Significance of Radio to the Communities Abroad

Author: Ambassador Alfred A. Zarb, Councillor V.O.M.

On behalf of the Council and Management of V.O.M. I would like to thank you for inviting me to address this Convention.

In December 1964 I was asked to serve in the setting up of the Permanent Mission of Malta to the United Nations in New York. It was for me an honour and a privilege to work with Ambassador Pardo, the first representative of Malta to the United Nations Organisation. Among the several experience that I gathered in those early years was that of working with the Maltese community. It is with a sense of nostalgia that I recall those monthly meetings with the leaders of the Maltese-American social clubs that eventually lead to the setting up of the "Committee for Maltese Unity".

In the eighties I was accredited to the Maghreb – Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. It was indeed a pleasure that every so often my interlocuteurs spoke of their childhood Maltese friends that frequented the same schools or lived in their neighbourhood. They recalled the skills and crafts for which the Maltese were known. The food they prepared and the expressions that still mark their presence, such as il-malti u xrieku, Malta hanina, hobýa u sardina.

As director for bilateral relations for more than a decade I have had the opportunity to meet our nationals in several countries. On official visits to Canada, Australia and New Zealand I met the members of our community in their homes or in the course of social activities.

My impression has been that our compatriots overseas are known to be hardworking, integrating well into the environment of their choosing – their home away from home. The pioneers among them have toiled for days on end to provide for their families. Their sons and daughters have made it to the highest positions of the land, be that in government, professions, religion, the arts.

With Independence the steady flow of migration of Maltese nationals started to dwindle coming to a complete halt. We have seen in recent times that the status of our co-nationals living abroad has improved. From the limits of freedom of return and movement we have come a long way. Dual citizenship has restored the rights to which every Maltese national is entitled. Even the words migrant and settlers have disappeared from our vernacular. You make up the Maltese Communities living abroad, you form part of the Maltese Diaspora.

It is our collective duty to ensure that the link that has developed over the years will not become too thin. In this day and age we are blessed with the advantages that the information technology can bring in helping us to maintain the contact and the flow of information. This is what we at V.O.M. are trying to do.

Voice of the Mediterranean was set up in 1988. It started as a regional station mainly covering events taking place in Malta. At the time we used the Deutsche Welle facilities that were installed in the mediterranean with some features about activities taking place in Malta. It used to be a great day whenever the lone letter came from our co-nationals living in Australia, U.K. or the U.S.A. telling us that they have managed to hear us. They wanted more, better transmission time.

In January 1996, the Deutsche Welle facilities were closed down and with it V.O.M. became silent. We sought and obtained permission to look for alternative ways to continue with our work. By June V.O.M. was back on the airwaves for two hours every day. Gradually we added the airtime using several languages to transmit our programmes overseas. On Sunday we introduced Valletta Calling – a magazine type programme that transmits in English, Maltese, Italian, French, German and, yes an hour in Japanese.

We made several attempts to reach our communities abroad using direct Short Wave transmission. In Australia we succeeded in having V.O.M. programmes transmitted on S.B.S. in Sydney and 3 Z.Z.Z. in Melbourne. We here salute both John Borg and Emanuel Brincat for their cooperation.

As from last year our programmes were introduced on the Internet. They are available in all languages, at any hour of the day, using four mirror sites in an effort to make them available in every corner of the world. We are still in an experimental phase and we hope to improve our output and programmes as we go along. Yet we are pleased to note that 24% of our listeners on the web hail from Australia, 14% from the U.K. with 12% in Canada.

In parallel with our broadcasting and webcasting we have been publishing a newsletter.

We are currently undergoing a review of our facilities. In view of our increased number of hours of transmissions, the several languages and the different operation we are carrying our a reorganisation with the aim of restructuring our resources to meet the challenges that we have set. Indeed we want to do more.

It is still our intention to introduce other languages particularly Spanish. We are desperately hoping to be able to transmit our programmes on F.M. to target areas. As a matter of fact we are currently negotiating with a U.K. operator to have a weekly programme that will serve listeners living in the greater London area. We hope that these negotiations will be successful and that the Maltese community will be able to enjoy our programmes. We will be looking for similar quality programmes in other strategic areas.

These operations will be the vehicles that will enable us to carry out our mission statement the principal objectives of which are intended to:

Promote Malta’s activities in the EuroMediterranean area as well as its regional and international policies.

Present listeners with information on current affairs through features covering the several opportunities that the island offers as well as the rich cultural heritage and unique history.

The third, which is of interest to this convention, maintain and foster contact with Maltese communities abroad, through programmes designed to bring to the successive generations of Maltese the characteristics and values of their country of origin.

I have heard speakers before me speaking about the significance of radio to the communities.

We are hoping to produce programmes that feature the several communities of Maltese abroad through which we will be able to promote and share the qualities and skills of our Diaspora along with features and reports from Malta.

Like many of the speakers before me our interest goes in the direction of the young generation of Maltese: the third and fourth generation of our compatriots, that they may be able to share our heritage and to become part of our future. We want them to feel proud of the culture, history and characteristics of their country of origin. We want them to be our promoters, our ambassadors if you will! We want them to share with their distant cousins in Malta who like them are aspiring to face the challenges of the millennium.

In this spirit we will be happy to involve them as well. Dr Borg this morning mentioned the Language and Culture group as well as the History Society. We would be happy to promote their activities in our programmes along with similar associations of Maltese in other parts of the world.

At V.O.M. we want to be more than a radio station. We want to attract the up and coming generations to work together in a world that is becoming smaller and yet more competitive. The future belongs to them whether they live in Malta or elsewhere. In this respect we are ready to work with other institutions in the organisation of activities intended to develop the twinning of experiences and qualities available among Maltese youth wherever they may be.

Twice a year young diplomats from the Mediterranean region meet in Malta to discuss Mediterranean affairs. In so doing they spend several days together that enable them to share their experiences. This is a EuroMed activity supported through European Union funds.

If we can do so much for our Mediterranean neighbours, I am sure you will agree with me that we can do as much, and possibly more, for our own.

V.O.M. is ready to participate, along with other institutions in Malta and abroad, in the drawing up and execution of a programme intended to develop intercultural links among the Maltese nationals.

In thanking you for enabling me to make this intervention I would like to express our interest in this Convention. We will be studying the recommendations that will result from your meeting with a view to identify areas in which we can offer our help.

On behalf of the Council and Management of V.O.M. we look forward to seeing you at the reception we are holding on Monday. It will be an occasion, as we say in Australia, to mix and mingle with our other guests, especially the V.O.M. producers and contributors involved in the elaboration of community programmes.

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