In connection with PNG Sustainable Development Programme’s One Laptop Per Child programme, I have been fortunate to get a chance to visit one of the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea; Oksapmin in the far western highlands. Whilst there, I was fascinated to discover a community radio station, housed in the community guesthouse next to Tekin airstrip, at an altitude of 5,600 ft.
I met with the station Manager, Frank Apwaka and he gave me the background and information about the station.
The station was set up by the Baptist Union in 2004-5 although it was planned much earlier. The BU are one of the organisations making up the Baptist Alliance, based in Mt Hagen. The main objective was to provide educational radio for the remote sub-district of Oksapmin, which is part of the Telefomin District in Sandaun Province. Actually, it should have been called Oksapmin Community Radio Station but Tekin was used in the funding application. Originally to be located elsewhere, the decision was made to base the station in Tekin was due to the peace prevailing in that area, with none of the tribal fighting that still happens in other places.
Funding for the initial establishment was from the Canada Fund, Ausaid, and Baptist World Aid. The station was set up with assistance from a Melbourne expert, Ron Ehrke from the Australian Film and Television School (I hope I have that right). Training was given in broadcasting, reporting and journalism.
When fully functioning the station employed three people full time (Manager, Programming and Production and Receptionist) and eight volunteers. The station is owned by the Baptist Union and has a local Community Board.
However, the station has been closed since September 2011 due to failure of the CD and tape players and some challenged resulting from the transition to a sustainable operation. Frank hopes the station will be reopened shortly.
Coverage is about 50% of Oksapmin due to the mountainous terrain and a repeater is planned. In fact, I was treated to a strenuous climb up through the rainforest to a ridge on Baliye mountain at 8,000 ft where the mass of roots, decaying logs and mud gave way to a clearing and a spectacular view down across the Strickland Gorge. The clearing had been made by a minerals exploration company for surveying purposes, and it has a rough helipad and GPS survey point. The radio station partners hope to use this as access to a repeater site to be constructed nearby along the ridge.
The station is well equipped with an Elan Audio 8-channel mixing desk and multiple Denon CD and cassette players, Niles monitors and a 100W EX2-100 transmitter. A bank of approximately 2KW of solar panels provides enough power for several hours per day operation – the station on average broadcasts for 7 hours per day. A tall mast and very professional looking antenna array complete the setup.
Studio is based on live and analogue pre-recorded (tapes, CDs). The main languages of broadcasting are PNG’s pidjin language, Tok Pisin, and the local Oksapmin language. With so many (800+) documented languages in PNG, the communities would rarely if ever hear their language on national broadcasting.
The Baptist Union office in Mt Hagen sends in tapes on the Missionary Aviation Fellowship small aircraft, which land next to the station on a perilous looking short strip, steeply sloped, with a 9,000 mountain at one end! For instance, the station rebroadcasts a selection from Wan Smalbag Theatre of Vanuatu, and Radio Australia’s Tok Pisin programmes where people from PNG speak on a variety of topics which are very informative and interesting to the Oksapmin people. Local content consists of talks by local experts, including the health workers at the adjacent clinic, agriculturalists and educators.
Frank was proud of the local focus in their news broadcasts, He described his investigative reporting on important local issues, and how people visiting the village market provide views and opinions. National news is covered by reviewing the newspapers, which even though arriving several days late are still current for the people of the area. A Tok Save programme allows people to make announcements and individual messages.
As Oksapmin has just had a mobile tower installed by Digicel PNG, the mobile is now available for people to call in. However, this is too recent to have made an impact yet.
What have been the main achievements? Frank cites improvements in life style and behaviour, as a result of being better informed. He has also noticed improvements in language spoken by young people in particular, and in their communication skills. The radio content has contributed to enriching the educational environment in the area. Monitoring has been planned – listener surveys – but not yet conducted, to assess the impacts more scientifically.
The challenges faced by the station are those quite often experienced by community radio stations, including our own such as the Isabel Province stations. Firstly, Frank explained that the local ownership of the station should be represented by the Community Board, but this is proving ineffective and needs strengthening or reinstating. Secondly, the financing model is shaky, and as a result the paid staff, previously employed by the Baptist Union presumably with project-based funds have been laid off and he himself had not been paid for some time. Frank wished that the community could support the station more including financially. Secondly, minor technical issues have relied on external capacities resulting in the station going off air. Thirdly, more training is needed.
We discussed the experiences in Solomon Islands and Frank was very interested in the Healthy Communities programme and the methodology developed for Community Learning Programmes (CLPs). We hoped that a CLP workshop might be held when the station reopens, to encourage the participatory input to production. He was also interested in moving into digital content, for instance training in use of computers and digital tools such as Audacity, and noted that many mobile phone snow being used in the area have both FM radios and voice recorders. Thus, training in the use of mobiles for supporting learning, enabling more feedback from the community and monitoring would be useful. I explained how in Isabel we have used inexpensive equipment such as small netbook computers and the community teams have produced excellent digital audio productions with only basic computer skills.
I also offered to put Frank in touch with Aloysius and Maria at new Dawn FM in Buka. Networking Telecentres would help to end isolation, share skills and content and bolster sustainability.
All in all, a very interesting discovery!