There are questions being asked about the Australian government’s recent announcement of a multi-million dollar plan to fund Australian television content in the Pacific.
After first announcing assistance last November, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison provided more detail about the plan while on his historic visit to Fiji last week.
It would see the government partner with the commercial broadcast-body, Free TV, to provide 1000 hours of Australian-produced television content to Pacific broadcasters, over three years.
In a statement to Pacific Beat, a spokesperson for the Australian Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts said that the content would: “promote Australian values and cultural exchange through lifestyle programs, news, current affairs, children’s, drama and reality TV” and that the initiative also aimed to “balance the increasing regional media presence of other nations”.
But some are asking why the government has chosen to support Australian commercial content, instead of investing in locally-produced Pacific media.
Solomon Islands journalist Dorothy Wickham, who’s previously been a recipient of an Australian-government funded training program with the ABC, says she’s concerned that a lot of content made for an Australian audience might not be appropriate for one in the Pacific.
“I don’t think the Pacific needs that kind of television. We need good, balanced, fair, accurate information about important issues,” she told Pacific Beat.
Bruce Dover, a former head of the Australia Network, which was run by the ABC but funded by the Australian Foreign Affairs Department, is a spokesperson of the group Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific
He’s questioned how much consultation with Pacific communities went into the decision.
“Simply announcing that you are going to spend around $6 million a year, broadcasting or allowing Pacific broadcasters to transmit Australian programming without asking people what they want, does smack of white colonialism. Surely it should be the other way around … asking the Pacific people what they want, what they need first, and then how we can help them,” he said.
He is concerned that the Government is jumping the gun, having recently funded reviews into Australia’s Soft Power and its Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific, which are still being finalised.
In response to questions about what consultations had been held with Pacific communities prior to the government’s funding announcement, a spokesperson from the Department of Communications and the Arts told Pacific Beat that “Free TV has committed to conduct a study to develop a deeper appreciation of the types of Australian content that will resonate with local audiences”.
Free TV’s CEO Bridget Fair has told Pacific Beat that they are still in “early stages” of discussions with the Government on the scheme and are unable to provide any further comment.