Beloved Australian shows including Neighbours, MasterChef and the Voice are among the cast of television programs that will be broadcast into seven Pacific Island nations in a move that is being seen as a bid to prevent Chinese influence.
In a statement on Monday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced the decision, revealing programs such as Neighbours, MasterChef, The Voice, 60 Minutes, House Rules, Border Security: Australia’s Frontline and children’s program Totally Wild will be available for broadcast on local free-to-air channels.
Minister Payne’s statement said the deal was about “strengthening links between Australians and people across the Pacific”, but, the Financial Times dubbed it a “soft power push” over China, after relations have cooled considerably since the rise of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald said “the government is currently in discussions with broadcasters to work out options on how to increase Australian content … in the region”.
From this week, the “PacificAus TV initiative” will broadcast up to 1,000 hours of Australian television content in Pacific nations each year for three years, free of charge.
The deal is costing the government $17.1 million over three years.
“Having the opportunity to watch the same stories on our screens will only deepen the connection with our Pacific family,” Minister Payne said in a statement.
“For decades, many Pacific countries have had access to Australian programs and televised sporting matches and this initiative will expand those entertainment options.
She also revealed Free TV Australia is in the process of finalising arrangements for sport to be broadcast from codes including netball, cricket, soccer, AFL and NRL.
Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji are the first to switch on to the Pacific TV initiative, followed by Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru will in the coming months, Assistant Defence Minister and Minister International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, said.
Last week, Chinese state media called Australia “naive” and accused us of “blindly following” the United States in its latest salvo amid escalating trade tensions.
A pair of articles published by The Global Times – widely seen as the Chinese government’s media mouthpiece – sought to undermine our relationship with the US, arguing it is not a reliable ally.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Pryke, analyst at the Lowy Institute, told the Financial Times that “Canberra has become increasingly alarmed at the growing Chinese influence across the Pacific, which includes a growing media interest in a region that it considers strategically critical and in its immediate neighbourhood”.
The rise of Chinese news media in the region saw rise after the reduction of Australian programming in the Pacific in 2014, when the Liberal-National coalition withdrew from a 10-year, $200m global contract aimed at airing Australian content overseas.