I WAKE UP WITH Today. And I have since it was hosted by Steve Liebmann and Liz Hayes.
Don’t get me wrong. Sunrise is good. I have no complaint. It’s just that having let the Today crew into my house so many years ago, they are now part of the family. It is a simple question of tribal loyalty.
And so, having declared my interest, let me say that I now have a family tiff with Today which needs resolution. The Today Show is refusing to tell us the weather. And not just in relation to a smaller country town; but to a whole nation - a nation of seven million people.
One of the most loyal audiences for the Today Show is in Papua New Guinea. The show is broadcast into PNG not once, but twice: on the local TV station EMTV (which used to be owned by Channel 9) and on Imparja which airs in northern Australia.
For our PNG brothers and sisters, the Today Show helps set the scene of the Melbourne Cup, federal elections and the State of Origin. Indeed, it allows the Australian rhythm of life to pulsate in Port Moresby. For Australia, it is great public diplomacy.
But to what extent does the Today Show cater to PNG? Have you ever seen a piece on PNG?
PNG has just had the most extraordinary political year since Independence, culminating in an election which was a triumph for democracy, and the formation of the O’Neill Government. But did the Today Show once interview a PNG politician?
When Ryan Pini won a swimming gold medal at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games the streets were lined from Jackson airport back to Waigani. Did the Today Show tell that story?
And yet from Moresby to Lae, from Hagen to Goroka, the good citizens of PNG loyally begin their mornings by tuning into the Today Show.
It makes me wonder: has any program ever been so contemptuous of a section of its viewership?
So maybe the way to begin repairing this situation is for the Today Show to tell us what the weather is every morning in Port Moresby.
It shouldn’t be that hard. After all it’s pretty much the same every day: 31 degrees, steamy, with the possibility of storms.
If they told us about the weather in Port Moresby it might be possible one day to actually do the weather from Port Moresby, or even do an entire show from Port Moresby.
When I see my home town of Geelong come up on the weather map, it reminds me that we count, that Karl is speaking to me too. When the Today Show is broadcast from Geelong it is a moment of great local excitement and pride. We feel good about our identity.
The Today Show understands this which is why they do it.
But shouldn’t PNG count too? Isn’t Karl also speaking to them? Don’t they have the right to share in that local excitement?
In a country with hundreds of different language groups and ethnicities, PNG national identity is not to be taken for granted. Yet in order to embark on all the impressive and ambitious plans for nation building that the PNG government has, PNG needs all the national identity it can get. The Today Show really can help.
They can help Australia’s national interest as well.
PNG is our nearest neighbour. It is a country with a growing population that is already fifty percent bigger than New Zealand. Its economy continues to grow strongly. It is our second largest aid recipient; home to one of Australia’s largest diplomatic posts.
PNG is one of two countries that gained its independence from Australia. And it has seen some of Australia’s most iconic military engagements.
Whichever way you cut it, PNG is one of the most important bi-lateral relationships we have in the world. And its importance is growing. Yet this is a bilateral relationship which does not have the prominence that it deserves in our national discourse.
This is not an easy problem to solve and will require many different strategies at many different levels in order to succeed. But if the Today Show told us what the weather was in Port Moresby, at least its Australian viewership would know that there is a country to the north of Cape York.
At the end of the day this is mostly just an issue of plain respect. There is an audience in PNG which is watching the Today Show’s content, and then buying products from companies which are buying ads on the Today Show time slot.
The advertisers are paying good money because Papua New Guineans are watching. The least the Today Show can do is acknowledge the audience.
Hon Richard Marles MP is Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs