Pacific Media Centre Pacific Media Watch Pacific Journalism Review Asia Pacific Report

VANUATU: FM107 believes in talking - not closing down, says lawyer

Threatened with closure ... Radio FM107's headquarters in Port Vila.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Item: 8175

PORT VILA (Vanuatu Times / Pacific Media Watch): Radio FM107 has acknowledged receiving a letter signed by Prime Minister Sato Kilman to “cease operations” and confirms the matter is now in the hands of its lawyers.

The lawyers have advised FM107 to continue broadcasting "due to its commitment to its commercial clients and listeners, until the concerns have been properly resolved between the parties concerned".

“We have supported media development in Vanuatu and the Prime Minister’s initiatives to support media but Vanuatu is growing rapidly so we need to work together closely to understand each other better,” said station manager Moses Stevens.

“He may have signed the letter as Minister for Media but I don’t believe he wrote this, but some other group of people that have been targeting FM107 for a long time, for whatever reasons and just trying to spoil a good service to the public,” he added.

"In some instances, we also believe the PM has been wrongly advised."

“We operate independently and professionally – free from any political party and our content is 95 percent music, news, ads and information in our aim to inform, educate and entertain our audience.”

The Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for Media, has also not responded to FM107’s request for a meeting to clearly understand what his concerns are following a letter dated 27 December 2012 accusing FM107 of “supporting a political party, one-sided reporting and slanting programmes to incite public disorder.”

Court case pending
The public has been made aware of the court case against him for an outstanding VT13 million where Willy Jimmy is asking for proof of clearance to justify whether the PM was eligible to contest the last 2012 General Elections and his name appearing only in the second list inferred this and whether his later election as PM was legal or not.

Again this is yet to be cleared by the courts.

The letter contained allegations that have been "generalised, untrue and defamatory" and was an attempt to discourage ni-Vanuatu owned business, an d growing media and development in Vanuatu.

“While the minister has statutory powers to grant and revoke licences, any Prime Minister seen to be shutting down any radio (or tv or newspaper for that matter) in any country can be seen as “direct bulling and an attempt not to support media freedom in a democratic and independent country” as radio being a public service, belongs to its people,” said Group 107 CEO Arthur Knight.

“The letter is unfair as legally VBTC, as the government broadcasting arm, is both a “player” and “regulator” so there is no impartiality. They are dictating the laws of operation and are offering the same service as player in a limited market. We have never received any communication from BLAC on this matter nor any official complaints on our reporting or programmes from the public. ”

“According to our records, all business and radio licences with the regulator and relevant authorities have been updated and all other matters in the old internal agreement were cancelled, with pending matters between our director, the GM of VBTC and former PM on rates and other conditions awaiting to be formed in a new agreement,” he confirmed.

"The new owner purchased the business and business name, however was not the signatory of the old agreement signed by the old management. However, the VBTC GM who was supposed to meet him to finalise the finer details was never available and always out of office."

“There [have] been no breaches nor exploitation of labour practices as FM107 has dedicated most of its time in training and encouraging ni-Vanuatu who have decided to have media as a career to be able to be prepared, motivated, competent and professional in a competitive but developing media environment,” he added.

Training centre
"Closing FM107 is not only destroying a good product for the local grassroot and ni-Vanuatu who enjoy it but closing opportunities as a training centre preparing students from journalism school for real life media - where are these graduates going to go ? "

"Vanuatu's growth will only come from the private sector and government should not be an obstacle," said director Saby Natonga.

He has asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss what type of support he was giving to ni-Vanuatu businesses and to private media as well.

FM107 confirmed that the approval for the private radio in 2008 (Gold FM) was its first and not second as stated in the letter and prior to its launch, all resources were re-focused to restore FM107 which was purchased as a business after that to pull it out of bankruptcy as the station was unable to continue due to its financial situation by its previous management.

Therefore the Gold station was put on hold as much work needed to be done in reviving the now FM107.

“We are intending to renew the second FM licence this month as equipment and transmitters have already been ordered and on the way. For Yumi TV, we are awaiting for the final technical report from our surveyors and are planning to launch when we are ready later this year. Yumi TV is aimed at boosting the entertainment, music and acting industry which will help create more jobs and build up talent in our youth and hopefully getting them internationally competitive."

"Despite the screening process which we will pass after our meeting with BLAC who have been supportive, three different prime ministers have already endorsed the project including Ham Lini, Serge Vohor and Edward Natapei to support it including many business houses, chiefs and communities.”

'High energy'
“We have been working very hard over the last couple of years to re-create the image of FM107 as a modern, up to date "high energy" station portraying Vanuatu in a progressive light, promoting three languages, with fresh news, good promotions and encouraging ni-Vanuatu to participate in talk back on various issues that are a concern or affecting their lives at any given point in time,” he said.

"FM107 is the audio of Facebook which has sprung up over the last couple of years as one of the most popular interactive social networking mediums.

"Our clients choose us because we give them direct access to the market and have assisted our clients boost their revenue because of our style of broadcast but it can only get better."

FM107 confirmed receiving information that the Prime Minister through a memo had “stopped” all government ministries and departments from dealing with FM107 therefore the station rarely got any news, press releases or business from government and government bodies, yet VBTC enjoyed some VT45 million every year in annual grants from government and being the “public broadcaster” was the only broadcaster that could request for donor aid from any overseas countries - "a luxury that we were not allowed".

“There are many issues we would like to discuss with the PM and he has promised us and the president of Media Association of Vanuatu (MAV) to meet on how to make media work better in Vanuatu but are confused to receive a letter ordering us to “cease operations,” said Stevens.

“Through our talk back show Vanuatu Today, we encourage callers to participate in a set forum on their concerns or topics of the day which affect their daily lives and this has greatly shaped people’s better understanding on everyday issues ; it’s an education process and while some callers may go off topic – they are cautioned so that they learn in order to follow rules of participation in future which is also a learning curve for other callers” he said.

“Today Vanuatu is in a world that is developing and we cannot avoid changes taking place in the world – today telecommunications had changed the way we live, new technology as well so we need to adapt.

'Real people'
"Many members of the public want to know who [are] the real people behind the motive to want to close down FM107 is because they have confirmed to the Vanuatu Times that FM107 is not the radio for the Prime Minister or its owners – it is radio for the people of Vanuatu.”

The letter published in the Daily Post and copied to outside media was a second letter from the PM’s office. The first letter was raising concerns to FM107 and all media that they should be “more responsible in reporting”. However, they did not say what exactly they were not happy about because they did not give any details nor reply to any issues raised by the public.

"They need to say what exactly they are not happy with, not just cancel licences and cripple the industry when they feel like it.

“When there are issues, I believe we should resolve [them] amicably - what's the difficulty of confirming a meeting time?,” he said.

The Prime Minister signed one letter dated 27 December 2012 and gave 14 days to FM107 to reply and show why its licence should not be revoked and after the reply below dated the same day, they circulated the decision on 3 January to all outlets and mediums that it should cease operations but not a time for a meeting which showed that he intended to close FM107 and not enter dialogue.

FM107's letter to PM Kilman:

27 December 2012
The Prime Minister
Honorable Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu
Minister for Media
Prime Minister’s Office
Port Vila
Dear Mr Kilman,

Re : Breach Of Licence Conditions By FM107

First and foremost, we’d like to congratulate you for your re-election into Prime Ministership / Minister for Media and the excellent work you have done in promoting media and helping develop Vanuatu and local media as a whole,  as today, more people understand what it is, how to use it and realise its importance in our daily lives.

With FM107 / Vanuatu Times owned by an indigenous ni-Vanuatu which supports the idea that “media of every country should be owned and run by its own people”, we have managed to show that after 32 years of independence, Vanuatu media can move forward independently and be an internationally competitive product.

FM107 delivers on air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week service to the people and is the only radio broadcasting Vanuatu to over 165 countries around the world to ni-Vanuatu, to much of their appreciation and potential tourists and investors overseas, amdist the small advertising market , no government grant or donor aid from any country.

The radio promotes three national languages and provides ongoing training for  50 local ni-Vanuatu who have chosen media as their career and form of livelihood to support themselves and their families, as they struggle to serve the country everyday in their various sections to uphold our media goals and objectives.

We acknowledge your two letters received. However, it is the first time we have seen both letters. We apologise for not replying to a letter dated 29 June 2011 because we never received it and are only seeing it now in the attachment of your recent letter, now received dated 27 December 2012. Had we received it, we would have replied earlier.

That letter, as we are now reading, had raised some concern that FM107 had somewhat purported to “slant its programs - to portray one-sided reporting  - to promote interests of a political party  - such as a Tok Bak Show to easily incite public reactions.”

At no one time in those years did we receive any complaints in the last three years from the public, government or any person concerned that a report was “unfair, biased or one-sided”  because our journalists are taught to check facts and reports before airing news. We also have an open door policy where if a news is incorrect an immediate retraction or apology be made immediately to the parties concerned.

FM107 has always run independently without the influence or interference of any political party in our aim to educate, inform and entertain the public. We are a professional organization and take our roles seriously.

Talk back which discusses daily issues facing our developing country is only one of many daily programs offered to our listeners. In most cases it opens up people to share their views on the issues they feel are affecting them and society at the point of time in their lives and offer positive solutions for improvement within the parameters of the topic of the day.

In this regard, FM107 has never slanted any of its programs to promote interests of a political party, in the least to incite public reactions nor were there any news or information that may have tainted any leader that was not backed up by reliable sources with evidence. Again until today, there has never been any adverse consequence which resulted from some alleged misinformation carried on our medium which caused a riot, demonstration, community warfare, civil war , loss of a life or some extreme undesired end.

With all due respect sir, the contents of the letter are very general, confusing and to our knowledge untrue.  

We would be very grateful if you could share more specific details of your particular concern at hand so that we would be able to respond accordingly.

Our shows have been managed professionally by personnel who have had over 20 years of media experience in the industry and topics have always been neutral and in some cases, the greater concern of our listeners who through the show are able to share views with others, in their constitutional right under their freedom of expression. Any callers that are out of order or whose comments are outside the parameters of discussion are cautioned on the spot or dismissed immediately so that their views are invalidated.

Again, we would be grateful if could share specific details with us so we would be able to respond more accurately.  
FM107 is not a political station but a commercial station with 95% music, news and information.

It is also my understanding that as the old business was declared bankrupt and sold by the previous management, all old contracts and agreements were cancelled and invalidated therefore we feel the attached agreement and its conditions is no longer exists.

VBTC never renewed this nor met with the new director to make any new arrangements work. We have also never received any help or assistance from VBTC over the years so need to understand what the commission are other charges are for, again in a small market with limited revenue to run the business, without no government grants or donor aid to help us.

As of today, we have never received any acknowledgement or the slightest assistance from Government in our efforts everyday even though we were the first to operate 24 hours and put Vanuatu on the world map in radio allowing the world to hear and appreciate our Bislama language, music, culture and people.

We kindly ask for your clarification in order to resolve any concerns raised promptly as we believe such accusations are made generally to try to magnify itself beyond the positive contribution FM107 has made and continues to do in media in Vanuatu and our nation as a whole.

We also ask you to consider FM107’s overall contribution to the media industry, nation and economy today as a whole as when weighing out your decisions, such concerns  could be a small percentage compared to the positive development it has achieved in terms of educating, informing and entertaining the public, keeping listeners happy, inspired and hopeful towards a better future.

We would be happy to meet you at any time convenient to you to discuss these matters and the future development of media in Vanuatu.
Signed : Manager.

FM107 radio website

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Vanuatu radio licence revocation background

What this issue is actually dealing with is jealousy, pure and simple! Instead of your competitors improving their product, or changing the station they listen to, they resort to influential ‘business associates’, to get you shut down; and thus not appear to be so bad, in the absence of a competent standard to be compared to. That is why you can’t find any legitimate complaint to address, and perhaps resolve. There isn’t even the potential for paranoid suspicions of secret criticism that can be leveled, to explain these machinations. This is obvious.

What you may not realize with all the posturing and misrepresentations of fact with respect to the missing letter, and so on; is that the competition I am referring to isn’t necessarily just local, it’s worldwide. FM107 makes many sound and feel like trash, but only because they are. Trash, for instance, would offer ‘an incentive’ to the issuer of the license to ‘expedite’ the government process.

As of now, the PM had better be able to prove that a factual issue exists; otherwise non-residents in particular will conclude that he was seeking compensation to which he was not lawfully entitled. He made it an issue.

Keep up the work on Pacific media

I was very proud to be part of this web site by reading some of the sad story
about the issue of media in the Pacific and especially in Vanuatu since the
1990s until now. Very sad to hear about the big issue concerning our media in
Vanuatu. Well, as a ni-van I was really proud and congrats to you people of
the great job you have done until now.......we can just enjoy reading,
watching and hearing the Hot News about our country, but the big part you
have already done it. JUST DO IT!! we love and enjoy it. We vote for our
leaders. We also want to know about what they are doing up there...whether
good or's what they are showing next time we can think
twice of choosing our leaders. Good leaders Better Nation.

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