Interview: Bhanu Sud
How is the proliferation of television stations in Papua New Guinea changing viewers’ expectations when it comes to media content?
SUD: Thanks to an ever-growing internet penetration rate and the proliferation of social media and TV channels, viewers in PNG are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they demand better services. Indeed, this is true for the Pacific region as a whole, which has arguably lagged behind the more mature media markets of Australia and New Zealand. Nowadays media consumers increasingly challenge the sources behind the information they receive. Just because a story is featured in the media does not necessarily mean that viewers will trust the content. As far as I am concerned, this should be treated as a positive development, as it will help raise media standards within PNG to approach the levels that we see across the rest of the world.
Unfortunately fair reporting is not always available and sensationalism is often the name of the game when it comes to news and current affairs, especially when considering social media. However, people will continue to need information and our job as broadcasters is to meet this demand and to make sure that our sources continue to be reliable.
To what extent will the purchase of EMTV by Telikom PNG, the state-owned telecommunications company, affect programming in the future?
SUD: We are the first and most prominent free-to-air television provider in PNG, and as a public broadcaster, we now have an even stronger social role to play in this country, as any antenna – however small, and even in remote areas – can pick up our signal. We are conscious of this responsibility and for this reason our programming will remain independent.
In fact, I believe the present level of consultation with an institution like Telikom is proving to be valuable, as we have a shared goal in working towards the benefit of the entire national interest. We do not wish only to prioritise the pursuit of profit for business entities. Conversely, I believe that the national interest should be considered in every aspect of economic life, including multimedia content delivery platforms, as long as the government has the required capacity. That said, PNG is an open market and there are no restrictions in acquiring broadcasting licenses, though the spectrum remains limited, and there are no constraints on media cross-ownership. Most importantly, there are no media monopolies, either public or private, and this should be maintained for the benefit of the consumers.
To what extent is digital TV, with its multi-station offer, changing media competition in PNG?
SUD: Although the digital age has already reached PNG, recent studies have suggested that until 2022, analogue free-to-air TV will continue to attract the largest viewership in the country. As a result, I believe content will remain the deciding factor when it comes to sifting through the competition. Nowadays, broadcasters can reach viewers domestically as well as internationally through Telikom’s existing infrastructure as a result of the multiple platforms, such as free-to-air television, online, mobile apps, radio or satellite. It will be up to consumers to capture content using the medium of their choice, through a subscription that can be viewed on all their devices.
At the same time, I am reasonably confident that consumers want more than just programmes and formats that have been brought from overseas. That said, it is important to note that we remain the only free-to-air channel in PNG licensed to show all the domestic and international sporting events. The PNG media market is shifting thanks to the convergence of different technologies, and multimedia companies are competing not just domestically, but across the Pacific region as a whole. Ultimately, then, a more competitive market will mean better services for consumers, just as it does in any other industry.
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