Region journalism

REGION: Media critics see new report as hopeful for ‘dysfunctional’ national bodies

Communications Fiji’s news director Vijay Narayan speaking at the Media and Democracy symposium at the University of the South Pacific last year. Image: David Robie/PMC
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Item: 8246
National media associations in the Pacific have been reported as “dysfunctional and fractured” and are seen by some as irrelevant. However, a proposed new scheme may help provide a solution to some of these issues. Holly Ryan reports.
AUCKLAND (Asia-Pacific Journalism / Pacific Scoop / Pacific Media Watch): When asked to think about the Pacific, sandy beaches and remarkable underwater caves with a myriad of tropical fish are often the first thing to come to mind for New Zealand audiences
A history steeped in financial and political pressures, civil wars and fighting, however, is sometimes more accurate.
This “darker side” to the Pacific is often overlooked or only briefly brushed over in the news. So how can an area that has been so fraught be so largely overlooked in the media? According to a recent aid agency report, it comes down to a lack of media unity in the Pacific.
Almost every country in the Pacific over the last century has undergone some form of internal struggle. The current ongoing struggle in Fiji paints a clear picture of this.
In situations such as this, the media plays a vital role in informing not only the world of the issues facing a country, but also in informing local people of issues occurring in their backyard.
With the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day coming up next month on May 3, the issues around freedom and unity of the media in the Pacific are increasingly important to address.
Investigations into these issues have painted a bleak picture of media in the Pacific.
Breakdown of associations
A recent report, “Strengthening National Media Associations in the Pacific”, was written by Pesi Fonua (Matangi Tonga publisher and president of the Tongan Media Council) and Jean-Gabriel Manguy (former head of Radio Australia), looking into the effectiveness of national media associations in the Pacific.
They found that in every country, national media organisations are either disassociated and weakened, absent altogether or exist only in name.
Some commentaries, such as from Pacific Media Watch, have highlighted the “dysfunctional and fractured” findings or, from Cafe Pacific, lack of discussion about accountability in the report.
Kalafi Moala, owner and publisher of the Taimi ‘o Tonga, believes the problem with these organisations and with media councils is that they do not have a clear objective.
“There is no clear reason why media councils exist, they are seen as irrelevant by the public. At the moment, if no media council existed for example in Tonga, it wouldn’t really affect anyone because at the moment they are not able to do very much.”
According to the report commissioned by the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), national media associations in the Pacific face numerous issues which have pulled these organisations apart or have forced them to take sides to survive.
Media freedom and independence are either openly restricted, such as in Fiji, or exist in a climate of intense media pressure such as Vanuatu.
Despite the magnitude of these issues, Pesi Fonua is confident that the report will make a difference in the Pacific.
“There is a good chance now to sort things out. At the moment there is nothing in place. We are starting small but once you start something it can snowball,” he told Pacific Scoop.
“This plan has a good foundation, good reason, good ideas and realistic timeline. I think this could work.”
Proposed plan
The report outlines three key objectives to try to strengthen national media associations in the Pacific, and highlights the importance of having a “professional, diverse and independent media”.
The report firstly discusses the need to have active media associations. This would involve the media and its supporters becoming more involved in their communities and working together to focus on key issues.
Secondly, these media groups must be committed to being professional and ethical, as well as being advocates for free media.
Finally, these organisations must be simple, flexible, and able to adapt to the needs of its members. Improved training and education for the media is also covered in this report.
Professor Mark Pearson of Griffith University in Australia believes that while the report is well-written and planned, the execution of this plan might prove a little more difficult.
“The problem with national media associations are that they attempt to bring together quite different interests. You have journalists who are working in often quite competitive environments being asked to put aside their differences and come together on these issues.”
Despite the issues so clearly outlined and the subsequent importance of this, the report has been largely ignored by the wider media.
Not surprising
This is not surprising, however, when the number of previous attempts at media unity are considered. It has been a long and uphill battle for media associations in the Pacific, and not all who have read the report are so enthusiastic about it.
According to Bob Howarth, former general manager of the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, the scheme, while a good idea, will take a lot of money and time.
He is sceptical that without strong leaders and key figures in every country to support the scheme, that this could end up as so many other plans have been in previous years, a media “flavour of the month” which fades as quickly as it began.
Veteran New Zealand broadcaster Pat Craddock, who has more than six years experience in Fiji and has worked all over the Pacific, agrees saying that, “there is nothing negative in this report, but there is nothing new either.”
Financial issues
Craddock also highlighted the financial issues in the Pacific as playing a major role in the breakdown of the media, and said that you often find journalists are very poorly paid in the Pacific.
According to Craddock, in most Pacific Island countries, more than four out of five journalists are paid under $15,000, which is less than a secondary teacher earns straight out of college.
Pearson also discussed this point.
“What ends up happening is that journalism becomes a calling or a career of conscience, and these journalists end up paying a huge price to do this compared to their peers and others in their age group.”
The scant resources available and low wages mean that many journalists end up working for the government or in public relations where there is more money and better working conditions.
This often leads to diminished reporting capabilities and in many countries such as Tonga and Samoa, the media are seen as a joke and are disregarded.
Lack of training 
Howarth believes the main issues for media in the Pacific are financial and political pressures, but more importantly, the lack of resources and training for journalists in the region.
“Journalists in the Pacific need better training and assistance. In Papua New Guinea, hardly any of the media are using the internet, there needs to be a better level of training.”
The problem with this, as outlined in the report, is the lack of resources and funding available to these national media organisations. There are limited media bodies or advocacy agencies, and those that do exist have few resources and limited lobbying power.
This is particularly true in smaller countries such as Nauru and Tuvalu where the media is entirely government controlled.
Internet usage also varies hugely between countries; Vanuatu has a population of around 225,000 and has 7.6 percent internet usage, compared with French Polynesia which has a population of around 260,000 and 40.7 percent internet usage.
The extreme variation between these countries mean it is difficult to apply a model which will work for the Pacific region as a whole.
Will this work?
To achieve the three key goals, the report outlines plans for yearly seminars in each country to discuss key issues, having better journalism training in each country and supporting national media associations that are present already, or helping those that are being set up.
According to Pearson, the question is really the extent to which these organisations can achieve this goal in such a diverse and changing environment.
“I guess the short message is that this report is to be congratulated on its professional and thoughtful approach, and while it is optimistic, we need to be optimistic that these national media associations can work.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether the two-year plan will make a difference for media in the Pacific.
Holly Ryan is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.
PACMAS media report dodges aid elephant in the room


Bunch of Wets! said…
"The problem with national media associations are......."? And this is a Professor speaking?

Frankly, the national media associations are a disaster waiting to happen. Another one, that is. If they are unable to speak about themselves with logical, grammatical statements what else is wrong? Just about everything. And they have been told so on numerous occasions. The mindset will not accept this self-evident criticism. So they languish in dysfunction and general unhelpfulness. While they sit about languidly contemplating how best to avoid "Shaping Up", organised crime, political threats and violence gather: like looming carrion crows. Twenty years or more of this has plagued the South Pacific Region and they are very much part of the problem. The overseas Camp Followers are no better. They also have much to berate themselves for. Many navels to examine and much guilt to expiate. Look at yourselves! And weep for the rest of us who suffer through your genuine lack of courage and focus. The survival of many small nations is imperilled. You are mostly a Bunch of Wets. Ask any victim of Serious Organised Crime attack/home invasion/underage pregnancy as a result of being trafficked or raped through a Facebook Stalking.
Anonymous said…
In August 1999 the Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, advises Ambassador Siddique that tender for mahogany is still open and American Companies are welcomed to bid for the tender. We go into action and publicize this opportunity to Americans via our Department of Commerce network. One American firm, Timber Resources Management (TRM), which was always very interested in harvesting Fiji’s mahogany, was very proactive. In fact, they have been into running right from the beginning. They had the backing of Fahenstock - one of the largest and most respected stock brokers on the Wallstreet.
CDC, an investment company owned by the British government, offered $68 million for the stake and certain cutting rights - a sum many in the Fijian government considered far too low. TRM, a newly created consortium led by Marshall W. Pettit, a businessman based in Bellevue, Wash., entered a bid of $110 million.
In July 1999, MPC settled on CDC, stating in a letter to CDC that the British company was the "preferred bidder" and that the government "wishes to proceed to complete the negotiations." The letter's existence, however, didn't emerge until months later. The letter was leaked to us by an official of the Prime Minister’s office.
TRM, meanwhile, continued to pursue its bid, having spent more than $2 million on legal fees and other deal-related costs. TRM and Fahenstock & Co., a New York-based securities firm that was organizing the bond involved in TRM's bid, arranged to fly four Fijian government ministers to New York in a final push to promote the bid. Since the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prevented TRM from paying for the trip, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency agreed to be the sponsor. The agency paid US$25,000 in air fare, hotel and travel costs for the ministers.
Mahendra Chauhdry probably thought that TRM will never succeed and just wanted to engage Americans to “look good”. To his surprise, the four ministers who came back from Wallstreet supported TRM’s bid in the cabinet meeting. More so because of the involvement of Fahenstock and reflection of Fiji’s maturity as a nation by raising bonds on WallStreet. It would have been a positive reflection on Fiji in the international business community. Majority of MPC cabinet were supporting TRM and MPC was very uncomfortable with turn of events. The then minister for commerce Anup Kumar was making the presentation. Minister Anup took a small break to go to washroom. In his absence, MPC bulldozed his will by getting the cabinet to endorse CDC. Anup was shocked when he came back from the washroom to find out that MPC took over his presentation and overruled his recommendation.
It is after the cabinet meeting we learned of the July 1999 letter and the Fijian government's commitment to CDC. Ambassador Osman Siddique, was furious that the Fiji government had accepted the trip in bad faith and wasted U.S. taxpayers’ money. We felt thoroughly taken advantage of. We were not bitter at all of not getting the mahogany deal. Recently Americans lost out when Air Pacific decided to buy Airbus in favor of Boeing. Did they raise an eyebrow? No! We were bitter that why did the Prime Minister take us on a ride when he had already made a deal with CDC. We were bitter because the Prime Minister of Fiji took us on ride, humiliated us, wasted US taxpayers money and our time. You don’t con a country. And as far as Osman’s and Embassy’s involvement, we were simply supporting the commercial interests of a U.S. company.
Coming up……. Coup 2000

The above is from Nirmal Singh's FB. So this is why they all want the 1997 cons.
Anonymous said…
These blood sucking leeches are rejecting the 2013 cons because it requires them to declare their interests, assets and liabilities, and also there will be a commission that will monitor these con artists. Here is what Rajendra Chaudhary has to say on his FB:

1997 Constitution - the only legitimate Constitution:

Only the 1997 Constitution - nothing else. That is my message to the FLP SDL UGP NFP and FICTU. No other document or process. To ask for any lesser instrument would be accept that the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution was lawful So political parties - no compromises with an illegal regime on the constitution. No quick deals and no silly statements on any alternative document. Recognise the fact that the 1997 Constitution cannot be abrogated and was not abrogated. We must all push for it to be the supreme law of the land. Bainimarama and the regime must be made to recognise this simple fact.
Iron Interest and Will said…
Were the 'Bunch of Wets' sufficiently interested, they would by now have obtained the specific data relating to Fijian nationals training on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would see how relevant this is not only to that area but also to the SP Region itself. Try Agence France Presse. They make it their business. After all, their Government is commited in Mali: restoring a measure of dignity to the people of the region who have been infiltrated and terrorised by Islamist extremists allied to Al Qaeda. It takes an Iron Interest and Will and a measure of 'Smarts'.
Mahen '$AUD2.5 million dollar man' chaudhry said…
I salute Nirmal Singh for exposing mahen's unethical and dictatorial ways.
Further proof that FLP was one man show and chaudhry family party.
Today party is full of yes men an women (like asha lakhan).
mahen is an unmitigated disaster as a politician, as a unionist and as a leader.
He has destroyed FLP by using it to further his political career, line his pockets, and give jobs to family.
Party is full of groggy old farts under mahen's high command.
And people like mahen in-law Sachida, who was appointed in a nepotistic manner.
Indians continued to blindly support the party.
that's why they up shit street today.

Joe said…
Hooray!!! we now have someone who read between the lines. The big question is, why???? The difference between the 2 bidders was $42,000,000. How much of this was going into m*i ch*d chaudharys pocket? Why did MC accept the lower bid? Was it to be inflated later? Is this the same as LQ stealing iTaukei land in Momi? Is this why 2013 cons is unacceptable to the crooks?
Anonymous said…
Chaudhary ki ma ki choot madhar chod, gandu ke aulaad
Anonymous said…
So I see your friends in Fiji are now taking money from PNG to pay for their democracy. What cheap arses they are; never practice is and get other countries to pay for their play things... cheap cheap cheap
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