Former President and Honourable Speaker of the Parliament Hon Ratu Epeli Nailatikau;
FBC Board Members;
Ladies & Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I’m delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the anniversary of the FBC – 65 years from the inception of your radio broadcasts and eight years on from your foray into television. And – I should add – only a few minutes removed from your historic re-brand as the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation.
From that moment in 1954, when the beating lali drums signalled the start of your first radio broadcast, the FBC has been our guiding voice through great moments of history. From the birth of our independent nation, to the first deployment of Fijian peacekeepers, through the ethnically-charged upheavals that have marred our politics, all the way through to the launch of our Fijian Constitution and the triumphant emergence of our present-day democracy.
From generation-defining events to the smaller sagas that make up day-to-day life for our people, the FBC has been there; telling our stories and writing the first draft of Fijian history. Whether it’s announcing birthdays, sharing obituaries, busting hoaxes or speaking to the life-changing benefits of development – 65 years on from its inception, the FBC is more than a public broadcaster, it is a pillar of our democracy and of the discourse between our citizens.
But I don’t want to spend tonight gilding the past, least we paint over the lessons in your history. Let’s not forget, before your current management took up the reigns, it didn’t appear likely the FBC would ever reach this Sapphire Anniversary. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Fiji TV was eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner as they ran a virtual monopoly of television coverage. Meanwhile, the FBC – our national broadcaster – was flirting with insolvency. In the eyes of many, profitability was a pipe dream.
Ten years ago, we summoned the political will to propel our national broadcaster into the 21st Century. Since that time, the leadership of your CEO, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has brought the prudent financial management and competitive industry expertise to bring the FBC to the forefront of Fijian news and entertainment.
You were a late-mover to the television market, but you’ve found your legs and – in eight short years — your market position has surged to the front of the pack. FBC News is far and away our people’s preferred news channel and BULA FM ranks as Fiji’s most popular radio station. But what is most remarkable is that you’ve seized market dominance, not by irresponsibly leaning on sensationalism or playing to the base instincts of viewers and listeners, but by leading our national conversation in a positive and inclusive direction. When viewers tune into FBC, they know they can count on content that gives them a new lens to a timely topic, that build national bridges across communities, provinces, and different backgrounds, and that inspires a profound sense of patriotism.
You cover the real issues that will dictate Fiji’s future success and the wellbeing of coming generations: Financial inclusion, resilient development, Fijian ingenuity and business savvy, and our leadership abroad to bring Fiji’s interests and ideas to the global decision-making table – and you do so in all three languages so that no Fijian, anywhere in our country, ever feels left behind.
Like any national broadcaster, you have a contract with government to run public service broadcasting on radio and television — including the operation of FBC 2, a non-commercial channel. In total, that contract amounts to 11 million dollars a year. But the value of your programming, when you consider the costs of energy transmission, man-power, program acquisition and delivery, and infrastructure development, is far higher, amounting to over 28 million dollars annually. Despite that 17-million-dollar gap, FBC is earning profits and growing their operations. Unlike other nation’s public broadcasters, your government contract isn’t a crutch, it’s only a piece of the revenue streams you’ve been savvy enough to forge in a seriously competitive industry.
Like any company entering an established market, you ran at a loss in your first few years. But as the CEOs of Amazon, Fed-Ex and Tesla can all attest, strategic short-term losses can pave the way to long-term market security and financial sustainability. And the FBC has been a case study in implementing the future-focused strategy of growth-before-profits.
Even when fighting your way onto television and into the hearts and minds of viewers, you never defaulted on a single loan repayment – in fact, you’ve over-payed some of your instalments. You’re the first Government Commercial Company to complete the audit of your 2018 financial statements, and you’ve steadily supported investments to grow your capacities and capabilities – not only on the technical side but in developing the creative programming that keeps your content fresh and draws in record audiences.
As your leadership knows – the real measures of success in this business are advertising dollars. And you’re the only broadcaster in Fiji that has shown the adaptability to maintain sustainable rates for advertising slots. And you’ve achieved that while maintaining the 800,000 dollars’ worth of advertising you annually afford charitable organisations.
But the thing about taking the lead in any industry, is that you give your competition every reason to paint a target on your back. The staff of the FBC aren’t strangers to the misinformation and mud-slinging that comes with success. And don’t ever let detractors diminish the nobility of the role you perform: You provide a free source of engaging education to our citizens. The narratives you craft shape a nation’s consciousness. Your creativity puts smiles on people’s faces. And your commitment to inclusivity forges understanding between our people and underpins the unity Fijians know today.
But tonight isn’t only about your journey so far. In welcoming six and a half decades of the FBC, it’s incumbent on each of us to consider what this company will be celebrating ten, twenty, or even 65 years on from now.
In the digital era, the wheel of progress in your industry is spinning at a break-neck pace. My children aren’t getting all their news from radio and television. My grandchildren certainly aren’t. They’re growing up in a world where content comes entirely from their mobile phones; from podcasts, messaging platforms and – of course – social media.
I’m on Facebook. Anyone who has wasted too many minutes on that site can attest, the content is sharp, personalised and – above all else – consumable. Whether they are photos, videos or even “memes” or “gifs” – which I hope I’m pronouncing correctly – the moments that catch fire across social media can single-handedly shift a nation’s thinking overnight – for good or for ill.
Your programming on the Walesi platform, your flash new website and your growing range of Fijian programming are promising signs of your embrace of the changing times. FBC’s content is broadcasting through the over 130,000 Walesi set-top boxes across the country. And on mobile phones, the Walesi app – which now carries complete Facebook integration – has received over 326,000 downloads. Soon, I’m told FBC’s radio channels will also hit the Walesi platform.
By wielding these new digital tools, FBC is leading in the new era of news and entertainment. You must press that advantage by keeping up the innovation, because our fast-moving digital landscape badly needs champions for truth, for unity and for the greater national interest. And in that regard, I know the young staff of the FBC are bringing their ideas and perspectives to the table – that must continue. I encourage each of them to speak out and speak often about where they feel the FBC can be most impactful in the digital age.
The FBC’s journey over the past 65 years – in many ways – mirrors the journey of our now independent nation, particularly given how pivotal the past decade has been for your progress. And like your country, the FBC can look forward to a future filled with new and better opportunities.
I’ve always loved your “I Am” segment, especially the moments when children have the chance to tell their nation why they are proud to be Fijian. Tonight, the FBC as well can be proud to be take full claim of its Fijian identity; and I congratulate the newly re-named Fijian Broadcasting Corporation on your 65th Anniversary and wish you every success in the years and decades to come.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.