Interpreting Indonesia with a Western perspective:
Expanding inter-cultural understanding and mutual respect
FAITH IN INDONESIA
The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964
Monday, April 02, 2018
DON'T TUNE IN - WE'VE TUNED OUT
Australia Plus – unfit for export
Though this starts like a fairy
story it’s really a frightener: Once upon a time Australian governments believed that broadcasting beyond our shores
– and particularly into Southeast Asia - was an important responsibility,
sowing ideas, informing and influencing.
Radio Australia shortwave started in 1939 to counter Japanese
propaganda. After the war it became a ‘soft power diplomacy tool’ in the
jargon of Foreign Affairs. It made us ‘globally connected’, able to ‘promote
Now all has turned to froth.
Seldom seen by taxpayers is our $20 million presentation to the
world. Although called Australia Plus
it adds little of value.
When radio faded Australian Television International became our
grandstand, later titled ABC Asia Pacific.
In 2006 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer spruiked another rebirth: Australia
Network, funded by Foreign Affairs and Trade plus advertising, would reach
10 million homes and 200,000 hotel rooms in 41 countries; at the time maybe one
million viewers a month.
Downer said the ABC would run the network offering ‘high quality
programs about Australia and its engagement with the region.’ Also promised
were ‘extensive news and current affairs programs, Australian-produced
education, drama, entertainment and lifestyle programs.’
A homely metaphor spiced his Reithian rhetoric: ‘A key
requirement of the service is to provide a credible and independent voice
through programs that present a window on Australia and Australian perspectives
of the world.’
By then more windows were being opened. BBC World, France24, Al
Jazeera, NHK (Japan), Deutsche Welle and other international
telecasters were starting to offer vistas grand using serious money.
The French Government is reported to spend $117 million a year on France 24 while
Russia’s RT channel is said to get through US$300 million a
year. Now China is expanding its overseas reach with China
Voice of America’s budget
is US$ 218 million, all from government funds. Itbroadcasts and
telecasts in more than 40 languages, including Indonesian.
In 2011 the Labor Government called tenders to run Australia
Network. The two main hopefuls were the ABC and Sky TV, which
had long lusted after the job. When it seemed Rupert Murdoch’s company
would win the tender process was scrapped and the prize given to the ABC.
Triumph was brief. When the Liberal-National Coalition won government
it clicked OFF. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia Network
“had failed to deliver a cost-effective vehicle’. No details.
The ABC was given 90-days notice to break its $223 million deal. Eighty
staff – some in Asian newsrooms – lost their jobs.
Killing the network may have satisfied a political ideology but a legal
reality had to be faced: The ABC Charter requires it to be an international
broadcaster so the gap had to be filled. Click onto Australia Plus.
The new service started with three ‘foundation partners’ – what
straight-talkers call ‘advertisers’:
Monash University, the Government of Victoria and food supplement
manufacturer Swisse Wellness owned by a Hong Kong based company.
It was promoted as ’an opportunity for Australian businesses and a case
study in corporate entrepreneurship … an endeavor that should be applauded. It
is a positive step for the broadcaster, for public institutions in general and
for Australian business.’
The triplets have now disappeared from the screens; no
Australian corporate entrepreneurs have grabbed this opportunity to engage with
the Southeast Asian markets which Government boosters say are slavering for our
This suggests Australian traders either don’t
know Australia Plus exists – which would be a failure of
marketing - or they’ve researched its reach and decided it’s a dud.
So it seems taxpayers are footing the total bill for this
pseudo-service. ‘Seems’ because despite
requests, Nick Leys, the ABC’s Head of Communications doesn’t communicate with
this writer to explain what’s happening.
Along with the loss of sponsors has been a shift in programming. As Australian leaders recite the mantra that
Indonesia is our most important foreign relationship, it might be logical
to assume we’d be offering the neighbors our handpicked and most relevant best.
However Australia Plus is delivered as a single stream, meaning
one size fits all in the 44 countries that now get the service. Most
Indonesians use free-to-air TV; to watch Australia Plus they have to pay
for access through one of three cable services which accept Australia
Plus at no cost.
These commercial operators offer hundreds of channels. They have about
8.5 million subscribers. There are 260
million people in Indonesia.
Unless cable patrons are Kuta bar owners sucking in expat drinkers with
three hours of AFL on Fridays and again on Saturdays, soccer-crazed Indonesians
have few reasons to channel surf Australia Plus from their sofas.
Indonesians are early bedders and risers, with the fajar (dawn
prayer) wake-up call starting around 4.15 am in Java. Markets open at 5 and the power meter reader is on his rounds an
Few households are awake after 9 pm.
The evening schedule on the day this story was keyboarded started with Stan Grant’s Matter of Fact,
followed by The World (news) then ABC News Tonight, then ABC
Late News, then ABC News Overnight then a replay of MOF.
MOF is one of the
few goodies along with Q and A, Four Corners, The Drum, Australian Story and
One on One. But these have been made for audiences which understand the
cultural references and political nuances. Outsiders are left nonplussed.
There’s also Home and Away plus some fare for the kids, but
the rest is largely uncurated, repetitious fill-a-space. Last year some SBS programs were aired. They seem to have disappeared.
This is Australia showcased to the region to which it allegedly seeks
closer ties – trumpeted most recently at the ASEAN Summit in Sydney. The original high-minded plans to ‘present Australian perspectives and values
to the world’ are – like our once proud Test Cricket image - no more.
Apart from the noted exceptions Australia Plus offers little to
the locals. It’s a viewer turn-off. The
ABC should either follow suit or do its job properly.
First published in Pearls & Irritations 2 April 2018: http://johnmenadue.com/duncan-graham-australia-plus-unfit-for-export/