Axworthy, Copps rescue Radio Canada International
by Christopher Guly
OTTAWA - Canada's financially troubled foreign radio service may finally have a future.
On August 18, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced that their government would provide Radio Canada International with ongoing annual funding starting next year.
Late last year, Ms. Copps rescued RCI from extinction when she organized funding from four federal departments and agencies (Canadian Heritage, Foreign Affairs, National Defense and the Canadian International Development Agency) to support the radio network's $16 million (about $12 million U.S.) annual budget. However, the relief effort was only to last until March 31, 1998.
RCI broadcasts programming in five foreign languages - Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic - throughout Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean and the United States. The international network is managed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Foreign listeners pick up programs through short-wave radio, satellite or through their local broadcasters, who have partnership agreements with RCI.
In addition to sending two hours of daily broadcasts live by short-wave, RCI also has forged a cable partnership with Ukrainian state radio to transmit Canadian programming, and downlinks programs to several local stations in such metropolitan centers as Lviv and Kharkiv.
Mr. Axworthy said that in coming to RCI's aid, the federal Liberal government has undertaken an "ongoing commitment to the important role that RCI plays in increasing awareness and understanding of Canada and its citizens throughout the world."
Ottawa also has a stake in RCI's future.
According to Mr. Axworthy, the Canadian foreign radio service will become an "integral element" of Canada's International Information Strategy, which is designed to use the latest communications technologies, such as the Internet and other broadcast media, to promote Canada's foreign policy, trade and international development agenda.
Certainly, the federal government has an audience for its objectives, judging by the bagfuls of mail the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv receives from listeners of RCI's Ukrainian programs.
Andrii Marchenko, newly appointed assistant to Ambassador Volodymyr Furkalo in Ottawa, said RCI was useful to him when he worked at the Canadian desk at the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry prior to his Canadian posting. "I learned things about Canada that I'm beginning to see now that I'm here," he said.
Mr. Marchenko said the fact that RCI broadcasts programming in Ukrainian helps connect Ukrainians with Canada. "Ukrainians are exposed to different foreign radio services, which often report a lot about what's going on in the United States, but very little about Canada. [RCI] tells them about Canada in their own language, such as coverage of the 1995 referendum in Quebec," he said.
But under this most recent rescue plan, RCI's future will only be safeguarded as long as Ottawa continues to show an interest in the service.
"The minister has made it clear that RCI funding is part of the government's existing fiscal framework that was provided for in the February federal budget," said Janet Bax, director of communications for Ms. Copps. "There's no way she or anyone else can say this formula will apply beyond the life of this government."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 31, 1997, No. 35, Vol. LXV
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