Residents of French-Polynesia express concerns following decision to shutdown AM broadcasting.

Early in December, Radio Polynésie Première switched off its AM frequency, leaving communities in valleys and remote areas with no local service. In a bid to improve its reach, the broadcaster added five FM transmitters but the signals have failed to reach all atolls.

AM communication is vital to remote areas in the Pacific where communities rely heavily on these signals to gather their news about weather and emergencies, such as cyclones.

The Pacific Freedom Forum urged the French government to consider the impact of this measure. “France must rethink its decision if it values the lives of all its citizens,” said Monica Miller, PFF Chair. “FM is vulnerable to disruption even in mild weather”.

The mayor of Makatea in Tuamotus has also expressed his concerns as citizens have always been given an emergency kit with AM radio and instructed to rely on it for information of extreme weather events.

“This decision is all the more serious because many of these inhabitants are only able to keep themselves informed with a small battery AM radio, witch which authorities have invited these inhabitants to stay informed,” echoed Makalio Folituu, the President of the consumers association Te Tia Ara.

The shutdown is only one of a series of shortwave broadcasting closures that have been occurring throughout the years. The Cook Islands privatised radio in the early 1990s, where they used to tune into Samoa Radio which was later privatised, cutting back on the signal’s strength and staff numbers.  Most recently in December,  the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) decided to drop AM services both domestically and to the Pacific, due to outdated AM technology and its expansion of digital services.

These measures have been seen by some professionals in the Pacific as an attack on media pluralism. “Governments need to stop seeing news media as their enemy,” said Miller and suggested they should start working as partners to fight against corruption, misconduct, and to protect citizens.

The local government has already contacted France Television, encouraging them to consider their decision and to keep in mind Polynesia’s geographical position and the challenges that come with it to make sure AM frequency is maintained for the safety of all its listeners.

Header image: French Polynésia/Mooréa Island. Credits: dany13/Creative Commons