By Jaleesa Simpson
The New Caledonia community radio station, Radio Djiido, is giving the Kanak culture a platform from which the Melanesian community can have its voice on the burning issue of independence.
The station, community owned, operates from a nondesript office building in the somewhat run-down looking Valle-du-Tir district on the outskirts of Noumea.
Its programming is anything but run-down, well focused on strengthening community ties, and drawing a big following from its intended audience.
Radio Djiido was formed by the late Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the independence leader, and began broadcasting on December 4th, 1985, pointedly, the anniversary of the date France took possession of the island country in 1853.
The station’s news director, Romain Hmeun, said this week that despite the links to conflicts of the past, it was not formed as an act of rebellion.
It was done as a way to give the indigenous Kanaks a voice about what was happening in their country, either all together, or as individuals.
“The radio station was not rebellious, because it took part in the Accord,” Mr Hmeun said, referring to the 1998 agreement that sets out a legal process for negotiating on independence.
“What is important here is that the station is part of a symbolic and historical movement.
“People can speak very freely and that’s where the power comes from.”
The station partakes in a heavy schedule of talk, taking in news, education, politics and culture, with much concentration on news for the Pacific region.
Being a radio station like almost all others, they also need to rely heavily on music, and 80% of the music they play is local Kanak music.
Targeting the Kanak community so candidly, it is unsurprising that Radio Djiido also openly supports the independence movement. It is a media outlet that partakes in discussions about a mandated future referendum on independence, under the terms of the Accord, while also supporting the move to cut ties from France.
“The objective for the station is to inform people, encourage them to participate, and educate our audience about what’s happening,” Hmeun said.
The Kanak demographic and independence agenda of the station might suggest it’d fall into the extremism category; Mr Hmeun says no; younger people have no agenda to seek revenge for past outrages, once independence comes.
“The real victims of history have been the Kanaks; but now the younger generations see the Caldoches – the settler community from France – and Kanaks as equals.”
That does not mean that Radio Djiido has lost sight of its ability to assert power and influence – to enable and encourage people to do all they are capable of.
Staff at the station say they do that by providing a platform for free speech; not by being themselves the initiators of substantial changes or movements.
Over the past four years the French and Kanak flags have been flown together over public buildings in New Caledonia to symbolise the two cultures working together towards a referendum solution.
Should that change with independence, with the ditching of the French tricolour?
“That’s more for the militant independentists,” he said.
“I like to see our flags flying together but those matters are for a political decision.
“Today, in towns where a Kanak party has the power, the mayors fly the flags together.”
As a long-time observer and reporter, he believes the terms of the legally-binding Accord will provide hope for the future, whatever the outcome of an eventual referendum.
Since the signing of the 1998 Noumea Accord, New Caledonia has achieved more equilibrium, allowing dqual opportunities for Caldoches and Kanaks – especially for the young with access to education.
“More young Kanaks are going to Australia to learn and become teachers. They them come back and start working, educating younger generations,” said Mr Hmeun.
“There are opportunities for the Kanaks that are not exactly like those of little ‘whites’, but it is getting better.”
Despite being a modestly set up community radio station, broadcasting from the border of Noumea, Radio Djiido is giving a substantial voice to the whole of the islands’ Kanak community – working towards an independent New Caledonia that is equal to all.