The PacificAus TV initiative launched this week highlights the inadequacy of the Morrison’s Government’s approach to soft power in the region.
The details of this $17.1m three year initiative come 18 months after Scott Morrison first announced it and six years after the Government’s decision to undermine Australia’s voice in the Pacific by axing the $200m ten year Australia Network contract.
The lukewarm reception for the announcement shows that this is too little, too late. More needs to be done to rebuild Australia’s media presence in an increasingly contested region.
Announced only two weeks after the Department claimed the details were ‘commercial in confidence’ we now finally know which Australian television programs will be supplied to Pacific broadcasters under PacificAus TV.
But the fact remains that it does nothing to develop Pacific journalism, content or broadcasting capabilities and is no replacement for properly-funded international broadcasting.
While the Morrison Government has been cutting the ABC and diminishing Australia’s soft power, China has been making significant investments in its global media footprint and growing its reach and influence in the region.
The ABC is Australia’s national and international broadcaster, and is underutilised in the region as a result of successive Liberal National Government budget cuts. These cuts forced the cessation of shortwave radio and cuts to ABC international media services, that have seen China move in on.
The recent ABC Submission on strengthening Australia’s relationship with countries in the Pacific Region (April 2020) sets out a host of ways in which, with greater resourcing, the ABC’s public diplomacy role could be strengthened.
If Morrison wants to demonstrate his commitment to the Pacific, he must bolster the ABC – which is massively underfunded compared to its foreign counterparts – and he cannot ignore Pacific voices.
Everybody needs good neighbours, and it is well past time that Australia stepped up its efforts in the Pacific.