During this World Cup in Brazil I have either been watching the coverage from SBS or listening intently to SBS Radio 4's re-transmission of BBC Five Live's feed (or as they like to say "Five Live from the BBC"). Whilst I admit that there is nothing remarkable about this in and of itself, there is in fact a very serious subject that I'd like to draw out of this.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This then as a motto is very much aligned with the Corporation's intent. The BBC World Service can be heard in 28 language and by 188 million people a week. As a result of being largely non-partisan, the BBC World Service has been able to report from many places that other commercial entities have not and where they will not go because it is not profitable to do so. It has also garnered a reputation for quality journalism which in the English speaking world is among the very best.
The BBC probably has in its own way (or at least inadvertently) spoken peace unto nations, for the simple reason that peace often flourishes when people understand each other and the best way to engage in understanding is to speak to each other.
The BBC though is not unique. Germany's Deutsche Welle (DW), the United States' National Public Radio (NPR) and even France's Radio France Internationale can be heard all over the world. DW very much helped to play its part in helping Germany gain acceptance back into the world after the Second World War; NPR consistently proves that real Americans are far more sensible than the governments that they elect and RFI even helps to dispel the myth that French people are somehow snobbish and lack diplomacy. Listen to RFI and you get a sense that France is a very different sort of quirky and warm nation than the image which is projected by stand-offish politicians.
This then brings me to the discussion of both the Australia Network and Radio Australia. Australians are largely ignorant of what either of these two networks do. Radio Australia for instance, transmits in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Khmer, French, Burmese, and a pidgin language Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea.
Like NPR, the BBC, DW and RFI, Radio Australia is also carried on complementary networks and I was especially shocked to hear programs like The Law Report from ABC's Radio National on Canada's CBC radio station on Sirius satellite in the United States.
From America's NPR you can learn about economics on "Planet Money" and news event on "All Things Considered". From the BBC World Service you can learn about business initiatives on "Global Business" with Peter Day. DW's "Inside Europe" will give you a better idea of the machinations of European politics.
If Radio Australia and the Australia Network carry out the same sorts of functions to these other international public broadcasters, then what sort of message is Australia sending out to the rest of the world? What sort of image are we projecting into places like South East Asia and to out neighbours, with whom we hope to have amicable international relations?
Well come July 1 when the Australia Network is shut off... none at all. What sort of message does silence send to the rest of the world?
Actually it sends out two very loud sort of messages.
Firstly that Australia as a nation can very easily be bought off by people with sufficient amounts of money. Remember, the Australia Network wasn't shut down because it was hideously expensive to run but rather that certain factions of business, demanded that it be shut down and subsequently white anted the Australian government's policies. This proves very much so that the Australian government can be bought off, provided the price is right. The fact that the Australia Network will be shut down is the direct result of rent seeking by private enterprise; the message that that sends out right across Asia in particular is that business people if they want to, can line the pockets of Australian politicians to get what they want because dollars speak louder than votes.
Second it sends a very strong message that people do not matter. If you have been enjoying the Australia Network and you happen to live in Asia, Australia no longer cares in providing you with a service; actually this lines up nicely with domestic policy where the government is also trying not to care about the old, the unemployed, the young, those people who are studying or even the sick people of Australia either.
So when the transmitters run silent on July 1 and all those people across Asia can no longer tune into the Australia Network, what will they think of us? Probably whatever other people, other people with agendas, other people with commercial intent, want to tell them; that is something which we'll have no influence on at all because the government voluntarily decided that we as a nation should say nothing at all.