Ara City Radio managing director Lisa McLean is pictured in this 2016 archive photo
Photo: LaLa La Photo/archives
The exclusion of community radio from the latest media grants designed to maintain media plurality could be the final nail in the coffin for a much-loved Luxembourg community station.
At the beginning of July, Luxembourg’s government voted on new media subsidies designed to maintain media pluralism in Luxembourg in the face of dwindling advertising revenues.
According to Radio Ara president Guy Antony, the bill “intensifies the problem, and means Radio Ara’s existence hangs in the balance”.
The station was founded as a passion project in 1991 after a shake-up of radio frequencies in the grand duchy through crowdfunding to buy studio equipment. Today based at place des Rotondes next to the Luxembourg City train station, the station broadcasts programmes in over a dozen different languages thanks to the work of 170 volunteers and freelancers, as well as journalists with (foreign) press cards and 12 people employed on a part-time basis. “The radio does not have enough money to hire a technician, this work is done on a voluntary basis, by its supporters,” explained Lisa McLean, managing director of Ara City Radio, a weekday English language station on the same frequency, which she describes as “the economic engine of Radio Ara”. Ara City Radio’s parent company, City Radio Productions, was bought by Alter Echos, the limited liability company that ran Radio Ara earlier in the year when advertising revenues dried up.
According to McLean, Radio Ara has been self-funded for many years, receiving just Œuvre funding for its multilingual Salam programme produced for asylum seekers. Last year, Radio Ara received a one-off €80,000 emergency payment to fund a full-time role equivalent to coordinate projects and carry out administrative tasks. Meanwhile, Ara City Radio continues to struggle to find advertisers for its segment.
On 8 July, the government approved a bill shaking up the way media is subsidised in Luxembourg. While previously publishers received a proportion of the state aid package that linked to the number of pages they printed, the new law provides aid for editorial content and innovation, allotting an annual subsidy of €30,000 per full-time accredited professional journalist under contract. The innovation aid includes a flat-rate amount of €200,000.
External photo shows the Radio Ara studios in Luxembourg City. Photo: Maison Moderne/archives
“We would have to change our way of working [to be eligible]. If we did, what would we do with the person we employed for admin and project work?” McLean said, adding: “It’s truly going to shut us down. It’s not fit for purpose for who we are.”
McLean said the station would like specific community radio support similar to the kinds of subsidies in other European countries, to cover critical infrastructure costs and other roles.
“The problem is the generation who started it is of an age where they need to hand it over to someone else and we really need that infrastructure there to let the rest flourish. It can’t be a passion project forever,” she said.
“It will get desperate very quickly”
According to the 2018-2019 Media Pluralism Monitor report, there was a medium risk to access for community radio because of the lack of “specific provisions granting legal recognition to community media as a distinct group”. At the same time, the grants offered have no legal basis and do not meet the burgeoning financial needs of such platforms.
McLean said the station planned to “keep dialogue going” with the media commission responsible for drafting the law. The station has also met with the integration ministry, because of the multicultural nature of its programming, to find other funding revenues. “I’m trying all angles. It will get desperate very quickly,” said McLean.