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China alert: ABC wants to revive Pacific service

ABC chief David Anderson says Pacific countries are concerned about Chinese media content (Adriane Reardon)
ABC chief David Anderson says Pacific countries are concerned about Chinese media content (Adriane Reardon)

| Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Edited extracts

CANBERRA - The managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation says Pacific public broadcasters have raised concerns about Chinese government pressure to carry state-controlled news content.

As China increases its influence in the region, David Anderson told a Senate committee on Tuesday the ABC is planning to expand its operations in the Pacific and play a greater ‘soft diplomacy’ role.

"For the ABC to have an expanded presence is important, particularly with concerns over the Chinese government," Anderson told the committee.

He said the ABC has been working with public broadcasters in the region through a partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

"The single biggest piece of information that comes back to us from the public broadcasters is concern over the pressure the Chinese government put on them to carry content," he said.

Several media experts have noticed an increase in Chinese media content in the Pacific, coinciding with a gradual decline in Australian output.

The ABC previously broadcast news bulletins to 46 nations including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea through the DFAT-funded Australia Network.

The service was closed in 2014 after budget cuts but retained an international TV service, ABC Australia.

The ABC has continued to broadcast to the Pacific but at a smaller scale.

The Australia Network was created to facilitate ‘soft diplomacy’ and improve understanding of Australia.

But it was criticised by government figures, including former foreign minister Julie Bishop, who questioned whether it was effectively promoting Australia's interests.

When the ABC switched off its shortwave radio transmissions to the Pacific in 2017, the frequencies were gradually taken over by China Radio International, China’s state-owned overseas broadcaster.

During the same year, president Xi Jinping expanded the state-owned China Global Television Network and urged it to "make the voice of China heard.

"The relationship between China and the rest of the world is undergoing historic changes," Xi said at the time.

"China needs to know better about the world and the world needs to know better about China."

An Australian National University study found that between August 2016 and September 2020, Chinese ambassadors published 92 articles in newspapers in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.

"All were clearly labelled as authored by the Chinese ambassador or provided by the Chinese embassy," the report said.

It said that competition was intensifying between China and the Pacific’s traditional partners such as USA and Australia, and this included broadcast communications.

Anderson spoke of the importance of expanding the ABC’s broadcast presence and said it has asked the federal government for an additional $12 million to support this.


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John Greenshields

Maybe some Pacific good news for a change?
If the ABC and DFAT are serious, bring back Radio Australia's shortwave service.
That will inform the 90% of Pacific islanders who live outside the reach of urban FM radio and TV.
Shane McLeod’s excellent Interpreter article explains it well:

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