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Tiny Pacific Island Joins Television Age

July 26, 1992

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (AP) _ People crowded around television sets in this tiny Pacific island nation Sunday to watch the opening of more than the Olympic Games. It was the debut of television itself in Vanuatu.

At gatherings in villages or around appliance shop windows in the capital, Port Vila, Vanuatu residents entered the television age watching a live broadcast of the Barcelona games, the first program broadcast by the state- owned TV network.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu has a population of 165,000 scattered over 83 islands. Twelve years ago, it won independence from joint administration by Britain and France.

Vanuatu has two radio stations but no daily newspaper. Initially, TV programming will be available only on the most populous island, Efate. Most of Vanuatu’s islands do not have electricity.

Many residents already owned televisions so they could watch videotapes, but most had no aerials.

Many people have never heard of Michael Jordan or Johnny Carson.

″My kids don’t even know who the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles are, and I rather liked that,″ said Lloyd Daser, a hotel manager, who worries about television’s effects.

In general, however, people were happy to tune in Sunday.

″Now we can see the pictures and how people live in other countries,″ said Mary Iaeson, a transport clerk.

More than 500 television sets were flown in by national carrier Air Vanuatu in the days before the Olympics.

Vanuatu has six athletes competing in the Olympics. Highlights of the opening day’s events were broadcast in both French and English, which are spoken on the islands along with the pidgin language of Bislama. About 94 percent of the population is Melanesian ni-Vanuatu.

The state-owned station, called Our Television Station, was launched with technical help from French network Canal RFO, which has a station in nearby New Caledonia, and some financial help from the French government.

The government began installing equipment four weeks ago. ″It has been a rush, but we have been very pleased with the results,″ said Australian Kevin Page, the station’s principal engineer.

Once the Olympic games conclude, the station will broadcast occasional imported programs shown on tape-delay. It is talking with America’s Cable News Network about broadcasting international news, Page said.

Godwin B. Ligo, director of Radio Vanuatu, which controls the new station, said Our Television Station hopes to generate some of its own programming by January. Right now it has no cameras or microphones.

″It will all happen in time, but we are in a very junior stage,″ Ligo said.

The government has told the station it must abide by community standards, he said. A committee - including traditional tribal chiefs - is being formed to look at the new medium’s social impact and issue programming guidelines.

″We are very anxious that none of the programs we show has a negative effect on the social, religious or cultural life of the ni-Vanuatu,″ Ligo said.

″The people of Vanuatu will not be watching movies about gang violence in Los Angeles,″ he said.

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