Pacific Freedom Forum Calls For Reversal Of Shutdown Of AM Radio in French Polynesia

Pacific Freedom Forum
Rarotonga, Cook Islands

January 14, 2017

France must rethink its shutdown of AM radio broadcasting in Polynesia, says PFF, the Pacific Freedom Forum.

“People in the outer islands of French Polynesia are rightly complaining against the closure,” says PFF Chair Monica Miller.

“France must rethink its decision if it values the lives of all its citizens.”

Miller says that France is ignoring the safety of outer islanders who rely on a strong AM signal from Radio Polynésie Première for emergencies, especially during frequent cyclones.

French Polynesia has been hit by as many as five major cyclones in one season, back in the early 1980s.

“What excuse has France got, really, for shutting down the main source of information for the region’s second largest territory?” asks Miller.

“Surely the third largest economy in Europe can afford a few thousand for keeping all its citizens informed”, she says.

PFF is welcoming calls from the government of French Polynesia to reconsider the closure, and joins criticism from consumer association, Te Tia Ara:

"These decision makers - have they thought about these people living in harsh conditions, traveling by speed boat from island to island? Have they thought about our small scale fishermen going to sea, our workers in the transport sector? What about those who cultivate copra and who need to be reassured [of safe travel], have they thought of those people who do not want to be deprived of a bond [to the capital], to suffer in silence? Is it forgotten where isolation leads to? This decision is all the more serious because many of these inhabitants are only able to keep themselves informed with a small battery AM radio, with which authorities have invited these inhabitants to stay informed, to listen to the weather and take the necessary measures to avoid going to sea in case of a weather depression or cyclone and also to take care of themselves, to seek refuge when necessary. It is criminal to deprive them of the only means of staying informed. This relationship is vital, and so is the cohesion of our society and the security of these inhabitants." - Makalio Folituu, President Te Tia Ara

AM signals were shut down in December, with the state broadcaster adding five stations to a territorial network of 48 other FM stations.

“FM is vulnerable to disruption even in mild weather,” says Miller.

“By shutting down its AM signal, France is also betraying constitutional guarantees for press plurality,” she says.

French Polynesia joins a growing list of Pacific nations without long range radio broadcast capacity.

The Cook Islands next door turned down its AM signal after the state broadcaster was privatised in the early 1990s.

For years after, Cook Islanders outside the capital Rarotonga tuned into Samoa radio, 2AP.

But then a decade later Samoa almost privatised state radio, eventually deciding to cut back signal strength and staff numbers.

Australia is set to shut down shortwave broadcasting to the region on 17th January this month.

Since 2008, PFF has also raised alerts over political interference in news media, including assaults, arrests, legal threats, censorship, suspension and sacking of staff in West Papua, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.

"Governments need to stop seeing news media as their enemy", says Miller.

Instead, she says, they should see the Fourth Estate as partners - frontline first responders to disasters, and the most effective and efficient protection for citizens and economies against corruption, waste and mismanagement.

Radio Polynésie Première started broacasting as Radio Tahiti, for three hours a day, in 1949.

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