Plans to fix the state of broadcasting in Vanuatu
Despite millions of dollars being poured into it, Vanuatu's public broadcaster remains, by the government's own admission, hamstrung.
Along with plans for new management and to shed a third of the staff of Vanuatu's national broadcaster, the government is also looking to modernise the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation.
Despite millions of dollars of aid poured into the VBTC over the years, it is unable to provide adequate radio coverage for the outer islands, and even in areas close to the main centre.
By the government's own admission, the VBTC is hamstrung, and has not been able to move with the times, but it says it has the political will to make changes for the good.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
Just last week, worries were raised that some communities in Vanuatu could miss out on cyclone warnings due to transmission problems with the national broadcaster's Radio Vanuatu. Our correspondent, Hilaire Bule, says there's confirmation that Pentecost Island is not receiving transmissions from Radio Vanuatu, and people in Ambae and further North in the Banks and Torres island groups also have trouble getting the station. He says transmission problems with Radio Vanuatu have been ongoing for years, and it's not just the outer-islands that have issues.
HILAIRE BULE: In the Daily Post people from Efate, they are complaining about the reception of their national radio, and it's about three kilometres from the main radio station in Port Vila. It's dangerous because Vanuatu is now entering the cyclone season and people cannot receive the warning of the possible cyclone in the villages or in the communities.
In 2009, Japan, New Zealand and Australia poured millions into funding a project which allowed the VBTC to set up a new shortwave transmitter to provide a radio signal to all the Vanuatu islands. However, over the years since then, signals have failed, with some equipment now having major corrosion issues. Jean Gabriel Manguy, a private consultant who was involved in helping Radio Vanuatu improve its services back then, says it's been a pattern of millions of dollars invested into the company, going down the drain. He says that's partly due to a lack of maintenance and political interference.
JEAN-GABRIEL MANGUY: There has also been mismanagement, and in spite of a very significant aid project to help them, it hasn't helped the situation. It's disappointing to see once again there hasn't been any money allocated to maintaining transmitters. In other words, people in the rural areas, in the islands and in the remote areas, are being forgotten.
The government has set up a committee to review the VBTC, with plans to retire or make redundant about a third of the staff, and is looking for a new general manager to head the VBTC. The Vanuatu Media Association says the government needs to recruit the right person to steer the company forward, and it needs strong leadership from the top to bottom levels. It says it is perhaps a good idea for the government to down-size the company, however, the government restructured the VBTC in 1999, and some 16 years later, the same problems are happening again.
The Public Relations Officer for the Prime Minister's Office, Kierry Manassah, says the problems with the VBTC are perennial, and are partly due to a lack of political will from the national level, political interference, and people going into the company through the wrong channels.
KIERRY MANASSAH: A lot of those has caused a lot of problems for the organisation. The government still sees a lot of value in VBTC, it's like the bridge between the government and the people. And so the government still values it's contribution to the national conversations, and we still think that the government can do something about it.
Kierry Manassah also chairs the task-force that is looking at how the corporation can move from analog to digital programming, and he says there's a need to look at who from VBTC needs to go in light of new technology. He says they are currently looking for partners to help with the national digitisation of TV, and will look to these partners to also address radio transmission issues. Mr Manassah says depending on expressions of interest, there's the possibility that the government will contract out the management of the digital TV broadcast service to a private company. And in terms of fixing radio transmission issues, he says the government is considering switching to FM.
KIERRY MANASSAH: That's the way forward, a lot of those that are still there now are short-wave and medium wave transmitters, especially with the short-wave transmitters, those are quite old and it's very difficult to find spare parts and replacements. So a lot of those need to be overhauled.
Jean Gabriel Manguy says the government's committment to do something about broadcasting is welcomed and very encouraging. However, he says while in theory FM radio is a great idea, it's not really manageable.
JEAN-GABRIEL MANGUY: Instead of having one or two transmitters to manage, then you need probably 50 transmitters to manage. Not only do you have to manage them, but you have to have electricity to make them function. So there are technical issues there that limit the FM option.
Mr Manguy says new technologies need to be investigated, like perhaps making use of the substantial telephone network going across the country. Kierry Manassah says the government is not blind to the concerns and complaints about VBTC, but the taskforce is trying to address these issues, and ensure the VBTC is the national broadcaster that everybody expects.
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