Towards the end of May 1998, 150 international broadcasters got
together at a hotel golf resort just outside Ottawa for a
conference on the future of international broadcasting. It was
organised by Radio Canada International together with 6 Canadian
Universities and it was the fifth in a series of meetings, all of
which have focussed on the future of international broadcasting.
Even then, the writing was on the wall for shortwave international
broadcasting. Radio Prague in the Czech Republic, for instance, had
decided to invest 10% of its programme budget into “new media”.
They said they were better able to reach Czechs living abroad using
e-mail than their limited shortwave facilities. On the other hand
some stations in Asia are actually putting new transmitters on the
air although these aren’t being designed in such a way that they
could be digitised later. But in the light of the recent decision
in October 2010 to fund the BBC World Service in a different way,
its interesting to listen to Frits Groothuys who, back in 1998, was
responsible for BBC strategy at the World Service in London. He
drew a fascinating comparison between international broadcasting
and sailing ships like the Cutty Sark. He could not have predicted
that the tea clipper he was talking about would catch fire 9 years
later, but I think he did forsee that digital shortwave was
invented too late.