Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company – the most democratic station in the country?

As the presenter reads news items coming in from Shetland to Japan and Ecuador, I realise there's no heirarchy.

By Antonia Quirke

It’s 8am on the island of Bressay and the news on 18 April is of the earthquake in Ecuador; then a report on today’s fish landings across the Shetland area (1,800 boxes), during which several of the boats are named (the Opportune, the Venture); then on to the evacuation of 250,000 people in Japan amid fears of further tremors after events in Kyushu. Immediately it strikes you: the complete absence of a global/local hierarchy. None of that “in further news” tone.

Is the Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company (SIBC) the most democratic independent station in the country? Its music is programmed this way, too. International bands are played in amongst local groups: it begins to sound normal that Major Lazer share the same 30-minute tranche as Toxic Flames, a group of five 17-year-olds from Lerwick who have been writing and recording themselves since primary school. Followed by Coldplay, and then a few spot commercials (“The piano tuner, Malcolm Smith, is on Shetland”).

When I contact the station cheering this ecumenical melding of planetary and provincial headlines, and asking for information on the various broadcasters (any voices we hear vary), the reply is typically brisk: “Presenters irrelevant.” My reference to “headlines” was frowned on, too. “It’s not headlines. These are full stories. Anything more is waffle.” Right on.

So: no waffle, for 168 hours a week, for the past 28 years, to an audience of up to 70 per cent of the islands, sea lanes and off-shore oilfields. But also (like an increasing number of local stations online) across the world: the ears of people (from 45 other countries, in the case of SIBC) completely ravenous for talk of the Lerwick Ladies Lifeboat Guild’s annual coffee morning. I confess I tuned in originally to hear this sort of thing, lying there one night in February, begging for the relatively comforting news of power cuts in Channerwick (always ­“resolved fairly quickly”) and the Shetland Distillery Company’s new Up Helly Aa Shetland Reel gin. But the station resisted my sentimental tourism. It never quite allows the listener to wallow. It says: there is no hiding from a whole universe of uncoordinated goings-on, so listen.

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This article appears in the 20 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Shakespeare 400 years Iater