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Morrison rewards his TV mates with a multi-million dollar hand out for Pacific broadcasting

The Morrison government has handed out a lucrative multi-million dollar contract to political mates without expertise or appropriate experience. It’s the Great Barrier Reef Foundation debacle all over again.

This time it’s $17.1 million dollars to Australia’s commercial TV stations (through FreeTV Australia) to send 1000 hours of Australian content each year to established media networks in the Pacific for the next three years.

“It is a very expensive taxpayer subsidy to Australia’s commercial television moguls in the lead up to a federal election,” said Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia Pacific (SABAP) spokesperson Bruce Dover, a former journalist and media executive with decades of experience in Australia and the region, in the public and private sectors.

“Does this policy really meet any of the needs of the South Pacific? Will episodes of ‘Home and Away’, given for free, change lives in the region?” Dover asked.

“Content produced by members of FreeTV Australia for Australian audiences is likely to be of little relevance to the people of the region,” Dover said. “Its bad policy, it smacks of white colonialism,” he said.

FreeTV Australia is a commercial industry body which does not include the ABC, SBS, National Indigenous Television (NITV) or community broadcasters. The government says it has no plans to initiate any other partnerships with other Australian media organisations.

“The announcement makes a mockery of recent government reviews of soft power and Australian broadcasting in the Asia Pacific, both of which are yet to report and make recommendations.” Dover said.

SABAP convenor Jemima Garrett, a journalist with 30 years’ experience in the Pacific said the deal is the opposite of what the Pacific is asking for.

In their submission to the reviews, people of the Pacific and their leaders made it clear they need expanded Australian broadcasting for quality public interest journalism and its vital role in disasters.

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas wrote to the Review of Australian Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific:

"My government hopes that as a result of this review the ABC is supported to begin anew the process of re-engaging with audiences across Vanuatu via shortwave (radio) services and other co-operative broadcasting endeavours. Radio Australia is one of the most tangible ways Australia communicates and connects with the many communities around Vanuatu’

Garrett said despite strong growth in mobile telephony, radio is still the main method of communication in the Pacific. “TV doesn’t reach the majority of the population in rural areas especially in PNG which has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world. Less than 13-percent of the population has access to power from the grid” she said.

“People in the Pacific have asked for tailored content that is relevant to them - not the same stories, news, dramas and sports that Australians are watching at home” she said.

If the Morrison government’s step-up in the Pacific is to be a success it must listen to the voice of the region rather than play domestic politics,’ Garrett said.

Dover noted the deal with FreeTV does not involve any capacity building, co-production or partnerships with the Pacific.

“It is a bit like Marie Antoinette’s proclamation of ‘let them eat cake’,” he said.

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