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Europe's diplomacy needs a radio station

06 September 2012

Europe has often been criticised for not speaking with a common voice on the global stage, for being inefficient at explaining itself to the outside world, and for becoming old-fashioned, bypassed by emerging powers, and lagging behind as a cultural reference to other societies. How to ensure that Europe again becomes a leading force in promoting universal democratic values and human rights, and asserting itself as a global rule-maker against tyrannies and imperialism? 

Europeans have a Union, built up like a Greek temple, but we are still not sure about what kind of spirit it is celebrating. European souls, cultures and languages, so diverse and numerous, have not yet found the space where they could be properly promoted, discussed and where they could freely interact with other societies. The new media and communication technologies, however, now make this permanent, gigantic and global space possible.

There ought to be a Worldwide European Radio Service, as one channel of a new European digital diplomacy.

Worldwide, because Europe is now ready to conduct its external cultural relations with the entire world.

European, because defining European culture is actually about celebrating every day in open relations with the rest of the world, including immensely powerful powers, on the basis of what we believe our core values to be. We need a comprehensive tool for European external cultural relations.

Radio? Some may think that investing in radio is outdated and that tomorrow's dominating media will rely on the power of image. This has to be thoroughly assessed. But focusing on television only would be a mistake. First, radio services have become very sophisticated thanks to the internet. Podcasts and images can easily be added onto radio websites. Second, sound is still less heavy than images and therefore more easily accessible by all kinds of people, no matter what their standard of living. Radio can be listened to in Beijing as well as in Congolese forests. Third, radio is about music, but also about voices, and any kind of real sound that translates – without words – a reality.

Service? This service needs to be accessible to all citizens of the world, for free, in order to keep the exchange between Europeans and the world open at all times.

This European Radio Service should be the voices of Europeans more than the voice of Europe. Cultural professionals and creators, from arts to entertainment and science, national cultural institutes, should have access to it to promote their work.

Is this project feasible and realistic? It is sensible. Its implementation will be hard, lengthy, and threatened by those who are afraid of it, within and outside Europe.

To work, the European Radio Service would have to be independent and, multilingual. Translation should always be possible. Each programme should be in at least two European languages. A pilot phase would need to be launched with a focus on a particular region of the world, for instance the Mediterranean and the Eastern neighbourhood. It could also take the shape of a pioneering scheme between existing national cultural radio services. As a second phase, thought should be given to creating specific geographical and thematic departments within the service.

This idea needs to be discussed across Europe and with non-Europeans. Feasibility studies need to be conducted, looking at national experiences of worldwide radio and TV broadcasting; at lessons learned from European media initiatives; at potential obstacles and hurdles to the project; and at funding options and potential.