Report – By Thakur Ranjit Singh in Suva
The state-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation has undergone a quiet revolution in the past four years under the helm of former Close-Up current affairs host and journalist Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
It is now arguably the most community and international-minded “complete broadcaster” in the South Pacific since it launched its FBC TV channel in competition with the well-established Fiji Television and Mai TV.
FBC’s mix of popular Hindi, local and global sub-titled programmes from many countries have proved popular with many Fijians.
“We know of a case in rural Nausori when some iTaukei ladies get off their bus for a long walk to their village – and they knocked on the door of my aunty to ask to see Pavitra Rishta because they didn’t want to miss the programme,” says chief executive Sayed-Khaiyum.
“Such is the craze of our subtitled Hindi and other popular English programmes that our new station is providing free-to-air to our viewers.”
The energetic and smiling Sayed-Khaiyum talked to Pacific Scoop during my recent visit to Suva.
Fiji’s pioneer radio station has now branched out as FBC TV, providing those popular programmes, and Sayed-Khayuim talked about his tough early ordeal because he is the brother of current regime Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
He admits now he thought of “running away” from a station that was in disarray, poorly resourced and maintained – where staff had to use umbrellas in the board room and offices when it rained.
But they were fortunate that it rained the day Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama called in to see firsthand the dilapidated situation. The staff had to call for umbrellas.
It was decided then to inject capital, not only to renew and expand current radio broadcasting capabilities, but also to branch out into television.
“It was a struggle, quite difficult to instill positivity in a situation full of negativities but with a dedicated team, very long hours and hard work, we were able to make it,” Sayed-Khaiyum said.
The success story at FBC since his appointment in 2008 is self-evident, and is an envy and disappointment to those who questioned Sayed-Khaiyum’s appointment.
For the first time in FBC’s history, a profit of more than $500,000 was posted in the first year of Sayed-Khaiyum’s appointment.
“Most journalists who were hounding me when I started did not want to talk to me about FBC’s success when we posted our profits in the first quarter of that year,” he said.
“Our first year profits were more than the accumulated profits for the 10 years prior to my arrival in 2008, and we became one of the top performing government commercial companies since 2008,” said Sayed-Khaiyum.
FBC has continued showing increasing profits for radio operations since 2008.
In addition to this success story, FBC has successfully completed the biggest broadcast media upgrade and development in the South Pacific with state of the art equipment.
Sayed-Khaiyum told about changes he had initiated and what FBC TV was doing differently.
Firstly, FBC’s world extends beyond Hollywood and Australia.
Programmes are sourced from around the world – from Brazil, China, Canada, India, Iran, Korea and Turkey.
“My aim is to take Fijians around the world without leaving home, and all programmes have English subtitles,” he said.
Another thing different is having educational programmes for children from 6-7.30 in the morning followed by cartoons and news untill midday when soaps and family drama appeal.
Another feature is shorter news bulletins covering major stories.
After seeing changes at FBC, renovations of the 52–year-old building to a state-of art media outlet, interviewing people and finding them talk positively about FBC, I am now seeing the communications company rising from its ashes.
All the prophets and pundits of doomsday have been have been proved wrong – FBC now has an able and deserving captain.
With Riyaz Sayed Khaiyum at the helm, FBC is rising like that legendary Greek phoenix bird from its ashes – welcome to FBC and FBC TV of 2012.
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former Fiji media commentator and publisher. He is now based in Auckland with his own media company.