Radio Canada International is, essentially, dead.
The last broadcasts of the service on shortwave ended Sunday night. (You can listen to some of the final transmissions here and here.) Its budget has been cut by 80%, its Portuguese and Russian services are gone, two thirds of its staff has been let go, and the huge transmission site in Sackville, N.B., sits unused, to be sold or torn down eventually.
The video above is Marc Montgomery, host of the daily program The Link, at the end of its final broadcast on Friday. As you can see, he gets quite emotional at the end, explaining why cutting RCI is a mistake.
While most Canadians have probably never heard of it, RCI isn’t for them. As Montgomery explains, the shortwave service in particular is capable of reaching people who don’t have Internet access or whose Internet access is blocked or filtered. With an online-only service, third-world countries that restrict foreign media online won’t have access to it.
Does that matter? Do people in third-world countries really listen to RCI in the first place? Maybe not. Maybe RCI has outlived its usefulness, and its shortwave service was mostly just a hobby for lonely ham-radio types who like to tune up noisy distant stations broadcasting in single-sideband AM. In that case, it might as well be shut down completely.
I’ve seen enough media outlets go online-only as a result of budget cuts to know that complete shutdown of RCI is, at this point, inevitable. Few people will listen to it because it’s harder to access and has so little original programming, and that will be used as justification down the line to pull the plug completely.
Many people have been trying in vain to find some way to keep RCI going. Sympathetic stories have been written about their demise. Politicians have been conscripted into the cause. A rule mandating a shortwave service has been found and subsequently eliminated by the government. A protest has been organized with a few people showing up. Attempts are being made (unsuccessfully) to have the federal government set RCI’s funding aside from the rest of the CBC. The RCI Action Committee, started the last time the CBC tried to gut the service, is actively pushing these activities and chronicling with regret the dismantling of the service on Twitter.
But they’re all in vain. The damage is done. Any groundswell of public support will eventually fade. People will forget. The CBC isn’t going to go back on its decision and the government isn’t going to force them to. The latter will point out that it sets the parliamentary appropriation and leaves the details on how to spend it to the public broadcaster. The former will point out that its budget situation has forced it to make difficult decisions and that things like local news and current affairs programming matter more to average Canadians than an international shortwave service.
So while it’s nice to hear that RCI won’t disappear quietly, the best we can do is honour the service and regret that it’s now gone. CKUT’s International Radio Report, which aired Montgomery’s signoff in its entirety, itself got emotional talking about RCI’s shutdown on Sunday (MP3).
The CBC News Network program Connect and CBC Radio program Dispatches also aired their final episodes this week. The final episode of Connect is here, with a retrospective starting at the 36-minute mark. The final episode of Dispatches is here.