Connecting people in regional and remote areas is something that we’re very passionate about at Broadcast Australia. This is especially important in the Pacific Islands, where broadcasters play a key role in culture and safety.
In April, I had the opportunity to have a first-hand experience in improving connectivity in remote areas. Under the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), I spent four months travelling around the Pacific Islands training local broadcasters on all aspects of broadcast transmission. I visited Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. PACMAS is a regional media development program funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and managed by ABC International Development.
In this article, I’ll unpack my key learnings from my experience in the Pacific Islands and the role of connectivity in improving the capacity for broadcasters in remote areas.
Challenges for remote broadcasters
Remote broadcasters play a key role in culture by delivering daily news and programs. Their role is also vital to safety in these communities by generating public awareness in times of emergency. They face harsh environmental conditions and have limited access to local resources. Furthermore, a lot of the equipment used by regional broadcasters has reached the end of its serviceable life. Moreover, they don’t have the resources to make the transition to digital technologies. Instead, they rely on finding spare parts to replace ageing analogue equipment. As a result, many are struggling to deliver an acceptable signal and keep their stations on air.
Connectivity for local communities
Our practical training sessions focused on ways for broadcasters to improve connectivity for local communities in spite of these challenges. We achieved this by upskilling technicians to install and monitor transmission systems. We visited transmission sites across each Pacific Island country, including Barava FM, Hope TV & FM, SIBC FM, Digicel Digital TV, SatSol Pay TV and ABC International, where participants gained hands-on, in-field technical experience.
For example, in Maravovo village the team installed and commissioned a satellite dish and receiver. Maravovo village is 50 km west of Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. Finally this provided connectivity for the local community and improved communication. As a result, local villagers are now able to watch television without having to spend a day travelling to Honiara.
Acquiring new skills
Recent PACMAS studies and surveys have highlighted that there is a limited number of trained technicians across the Pacific region. The site visits to different broadcast stations provided a way to help support and equip broadcast technicians with the knowledge and skills around installing satellite dishes. This enabled them to perform their vital role they play in keeping communities connected to news and information.
Each practical session was followed by a debrief where participants could ask questions and clarify the steps taken during installation. Moreover this combination of theoretical and practical training sessions offered opportunities to develop personal skills and technical expertise. Thus equipping participants to continue sharing and applying their new-found knowledge after the completion of the program.
Looking to the future
It was inspiring to watch the enthusiasm and passion from each of the participants throughout the training sessions. This was particularly evident during my time in Maravovo village, where everyone worked together to execute the planning, construction, alignment and measurement of a complete satellite downlink receiver system at a local broadcaster. Afterwards in the debrief session that followed, the team beamed with pride, satisfied with the knowledge that they had gained new skills which could benefit their local community.
Beyond acquiring new skills, the program provides an excellent opportunity for participants to acquire new ideas for use in their day-to-day roles, including being able to use equipment for different findings and measurements. Refreshing your knowledge is just as important as learning new skills and with equipment changing as technology evolves. This sets up more practical training for the future. By giving local residents in regional areas the opportunity to improve their skills, this ensures that communities are connected.
The training courses have been effective in developing the technical capability of Pacific Broadcasters to provide audiences with improved reliability and access to news and public interest content. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to up skill future talent in the broadcast industry.
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The Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) is a regional media development program funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and managed by ABC International Development.
 PACMAS State of the Media and Communication Report, 2013
 Technical Team Questionnaire (2013) – small media organisations including some national broadcasters lack qualified technical support