Picture this; in a rural community somewhere in Vanuatu an elder walks to a small home-store and buys two new batteries for his small Panasonic red radio. Back at home he places the batteries into the battery slots, and then at the end of the radio antenna he ties the end of a copper wire, the copper wire is then firmly tightened around a long bamboo pole nailed onto the side of a mango tree by his son.
The other end of the wire is then expanded as an extension of the radio antenna from the bamboo pole, it reaches high into the air trying to capture every bit of radio transmission.
He turns on his faithful old radio that has been informing him for the past several years, and begins to tune in to the national radio station. But he is not the only one tuning in, across the country hundreds, or if not thousands of radios, are turned on and are tuning into the same station.
They are all listening to another Ordinary Session of the Vanuatu Parliament, because in a democratic state like Vanuatu everyone has the right to be informed of the laws that are being discussed in parliament. Listening to an ongoing session of parliament also provides the incentive for voters to check on the participatory efforts of their parliamentary representatives: Are they speaking up? Are they representing our views? Or are they doing otherwise?
The recent blackout from the national broadcasting service did more than deny the people their right to listen to what was being discussed inside the parliament, but it also revealed years of operating under a heavy load of financial burden.
The right to access accurate information is a fundamental interest that is now being promoted more than ever in Vanuatu. And with new communication devices being introduced in the country people are now getting connected more than ever in the history of Vanuatu. It this therefore important that all public assets that are dedicated to disbursing information to must be at their best at this time to ensure that the people know what is happening around them, and why they are happening.
Clearly, years of vying for political positions and power has made it difficult for many public companies to operate without facing some sort of financial or organizational challenge.
With radio there are still a lot of challenges; the main one is of course radio coverage which has, unfortunately, limited range. On some islands it is limited to only certain hours of the day or night.
“I have not listened to the radio for quite a long time now,” explains Tommy, a young man originally from Ureparapara but currently living in Sola on the island of Vanua Lava in Banks group. “The only times for radio to have a good reception is in the afternoon. In the mornings it is impossible to receive radio transmissions.”
“I now go on facebook for information rather than try to listen to the radio, I just have no more time to listen to the radio because there is no access here” expresses another youth from Vanua Lava.
Recent statements from the national broadcasting service explains that soon the whole of Vanuatu will be able to listen to the national radio, this is definitely a great news that will be welcomed by people from all over the country when it happens.
It will be an important development for Vanuatu; likewise it is also important that financial debts be accounted for otherwise we will continue to face an uncertain future.
A team from Transparency International Vanuatu recently visited Big Bay on the island of Santo, the Big Bay area is considered to be among the remotest places in Vanuatu, a return trip from Luganville could cost more than 40,000 vatu. While talking with the people there they expressed their disappointment over the radio’s limited coverage, “we only get connected during certain times, all the other time there is nothing, no coverage, nothing,” reported a villager from Tsureviu, Big Bay.
Similar scenarios can be found in other places around Vanuatu, “we only listen to FM Stations here” was the response the TIV team received while touring the north western part of Malekula early this year.
An American television host once said “if you miss the news for a day, then you miss everything,” if there are people in Vanuatu that are missing out on receiving daily information then we could just imagine the worth of information that has been missed by thousands of people over the years.
With time, and with the right management, we must all look forward to become more engaged and effective in the media industry. Transparency International Vanuatu, as an NGO, has been utilizing the media for years and therefore acknowledges the great work that has been accomplished by our multi-tasked media outlets, but there is still a lot of ground yet to cover and there are still a lot of ears out there that needs accurate information to make the right decisions.
The people’s interest must always come first, political interest must not influence the way we think and act when it comes to important mediums like the radio.