|Report on study trip to
Australia, October 17 - November 7, 20000
Prepared by Vasana Chinvarakorn
My initial reactions to the news that the first Seameo-Australia Press Award included a study trip where the majority of time would be spent at Radio Australia were, admittedly, a mix of doubt and curiosity. What could someone from print journalism do considering voicing in front of a microphone is definitely not our forte? A hilarious act of fumbling with the wrong buttons, and squandering the precious time slots with umms and aahs? And yet my incurable thirst for adventure pushed me for a try-out. In the end, the three-week sojourn in Down Under land turned out to be one of the most fruitful experiences to remember for years to come.
My visit to the Radio Australia incidentally coincided with a turnaround of the public broadcaster's fate. Three years ago, RA, a unit of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was on the verge of extinction, for its budget being slashed by two-thirds, its staff halved to less than a hundred, and a closure of the Cox Peninsula transmitter, virtually leaving the station unable to be heard anywhere in Asia west of Bali.
The first day I went to the RA office in Melbourne, I had a rare chance to attend one of the staff meetings to discuss their good news what to do with an injection of $ 9 million for the next three years. True, the extra cash is still far from its original $20-plus million before the severe cut, but the prospect of RA to (re)emerge as a new voice for the Asia Pacific region looks quite promising. As one of the RA staff puts it, their status has never been such strong as now. Moreover, the three-year ordeal for RA has been effectively educational as both management and editorial teams turned to explore various low-budget mediums to reach its Asian audiences. Among the innovations include striking re-broadcasting agreements with several local stations and internet programming. On average, the RA's web site gets about 10 million hits a year, spanning from Vanuatu to the United States and the European Union. Indeed, the role of RA as an independent linkage among Asia-Pacific countries is truly commendable. During political conflicts in the Pacific Islands, for example, the in-depth coverage by RA staff is probably the only independent source of information available for the rest of the global community. A live reportage from Fiji with the booming sound of bombs in the background seems to sum up the charm of immediacy of radio journalism pretty well. Furthermore, the open-ended nature of my internship in Australia allowed a lot of room for creativity. In addition to observing the entire process of information gathering, script editing, and to-the-minute presentation, I was exposed to other aspects of Australian media and the society as a whole. Accompanying reporters from the Australian on their daily beats, and later at the Press Gallery in Canberra, gave me some foods for thought to reflect on similarities and differences between Thai and Western media. I am also particularly attracted to a few attempts to dissect, and taunt, media and their corporate interests, such as Media Watch programmes on ABC radio and TV as well as the Australian's Media weekly supplement. If circumstances permit, I would like to adapt what I have learned there to initiate similar projects in my country. In retrospect, the timing of my arriving in Australia could not be any better.
In my second week, I was invited to participate in an international conference entitled `Religion and culture in Asia-Pacific: Violence or healing?' held at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In a workshop on the role of media vis-a-vis conflict resolution, we had a lively debate on how the media has been thriving on flare-ups, controversies, and scandals, sometimes at the expense of peace building efforts. In fact, there was almost a real-life demonstration over the definitions of the term `conflict' itself! But that was only a teaser, compared to what was next in line.
of my stay was a rare opportunity to witness the tension between
management and editorial staff at the ABC, including a fifteen-minute stoppage by
latter. The antagonism within a public broadcasting organisation is a
tale for Thai media, now on the path toward fundamental reform for a truly independent voice of the people.
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