Sunday, February 23, 2014

‘Scapegoat Season’ at USP fails to hide achievements


SO it’s Scapegoat Season again at the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. Barely more than a year has elapsed since the last incumbent was dumped as head.

Dr Ian Weber ... out the USP
"revolving door". 
Photo: Jay Folio blog
And now Australia-based Dr Ian Weber, a colleague of his predecessor, has shot out the “revolving door”, as Fijileaks put it. He apparently resigned the same week as the journalism classes were supposed to start for the year.

His litany of complaints about the USP establishment is much the same as many coordinators have expressed in the past, in private if not always publicly – “favouritism, lack of consultation and unethical pressure” plus general lack of support.

So what’s new? Well, this time Dr Weber has launched into an extraordinary and unfounded personal attack on his distant colleague, a local Fiji Islander who is well on the way to becoming the first Pacific Islands media educator at the regional university with a doctorate in journalism.

And Shailendra Singh, a former editor of the Fiji news magazine The Review who has put in far more of the hard yards for the benefit of Fiji and Pacific journalism over the past decade than any expatriate fly-by-nighter, is not even on the Laucala campus in Fiji.

Shailendra Singh ... contribution to
Pacific media research.
Photo: Pacific Scoop
He is on study leave in St Lucia at the University of Queensland, one of Australia’s best journalism schools, completing his research on a thesis, which will benefit Pacific media knowledge enormously.

Broadside response
So why is he being unfairly blamed? From afar, he has fired off a broadside in response to Weber on Fijileaks.

Just like the term “parachute journalists’, there ought to be an epithet used in the academe for “parachute academics”.

Recently the USP programme has faced a host of problems:

•    The award-winning journalism training newspaper Wansolwara (it means "One ocean - one people"), publishing as a liftout in the Fiji Sun (an innovative industry partnership), was inexplicably dumped last semester. (This model newspaper that gave USP a high profile has been the subject of an international academic profile case study.)

Wansolwara student editorial staff
in the Fiji Sun press room.
•    The only other Pacific academic, radio journalism lecturer Sorariba Nash from Papua New Guinea, was let go at the end of his contract (plus an extension) and he has now been snapped up by the University of Papua New Guinea. He has not been replaced by a specialist radio or multimedia lecturer.

•    Former Fiji Times journalist Irene Manueli was also dumped at the end of her contract. She was enormously popular with students and did wonders with a Wansolwara facelift and in steering the newspaper to double prizes in the 2012 Ossie Awards  – annual prizes for the creme of student journalism in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

Irene Manueli ... worked wonders
with Wansolwara.
Photo: PMC archive
This award was also thanks to the student editors Sherita and Sheenal Sharma and their team.

Any university management that let Manueli go so easily with all her practical skills and experience must surely be brain dead.

The argument goes, apparently, that she lacked higher academic qualifications - as do many experienced professional journalists around the Pacific.

Future investment
No problem. The university should simply have made a serious commitment to supporting her get appropriate academic qualifications. This is called an investment in the future.

Instead, USP just relies on the expatriate revolving door to solve its problems.

Sure the Wansolwara Online site, first founded in 1999, has been revived but it hasn’t been updated since last October.

And this is hardly a substitute for the print edition with a proud history since the days when lecturer Dr Philip Cass and inaugural student editor Stanley Simpson and his team founded the paper in 1996.

While the tiresome slanging match goes on from the expatriate brigade, it is worth noting some of the achievements of USP journalism, penned by former journalism head Shailendra Singh after the 17-year-old Wansolwara’s success in the 2012 Ossie Awards.
Notably, USP has also won awards at national and regional levels, both in the student and open categories. In the inaugural 2004 Fiji Awards for Media Excellence, USP won ahead of 25 national print media entrants. It repeated this feat in 2007 when it beat the mainstream print media for the top award.
Regionally USP was a triple winner at 2010 SPREP Vision Pasifika Awards in the Open Category, Student Category, and a Special Commendation awarded to USP for helping develop environmental journalism in the Pacific. All this with two or three staff at the most, which is something that sometimes goes unappreciated.

So to set the record straight, Wansolwara has achieved much, and is well regarded, irrespective of comments to the contrary. Rest assured, USP journalism has been making a positive impact in the region for many years, despite attempts to rewrite its history by some.

My special thanks to Irene … [she] was hired specifically to oversee Wansolwara, her area of strength … I hope that the School recognises that she is a major strategic asset. People with Irene's vast industry experience combined with academic qualifications are rare, not only in Fiji, but the region.

Broadcaster Pat Craddock ... back to USP.
Photo: PJR
To put this in context, USP’s Wansolwara has won more Ossie Awards than any New Zealand journalism school (and many Australian j-schools too). In fact, only one out of 10 New Zealand j-schools has actually won an Ossie for its journalism school newspaper (AUT in Auckland, and it has won four times – fewer than USP).

That's worth celebrating by USP, rather than closing the publication at the first hiccup, and then jumping ship.

STOP PRESS: The good news is Wansolwara will be back - along with Irene Manueli. And broadcaster and a former Radio New Zealand International manager Pat Craddock is coming to rescue the leaking ship, along with "gonzo" journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald Dr Matthew Thompson, author of  Running With The Blood God and My Colombian Death.

Disclosure: The author, an expatriate, was head of journalism for five years at the University of the South Pacific, 1998-2002, the longest serving foreigner at USP. He is now director of the Pacific Media Centre in New Zealand.


Shobna Chanel said...

Very well written with actual facts.

Jona said...

David Robie encouraged, groomed and developed locals. Marc Edge and Ian Weber ridiculed, fought with and dismissed locals.

JNstudent said...

Its a great thing for USP that Ian Weber has FINALLY left. He - if I don't say so myself was the one person who brought the the entire programme to the ground. Reflecting no professionalism whatsoever and openly passing degrading comments about teaching assistant Irene Manueli (who by the way was the heart of Wansolwara) to students saying such things as "don't ask her for anything she has no qualification" on top of that he put unnecessay stress on students causing the newspaper to FAIL. Think about it- the paper has been running successfully until HE came.

An inconvenience and a nuisance said...

From the outside, it seems USP has a disaster-prone head of school in Sudesh Mishra. Apart from a nuisance for students, this professor is an embarrassment for USP.

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