Radio for a referendum
By Jeremy Miller, Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) Communications Specialist, Bureau Media and Communications, Department of the President and BEC Autonomous Bougainville Government*
Turning up to any small community in a vehicle that can send a telescopic radio mast 20 metres into the sky is a pretty good way to advertise your arrival. If that community is in Bougainville and hasn’t had radio for more than 15 years since a decade-long conflict destroyed all infrastructure, nor had access to newspapers or TV – then you begin to understand the excitement of the growing crowd, observing our preparations for Radio Ples Lain’s (mobile community radio station) first broadcast.
We’re in Halia, the constituency of Patrick Nisira, Vice-President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and I’m training a small and enthusiastic team of young Papua New Guinean media professionals recruited and equipped with the assistance of Australia’s aid program.
Officially launched by Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop in Arawa in December 2014, the Radio Ples Lain communication project aims to enable the government to provide its people with information about the Bougainville Peace Agreement, and preparations for the upcoming referendum – a referendum that will determine the region’s political status. It’s heavy material, but in the Bougainville way, a school choir arrives unannounced and we welcome them onto the show to sing a few songs they’ve been practicing since they heard we were coming. As the broadband-like grapevine spins into overdrive, the local magistrate and then the district police officer turn up and deliver crime prevention messages aimed at a growing youth population succumbing to dangerously powerful local homebrew and marijuana.
Later into the five-hour program, we open the lines for SMS and talk back. I’m astounded at the positive response. People far beyond our anticipated 30kms radio footprint are texting in with messages of goodwill for the project, and more importantly calling in with questions for the Vice-President which he’s even more delighted to finally get the opportunity respond to live on air.
Before the show ends, with our temporary village studio feeling more like a crowded Turkish sauna, two former combatants from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army arrive. They want to go on air and tell their story. It’s a good one. The Bougainville war from 1989 to 1998 drew many into armed conflict and many others lost their lives. But in the subsequent peace, some ex-combatants, like these two, are leading grassroot reconciliation processes critical if Bougainville is to have a chance at a peaceful and fair referendum. Their story will hopefully spread peace amongst tonight’s listeners and maybe motivate more to play a cooperative role in continuing peace and stability in Bougainville.
As they do, it will be Radio Ples Lain’s job to travel around the region to capture and broadcast these stories, and assist an important dialogue among people, communities and government in the lead up to the referendum which is to be held within the next five years.
*Jeremy Miller, is an ACC Communications Specialist, who was on assignment with the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Bureau of Media and Communications. The Radio Ples Lain project and other communication initiatives with the Bureau of Media and Communications were funded through the Governance and Implementation Fund, a partnership between the governments of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was part of Radio Ples Lain’s broadcast in the former capital of Arawa during her recent visit to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.