The Prime Minister, acting in his capacity as Minister responsible for media and broadcasting in Vanuatu, commissioned a comprehensive strategic review of the Vanuatu Broadcasting & Television Corporation (VBTC) in March this year. It stemmed from Government’s concerns about ongoing governance issues at VBTC that have plagued the institution for close to two decades. These issues have undermined VBTC’s ability to deliver a reliable and responsible broadcast service.
In commissioning this Review, the Prime Minister ordered close scrutiny of the relevance of existing legislation including the broadcast regulatory environment; organisational structure, governance; resourcing; and, financial viability and sustainability.The Strategic Review was undertaken over June-August 2017 by the Pacific Group Limited who engaged two independent consultants  local resident Mrs Wilma Vocor - the former Chief Operating Officer of ANZ Bank Vanuatu; and Mr. Francis Herman of Australia who has extensive media experience in the Pacific including a former CEO of the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and Program Manager of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS). The third member of the Review team was Mr. Fred Samuels Managing Director of PGL who was Team Leader of the VBTC Review. The final report was submitted to Government at the end of August and endorsed by the Council of Ministers (when).
The Review Team’s Report offers candid observations about VBTC’s operations and proposes a wide-ranging reform program intended to transform VBTC into a responsible, relevant and sustainable state owned enterprise. It submits that if VBTC is to remain relevant and viable as Vanuatu’s national public service broadcaster, the Government of the day needs to exercise strong political will to support the recommendations of the Review report to transform VBTC;
It argues that any successful transformation requires rock solid bi-partisan political support and adequate public funding to provide the certainty VBTC requires to grow into an efficient and credible public service broadcaster while simultaneously operating a viable commercial enterprise. It submits that the transition from a tired national broadcasting service requires enormous goodwill, ingenuity, strategic thinking and a solid collaborative partnership between all stakeholders, including Government, political groupings, civil society sector, the church, the private sector, the community and development partners. It argues that a vibrant and effective national public broadcaster can facilitate and strengthen improved governance and the delivery of essential services, lack of which is an underlying cause of instability. It proposes a framework to stop any furtherhaemorrhaging of VBTC along with a pathway to transform VBTC into a respected, responsible and sustainable national institution that personifies a centre of excellence and best practice.

 It adopts a holistic approach to the VBTC reform programme based on the Review Teams opinion that there is no point having a well-structured and capitalised VBTC with good policies and procedures if the VBTC does not deliver programs that people want to hear and watch.  There is also no point developing content which have a social and economic value for Vanuatu if people cannot tune into the radio or television. It recognises the critical relationship between content and audience expectations and recommends this relationship must remain the core in the context of how social and digital media have transformed the way the audience receive and consume content. It further recognises that the shift away from traditional media delivery allows audiences far greater control over the content – what they want, where they engage with, when they do so and where they get it from.

Among the Review Teams major recommendations are:

 

1.       Amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act to separate out VBTCs regulatory and broadcasting functions. This will involve transferring VBTCs broadcasting regulatory functions to a separate entity;

2.       Introduction of a merit-based selection criteria for VBTCs Board of Directors which involves a public application process for positions on the Board. A proposed Board Charter has also been developed as part of the Review. These changes are intended to strengthen governance issues and minimise instability and political interference at Broadcasting House;

3.       Implementation of a new organisational structure designed to deliver an improved broadcasting service that offers more interactive, compelling and relevant content for a local audience;

4.       The immediate recruitment of a suitably qualified Executive Leadership team to plan, implement and monitor the transformation programme;

5.       The development of fresh plans designed to stabilise and grow the national broadcasting service and introduce greater operational efficiencies and excellence;

6.       Harmonising organisational development initiatives to focus on capacity development of Ni Vanuatus engaged in the media industry;

7.       Adopt strategies to strengthen VBTCs ability to reach new audiences, create new products and services, and, transform the organisation into a trusted and innovative national institution that enriches the lives of all Ni Vanuatus;

8.       Designing and implementing a capital development plan that strengthens and expands the existing infrastructure using relevant and affordable technology to deliver broadcasting content to every household across Vanuatu;

9.       Referral of allegations of mismanagement and potentially fraudulent practices to the appropriate authorities for further investigation;

10.   Strengthen Editorial Policies and process to safeguard VBTCs role as an independent, credible and honest source of news and information;

11.   Undertaking relevant market and audience research that can influence VBTCs radio, television and online content to ensure it remains relevant;

12.   Pursue adherence to copyright issues that ensures compliance with the relevant protocols governing copyright. This compliance must be extended right across the industry;

 

The Review also considered a range of inter-related matters including the privatisation of VBTC, cross-media ownership, exclusive broadcast rights, digital transformation, and, joint ventures.

 

It remains the recommendation of the Review that the State retain total ownership of the VBTC and refrain from any attempts to privatise VBTC. The Review remains optimistic that VBTC can be managed more efficiently to avoid the huge financial losses it has chalked up over the past two decades.

 

It is strongly recommended that Government support initiatives to strengthen and maintain a credible national public broadcasting platform that involves a hybrid model of both public and private sector funding.

 

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