First I would like to pay tribute to David Robie, the author of
Mekim Nius: South Pacific Media, Politics and Education
, for his dedication to journalism in the Pacific.
I first met David when he was a freelance writer on Pacific issues and doing a fantastic job. We are very short of mass media journalists who take a Pacific-wide interest, covering a region that is so diverse in culture, language and politics — and so important to us.
I appreciate and acknowledge all those here in New Zealand who try to enlighten us about what is happening in the Pacific: journalists like Michael Field, or
New Zealand Herald
journalist Angela Gregory, the Radio New Zealand International journalists and the TVNZ journalists assigned to the Pacific.
Over the last several years David has shifted his great energy from freelance journalism to advancing indigenous Pacific journalism through the University of Papua New Guinea journalism programme, the USP journalism programme, and more recently here at AUT.
And on top of this, David has done a fantastic job with Pacific Media Watch, Café Pacific and the Asia-Pacific email network.
This book challenges New Zealand to do more to assist journalism courses in the Pacific. New Zealand does provide some scholarship money for people come here from the Pacific to do journalism, and New Zealand gives general support to the USP, but New Zealand has not given the specific support to journalism courses in the Pacific that, say AusAid and the French government, have.
David’s book is a tale of great achievements by many journalism teachers and students in Papua New Guinea and Fiji amid the difficulties over funding of the courses, and political pressure from those who don’t want good journalists to make them accountable to the people.
The work the student journalists in David’s courses did during the George Speight takeover of Parliament in May 2000 is an example for student journalists in this country — of going ahead and telling it like it is, even if there are physical and other dangers involved.
In the Pacific, journalists are in the front line of the struggle for free speech, more democracy and more accountability by officials and politicians.
David’s book is heartening in that the most serious challenges to free speech in Papua New Guinea and Fiji were beaten off, even though there is some way to go. Serious attacks on the press have been beaten back in other Pacific countries, like Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu.
It must have been exciting for David to be part of the development of journalism in the Pacific, because he was clearly among committed people, not just cynical journalists doing it for a job.
It is interesting that in a survey reported on in the book a third of the journalists in both PNG and Fiji saw themselves as part of nation-building. The term “development journalism” that David uses is apt.
It is quite a challenge, in the context of development journalism, to keep your objectivity and tell the truth, at the same time as respecting traditions and having, as an aim, assisting the development of your community. I see a lot of parallels with the Maori media here.
David’s book stresses the importance of students being inculcated with strong journalist ethics. I think it was this ethical strength, which carried over to important elements of university officialdom, that kept the PNG and Fiji journalism courses going, even when there was opposition to them and to David himself, from important figures in the university or the political establishment.
A strong ethical foundation among journalists is a key to stop any system of media regulation from drifting over into censorship. Journalists themselves have to be directly involved in any such regulation and David points out this has not always been the case in the Pacific.
Diversity in ownership of media is also important, and it is disturbing that Rupert Murdoch plays a major role in the print media in both Fiji and PNG. David points out how Murdoch’s
was a bit soft in its coverage of the Speight coup.
One of the frustrating things for me reading in
about the achievements of the Pacific student journalists, and what they have achieved in their subsequent careers, is that we get so few of their articles coming through to our media.
Although, as I indicated earlier there are some good journalists on Pacific issues based here, as a country we are still not gaining a full understanding of what happens in the South Pacific.
French Polynesia is rightly in the news right now, and if Oscar Temaru and his party do get to run the government that will be a tremendous progressive development for the Pacific as a whole.
But how much have the people really taken in about the struggle of Maohi people of French Polynesia over the years, and the role that Oscar Temaru and his independent movement have played?
There is still a big challenge ahead for us to help the flowering of an independent media in the Pacific, and to improve our own media, so that New Zealanders can truly play our role as partners for progress in Pacific.
MEKIM NIUS: South Pacific Media, Politics and Education
by David Robie.
ISBN 982 01 0584 6
(Published by the USP Book Centre, University of the South Pacific)
306 pp. illus. index. bib.
(Publication: Fiji – December 6, 2004; NZ – February 24, 2005).