Iconic Australian TV programs, including Neighbours, MasterChef, The Voice, and 60 Minutes will soon be accessible in Pacific countries on local free-to-air channels, as the Federal government steps up Australia’s engagement with its Pacific neighbours amidst China’s rising influence in the region.
Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji are the first of the seven countries to receive the screen content through the PacificAus TV initiative delivered by Free TV Australia.
Papua New Guinea’s National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and EMTV, and Fiji’s Mai TV will be able to broadcast the programs from the last week of May.
Over the coming months, PacificAus TV will roll out to other Pacific nations including Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Nauru.
Free TV Australia, the industry body that represents Australia’s commercial free-to-air TV networks including Nine Entertainment Co, Seven West Media, and Network Ten, is also in the process of finalising agreements for live matches and review shows from Australian sporting codes including netball, cricket, football, rugby league, and AFL.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the expansion of free Australian TV program options complements a range of initiatives to enhance Australia’s engagement in the Pacific.
“Having the opportunity to watch the same stories on our screens will only deepen the connection with our Pacific family,” Payne said in a joint statement with Ministers Paul Fletcher and Alex Hawke on May 25.
Assistant Defence Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke said the initiative is a “terrific demonstration of shared cultural ties and links between Australia and the Pacific.”
The $17.1 million PacificAus TV initiative funded by the “Amplifying Australia’s Voice in the Pacific” program announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year will provide Pacific partner broadcasters 1,000 hours of Australian television content each year over the next three years.
Bridget Fair, the CEO of Free TV Australia welcomed the opportunity to beam into Pacific islands more quality television programs that Australian audiences know and love.
“Through our Pacific partner broadcasters, PacificAus TV will offer the best of Australian drama, entertainment, children’s programming, sport, and lifestyle shows to viewers in our region,” he said in a statement on May 25.
PacificAus TV content will be supplied via distribution portal or satellite to Pacific Partner broadcasters, who will then incorporate the content into local broadcast services to meet their own audience and programming requirements.
Kora Nou, Managing Director, National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in PNG is excited about the new initiative and expecting more exchanges in the near future.
“While the initial arrangement will see us receive many popular Australian programs, we also look forward to sharing some of our local NBC content with our close Australian neighbours in the future,” he said.
China’s Increasing Propaganda Outreach
The initiative, aligning with the Federal government’s “Pacific Step Up” strategy, aims to increase Australian voices, and to promote the declining press freedom across the Pacific Island region, countering China’s aggressive media offerings to the Pacific nations.
Over the last decade, Beijing has been expanding its soft power in the Pacific region through growing foreign aid, trade, and diplomatic ties, as well as propaganda outreach.
A report submitted to the government in 2018 expressed concerns over the presence of China’s state-controlled media in the region. Examples quoted include:
China Central Television (CCTV) is available in English and Mandarin in the Pacific Islands through streaming, satellite, and rebroadcast on local cable or rebroadcast by local stations.
China Radio International (CRI ) broadcasts on shortwave and has English language FM stations across Asia and in Pacific nations including Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa. It also has a suite of online and digital services including the China Plus mobile app.
The Chinese government’s primary news agency, Xinhua, which has grown to over 180 foreign bureaus, provides coverage of every region on the world including Pacific Island countries.
An investigation by Nine’s 60 Minutes in 2019 revealed how the Beijing authority has been using large amounts of cash to buy control in Pacific island nations like Vanuatu, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, which have switched their diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in recent years.
Premier of the Solomons’ largest island Malaita, Daniel Suidani, revealed to the program that he was offered $1 million (AU$178,300) to accept the change of allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.
The 60 Minutes crew also received a threat of imprisonment and censorship from the authority of Kiribati when they tried to record an investigative program. It is believed that the paranoia around media crews in the country is tied up with the money being brought in by the Chinese authority.