Australia is yet to decide what commercial television programs it will send to Pacific broadcasters a year after the government announced a $17 million deal.
Pacific television viewers are yet to see any Australian shows a year after the Morrison government announced a $17 million deal to share commercial content.
To the surprise of some Pacific broadcasters, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the plan to export 1,000 hours of top-rating Australian content a year to the region in November last year as part of a soft power push.
Free TV, which represents Australian commercial channels, was tasked with negotiating with Pacific broadcasters on the types of programs to be made available.
Twelve months later, Free TV is yet to begin discussions with Pacific stations, a Communications Department spokesperson revealed.
“Free TV will soon commence work to consult with Pacific broadcasters that will inform a selection of Australian content that is suitable for each Pacific broadcaster,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The government now expects the first Australian shows to air under the deal next year, but would not say which month.
Free TV chief executive Bridget Fair defended its progress.
“We are well advanced in planning for the Pacific TV project,” Ms Fair said in a statement.
“We expect to commence providing content to our Pacific partners in 2020, but we are not in a position to provide further details of the project at this time.”
In February, the Communications Department said the full-suite of programs would be on offer, ranging from drama, documentary and reality television shows such as The Bachelor.
Jemima Garrett, co-convenor of the Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific, urged the government to pursue more innovative approaches to building connections, rather than an “old-style” strategy of sending existing programs created for Australian audiences.
“Reruns of Love Island or Border Security are not going to help Australia’s standing in the region in the same way that a more interesting project could,” Ms Garrett told SBS News.
Ms Garrett, a former ABC Pacific correspondent, said Australia has had a “tin ear” and any new broadcasting deals should focus on collaboration.
Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific is lobbying the government to invest in a broader, long term strategy of partnering with local media to produce original content.
“Then Australians will see a new range of really exciting, interesting stories that we’re not getting to hear at the moment because we just haven’t got enough of a media presence in the region and we’re not listening to the people of the region who have got a lot to offer us,” Ms Garrett said.
Otherwise, Australia risks losing more ground to China which is increasing its media presence in the area, Ms Garrett warned.
While Chinese government media agency Xinhua has a correspondent based in Fiji’s capital Suva, there is no Australian reporter there.
“For Australia, the closest neighbour to the Pacific, not to have a voice of any significance is a terrible oversight,” Ms Garrett said.
Acting editor of the Auckland-based Pacific Journalism Review, Philip Cass, said several New Zealand shows had proved popular in Polynesia and the Central Pacific, but he doubted Australian shows would be as relevant.
“Given the size of the Pacific diaspora in New Zealand, and the close links and travel with the home countries, there is a strong familiarity with New Zealand drama and news in the islands,” Mr Cass told SBS News.
“Shows like Shortland Street have been popular because of the Pasifika and Maori characters and have at times been a way for people to discuss culturally sensitive issues through story lines.”
International Development and the Pacific Minister Alex Hawke referred questions to the department which did not respond to questions about longer-term plans to support media in the Pacific.