Alan Hubbard, Broadcast Australia Technical Training Leader.

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 (delivering daily news and programs) and safety (generating public awareness in times of emergency).

In April, I had the opportunity to have a first-hand experience of improving connectivity in remote areas. Under the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), I spent four months travelling around Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, training local broadcasters on all aspects of broadcast transmission. 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.

In this article, I’ll unpack key learnings from my work in the Pacific Islands and the role of connectivity in improving the capacity of communication practitioners in remote areas.

Connectivity for local communities

Remote broadcasters are faced with harsh environmental conditions and limited access to local resources. A lot of the equipment used by regional broadcasters has reached the end of its serviceable life, and they don’t have the resources to make the required transition to digital technologies.  Instead, they rely on finding spare parts to replace ageing analogue equipment. As a result, many are struggling to deliver acceptable signal and keep their stations on air.

Against this backdrop, our practical training sessions focused on ways for broadcasters to improve connectivity for local communities, by upskilling technicians on installing and monitoring transmissions 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 in-field technical experience.

For example, in the Solomon Islands, the team installed and commissioned a satellite dish and receiver in Maravovo village 50 km west of Honiara (the capital city of the Solomon Islands). This provided connectivity for the local community and improved communication – local villagers are now able to watch television without having to spend a day travelling to Honiara.

Acquiring new skills

The site visits to different broadcast stations provided a way to help support and equip broadcast technicians with knowledge and skills around installing satellite dishes, enabling them to perform the vital role they play in keeping communities connected to news and information. Recent PACMAS studies[1] and surveys[2] have highlighted that there is a limited number of trained technicians across the Pacific region.

Each practical session was followed by a debrief where participants could ask questions and clarify the steps we took during the installation process. The combination of theoretical and practical training sessions offered opportunities to develop personal skills and technical expertise, and ensure participants were well equipped to continue applying and sharing their new-found knowledge after the completion of the program.

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 in the Solomon Islands, where everyone worked well together and successfully executed the planning, construction, alignment and measurement of a complete satellite downlink receiver system at a local broadcaster.  In the debrief session that followed, the satisfaction and pride from the team was obvious, knowing 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. This ensures that communities are connected, and local residents have the opportunity to improve their skills in regional areas

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.

[1] PACMAS State of the Media and Communication Report, 2013

[2] Technical Team Questionnaire (2013) – small media organizations including some national broadcasters lack qualified technical support.