listeners in Britain and beyond has attracted more than 800 signatures. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien /The Irish Times

Mon, Oct 20, 2014, 14:50

   

Noreen Bowden

“RTÉ is often accused of not listening to people. We are listening to people on this one.”

It was 6.30am last Wednesday morning in New York, and I had just tuned into the livestream of the Oirechtas committee on communications. My phone and Twitter feed started to light up with the news that RTÉ was postponing the shutdown of its longwave service. Then RTÉ Radio managing director Jim Jennings said those words. They made me cautiously hopeful.

I had, for the previous two weeks, been involved in a rapidly-organised campaign against the closure announced on 23 September, to take place on 27 October.

When the announcement was made I was dismayed. We had been through something similar in 2008 when RTÉ closed the medium wave service, with no consultation and scant regard for its audience. I couldn’t believe RTÉ was about to do it again, shutting down this valued service without consultation, only a few years after transitioning its audience to it and buying a modern, highly efficient, digital-capable transmitter that still had decades of useful life left in it.

Knowing we needed to mobilise, I rang a few contacts and found they had been thinking the same thing. We began gathering information and working with the Irish in Britain organisation to set up an online petition. I wrote an article for this blog, which was also published in the opinion pages in print. The following day I appeared on Today with Sean O’Rourke along with the chair of the GAA in Britain Brendie O’Brien, to speak about the effects of the shutdown on the Irish in Britain and the wider diaspora. It was on that show that Jim Jennings gave the first hint of the postponement which was announced the next morning.

By Wednesday afternoon, it was becoming evident that the Government was seeing the importance of this issue. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan tweeted, “RTÉ must retain longwave frequency for the benefit of our diaspora & our many friends abroad”, adding that RTÉ should “reconsider in the interests of friends of Ireland and the Irish abroad”.

The most powerful voices, though, were the ones of those affected. The comments on the petition have been sad and illuminating.

“I ask RTÉ to think again about my generation,” wrote one. “I am an 82-year-old woman living alone. RTÉ has been my constant companion through my life in Britain.”

“For those elderly, switching off the radio will leave them very lonely and some with a feeling of abandonment by a country that they hold so dear,” wrote another.

Several people, often acting as advocates for their offline elderly relations, described the service as a “lifeline”. “London can be a very lonely place”, said one, “and the older generation will feel truly forgotten if this goes ahead.”

Solidarity came in not only from the Irish in Ireland and Britain, but from across the diaspora, with one man in the United Arab Emirates, for example, saying, “I didn’t want to leave home, I had to. Please don’t make it any worse for those of us in the same boat.”

This week, RTÉ officials will go to Britain to discuss the situation and I hope they will listen. We can help to ensure the voices of the most vulnerable listeners are heard, and that in turn, the longwave service, their valued link to Ireland, will not fall silent.

There are several ways to support the campaign:

  • Sign the petition at change.org
  • Follow the progress on Twitter #RTElw
  • Follow Facebook.com/SaveRTELW252
  • Contact RTÉ directly (Call +353 1 208 3111; email complaints@RTÉ.ie or post to: 2nd Floor Admin Building, RTÉ, Donnybrook, Dublin 4)
  • Contact your local TD or Senator (Leinster House, Dublin 2 or email them through contact.ie)
  • Contact Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan (Leinster House, Dublin 2)
  • Contact your local, regional or national newspaper.

Tell them how the longwave service is important to you and your community – and that Ireland will lose out if the valuable link with the diaspora is broken. Of course it’s not just the elderly who will be affected – it’s sports fans who listen in for the GAA matches, commuters who catch up with the news on the way to work, fishermen who listen at sea. It’s a valued resource for the whole community. And it’s not just the Irish in Britain – we’ve had reports in from people who listen in Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and more.

It is also important for Irish people at home to show their support to the diaspora. There are so many people in Ireland who really care about the emigrants who gave so much to Ireland – this is an opportunity to give back to them. It would be impossible to repay the debt that Ireland owes the oldest generation of emigrants, but it’s essential to grant them the peace of mind that this link with Ireland will not be broken at the end of their lives.

Let’s make sure RTÉ listens.

Noreen Bowden is a web editor and advocate on Irish diaspora issues. She was formerly director of the Emigrant Advice Network and is the founder of GlobalIrish.ie. Read more about the longwave shutdown in her article last week about how RTÉ’s decision to cut longwave radio service will sever a vital link with Irish abroad.