More That Unites, Than Divides

Public Service Broadcasters will have left the Brisbane CBA conference with the feeling that there’s more that unites them than divides them. Everyone involved in the sector realises that times are tough financially but all are focused on what matters most: audiences. Brisbane reinforced what we already knew: that at times of crisis, people turn to PSBs. It also reminded us that there’s nothing better than meeting face-to-face. Some broadcasting professionals will have shaken hands for the first time in Brisbane, and new friendships can now develop. Similarly countries within regions have formed new partnerships, alliances and forums out of this conference. People have been sharing information and swapping experiences but it’s been hard to listen at times, because it’s been about life and death scenarios, and coping after trauma.

They’ve been stand-out moments, most of them captured by heart-breaking audio and footage. One broadcaster from Japan even described how his station, NHK, kept on asking themselves after last year’s tsunami, “Could we have done more to save lives?” The audience felt sad and reflective,  but it drove home the relevance of PSBs. You had the sense that those broadcasters who hadn’t been through the kind of traumas experienced in Japan, Thailand, New Zealand and Indonesia for example, were thinking how lucky they were, quickly followed by a key question: “If something like that happened to us, would we be prepared?”

Crisis is an all-encompassing term and so some speakers adapted it to what’s troubling them most at the moment. Joyce Mhaville from ITV Tanzania spoke forcefully. “It’s an open secret that most of the world covers Africa negatively, but there are a lot of positive stories in most African countries,” she said.  Responding to her point, another African delegate alerted colleagues to the skewed relationship that can occur when two well-intentioned PSBs form a partnership, with the poorer one coming off worse, he says.  We could have had an entirely separate session based on their points.

Outside the conference hall we’ve experienced a rich mix of serious moments and some lighter ones. Here’s a taste: a moving Aboriginal blessing performed at our opening ceremony; affectionate words from The Governor of Queensland about the Commonwealth; an ABC foreign correspondent describing her rucksack stuffed with satellite broadcasting gear and undies (“I’ve probably got radioactive knickers,” she said cheerfully); and a former Wallaby rugby star entertaining us with his fantasy rugby team which includes Pope John Paul II, Meat Loaf and Mussolini. To round it off, we took a trip down river to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Along the way we saw tall posts reaching high into the sky, hammered into the muddy river banks. Visible lines at the top of the posts showed us just how high the water rose during the Brisbane floods of 2011. A gentle reminder of why it was a good place to come for our conversations about crisis, disaster and emergency.

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