ABC’s shortwave cutback ‘weakens thin link’ for Pacific, says PMC

Australian broadcasting cutbacks "sorry loss to people and cultures" in the Pacific. Image: ABC Pacific Beat

By Leilani Sitagata of Pacific Media Watch

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s cutback in services to the Asia-Pacific region has “weakened the thin link” that many parts of the region have with the “outside world”, says the Pacific Media Centre.

In a public submission to the government review of broadcasting to the region, the PMC said that the situation had impelled Radio New Zealand to “stretch their resources to do more, to ‘make up’ for what has been removed”.

The ABC switched off shortwave services to the region in 2017.

READ MORE: China takes over Radio Australia frequencies

Calling for the ABC to restore services, the PMC said “Australian broadcasting from the South Pacific is a sorry loss to people and cultures – as we know them well from the accumulation of studies and from our own media production exercises at this centre”.

The PMC at Auckland University of Technology publishes the independent Asia Pacific Report, Pacific Media Watch freedom monitoring service, Pacific Journalism Review and other publications.

AUT’s radio major coordinator in the School of Communication Studies, Dr Matt Mollgaard, stresses the importance of broadcasting services from countries such as Australia and New Zealand to the South Pacific.

“[Broadcasters] help to strengthen local media outlets in the Islands, further enhancing democratic developments in the region,” Dr Mollgaard said in his PJR research paper cited by the PMC submission.

Media freedom
He said broadcasting services like RNZ Pacific and Radio Australia were prime examples of upholding media freedom and encouraging democratic life.

The PMC submission was prepared by director Professor David Robie and centre research associate and PJR editorial board member Dr Lee Duffield.

Restoration of Radio Australia services and other ABC services that may be made accessible in the South Pacific region, would be “highly positive”, said the submission.

“It would be most widely welcomed in the island countries, valued, and made good use of as in the past, with assuredly benefits to the originating media service and to Australian interests.”

The review is looking at the reach of Australia’s media in the Asia-Pacific region and if shortwave radio has become an outdated technology.

The submission period closed last Friday and the review of Australian broadcasting services is currently underway.

Public submissions have been overwhelmingly in favour of restoration of services.

‘Tok Pisin broadcasts’
In one public submission published by Asia Pacific Report, development worker Elizabeth Cox, who has 40 years of experience of living and working in Papua New Guinea, appealed for the return of a “revitalised Radio Australia”.

“Bring back Radio Australia. Ensure it reaches all rural areas,” she said.

“Provide Tok Pisin broadcasts. This is one of the best forms of aid you can give PNG.”

“A revitalised Radio Australia will give the PNG and other international audiences a chance to shape content and direction – it can be linked to social media and inform and lift the quality of much of the local political conversation,” she said.

“The new Radio Australia should be a global friend and ally, not a coloniser or converter. It should encourage debate, conversation and support critical, independent and objective opinion.”

The Vanuatu Daily Post submission calling for restoration of services said broadcast communications were an essential projection of soft power.

“The lack of access to the eyes and ears—and therefore the hearts and minds—of Pacific islanders works to the detriment of Australian interests,” the newspaper said.

“It also works against the interest of Pacific nations.”

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