Football gives birth to TV
If you combine a woman with an eye for an opportunity and an abundance of courage with the FIFA World Cup TM, what do you get? One News – the Solomon’s Islands’ first ever domestic television station.
Prior to the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in Germany, Dorothy Wickham – now CEO of “One News” and the niece of former Solomon Islands Football Federation (SIFF) President Adrian Wickham – was making her mark as a freelance journalist, working mainly for New Zealand and Australia-based news agencies and radio stations. But the April of that year, the riots, which followed the swearing in of new Prime Minister Snyder Rini amid claims that he was corrupt, changed everything. “With parts of the country’s capital Honiara completely decimated, and with our history of political tension, the eyes of the world were again upon us. Because interest in the Solomon Islands was so high, I also worked for off-shore television network during that time, and it was then that I realized that our people had never seen themselves through their own eyes. As a nation, we were trying to come out of a crisis, yet all we could see was overseas coverage that really was quite negative and didn’t get deeply enough into the real stories behind the news. It certainly didn’t help matters and I wondered what could be done to improve the situation.”
“At the same time these throughouts were going through my head, I had an opportune meeting wit the local telecommunications representative, who told me that they were looking for a local provider to pull down the satellite link for the FIFA World Cup. I knew straight away that that was my chance to get more local content on our TV screens because there is nothing that Solomon Islanders are more passionate than football. Launching in conjunction with this amazing event would ensure a completely captive urban viewing audience for the debut of One News as well as a great property with which to draw to sponsors. So I stuck my hand up and said that I would do it.”
Wickham describes the months following her life-changing decision as terrifying but incredibly rewarding. “We put packages together and approached sponsors for each match but with the economy in a rebuilding phase and business that were used to the relatively cheaper rates to radio, it was not easy. The most receptive sponsors were in fact those that have some connection to the hardware industry because much of Honiara was being rebuilt. There were certainly times when the sponsor was confirmed only four hours before a match, but we did it – and the best thing was that it worked. Through the FIFA World Cup, the people of the Solomon Islands knew that they were there.”
One News continues to produce and broadcast its daily news bulletins at 9 pm every day, repeating them again at 7 am the following morning, with football still making up a large portion of their editorial content. “Our relationship with SIFF is excellent. In fact, we often field calls from others sports complaining that we favor football but editorial integrity is of a paramount importance to us and we simply don’t. The difference is that in comparison, football is so well organized here in the Solomon Islands. They are proactive – if something is happening, they call us up. If we ask for an interview, we get it, and they go out of their way to include us in everything they do. From another perspective, I can also see how football affects people here. When you talk about politics, their eyes glaze over. When you talk about football, they liven up completely.”
Wickham refers to the Solomon Islands’ presence at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in late 2006 as a specific example of how football can influence a nation, and the Solomon Islands in particular. “It was really a great story to cover because it was just like a fairy tale. For our people to see these players from the provinces – from places just like where they come from – go to a World Cup, then go one step more and win a game against Cameroon, was a dream come true. It reinforces the reality of what fantastic opportunities football can provide. Our only regret is that, because of the cost, we could not provide more coverage of the event.”
Obtaining content for their programming remains the most difficult task for Wickham and her team at One News, but once again, football may provide the impetus for change and greater opportunity. OFC President Reynald Tamarii learned of Wickham’s story when he was in Honiara in February 2007 to launch the
LEARN & Play project – a joint Ministry of Education and Human Resources and SIFF initiative, which will provide high-quality schooling with a football focus for 360 boys and girls aged between 12 and 15. “For such initiatives to work at an optimal level, children need to be able to see the gifts that football combined with good education can bring, and the media plays a crucial role in that. When I met Dorothy, it was apparent through what she and her team had already achieved through football for the community and correspondingly the contribution they had made to the game, that there was an opportunity to work together to strengthen the relationship between SIFF and One News in order to further benefit the people of the Solomon Islands who have not had an easy time recovering from five years of civil war.”
Ensuing discussions between Wickham, SIFF President Martin Alufarai and the OFC President have been extremely promising in establishing a solid foundation for a future partnership, with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Oceania Football Confederation, SIFF, and One News signed on 17 February 2007.
One TV, 20 people
“People are often quick to point out that in the last survey of television ownership, it was estimated that there were only 15,000 television sets in the country and therefore, the impact of the media on our youth is limited,” says Wickham. “What they don’t realize, however, is that in our community, one television often services 20 people per household – plus neighbors sometimes! It is just the way it works in the Solomon Islands. When someone turns the TV on, everybody comes to watch. Add to that the most accepted joke in the Solomon Islands being that the amount of TVs in homes increases threefold after the survey because of the looting in the riots, then you have significantly more reach and in turn, more influence.”
Let us hope that this is indeed the case and that Wickham is able to continue where she started with One News by taking the Solomon Islands to new and better things through football.