Vatican radio, facing shutdown, agrees to cut back transmissions

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Vatican Radio, threatened with an imminent shutdown by the Italian government over health concerns, said it will cut back some transmissions next week.

The decision was announced Monday, one day before Environment Minister Willer Bordon was to announce whether the broadcaster meets government standards for electromagnetic emissions. If results show emissions exceed Italian radiation standards, Bordon has said he is prepared to order the electric company to pull the plug the following day.

Residents near the station's transmitter in the town of Santa Maria di Galeria near Rome fear some leukemia cases may be linked to electromagnetic emissions.

An Italian prosecutor, spurred on by public concern, has charged three Vatican officials with damaging the environment. They are scheduled to go on trial in the fall.

Vatican Radio beams the pope's words around the world from a forest of antennas erected 50 years ago in a sparsely populated area. Now some 100,000 people live in the nearby suburbs.

Vatican Radio said it will cut its transmission time on medium wave (AM) by half to 7 hours as of April 16 _ the day after Easter _ in what officials called a ``goodwill gesture.''

The pope delivers his traditional Easter message on April 15 as well as good wishes in 60 languages. Broadcasts on short wave will continue as usual.

``It is neither a surrender nor a definitive solution,'' said programming director, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. ``We are seeking to avoid a clash.''

The radio said it wants to satisfy Italian concerns, but that the question should be handled by an Italian-Vatican commission.

Prosecutors say Vatican Radio violates the strict standards Italy adopted in 1998 on electromagnetic fields emitted by radio stations and telephone transmitters.

The Vatican insists the transmissions are in line with less strict international standards and says its officials are shielded from Italian law under a 1929 pact that established Vatican City as an independent city-state.