Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific climate change, ‘failed states’ and media muddles

David Robie being interviewed by Litia Ava on Fiji National University's Radio FM88.6
on "open day". Also pictured are Jessica Gounder and Wati Talebula.
Photo: Varanisese Nasilasila (FNU)
WHAT is it with the Fiji media? Or at least with many of on-the-job reporters? Bylines on slightly rehashed press releases, regularly misquoted subjects and "direct quotes" from people when the reporter isn’t even present to hear them … the list goes on.

Café Pacific publisher David Robie has just experienced more of the same with his latest conference presentations at the University of the South Pacific. At USP for a “conference within a conference” with the theme “Islands and Nations: ‘Failed states’ and the environment" at the Pacific Science Inter-congress last week.

Last time it was The Fiji Times at fault. Now it is the Fiji Sun. Reporter Rinu Shyyam correctly reported the call for a new “media morality” (without explaining the context) but the rest of her story was a garbled parody of what Robie actually said.

And it seems the reporter wasn't actually at the presentation at all – she has simply rehashed a University of the South Pacific press release.

The problem is that reporter Shyyam has simply uplifted paraphrased comments from the media release and then reintroduced them into her story as direct quotes and made nonsense of the statements.


The Fiji press ... not a good track record on accuracy.
Photo: David Robie
And then she has completely changed the gender of one of the other panelists, Dr Sky Marsen, an academic staff member at USP, and given a confused version of what the third panelist, Sorariba Nash, of Papua New Guinea had to say about corruption and the environment.

It's easy to see why so many people in Fiji have such a low opinion of the local media these days.

Some excerpts from David Robie’s actual presentation are offered below.

However, after dissing the Fiji Sun coverage, Café Pacific praises student broadcasters at both USP’s Radio Pasifik and Fiji National University’s Radio FM88.6 for their excellent interviews with David. The students showed the mainstream Fiji press how it’s done.

Radio Pasifik's Mr Sakiusa (right) with David Robie
and USP students. Photo: USP
Special congratulations to Radio Pasifik’s presenter Mr Sakiusa and FM88.6’s Litia Ava who asked good questions on the conference issues.

Along with Litia were reporters Jessica Gounder, who filed stories in the latest edition of The Journalist (published in the Fiji Sun as a liftout on Friday), and students Wati Talebula and Varanisese Nasilasila (photographer).

Also, the hospitality of the media studies programme head Elia Vesikula, FNU registrar Jone Dakuvula and the newsroom team was exemplary during an “ambush” visit at the end of open day. Vinaka vakalevu guys!

Fiji National University media studies head Elia Vesikula
and registrar Jone Dakuvula with David Robie on "open day".
Photo: Varanisese Nasilasila (FNU)
 Among the points made in David Robie’s paper “Deliberative journalism, environmental risk and media credibility” are:
Former Wansolwara editor Sherita Sharma (right)
and her mother, Lalita, of USP at the Islands and Nations
conference. Photo: David Robie
  • “Failed states” represent a global challenge in the environmental context, not just in the so-called “war on terror” context. Gorzewski defines a failed state as:

    [One] that can no longer provide its people with basic services and which loses control of its territory [and] only ends up magnifying the problems. In addition to terror and armed conflicts, these include organised crime, human trafficking, drug dealing, waves of refugees and a mushrooming arms trade … and climate change.

  • Whatever the statistics, the future looks bleak for the South Pacific. Just how bleak, has been graphically portrayed by Tom Zurbrycki’s 2011 film The Hungry Tide. This documentary focuses on the Micronesian nation of Kiribati, which is in the front line of climate change. Global warming threatens the lives of 105,000 people in this “vulnerable and forgotten corner of the Pacific” as the sea rises, a film profile declares. 


  • Global geopolitics author and analyst Gwynne Dyer, who outlines varying scenarios for the future of the planet is there is no consensus by the leading nations in his 2010 book Climate Wars,  is also scathing about the “Anglosphere”, comprising the group of English-speaking developed countries that ‘whole-heartedly embraced the highly deregulated ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model of economic policy’ which he argues ‘finally crashed’ in 2009.

    The other area in which the "Anglosphere" deviated most from the developed country norm was its high degree of disbelief in the scientific evidence for climate change.


  • How is the media responding to this? Not terribly well since the failure of Copenhagen in 2009. In spite of the strong Pacific presence and campaigning by many vulnerable states at that conference, the failure of the developed nations, and even some of the developing countries such as Brazil and even Papua New Guinea sparked a cynicism among many news media and so-called ‘balanced’ journalism, which gave climate change deniers a disproportionate voice.


  • David's paper cites Bob McChesney and Vance Pickard about  a major flaw in contemporary professional journalism - apart from an over-reliance on official sources, is that it tends to "avoid contextualisation like the plague". McChesney argues that this was a considerable strength of “partisan journalism” in the 19th century.


    It attempted to take every important issue and place it in a larger political ideology, to make sense of it. But under professional standards, to provide meaningful context and background for stories, if done properly, will tend to commit the journalist to a definite position and enmesh the journalist (and medium) in the controversy professionalism is determined to avoid. Coverage tends to be a barrage of facts and official statements.


  • A deliberative journalist needs to file issue-based reports that are sufficiently engaging to capture public attention. But they also need to be incisive, comprehensive and balanced so that the public can frame issues and understand the background and context of these issues. Journalists also need to flag insights and evaluate possible responses or potential solutions. And they can at least do a more inspiring job than the politicians about global warming.
We Are Guåhan's Leevin Comacho ... excellent presentation
on the militarisation of Guam.
Photo: David Robie

Apart from David's paper, there were many excellent presentations - incuding USP's Maelin Bhagwan on the Nanuku squatter settlement; human rights lawyer Leevin Camacho (We Are Guåhan) on US militarisation and indigenous communities in the Pacific; and Nicole George on "beyond shame and silence" on gender issues.

But you wouldn't read anything about any of this in the Fiji media.

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