Plans for new Govt. T.V. draw criticism

Cabinet has endorsed the establishment of a Government-owned television station. The decision was confirmed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.), Talatalaga Fualau Mata’u, in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.

But the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Broadcasting Corporation Limited, Galumalemana Faiesea Matafeo, said the Government should learn from the experience of the T.V. Samoa Channel that opened in 1993 and generated large financial losses.

“There is no need for a new television service," Galumalemana said when her opinion was sought.

"[The T.V. Samoa Channel] was bogged down with millions of accumulated losses. So why make the same mistake? It would be a total waste of tax payers’ money,"

“There are other services in dire need of financial assistance such as the health and education services where public funds can be put into better use instead of pouring it in to opening another TV service.

According to Galumalemana, the government-owned T.V Samoa was sold in 2008 following a recommendations by the World Bank for television broadcasting services to be privatised as part of Samoa’s economic reform policies back then.

“It was certainly a good policy as it not only saved tax payers money, the television services improved a great deal and the business operated profitably,” she said.

But Talatalaga is confident about the Government’s plan. He said the establishment of a Government television station follows the migration from analogue to digital television undertaken by the Office of the Regulator and the Samoa Digital Broadcasting Corporation.

“The Government will be able to retain only [one] feed from this digital platform," Talatalaga said.

“The Government’s television station will focus largely on informing the public on all government developments, providing live coverage of parliament sessions; live broadcast of educational, health, agriculture, business, I.C.T. programs and awareness amongst others.

“This move by Government complements its work across all of Government to ensure that its citizens are continuously informed, through various forms of the media, of all Government developments and initiatives, and given this, it is an opportune time for the Government to reinvest in television media.

“It is also imperative to highlight that this establishment will focus on providing a wider coverage in addition to the television stations in place, for a well informed public.”

The Government-owned television station will be housed under the M.C.I.T. as part of its broadcasting functions to Government and the public, and will therefore not be a stand-alone station, the C.E.O. said.

“The establishment of the T.V. station will largely be capitalising on the facilities, equipment, resources and personnel already in place," Talatalaga said.

“[The] Government already has an allocated budget for the Radio 2AP Services and working within the current financial envelope for this financial year, a phased-approach will be adopted for the procurement of specific television equipment.”

The C.E.O. said the establishment of the television station will add to the Government’s media properties which include Radio 2AP AM540, Le Siufofoga o Samoa, and recent additions FM91.1 & FM107.4. This is in addition to the print media of the Savali newspaper, which comes under the purview of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, he added.

The television station will be government-funded, Talatalaga added:

“As the television station grows and evolves, there may be, at a later stage, the need for Government to tap into its overseas counterparts and development partners for assistance.

“But at this stage, this establishment is being set up within the current financial envelope allocated to the Ministry.”

Galumalemana said existing stations were providing sufficient coverage with local programmes.

“One of the reasons for the digital switch is that it will enable existing TV Operators to reach 100 percent coverage, so we do not see how and where opening a government station can have an impact of the coverage. The public is well informed," Galumalemana said.

“TV1 gives the government ample airtime to make official statements and to respond to questions and concerns from the general public that we are all privileged to serve. At the same time we allow the opportunity for the public to express their views and opinions on matters that affect their lives.”

She added that it is grossly unfair for the Government to compete with the private sector.  

“We had raised concerns with the Prime Minister on this same issue before after his Minister of Communications announced on the news that the Government plans to re-open a television service," the C.E.O. said.

“The announcement was made while the Prime Minister was away overseas. The Prime Minister later kindly responded in writing assuring us that the Government did not have such a plan.

“It is sounding more like an exit strategy for certain Cabinet Ministers who will likely not get re-elected in the next General elections.”

TV3-Apia Broadcasting Ltd Owner, Niko Caffarelli, said he was not aware of the Government’s plans.

“We have nothing against the Government’s initiative,” he said via telephone interview. “I am not too sure if it’s going to be good for business but people need to know what Government is planning and their work, so this station can keep people informed.

“In my personal opinion, government channels overseas are not watched often and for the viewers of Samoa, it all depends on them and what they want to watch on television.”

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