New opportunities for Australian Broadcasting collaborations with the Pacific!

New opportunities for Australian Broadcasting collaborations with the Pacific! Monday 16 July 2018 University of Queensland
By Jemima Garrett

If you – or anyone you know – would like to make a submission to the Review of Australian Broadcasting in the Asia Pacific, it is taking submissions until Friday 3 August at https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/review-australian-broadcasting-services-asia-pacific

Come and find out about the state of Asia Pacific broadcasting and how you can get involved it is future.
The Australian government is currently conducting a review of Australian broadcasting in the Asia Pacific and it wants submissions from PNG and the region as well as from Australia.
It has wide terms of reference so has left the way open to hear what the audience really wants from Australian broadcasting.
Of all the countries the ABC reaches with its overseas service, PNG is the most important and the most difficult. The difficulty lies not in politics in Canberra or Port Moresby but in finding technology that can cope with the terrain.
Internet connectivity and social media is growing fast but is still not affordable, or even reliable or accessible for many. Affordable data download for audio and video is even further off.
Radio is still the best way to reach people with news and debate, but the standard method – good quality FM radio – does not penetrate hills or mountains and only reaches a maximum of around 70 kilometres from the transmitter.
It is good for cities or towns but not for the majority of people who live in rural areas. FM transmitters, like mobile phone towers, are easily blown over in cyclones.
Shortwave radio does not have the high-fidelity sound of FM but it has the enormous advantage of being unaffected by topography.
It reaches into the remotest of communities and can be picked up on low-cost receivers, powered by batteries, solar-power or simply with a wind-up handle. (Listen to some ABC shortwave from 2012 here).
In January 2017 the ABC followed-up the savage cuts it made to Radio Australia in 2014 by axing all its shortwave services to the region.
While the 2014 cuts were mainly as a result of the government decision to cancel the 10-year $220 million contract for Australia network television, the 2017 decision to axe shortwave was entirely the ABC’s own, as were decisions to close down FM transmitters in countries in the north and eastern Pacific.
The decision to cut shortwave left people in sensitive areas around the PNG LNG site and in other Highlands sites, on Bougainville, in the islands, the Sepik, Western Province and many other rural areas without the ABC service they were used to relying on.
In the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this year some communities waited weeks for information that could have come to them over shortwave had the ABC not ended its service.
PNG has fared better than any from the cuts to the ABC’s Pacific service. Since 2014 there have been two new ABC FM stations, in Mt Hagen and Goroka, with another one on the way in Bougainville. But it is no use having transmitters if programs are not made in the language listeners speak or with their interests in mind.
In 2014, most of the ABC Tok Pisin staff were sacked, leaving just two heroic journalists, Sam Seke and Caroline Tiriman, to produce the only program which is left.
All Radio Australia’s English language program-makers, other than those working in the news division, were also sacked in 2014 leaving Pacific Beat and its Weekend Review program as the only shows on Radio Australia that were not uncontextualised programs made for local consumption in Australia.
Since then the ABC took the laudable initiative of appointing its first even Pasifika Australian to present Pacific Mornings, a new English-language program for the Pacific. Unfortunately, it failed to staff the program adequately so before it was a year old it has had its hours cut back.
Perhaps more worrying these cuts have done to the debate on important regional issues.
The ABC used to be the only broadcaster that reached every sub-region of the Pacific with a high-quality signal. How can the citizens the Pacific Islands Forum be part of a regional debate if they have no common platform and are unable to be part of one conversation?
The countries that do not receive ABC radio now include Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
That brings us back to the confluence of events that makes this a good moment to propose a new model of broadcasting to the Pacific- one that would be a real partnership with the region and offer a range of specialist programs made for and by Pacific audiences.
While the ABC and the department of Foreign Affairs were looking the other way China’s state-owned media has taken hold of 10 former Radio Australia frequencies bringing the defence establishment behind proposals to revitalise Asia Pacific broadcasting.
It is clear too that the ABC has been marching in the opposite direction to other international broadcasters. Japan’s NHK, Radio New Zealand and the BBC World Service are all expanding rapidly.
In fact, if the ABC were to receive a similar funding boost to that received recently by the BBC World service (proportional to population) it would amount to more than $50 million a year.
This Review is a great opportunity to propose a new model of significantly-upgraded ABC broadcasting to the Pacific – hopefully one that would be a real partnership with the region and offer a range of specialist programs made for Pacific audiences. This could include co-pros and jobs for Pacific journalists and creatives, greater involvement of Pasifika communities in ABC broadcasting and more.

The Review wants to hear from people and organisations across the region as well as in Australia.

It is time to think big. Come and find out about the state of Asia Pacific broadcasting and how you can get involved it is future.

Please share details of this event with friends and colleagues who may be interested.

When: 9am-11am Monday 16th July 2018

Speakers
Tess Newton Cain – Principal of TNC Consulting
Sean Dorney – former ABC PNG & Pacific Correspondent
Jemima Garrett – former ABC Pacific Correspondent/Pacific Economic and Business reporter

Where: Level 4 Boardroom
Building 20
University of Queensland
St Lucia

Please RSVP for numbers

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