After looking back and saying goodbye to the RNW departments which are disappearing, it’s time to look forward. What will the new Radio Netherlands be like? Ten questions - and answers - about the organisation which is over 65 years old, but which is getting a new lease of life.
Why the changes?
The new Radio Netherlands Worldwide was conceived on 30 September 2010. The minority coalition of the conservative VVD and Christian Democrats, relying on support from Freedom Party MPs, published its government programme. The coalition has since fallen. There was one sentence in the programme about RNW:
“Radio Netherlands Worldwide will concentrate on its core business including the provision of unbiased information and will be financed from the foreign ministry and development aid budget.”
That brief sentence led to the termination of services in a string of languages, of whole departments and radio programmes. The reorganisation was drastic and painful. With a decimated budget and staff, the new RNW rises out of the ash of the old.
What will the new RNW do?
Provide unbiased information, said the government programme. The starting point is Free Speech, or rather the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to opinion and expression, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. RNW describes its new goal as follows:
“Disseminating the free word in countries where the freedom to form ones opinion and to express that opinion is seriously limited.”
This goal is to be achieved through “the (co-) production and distribution of independent, reliable and unbiased information”.
Will I be able to listen to RNW?
Unfortunately, the era of globally available RNW has passed. Luckily, there’s reasonable freedom of speech in many countries and people living there will no longer have access to RNW. The company will target four areas of the world where free speech is doing less well: sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, China and Central America. RNW will concentrate on three central themes: democracy, human rights and sexual rights.
RNW will also home in on a new target audience: people from 15 to 30 - students and young professionals.
Will I still be able to read RNW articles?
Yes, of course. There will be websites in English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and French. The articles on the Indonesian and South Asian sites will remain but the sites will not be updated.
Why is RNW targetting young people in sub-Saharan Africa?
RNW has chosen eight countries in the region where the development of democracy, human rights and sexual rights is problematic: the Democratic republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The countries are also in many cases troubled by poor governance, political violence, poverty and corruption. RNW will develop programmes, formats and web productions for the audience in this region.
Is that also needed in the Middle East and North Africa?
Following the Arab Spring, the situation here is very different. There have been changes of power or calls for more democracy in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. Issues such as internet freedom and the position of women and minority groups are important.
At the moment, Syria is extremely chaotic and a lot of fighting is taking place but, even here, RNW sees opportunities. There are also the Gulf States, which have higher standards of living but little in the way of democratic freedom. These are all countries where the new RNW can play a free-speech role.
China blocks the internet, though, why target there?
RNW has for a number of years been very active in China via the internet and social media – the new RNW will carry on this work. RNW will not be as badly hit as are the BBC or the Voice of America by China’s mass internet blockades. That’s because of RNW’s method of disseminating the information.
On one hand, the Chinese-language RNW website offers information about lots of aspects of Dutch society, from fashion and design to gay rights and euthanasia. On the other hand, there’s also more ‘risky’ information which is hard to get in China. Some important themes are the influence of citizens on government, corruption and internet freedom.
RNW will also target Central America. Wasn’t that already being done?
Yes, RNW has a huge reputation in Latin America. The cut in subsidy, however, means that just three countries will still be targetted: Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico. Cuba’s strict Communist regime allows only state media to operate. As well as making radio broadcasts, RNW will – carefully – begin working with a number of bloggers.
Venezuela’s government is another repressive regime. Mexico’s problems are, on the other hand, very different, with organised crime, drugs and violence. RNW’s Spanish website will remain online and programmes such as the popular current affairs show, La Matinal, will still be aired.
What about North Korea, Myanmar and Iran?
The languages spoken in these countries make them a limited audience. RNW has been forced to make choices because of the cut to its income and it has been decided not to target these countries in a general way, but RNW will certainly operate here on a project basis.
When will the new RNW really begin?
At the moment, RNW is in a transitional phase. Outgoing staff are being bade farewell, while formats and content for the new organisation are being developed and applications for new posts processed. Once all this has been completed, the new Radio Netherlands Worldwide is due to be launched on 1 January 2013.