Television station plan could lead to Government loses

Cabinet has given approval for a Government-owned television station to be established in Samoa with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology confirming the authorisation.

story titled “Plans for new Govt. T.V. draw criticism” was published in the September 16, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer on Monday, which quoted the MCIT Chief Executive Officer Talatalaga Fualau Mata’u, who confirmed that the green light has been given. 

The establishment of the TV station will be overseen by the Office of the Regulator and the Samoa Digital Broadcasting Corporation.

But how much visibility does the Government need and should public funding earmarked for the project be channeled to critically needed and important community-focused sectors such as health and education? 

In fact it is not as if the Government is not short of mainstream media and social media platforms to funnel its messages to the masses. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) Chief Executive Officer, Talatalaga Fualau Mata’u, confirmed that the Government already has a large media presence – through its ownership of Radio 2AP AM540, Le Siufofoga o Samoa, and the recent additions FM91.1 and FM107.4 radio stations. 

Not forgetting the Government-produced Savali newspaper, which comes under the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is distributed free to readers in the Government and non-government sectors.

And then there are privately-owned media organisations (radio, newspapers and television stations) run by local companies and the churches, who would be more than happy to offer airtime for a small fee. 

Paying local media companies to air State-produced programming would be a vote of confidence by the Government in Samoa’s media sector, and will go a long way in restoring faith and self-belief by the public in the country’s democratic processes including freedom of expression and a free thriving press.

But revelations by the Samoa Broadcasting Corporation Limited CEO, Galumalemana Faiesea Matafeo, in an interview with this newspaper of a similar project in the 1990s that failed despite a million dollar investment warrants scrutiny.

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“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 taxpayers' 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 recommendations by the World Bank for television broadcasting services to be privatized, as part of Samoa’s economic reform policies back then.

So are citizens now seeing the emergence of another State-funded project that could potentially become another white elephant resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in public funding? The Government might not think so but its track record in managing television stations has not been spotless.

And while there will be arguments on both sides of the divide – for a State-owned television broadcaster to drive the agenda of the government-of-the-day – there will always be concerns about the motives of the Government and its leaders when we live in a democracy that is in reality a one-party state.

Going forward, the Government should consider public-private partnerships with privately-owned media organisations, as a first step towards investing public funds into local businesses and thus enabling growth in the media sector. 

We also note capital investments by local media organisations, such as a $2.5 million tala high definition mobile broadcast truck which the local television station TV1 imported into Samoa this year, in a first for the country. The investment drew praise from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.

While we note the support and commendation of the Prime Minister for the investment by TV1, there is a risk of public funds being wasted on a new television project that could suffer the same fate like its predecessor in the 1990s.

Now is a good opportunity for the Minister of Communications and Information Technology to invite local privately-owned television stations to the table, to begin discussions on content that they want to broadcast and in the process save the Government public funds which could be channeled to other priority areas.

Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless.

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