Radio is a marvellous way to engage with a mass audience. It has been called ‘the lively art’, because it, of all the means of mass communication, can make the listener feel as if he or she is being addressed personally, rather than as one of a crowd.
Radio broadcasting has been in Papua New Guinea since the mid-1930s, when 4-PM Port Moresby began broadcasting to the Australian community residing there. After the war the Australian Broadcasting Commission took over the station and their idea, itself adapted from the BBC, of broadcasting as a public service became the accepted policy. In the 1960s Radio Rabaul was set up. For most of the subsequent years there has been a regional service, the Kundu service, as well as a national and a commercial service, with National Broadcasting Commission stat ions broadcasting in local languages in all 19 provinces.
However NBC is living through the same financial crisis as everyone else and in this 20th anniversary year not all of the stations of the Kundu service are on the air. However, the national service, Karai, has remained intact so far, as has Kaland, NBC’s popular advertising and entertainment programme. Many people also listen to the foreign-owned commercial station, NAU FM.
The Karai Service and the Kundu Service operate on short-wave, with the Karai Service also transmitting on easy-to-find medium wave in the Moresby area as well as in some provincial districts. Kalang goes out on FM.
The three services have distinct aims and functions. Kalang ‘s job is to carry advertisements and entertainment. Karai has to educate and inform listeners with programmes that create awareness of political, social and economic issues, especially those relating to PNG, and to reflect public views on these matters. The Kundu Service (until recently the biggest service) does the same for the provinces. It also carries all local and community news, and sports, religious and cultural programming in the main local languages, paying particular attention to the development needs of rural people.
Chairman of NBC, Sir Alkan Tololo, says that, of all the means of mass communication that exist in Papua New Guinea today, radio is the most effective and the most democratic. “Radio does not discriminate between rich and poor, between the literate and those who can’t read, between men and women, between villages with electricity and those without. Radio supplies food for the mind – for everybody, and at no personal cost. It is both a vehicle for new ideas and the way in which the listener’s own personal and tribal existence can be acknowledged. It can also contribute to national unity.”
This is not to say that broadcasting in Papua New Guinea is an easy task. Only a fraction of the total number of local languages were accommodated on the Kundu Service, even when it was fully operational. High quality radio requires adequate funding. There are always problems of editorial responsibility. The hilly terrain makes reception difficult in some areas.
NBC has been confronting these problems in its day-today operation, and in occasional major re-organisations, one of which has just occurred. With the stated aim of putting maximum resource into programmes themselves, not into layers of management, it has shed some staff, and arranged others into central departments serving all services. It has a number of aims for its staff, one of which is to look into the possibility of public service television. This would run in competition with the commercial station, EMTV, which broadcasts a mixture of programmes and advertisements. Although, as Sir Alkan observes, the merits of television as a democratic medium are not as easy to establish as they are for radio. For the immediate future radio will remain the only source of local programming.