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Cook Island Media Adds TV, Radio Stations

Cooks Media Adds TV, Radio Stations

By Jason Brown, editor of Avaiki Nius

AVARUA, Rarotonga (Avaiki/Pacific Media Watch): One of the world¹s tiniest media markets is about to become even more competitive.

Cook Islanders may have a second television station within six months, and at least two new FM radio stations. Withdrawal of a private operator from a planned national FM network also clears the way for the possible return of a state broadcaster.

News of a possible new TV station caught early attention in the capital, Rarotonga.

The government¹s approval of a five-year licence for the new station ends an eight-year monopoly enjoyed by Cook Islands Television.

New station owner Nick Henry says his video company, Te Digital Factory, has been in production for 12 months.

"Going into television is just a natural growth," Henry told the daily Cook Islands News.

Budget for the new station is set at nz$500,000.

"We are looking at using different technologies like UHF, digital TV and fibreoptics."

Henry says they have held talks with Television New Zealand and Australian Broadcasting Corporation on developing the new service.

Te Digital Factory co-owner Paolo Cattania says that the current staff employed by the digital factory will be involved with the television station.

"There are five staff members currently employed here and all have a lot of experience that matches the needs of operating a television station," says Cattania.

CITV management are philosophical about the new competitor.

"It¹s no longer a case of whether the market can support two TV stations, we are going to have to make it do or otherwise our investments and consolidated personal efforts would have all been for nothing," says Jeanne Matenga, chief executive of CITV¹s parent company, Elijah Communications, a subsidiary of the Pitt Media Group.

"There is always the possibility that we will lose revenue, but that is not something that we are unfamiliar with. We often lose revenue to CINews and they are indirect competitors to CITV."

Matenga also has cause for celebration, having also been given a broadcasting licence, for a new FM radio station.

"We are very excited about our new FM station. It has been a dream of ours since 2000 and we have been saving up for it ever since. We have had to save for five years; radio isn¹t exactly a cash cow," Matenga told the daily paper.

PMG already has a licence for its AM station, Radio Cook Islands.

Matenga said they were not taking up an option to broadcast FM to the outer islands.

³Economics will dictate how much of Rarotonga is covered. We will not be applying for extended coverage to the outer islands because our national AM station Radio Cook Islands already does this.²

Government last year funded a report into a return to state broadcasting.

The report confirmed years of complaints from outer islanders not able to get a radio signal from Radio Cook Islands.

Station management told report authors they had turned down signal strength to save money.

This may clear a way for government to take up a long-stalled project funded by the New Zealand government to put FM relays in each of the outer islands.

Background for the various moves in broadcasting may have more to do with politics than industry development.

Te Digital Factory first applied for a licence in 1998 but were turned down in favour of a family media company, the Pitt Media Group.

PMG was originally criticised for an alleged pro-government slant in its coverage of news.

Last year, however, PMG appeared to turn full circle, with founder George Pitt threatening to bring the government down.

This followed Pitt being sacked as the chairman of the capital island¹s electricity corporation, Te Aponga o Tumutevarovaro.

He later laid a complaint of corruption against a cabinet minister but, in court as a witness, denied the two events were linked.

Another FM station has been announced by William Framhein, formerly linked with the country¹s controversial Italian hotel project and now suing his former boss, Tim Tepaki, for unpaid wages.

In such a small market, it is unclear how successful new private sector media ventures will prove.

Broadcasting expansion comes as doubts increase over one of two weekly newspapers.

Pitt Media Group, for example, has not yet answered questions about the disappearance of one of its weekly newspapers late last year.

Cook Islands Independent was the second newspaper pulled by the Pitt Media Group, which closed it without public comment.

Another of its papers, the Cook Islands Press lasted just a few months after it was launched about two years ago. It was the second newspaper to be called Cook Islands Press. An earlier version under different ownership ran for four years before folding.

As well as a confusing array of companies, titles, trade names and company positions, the Pitt Media Group has also attracted comment for moving staff and directors in and out of public positions.

While George Pitt has been described as a ³retired director² his brother, Trevor, is currently special adviser to the prime minister.

PMG has still been publishing its flagship paper Cook Islands Herald first published as Total Vision Magazine and Cook Islands Times.

However, doubts are now being expressed about the Cook Islands Times with no issue appearing this last Sunday.

Pitt raised eyebrows in 2002 when he told colleagues at a PINA AusAID conference in Fiji that "your journalistic ethics don¹t make me any money" a quote picked up and published by an American journalist on a Knight Ridder fellowship to the island region.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE
http://www.pmw.c2o.org/

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