Inaugural Pacific Media Summit 2009

“Breaking Barriers – Access to Information”: Mark Scott, Session 6

Relationships and Role of Development Partners – Friends or Neo-Colonialists Pacific Partner, Pacific Friend: ABC International

I have taken the liberty of reworking this session title Relationships and Role of Development Partners – Friends or Neo-Colonialists to put a more positive construction on it – Pacific Partner, Pacific Friend: ABC International.

Because that’s how we see ourselves at the ABC. As friends. As partners. And I think that anyone who examines the ABC’s record in the Pacific over the seventy years we have been broadcasting would agree with that.

I can happily assure you that the ABC has no neo-colonialist agenda. Neo-colonialist implies an intention to set about reshaping what we encounter in our own image.

Rather, our belief is that each media organisation in the Pacific region needs to find its own path within the context of its own society.

That said, the ABC has certain values that it lives up to, Australia’s values and beliefs, and I’ll be talking about the principles that inform our work today.

I am honoured for many reasons to have been invited by PINA to the first Pacific Media Summit. History will be made during the course of this conference.

The invitation comes at a particularly good time for the ABC. Our International division has never been more focused on partnerships with the some 22 island nations of the Pacific.

Today I will be filling in some detail about our renewed effort in and enduring future commitment to the region.

And it seems fitting that as we contemplate the future we are able to reflect and celebrate the past as well – the anniversary, in two days time, of Vanuatu’s proclamation of independence and the inauguration of the Republic on July 30, 1980.

We must never take the enduring success of parliamentary democracy and its attendant rights and privileges for granted.

PINA’s invitation also means a lot to me because it is a further opportunity for me to listen and learn directly from you, the fellowship of Pacific broadcasters, print and online journalists, about the role you envisage for public interest media in your societies, and the contribution you are determined to make to civic life.

I want to set out clearly for you some of the principles behind the work of ABC International and its plans and long term vision.

I want to set out what kind of support we can provide for goals your media organisations have determined for themselves. It is just as important to the ABC that we understand this as it is to you, our partners.

The Necessity of Free Media

But I also want to let you know – every editor, every journalist, every broadcaster and blogger in this room – that the ABC stands behind your commitment and your aspirations to free and independent media throughout the Pacific.

With the Public Emergency Regulations having now been extended several times in Fiji, and the temporary suspension of democracy now in its third year, media censorship has continued.

Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Information, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni said in May “If I was given the choice, I’d leave (controls) there for the next five years”.

At the end of June Lieutenant Leweni said that the absence of politics from the national agenda had been “contributing positively to the peace and stability of the nation”.

This is what the people of Fiji are up against.

The notion that they cannot be trusted with information to make the right decisions about how they are to live and be governed. This may have often be the alibi of the autocrat but it’s no justification for censorship.

The experience around the world is that a free and independent media is a cornerstone in a society which demonstrates good governance in the interests of all its people.

It operates alongside a judiciary that should be incorruptible, law enforcement that is respected and trusted, political leaders who are accountable.

A free and functioning independent media, like sunlight, provides the best disinfectant for our political system – to keep a close eye on those who can become intoxicated by the personal opportunities on offer to those who hold positions of power.

It helps protect against cronyism and corruption – traits that emerge in societies that lack openness and transparency. The preface to the ABC’s Editorial Policies – which is both the rulebook for ABC journalism and the ethics that inform our work – states that “…the ABC is committed to fundamental democratic principles including the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, parliamentary democracy and equality of opportunity – it is through the prism of these values that the ABC regards the world.”

The ABC acts on behalf of the Australian people when it holds those in power to account. Its journalism contributes to transparency and accountability in public life.

The policies are there not just to guide our work, but to act as a standard the Australian people can hold the ABC to, and measure it against. Just as we demand accountability of others, the ABC is itself accountable.

So as Editor in Chief of the ABC, as an advocate of those values both in the ABC’s domestic and international services, I have a responsibility to the people of Fiji, where we have long broadcast, to promote those values.

And to refute the idea that outlawing freedom of speech in Fiji will produce more good than permitting it.

Right across the Pacific, audiences watch, listen to and engage online with the ABC’s international services.

Radio Australia has fourteen 24 hour FM stations in the Pacific and is also available by satellite, cable, short wave and streaming online. In December Radio Australia marks 70 years of broadcasting in the Pacific.

Australia Network television broadcasts to 44 nations in Asia and the Pacific.
And our media capacity building partnership business, ABC International Projects is working in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons, Vanuatu and across the Pacific with PACMAS.

Our services have earned the trust of the people of the Pacific because those services are fair and accurate, and can provide a more complete picture than news that has been subject to Government controls and censors.

In those nations where local media are either financially unable or have been constrained, the ABCs services come to matter even more. As they do in Fiji.

Which explains why, following the abrupt switch-off of the Radio Australia transmitters in Suva and Nadi, and the deportation of the ABC’s Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney, we received as a text message this cry of help from inside Fiji:

We are trying to listen to you online but are having difficulty. Please keep broadcasting. You are all we have.

We acknowledge that the restoration of democracy and freedom of information will be difficult, complex and unpredictable.

Yet open debate, and freedom of speech and information, while inconvenient to the ruling regime, are necessary to the people of Fiji and all of the Pacific.

They are necessary for the future health and prosperity of our nations. For the rights of our citizens. To create a climate where accountable democracy can flourish.

Free speech and the flow of information remain the only authentic ways through which citizens can make meaningful decisions about their future – to choose their own paths and their own solutions.

And the will of the people is best served by having the confidence to give them the right to express it – freely and democratically.

As the theme of this conference suggests, this is one barrier to information – without either legal basis or public consent – that must come down.

I want to publicly lend my support as well to the efforts of those journalists in Fiji who – despite the threats, the intimidation and the presence of the censors – have refused to be silenced.

Who have instead courageously continued to try and give their people the full story, upholding the principle of the public’s right to know. Who have insisted that the work goes on.

It cannot be easy having to fight the same battle every day to try and fulfil your duty to the nation and to the profession, and I applaud your dedication and your courage.

I acknowledge as well the importance of advocacy organisations such as PINA, the Pacific Media Forum, JAWS, and the International Federation of Journalists and other opponents of censorship and champions for media freedom.

Principles and Responsibilities of ABC International

The ABC Act of 1983 and its Charter states that ABC must “… transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs and television programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs.”

We achieve this through ABC International’s work in the region with Radio Australia, Australia Network, and International Projects.

Funded by AusAID, International Projects is currently involved in grassroots level projects partnering with public interest media in PNG, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Pacific generally through the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS).

The ABC is deploying highly experienced international broadcasters to work in the field on these projects.

Chris Greene, former South East Asian Editor for the BBC World Service leads our project in Papua New Guinea. Corelle Fergusson, former MD of Imparja television in Central Australia and a former executive with the Seven Network leads our work in the Solomons.

Francis Herman, former Chief Executive of Fiji Broadcasting leads our work here in partnership with the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation. Francis follows on from the outstanding contribution to this region from Jean Gabriel Manguy who continues to work with us as a governance consultant.

Sean Dorney has been reporting from the Pacific for over 30 years. He married into the Pacific and his children spent much of their young lives growing up in these islands. He even captained the PNG Rugby League national team.

Within this team alone, we have over a century’s worth of Pacific commitment and understanding of the region.

The ABC is also investing our best leadership in these endeavours.

Kim Dalton, Director of ABC Television is heading our partnership with Vietnam Television. Former media lawyer and privacy commissioner, Paul Chadwick, Director of ABC Editorial Policies has worked with Radio National Kampuchea is crafting their own editorial guidelines.

We are keen to share the benefits of the Australian public’s investment in public broadcasting over decades as we share insights into running credible and independent public interest media organisations.

And this partnership is certainly not one way. We are learning much that causes us to reflect on our own guidelines and practice.

While they have different sources of funding, Radio Australia and Australia Network each work to the same editorial principles, and under the same Charter and the same ABC Act, upholding the same editorial expectations for accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

They also share the largest editorial group covering the the Pacific – sixty journalists led by Sean Dorney in our Pacific coverage serving the region exclusively through the ABC Asia Pacific News Centre on Radio Australia, on Australia Network television and online.

What this all adds up to is a range of services out of Australia, through the ABC, that leads in its depth, range and commitment.

The ABC enjoys two great privileges – the financial assurance of public funding and the political security of editorial independence from Government. And with these privileges, come certain responsibilities.

Responsibilities as one of Australia’s longest serving public institutions.
Responsibilities as an international broadcaster.

And we have responsibilities as a citizen of the region: to the international community of public interest media in the Pacific, to promote and help develop capacity for this work to the journalistic community here and to the practice and values of journalism, as exemplified in the work of Radio Australia and Australia Network.

The ABC, through Radio Australia has been a long term presence in the Pacific – since 1939. Seventy years.

And what we’re looking at in 2009 is the long term future, the next seventy years.

We want to deepen the ABC’s relationship with the Pacific region.

To continue building and strengthening our services so that ABC International is the go-to place for Pacific news.

While we are expanding our services, I would like to assure you that ABC International is not intent on taking over or duplicating your work.

We respect the coverage already provided by local media services to the individual nations they serve.

But what we are able to offer uniquely to the people of the Pacific is a regional perspective, an avenue that connects people on a nation to nation basis.

A source both for a sense of what’s happening regionally, and for an understanding of the currents of thought running throughout the Pacific.

Now that might be an investigation into how traditional societies whose governance has been based on family and community are adapting to different standards expected by The World Bank and other regional aid donors.

Or it could be coverage of the latest developments in business and government, or the various national and local efforts in planning for the effects of climate change.

Programs like these – from the region and for the region – are delivered by Radio Australia and our international television service, Australia Network.

Radio Australia broadcasts several hours a day on Pacific affairs through Pacific Beat and In The Loop. Brendon Telfer leads our coverage of Pacific sport.

And we have been actively improving our Australia Network coverage to provide a stronger Pacific focus.

Last year we conducted audience feedback forums in Lae, Port Moresby, Honiara, Port Vila, Suva and Apia, to learn how Australia Network was regarded in the Pacific.

We found that Australia Network, available via cable and free to air television carriers, could be perceived principally as an Asian news service that happens to be available in the Pacific.

As a result of this feedback a new weekly program, Pacific Pulse, was created by Australia Network. Each week Pacific Pulse celebrates people who are making a difference in the region, who are helping shape a new Pacific through both their achievements and their aspirations.

And Pacific Pulse is presented through Pacific eyes. Tania Nugent from Papua New Guinea and Clement Paligaru from Fiji each week take us on a Pacific journey.

We want our coverage to be informed by this expertise – so we can bring the full range of stories – not just politics and policing, but the issues of development and sustainability, education and health, culture and indigenous heritage. Our family life, our traditional learning and also trade, business and that great common interest in the Pacific: sport.

We plan to extend Australia Network on free to air television in the Pacific, where transmission is available.

ABC International and Public Diplomacy

Radio Australia began during the Second World War, when radio was being used as used as an instrument of propaganda by governments in Europe and Japan.

Radio Australia was enlisted in Australia’s war effort to counter this propaganda, and came under the control of the Department of Information.

After the war control of Radio Australia – independent of Government – was given to the ABC.

Media independent of the State is one of the distinguishing features of democracies.

It was a critically important point to be made in a post-war world when democracy was under challenge. It remains a critically important point to be made today.

The ABC has made a strong contribution to Australia’s role in the Pacific not necessarily by representing the Australian Government’s views, but by sharing the values of the Australian people and the Australian way of life.

By living up to editorial values of fairness and independence.

By holding those in power to account. By fearless, fair and accurate reporting. By telling all sides of the story. By presenting the free expression and diversity of views that are central to democratic life.

Today the ABC’s Radio Australia, Australia Network and International Projects make a valuable contribution to Australia’s public diplomacy effort.

But there’s something more at work.

It is the very existence of the ABC – financially dependent on Government, yet editorially independent from Government – that says so much to our international friends, neighbours and partners about Australia’s democratic values.

Just as the work done by ABC International symbolises both Australia’s goodwill and its understanding of its responsibility to the region as a citizen of the region.

What we put to air on our networks illustrates how a modern democracy can operate.

Robust political debate and discussion around the issues of the day is how a society grows.

At the ABC, we see great opportunities ahead as we build on our traditions in international radio and television broadcasting, now supported by an expanding on-line presence.

And we are increasingly seeing growth for our services across the region, both in the Pacific and in Asia.

Australia Network competes favourably in reach compared with the BBC and CNN in India, because of the strength in our news services that comes from the region, for the region.

We look forward to expanding our services further in Asia and building partnerships that will make our offerings more accessible in the Pacific.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been in international broadcasting for a long time – the best part of three quarters of a century. We undertake this international work because it is part of what we are and what we do. Our commitment to all forms of international broadcasting is clear, long-standing and will be enduring. ABC International is a Pacific Partner and a Pacific Friend.

Close

We desire to extend our co-operative efforts.

I am very pleased to announce today the creation of an annual ABC Pacific Fellowship that will fund for up to a year a professional development attachment to Australia Network and Radio Australia that will allow a promising and emerging young or established media professional to work with us.

As part of that attachment one of our editorial team will partner with the Fellowship recipient and spend reciprocal time working in the Pacific nation from where the Fellowship recipient comes.

Details will be on the ABC International website soon.

Thank you for listening to me. I am delighted to be at PINA. I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.