Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why UNESCO needs to get out of saving radio

When I was involved in setting up a website in 1994, I learned a lot from the early critics of web design. I'm delighted to see that Vincent Flanders site is still going strong, 17 years after designers seriously started playing with code to make pages easy to navigate. As he points out, some major organisations never learn. I agree that the best way to learn about what works is to comb the web looking for examples of what NOT to do. But that applies to more than just web design. I've been looking at the effects of the first World Radio Day, one week after it was celebrated on February 13th. Frankly, I think the official institutions, especially UNESCO, need to do a lot better. What they have done so far is a catalogue of embarrassment.

There's a website, of course, which looks like it was designed around 1994. No expense has been spared in putting this together to announce the creation of a radio prize for next year and to post a rather vague video from Guy Berger filmed outside a radio day conference in London. The whole website radiates a total misunderstanding of what the Internet can do to enhance great radio. It is lifeless and frankly a waste of time. I hope it didn't cost any money. The video views on the UNESCO Youtube Channel indicate that not many people have discovered this video. I'll bet even fewer than 100 watched it to the end. And then there's UNESCO's own radio day website which is also useless. Who on earth are they making this site


 I did watch the UNESCO backed live radio event in London, which was billed as a workshop, but ended up as a series of talks. Once they were finished, the whole event collapsed after a remark made by Linj Manyozo that the elephant in the room is that television is radio's biggest threat. Sadly this wasn't challenged and the event dissolved. No conclusions. So ultimately no point in holding it. Reviewing all this, it's no wonder that the US has given up on UNESCO and it's ability to organize. The response to the withdrawal of funds by UNESCO Director Irina Bokova was to put up a video on YouTube, in a style that only confirms that UNESCO doesn't have its act together. These kinds of videos, which UNESCO clearly hopes will be taken up my mainstream media, clearly shows that UNESCO is totally out of touch with the media world. Even the links to her text are broken.


 So were there places that celebrated World Radio Day in the right way? Yes of course. SourceFabric in Prague and Berlin organised events that celebrated radio's practical, hybrid future. And the link between 720 ABC Perth and 720 WGN Chicago was original. What did they have in common? Their mediumwave frequency, 720 kHz. And an understanding of how audiences are changing. They clearly don't need a special day for that.


hatter said...

Jonathan, sadly I agree with you - I was at the London event and felt very disappointed by the presentations (most of them anyway), by the lack of any kind of a focus, and by the failure to offer any real opportunity for discussion. I also agree that UNESCO hasn't done anything useful since about 1985 - of all the UN agencies it is probably the most useless (which is saying something) although it might be able to achieve something if it escaped the idea that it was in control, or in charge, or had some kind of 'coordination' role.

Mary Myers said...

Thank you for your very perceptive comments about UNESCO and World Radio Day. I share some of your feelings about the rather lack-lustre event at SOAS in London, although many of the points made, especially by Birgitte Jallov, Guy Berger and Linje Manyozo were spot on. I agree that UNESCO's web efforts look very old fashioned. Where is the great new world of converged radio, the wonderful possibilities that the internet and mobile phones have brought to radio?! There is no feeling of excitement there - but there should be.