09/04/2012

WRS: Why should we listen to English?

The Head of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation recently announced that he was seriously considering stopping the English radio channel or putting it up for sale. According to Roger de Weck, World Radio Switzerland (WRS) was no longer a priority for the state subsidized television and radio conglomerate since English was not a national language. (Disclaimer: I am a regular contributor to WRS.) Money was not a consideration since the station represented a tiny percentage of the overall budget.


Followers of the English language channel have reacted with consternation and incomprehension if not dismay. The radio serves as an important link between the English-speaking community especially in the Swiss Romand and Switzerland. For many expats as well as non-French speakers, it is their way of hearing all about Switzerland while touching base with news on BBC, NPR or familiar shows. It is not an Anglosphere island separating the community from Switzerland. Rather, WRS explains what is going on locally, a form of outreach to the English-speaking community.

It is a denial of this outreach function that warrants particular attention. At the same time the Geneva tourism office is restructuring because of falling revenues, at the same time the Geneva economic office is struggling to lure new companies and keep those already here, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation is announcing that outreach to the English-speaking community is not a priority. Forget that Zurich schools have English as the first foreign language, forget that much of Switzerland's foreign relations are carried out in English, the official Swiss Radio and Television Corporation is announcing that English is no longer on its radar screen.

How does Roger de Weck expect the English-speaking community to react? When he was appointed, his nomination was welcomed precisely because of his cosmopolitan image. He is fluent in English and German. But this announcement plays into the worst image of Switzerland as a closed society, xenophobic, unfriendly to foreigners. The English-speaking community is beside itself; the moment has come for the Swiss authorities to explain to Mr. De Weck that abandoning WRS sends the wrong message. WRS is an important outreach with implications beyond the Anglosphere. More is at stake here than just a radio station.

 

 

Commentaires

"Money was not a consideration since the station represented a tiny percentage of the overall budget."
So the decision (not finalized I believe) is all the more irrational. I quite agree with the idea that people who go or come to live another country, whether it be permanently or for a long period, should do their best to learn the language and understand (and to a certain extend adopt) the local customs.
Helping them to maintain an essential link with the language and culture of their (former) homeland seems to be one of the best means to guarantee our own respect for that heritage and to show that by expecting and encouraging adaptation to our culture from our guests we do not demand rejection of their own identity.
On the other hand, the English radion channel could profitably be used in the learning process of our students who will in the near future begin learning English in Primary school already, and will certainly be in need of models of spoken English used in different contexts. Not to mention all the local people who have learnt the language in various ways and are happy to find an occasion to maintain a minimum of passive practice by listening in.

Écrit par : Mère-Grand | 09/04/2012

Dear Sir,

After triple-reading your article, I feel again left hanging in mid-air, asking myself what part I could possibly have missed that provides somehwat of a direct, specific answer to the question asked in the title: "WRS: Why should we listen to English?".

Maybe if I understood only english ?

But would I still listen if the content has little value to me, or is boring ? I don't think so. Despite belonging to this english-only community that the swiss broadcast organization attempts to cater to, I wouldn't feel like missing very much if WRS stops broadcasting, and I even happen to notice it.

Eventually, the reaction to WRS' shutdown all boils down to how well does it's "content" match my needs and taste, during those daily windows I can turn on the radio, and expecting an enjoyable, when not useful, listening experience.

Unfortunately, to this old 90's WRG listener, I have to report the later WRG, and today's WRS have below my expectations by a far miss.

Écrit par : Chuck Jones | 09/04/2012

Sorry David, je me permets de réagir en français, parce que l'enjeu WRS dépasse largement le cadre anglophone. Tu as bien compris que Roger de Weck ne sacrifie pas WRS sur l'autel budgétaire. C'est plutôt d'une démarche politique qu'il faut parler: la SSR est harcelée depuis un bon moment pour réduire sa voilure, se concentrer, comme on dit, sur son mandat de service public. Alors, le directeur général offre un sacrifice qui ne lui créera pas d'ennuis, ni à l'extérieur ni à l'intérieur de la maison, où WRS fait volontiers figure de bouc émissaire à chaque fois qu'il faut faire des économies. "Ces anglais, qu'est-ce qu'on a à financer leur jouet ?" est une remarque souvent entendue, de la part de responsables d'autres chaînes dont on pourrait se demander, avec bien plus de pertinence, s'ils sont vraiment essentielles au service public.
Le plus étonnant, dans cette affaire, est le silence étourdissant des autorités genevoises, d'habitude si promtes à réagir lorsque l'on touche à la Genève internationale. Or, l'une des raisons principales pour laquelle les internationaux (politiques ou économiques) préfèrent Genève à ses concurrents du genre Bonn ou La Haye est qu'on peut très bien y vivre et se débrouiller en anglais sans être obligé d'apprendre la langue locale. Une chaîne de radio convenable fait partie de cet atout que Roger de Weck, ancien président de l'Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales, ne doit pas ignorer. Un atout qui implique, notamment, d'offrir aux internationaux la BBC dans la voiture, sans parler de la plus-value que représentent les efforts de WRS d'expliquer la manière dont fonctionne le pays hôte.
Alors, privatiser WRS ? J'ai des doutes que ce soit possible avec le même cahier de charges et la même ambition de contenu. Mais j'ai peut-être tort, et d'autres programmes de la SSR seront alors tout autant menacés. Il n'y a pas de raison de s'arrêter à WRS.

Écrit par : Jurg Bissegger | 09/04/2012

@Chuck Jones

"Despite belonging to this english-only community that the swiss broadcast organization attempts to cater to, [...] Unfortunately, to this old 90's WRG listener,"

si WRS cesse l’émission, peut-être ça peut motiver a des immigres économiques ("expats") comme vous, qui habitent la région depuis parfois des décennies, a vous intégrer un peu plus et d’écouter et apprendre la langue locale: le français. Nous ne sommes pas en Angleterre ici!

Écrit par : un suisse | 09/04/2012

Souvent les personnes très exigeantes sur l'intégration linguistique parlent très mal voire pas du tout des langues étrangères...

Écrit par : michel | 10/04/2012

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