The Pacific

What Challenges Lie Ahead?

By:

Francis Herman


The birth of a growing number of privately owned radio stations in the Pacific is having an adverse effect on public service broadcasters. The major challenges for us are the same as those that face radio and television stations the world over, namely

  • to ensure that it is listened to by the maximum number of people to remain viable in a competitive environment
  • to ensure public service broadcasting (PSB) is not swallowed up in the great rush to meet the competition

Today's audience is a great deal more sophisticated and demanding than before. At the same time, dwindling government finances and competition from the growing number of private broadcasters has made it even more dif­ficult for public broadcast institutions. Unfortunately, too many public broad­casters are reluctant to accept change. They lack innovative ideas. There is too much bureaucracy; insufficient new programme concepts; fear of new technology. This archaic thinking, planning and management has a detri­mental effect on the financial viability of PSB.

There are, however, some public broadcasters who recognise the need to change, but need help

  • in understanding market forces and meeting competition
  • in maintaining expenditure and boosting revenue
  • in managing their limited resources
  • in organising an effective sales and marketing division
  • in new programming formats
  • in identifying and taking advantage of the range of available technology

 In short, they need to know how to work smarter.

How did Fiji address these challenges?

We decided we would compete head on with heavily commercial-style radio stations. We decided to make radio more personal, instead of appealing to mass audiences. And we never lost hope.

radio more personal, instead of appealing to mass audiences. And we never lost hope. 

For Fiji, PSB lies at the heart of instituting a culture in which peace, devel­opment and democracy work together for the common good. PSB also plays a pivotal role in promoting 'unity in diversity. So, with the assistance of the government, we set out to determine how to change a tired national broad­caster into a focussed, profit driven business which spent the government grant on providing an effective and efficient public service.

We recognised that as a public broadcaster, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) had taken on a myriad of tangible and intangible responibilities that a 'commercial' broadcaster does not have to consider. The trick was in seeing how to make money from those responsibilities that the 'commercial' broad­casters argued were unviable.

Then we looked at technology and staffing needs. Appropriate new technolo­gies like satellite, digital audio systems and the Internet were an expensive up-front investment, but heavily reduced our operating costs and improved efficiency. We also worked on retaining only the creative and productive staff; and recruited a mix of young experienced and inexperienced people with ideas and a feel for the audience.

Bold changes in programme formats and concepts evolved around allowing the audience more access and more interactions. We took radio out of the studios and into listeners' homes, offices and communities. We paid great attention to giving local content high priority. And we took steps to guaran­tee the independence of the Corporation from government interference as a means of returning listener and advertiser confidence in us.

Today, broadcasters in our region broadcast a respectable proportion of pub­lic service, cultural and development programmes. The questions we are ad­dressing are: How relevant are these programmes to the masses? Why have Pacific broadcasters not been attracted to the rich Pacific cultural heritage, the creative management of the traditional environment and other indicators of achievement?

Collectively, our goal is to provide broadcast programming that would be of the greatest possible value to the listening audience. We have proven that we can earn a respectable amount of advertising revenue from these programmes in the face of competition from 'commercial' broadcasters and other enter­tainment media, and yet still meet our public service broadcasting obliga­tions.

But it ca only be achieved through prudent and innovative management; a strong will to survive against the odds; developing an understanding of the needs of the listeners; incorporating new technology; and harnessing the creativity, fair and uniqueness of our pacific heritage.

 


Mr Francis Herman is Acting Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Public Service Broadcasts of the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd in Suva. Having worked in various capacities at several radio and television stations in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, he is closely associated with journalist and media associations in the Pacific.