By Eliza Buzacott-Speer
With half the population under the age of 25, the youth of Papua New Guinea are those who will feel the effects of the country’s current rapid development.
They want to be heard but until now have had no platform to vocalise themselves. That is about to change with youth radio station Tribe FM set to launch on June 24.
Under the umbrella of PNG’s National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Tribe FM will primarily feature talkback programs tackling big issues facing the youth of PNG and music by local artists.
Youth content advisor for the ABC International Development MDI NBC project Clara Raven has been working on the project for 16 months.
She says Tribe FM was driven by a desire to give young people a voice.
“It was really the vision of our current managing director [Memafu Kapera] who has children himself but also just felt there was a need for a radio station that was targeting young people that was going to be content rather than music,” she said.
“What we mean is to talk about issues that we’ve been told our listeners want to hear about, so a lot of development issues.
“There’s a huge demand for news-based, current affairs shows for young people here.”
Mobile communication research consultant for the PNG Economic and Public Sector Program Amanda Watson says there are currently few platforms for youth to discuss current affairs.
“Youth in Papua New Guinea deal with many challenging issues … [but] there are very few platforms to express their opinions,” she said.
Head of Journalism, Media and Communication at the Queensland University of Technology Jason Sternberg says conversation and debate are important for young people.
“Research bears this out, that for a young age group, talk, conversation, sharing ideas is really important way of communicating and understanding the world,” he said.
“That is very valuable, particularly for young people, so I think the model is right.”
While Facebook is gaining popularity, Internet access remains limited and Dr Sternberg says talkback radio is still the most effective way to reach people in developing media environments.
“Where communities are quite remote and separated by quite a lot of difficult terrain, radio is a very good way to reach people,” he said.
The focus has remained on the youth throughout the station’s development.
Earlier this year, Tribe FM put out a call for people aged between 18 and 22 to attend an open audition.
“We wanted all our presenters to be young people themselves, so they would be living and acting and talking like our audience,” Ms Raven said.
“We wanted people that didn’t necessarily have radio experience because that could be taught but we wanted the things that couldn’t be taught – enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and those who understood the message behind Tribe.”
Tribe FM eventually selected 11 presenters.
Since then they have been through several training workshops, including time at Australia’s Triple J, which has had great success with its youth current affairs program Hack.
The latest statistics in the 2014 Citizen Access to Information in Papua New Guinea Report show awareness of Tribe FM is still relatively low but the minimal gap between awareness and listenership paints an encouraging picture.
“[Of] those who have heard of Tribe FM before … the vast majority, 75 per cent of them, also went on to listen to the program,” the report reads.
Ms Raven says awareness has increased over the past six months.
“We’ve done a big push on our marketing, lots of t-shirts and wristbands. We are being played on public buses [but] we’ve got a long more to do,” she said.
The opportunity for Tribe FM to expand its reach may be just around the corner.
Papua New Guinea will host the Pacific Games in July and Tribe FM will play a key part in NBC’s coverage of the event.
“Between 12 – 1pm and 5 – 6pm each day they have their own hour where all the Tribe crew will take over,” Ms Raven said.
“That’s two hours a day that they’re going to have a huge audience; much bigger than they normally have. To be part of the national event will be a good boost for the station.”
Tribe FM currently broadcasts two programs a week but will officially launch on June 24.
Content will be phased in gradually which Ms Raven says will ensure the station’s long-term success.
“We’re trying to think about the messaging but we’re also getting our presenters and producers ready to be thinking like content producers,” she said.
“We’ll launch with our flagship show which will probably be breakfast.
“I’d like to say in June 2016 that it will be a full, up-and-running station with different shows happening 24 hours and I think that’s a realistic goal.”
But for now, the developers of Tribe FM are excited about sharing their vision with PNG.
“There isn’t as such a platform for casting their voice or being part of an ongoing dialogue, so we’ve got great potential there,” Ms Raven said.
“People are really excited about what we’re doing and we’re working so hard for it to be this force for young people.”