Get the ABC back broadcasting to PNG: my words to the Oz govt
We are Dying One by One

Here’s how YOU can help revive ABC services to PNG

JEMIMA GARRETT*

Jemima Garrett
Jemima Garrett - "Radio is still the best way to reach people with news and debate. Let's rebuild Australian broadcasting in the region on a new partnership model"

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 garrett.jemima@gmail.com 0408 163 226
Sean Dorney sean_dorney@hotmail.com 0409 468 559
Sue Ahearn srahearn@hotmail.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.

Important note

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

First name
Last name
Name for publication
Organisation (if any)
Telephone number
Postal address
Email (if any)
Can your submission can be made public? YES/NO

Submissions can be sent to:

Email -

asiapacificmediareview@communications.gov.au

By post (snail mail) -

The Director, National and Community Broadcasting,
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601
Australia

* Jemima is a former ABC Pacific correspondent and Radio Australia Pacific economic and business reporter

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

I wonder how much of the litany of failures by the ABC in the Pacific can be attributed to budget cuts and pressure from politics Jeremy.

A similar thing seems to have happened to our foreign aid contributions. When put under pressure to cut spending and toe the current political line organisations like the ABC and DFAT would be inclined to start their cuts with roles they gauge not to be of special interest to the politicians. In other words they make cuts to areas that are least likely to cause criticism.

I can't really think of an alternative to the ABC for such important work. There is no way you would want to let commercial interests near it, we've seen what sort of garbage they peddle already.

The ABC really needs to be de-politicised and left to do its job.

Jeremy Smythe

Clearly, the ABC is not the organisation to run any form of media input to the Pacific.

They cancelled the shortwave service of Radio Australia (to save a measly $2.0m), they closed their own International Department, they caused the historical shortwave transmitter site at Shepparton to be closed and now to be sold for future housing development, they have no full-time news correspondent in the Pacific (apart from PNG), they have resigned from international professional broadcasting organizations in the Asia-Pacific (e.g. the ABU, of which they were a founder member) and they do not broadcast any programme in Australia in any language except English.

So, why should they be rewarded with money to run anything in the Pacific? They deserve nothing.

Yes, Australia should be involved in media development and the projection of Australia's interests via radio/TV into the Asia-Pacific, but not through the ABC. They have shown themselves to be not interested and, quite frankly, incompetent.

Time to let modern thinkers have a go, not the boring and outdated troglodytes of the past living in their ABC ivory tower on the banks of the Yarra River in chilly Melbourne.

They have no idea of what is happening in the modern world of Asia and the Pacific. Have any PNG Attitude writers actually listened to "Pacific Beat"?

William Dunlop

The word we use in Ireland to describe gross stupidity is 'edjits' - a very objective description in the case of the decision makers that created the demise of our Radio Australia.

One of my first purchases on my posting to Kundiawa in 1969 was an Zenith Trans Oceanic American made shortwave set from Alan Atkins' store in Kundiawa at the then cost of $300 - a not inconsiderable amount of money in those days.

Without this radio my awareness of what was happening in the world would have been severely restricted.

No doubt caused by Auntie's bean counters exercising their misplaced right's to be tail wagging the dog $ slashers of the ABC.

I need add no more comments as they have been well covered by other correspondents.

Chris Overland

I have now made a submission as follows:
___________

"I served as a Patrol Officer in then the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea between 1969 and 1974. During that time I undertook extensive patrolling in some of the most remote parts of the country and lived in a number of very isolated places for extended periods including Baimuru and Kikori in the Gulf Province, Koroba and Kagua in Hela Province and Popondetta and Kokoda in Oro Province.

In those days, which long predated TV, mobile phones and the internet, communication with the outside world was severely restricted. As a consequence, there was an almost total reliance upon radio to maintain contact with what was happening in the wider world.

One of my first purchases in PNG was a short wave transistor radio. This radio was a source of both information and entertainment for me. In those days it was possible to tune into what were the “big 3” short wave radio stations, being the Voice of America, the BBC World Service and, of course, Radio Australia. The latter was the station to which I tuned the radio most of the time.

Radios were then very scarce outside of the main centres or a government Patrol Post. The administration of the time was therefore encouraging the indigenous people to purchase them and the local ABC radio stations were broadcasting programs in the two main common languages of Motu (Papua) and Pidgin (New Guinea), as well as in English.

It would be fair to say that the acquisition of a radio in a remote village was a very big deal for the people living there. They were avid listeners and would gather round the radio to hear the news as well as enjoy music programs, especially those that included local musicians who were then beginning to write and perform their own distinctive style of music.

Radio Australia was also a very popular choice for listening. The villagers who could speak English would listen to news and current affairs programs and then give their fellow villagers a digested version in their own language. For most people living in remote and rural PNG the short wave radio was literally the only way in which they could gain contact with the outside world.

Now, of course, things have greatly changed in PNG. The use of mobile phones is widespread, the internet is available in the major towns and both radio and TV stations operate across the country. Papua New Guineans are clearly now more connected with the outside world and each other than ever before.

On the face of it, one therefore could easily imagine that short wave radio is now an old and irrelevant technology. This would be an understandable but entirely erroneous assumption.

While the major centres certainly have access to the modern communication technologies, this is not the case for much of remote and rural PNG.

It is hard for a person not familiar with PNG to understand just how incredibly difficult it is to move around the country. Much of the terrain is extremely mountainous, while other parts like the Gulf of Papua or the Sepik delta are vast swamp lands through which flow innumerable rivers and creeks. The islands to the east and north of the mainland are, of course, separated by sometimes large distances. In short, those people living in rural and remote PNG remain very isolated and mostly reliant upon sometimes erratic air and sea transport to maintain physical contact with the wider world.

Such isolation includes the inability to access the more modern forms of communications which we are now used to in Australia. The notion that a mobile phone can serve as the sort of all purpose communication device that Australians take for granted is meaningless in places like Baimuru or Kokoda or Telefomin. In such circumstances, radio remains a vital means (and, very often, still the only means) by which to maintain contact with the wider world.

Of late, Australia has somewhat belatedly awoken to the activities of the Peoples Republic of China in the Pacific and Oceania. China is in the process of establishing itself as a major influence in this region and is willing to deploy large amounts of money to do so. Thus far at least, it appears to be having considerable success. Sadly, the leaders of PNG and other Pacific nations are deeply susceptible to the prospect of easy access to large amounts of money and have little apparent regard to the potential transaction costs involved.

While China is perfectly entitled to pursue its national interests in this way it remains, at bottom, an authoritarian regime. History strongly suggests that such regimes are never really a benign force in human affairs. For this reason alone, Australia can and should be deploying its resources to maintain and, hopefully, extend its influence in the region.

Fortunately, despite the apparent largesse of China, there is good evidence that many people in PNG remain cautious if not suspicious about their new best friend. They especially dislike the way in which Chinese business interests and workers are increasingly taking up residence in their country and assuming effective control of segments of the local economy. There is, in short, extensive unease about the PNG government’s decision to engage more closely with China through the Belt and Road initiative.

Because Australia was a largely benign colonial power in PNG and because there remain extensive business and personal links between the two countries, there is a large reservoir of goodwill in PNG directed towards Australia. This is especially true in the remote areas, where successive PNG governments have presided over a slow decline in both the level and quality of public health, education and other services.

Those who can remember, still speak kindly of the Australian administration which, whatever its faults, strove to provide these services in even the most remote parts of the country.

Given this general context, the decision in 2017 to cease short wave radio services into PNG and the wider Pacific and Oceania was a disastrous error in judgement. At one stroke, Australia lost its ability to communicate with and influence the thinking of a very large segment of the population in that region and simultaneously denied those people access to a well established and valued source of information and entertainment. The people who made this decision apparently did so without much regard to its likely impact on listeners, both short and long term. Presumably, the budget impact upon the ABC was the most important consideration.

This enquiry presents an opportunity for key decision makers to reconsider the various factors involved in this decision. It is an opportunity to give much greater weight to the geo-political, strategic and human factors involved than to the budgetary issues.

In short, it provides an opportunity to reverse an unwise and short sighted decision that has harmed Australia’s reputation in PNG and deprived it of a way to maintain contact with people whose goodwill and support is an important national asset. Thus, for entirely selfish reasons alone it makes sense to resume short wave broadcasting across PNG and the wider Pacific. The fact that it will bring information and entertainment to people who are often starved of both is simply an added, altruistic benefit.

It is not too fanciful to suppose that, one day, Australia will again have very good reason to rely upon the goodwill and support of our nearest northern neighbour. The re-establishment of short wave radio services is an easy, sustainable and relatively inexpensive way to do this and I urge the enquiry to recommend this course of action to the government and the ABC."

Hopefully, common sense will prevail."

Robert L Parer CMG MBE

The day I heard that Radio Australia was closing down I just could not believe it and thought it was the most insane,crazy decision ever made by Canberra.

All the billions spent in gaining respect in Asia and the South Pacific had just gone down the drain. Madness to the nth degree.

China must be so thrilled. I remember in the 1950s the only radio stations we could pick up at Aitape in West Sepik was Radio Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea with good music and the Voice of America with US propaganda and then, at some stage, Radio Australia increased its strength and a whole new life began as an amazing lot of interesting programs informed and entertained us for the next 60 years.

Gabriel Ramoi

I have adjusted to the loss of ABC shortwave by tuning into Radio New Zealand International to balance what I am picking up daily from my small Chinese made transistor radio that seem to lock in very clearly to Radio China International.

I do miss listening to Radio Australia as I am unable to pick it up on the FM Band on the 300 km coastline between Wewak , Aitape and Vanimo right up to the PNG-Indonesia border at Wutung.

The airwaves between Vanimo and Wutung are dominated by Radio Republic Indonesia. The local stations Sandaun and Radio Wewak can only be heard within the town areas.

Through Radio New Zealand International I am able to listen to the BBC to balance what is coming out of Beijing.

I am also unable to pick up the Voice of America and all other Western radio stations on my Chinese made radio.

Like many others who do not live in Port Moresby, I have always listened to the PNG service of Radio Australia all my life for news of events inside PNG, the region and the world and would like to see Radio Australia shortwave be reintroduced.

The absence of an Australian perspective on events within our region as we once heard through shortwave is frightening as PNG seem to be targeted both by Indonesia and China through the airwaves.

For the former, the domination is cultural through Indonesian music and more recently its political spin on world events.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Note Jemima's comment - if you can't get through on the website just email your submission to them here:
asiapacificmediareview@communications.gov.au

I think the shortwave radio service is the most important aspect. Television is largely irrelevant in remote areas.

An independent shortwave service can select what it broadcasts. Experienced broadcasters will know to delete references to culturally sensitive material.

Barbara Short

Yes, I agree with Will Self.

If the ABC are willing to try to return to the good work that they used to do then they must know that the majority of people in PNG are not in favour of homosexuals getting married. They think is is absurd.

So if the ABC insists on pushing this homosexual propaganda then lets forget about them. Happy to leave it to the Chinese.

I have not listened to the ABC News for years as I got fed up with these young women, who had few clues about anything, asking each other for their views on the economic events. Utterly riduculous.

But the ABC still have some good programs and the recent Mystery Road series was excellent.

If they want to help PNG today I'm sure they could find some people who have a good working knowledge of PNG today who would be willing to help them to produce relevant material. Of course, there are plenty of PNG people who are also well-qualified to help them.

Will Self

Thank you KJ. I sent my submission to Jemima and Sue.

The address for Sean Dorney is not correct. It bounces back as undeliverable.

Here is my submission:

"Good afternoon,

"I am an expatriate in PNG. I have lived here for 30 years.

"I tried to send a small submission to this Inquiry, but of course one has to have an Australian phone number - which I do not. Seems strange that no-one outside the Australian telephone regions can make a submission to such an Inquiry - but there you are.

"So, my thoughts, for what they are worth are as follows:

"1. The ABC - particularly radio - was a trusted service into the Pacific region and played no small part in nation building. It was independent and high standard, informed and informative. The PNG and Pacific citizens knew and relied on the service.

"2. ABC radio and TV are tools of diplomacy displaying Australia to hundreds of millions of your neighbours whose views of your nation were formed by that service.

"3. All that changed as the ABC became a political loudhailer for every dingbat shallow and perverted interest group in the country.

"4. Here is a sample of what I have heard on my car radio over the last few years mid morning on ABC "lifestyle programs" - and I am not making this up:

"1. A revolting interview with a handicapped gay man explaining in nauseating detail that his life was changed after he was sodomised by a rent boy;

"2. An interview with a cook who wanted to eat human flesh - but settled for his wife's placenta after she gave birth;

"3. A religious program on witchcraft as accepted practice - this into a region plagued with sorcery killings and witch burnings;

"4. An interview on an "arts program" with a female lesbian "artiste" whose entire act consisted of walking on stage and pulling a handkerchief from her vagina.

"ABC TV is even worse.

"All this into conservative societies and hundreds of millions of people right on your doorstep. On the basis of the content served up by the ABC, they rightly hold you in contempt.

"These cultural offerings and many more like them, have completely isolated and alienated those who once faithfully followed the ABC.

"My father in law is a good example. Every day he would tune in to hear the news and daily programs. He no longer does so because he does not know what his wife, children or bubus will hear. Now he uses the BBC - as do many, many others.

"This perverted filth might pass for intellectual discourse in Australia but it does you no favours in Asia or the Pacific.

"So, until the ABC can reclaim some sort of authority, independence and act as an educative force, I am afraid that it is probably better that it keeps inside Australia - where the perverted, empty, vapid and vacuous content it exhibits is appreciated by its vapid, vacuous audience."
_________

I got through to Sean OK, Will. I'm checking to see where the glitch might be - KJ

Jemima Garrett

Barbara, Thanks for sharing it on the website -much appreciated.

The Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific will be putting in a submission to the Review and will be advocating for a service with many specialist programs. Best, Jemima.

Jemima Garrett

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

First name
Last name
Name for publication
Organisation (if any)
Telephone number
Postal address
Email (if any)
Can your submission can be made public? YES/NO

Submissions can be sent to:

Email -

asiapacificmediareview@communications.gov.au

By post (snail mail) -

The Director, National and Community Broadcasting,
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601
Australia

Barbara Short

I have put this on the East Sepik Forum on Facebook. Here is one comment...

"Thank you ABC. After being at home in Wewak/Yangoru for 7 months, I realised how desperate people were for the latest happenings around the Province.

"Somehow and thanks to mobile phone/texts and social media, they are able to survive but I feel more needs to be done in terms of 'education'.

"I'm talking about Health programs, Policing, School news and General News dissemination and community involvement.

"We certainly need to revive what we used to have, and move towards TV production possibly. I urge some of you journalists without jobs or those who have voluntarily retired themselves to get on board and make use of this opportunity."

Will Self

I tried to make a submission on the website. It will only accept submissions if you have an Australian phone number as far as I could see.

Curious that an Inquiry into ABC broadcasting into the Asia Pacific region will not accept opinions from that audience.
________

Thanks for the heads up, Will. If you post here or email me your submission, I'll make sure it gets there. And I'll also notify the Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific of this issue - KJ

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