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 here until Friday 3 August. Background information, including on broadcast technology options is available from Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific. Members of this group include Jemima Garrett, Sean Dorney, Max Uechtritz, Tess Newton-Cain, Sue Ahearn, Peter Marks, Jioji Ravulo and others.
Sean , Sue and and Jemima are happy to help you prepare a submission to the Review if you need a helping hand. You can contact them here:
Jemima Garrett email@example.com 0408 163 226
Sean Dorney firstname.lastname@example.org 0409 468 559
Sue Ahearn email@example.com 0439 474 444
BRISBANE - Despite the antipathy of some members of Australia's Liberal and National parties to the ABC, a curious confluence of events has made possible the best opportunity since 2014 for revamping the ABC’s Asia Pacific broadcasting, including Papua New Guinea.
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.
Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai was so angry and fearful of the consequences that he wrote to a Senate Inquiry last year saying the loss of ABC shortwave ‘could cost many, many lives in the likelihood of another major natural disaster like Cyclone Pam in 2015’.
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.
Even in Ialibu, the prime minister Peter O’Neill’s electorate where you would expect people to be well-served, some people had no radio service, including from PNG’s own NBC. This is a common occurrence as NBC struggles to keep its transmitters operating. Even in an ideal world with all transmitters working NBC does not reach the whole country.
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.
Ironically, considering the antipathy of some in the LNP to the ABC, the independence of ABC broadcasting is an asset in an environment in which offsetting the tightly-controlled message of China’s state-run media is a key aim.
Politically, the ground may be fertile too. A wide variety of people and organisations in the region and Australia are keen to see services restored. The Labor Party’s shadow defence minister Richard Marles has been calling for more attention to the Pacific.
Tomorrow, Monday 9 July, foreign minister Julie Bishop will highlight her government’s partnerships with the region in a speech to the PNG and Pacific community in Logan near Brisbane.
What better way to showcase the sophisticated conversations taking place between Australians and the Pacific (out-of-sight of the media), than to rebuild Australian broadcasting in the region on a new partnership model.
That new model could include podcast and video funds for freelance contributions, jobs for Pacific journalists and creatives, and greater involvement of Australian-based PNG and Pacific communities, academics, aid agencies and other interested parties.
The Australian government's submission page is a little confusing but, in addition to completing a submission online, there are email and snail mail options too.
Along with the submission, each submitter needs answer the following questions
Name for publication
Organisation (if any)
Email (if any)
Can your submission can be made public? YES/NO
Submissions can be sent to:
By post (snail mail) -
The Director, National and Community Broadcasting,
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601
* Jemima is a former ABC Pacific correspondent and Radio Australia Pacific economic and business reporter