Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Welcome revival for Wansolwara's international credentials

SO WANSOLWARA finally has its own new-look Facebook page (three days old), with a revival of its online edition coming along soon (promised for a good while now). Excellent move. The original Pacific Journalism Online website student team at USP scooped the pool in the Journalism Education Association (JEA) awards that year and were treated to a standing ovation  at Moolaabaa, Queensland, for their coverage of the George Speight putsch in May 2000. International journalism standards? Yes, they started way back - far more than a decade ago. Pity the USP journalism website slipped into disuse in March 2007. But good to see an online version of Wansolwara finally returning alongside its newspaper edition, printed by the Fiji Sun. Congratulations Sherita and Sheenal Sharma and their team.

Wansolwara has been publishing for 17 years now. Has any other Pacific (or NZ) journalism school matched that? Never. (I notice the newspaper has recently dropped the list of international awards it has won - too much "global" evidence for some?) Radio Pasifik has a strong history too and great to see the revival there with Semi Francis and his team.

It is also great to see the USP Journalism students and graduates bag prizes in the Development Asia Environment Awards. Well done - and especially Fiji TV team leader Anish Chand! (Even though this belated praise actually refers to awards in 2010).

A story about a frothy debate over the state of journalism education at USP compiled by the Pacific Media Centre team while recently in Suva for the Media and Democracy in the Pacific conference seems to have stirred some region-wide interest. It was picked up by other media, including the Fiji Sun. Here it is for those who missed out:

Pacific media educators call for industry incentives for young journalists

By Pacific Media Watch contributing editor Alex Perrottet in Suva

JOURNALISM educators in the Pacific have called for more and better industry incentives and collaboration with journalism schools as a way of improving reporting standards.

A robust debate at the University of the South Pacific among experienced journalism educators revealed that improving the quality of education was an ongoing task.

But it could be helped if journalists had some motivation to stay in the job, instead of moving to higher paid global NGOs.

Lack of experience
A former head of journalism at USP and current PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, Shailendra Singh, said he observed a “plethora of writing” and a “diversity of views” in the Australian media that was lacking in Fiji.

“In Australia, there are bald-headed and pot-bellied journalists. Fiji doesn’t see that due to a high turnover of staff,” he said.

Radio Pasifik's new look studio
with presenter Kirry Veikoso.
Photo: David Robie
USP's Radio Pasifik manager Semi Francis confirmed that media organisations in Fiji employed students straight from school, overlooking university graduates.

Lecturer Misa Vicky Lepou from the National University of Samoa, and a onetime graduate from USP, said it was the same in Samoa.

She confirmed there were many schoolleavers in journalism competing with graduates, and their "substandard work" was noticeable. She said the industry still criticised the journalism school for the poor level of journalism among young reporters.

Improving standards
Dr Marc Edge, current head of journalism at USP, said he was there to “increase the standard of journalism not just in Fiji, but across the Pacific”.

“It needs to improve. Grammar, subject-verb agreement, style, little things like this need to improve considerably,” he said, adding that he too was still learning about the region, having arrived from Canada fairly recently.

He said low staffing at USP in recent years had not helped.

However, Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie responded that the journalism schools at USP and at the University of Papua New Guinea had achieved a lot on the international stage, particularly with USP’s success with the award-winning newspaper Wansolwara.

“At that stage in the 1990s, no New Zealand journalism course had a regular newspaper. We [at AUT University] do have today Te Waha Nui, which I started with a colleague after I came from USP, on the basis of the experience at USP.

“So I think it is hats off to USP - and UPNG in the past - and so on. Wansolwara has received quite a lot of awards. This paper [he waved a copy of Te Waha Nui] has also been an award-winning paper, but it hasn’t won nearly as many awards as Wansolwara.”

Commercial reality
Dr Robie also pointed out that Wansolwara integrated the "commercial reality" of producing a paper, unlike most other journalism schools, which were typically funded by the university or school.

“So students don’t get that broader picture of the economic reality and the difficulties producing a newspaper but Wansolwara does.”

Singh was also concerned to point out that there was much hard work done on the paper in previous years, which had continued under the work of former Fiji Times journalist Irene Manueli.

“The person working day and night on Wansolwara is Irene Manueli. Is she here, has she been acknowledged?”

A resounding round of applause broke out.

Dr Edge remained optimistic about the quality of future USP graduates.

“The first-year students we have this year are incredibly bright. They are as bright as any students I have taught anywhere in the world,” he said.

“And I believe with the kind of training and education they are going to get in the next three years we’ll soon be graduating students of great passion and depth.”

But Singh reminded Dr Edge that there had been great achievements in the past.

“It is not year zero, and you need to understand the local context ... If you come with the wrong attitude you put a lot of people off, and then it’s a very bad start.”

Room for improvement
Professor Robie also said Australia and New Zealand could learn from USP, as its internship period was six weeks, while AUT internships were only two weeks and far too short.

He said journalism schools needed to train students in an ever-increasing range of complex skills.

“One of the things we like to look for in graduates is the range of skills and the capability, because the media industry is changing at such a pace… they have to be incredibly flexible.”

He spoke about giving students practice in real reporting of "live" events against deadline pressure such as AUT's Pacific Media Centre has done with the Pacific Scoop coverage of the Pacific Islands Forum in the last three years.

“It surprises me that no other journalism school anywhere in the region covers the forum, because you’ve got an opportunity there of such a range of issues and the politicians in one place, the NGOs and so on - so it’s an enormously beneficial training environment for any journalism school.”

He said AUT was focusing on producing “well-rounded graduates with critical thinking skills, strong exposure to business, economics, environment, government, history, politics, human rights and culture.

“And education is so vitally important in that process, just simply being trained in a newsroom is not enough. It’s a combination of the industry and journalism schools.”

In the Fijian context, Singh said there was a need to distinguish between responsible journalism and self-censorship, which was of growing concern in Fiji.

“More cautious, more responsible and more circumspect, doesn’t mean self-censorship,” he said.

Dr Edge said USP was looking to begin a postgraduate diploma in digital journalism in the near future, as well as an option to undertake a master’s degree.

In past years, USP had a postgraduate journalism programme and there have been graduates but this was dropped two years ago because of USP funding cuts.

Alex Perrottet is contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch. He was at the USP symposium as both a a reporter and as a research paper presenter.

Papers presented at the conference
USP Journalism bags top environmental journalism awards
Media and democracy in the South Pacific - PMC photo gallery
Frontline Reporters - 2000 USP Journalism video (part 1 of 2)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Samoa Observer's Savea on Tuilaepa, Tavita and rubbish in the wind

"Man of the Decade" Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi
.... mocking the
Samoa Observer.
SAVEA SANO MALIFA'S reply to a dreary moan against the Samoa Observer by Samoan PM Tuilaepa: Priceless.

Talofa i Lau Afioga i le Ali’i Palemia,
Lau Afioga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Thank you very much for your kind advice. It is always a pleasure receiving a letter from you knowing that you have so much work on your plate these days.

And now that you’ve added the Legislative Assembly to your list of portfolios, well, I’m wondering how on earth you can possibly make the time to write all these letters.

I personally would like to congratulate you for your patience, and especially for your ability to just shrug off all those silly criticisms leveled at you, as insignificant ravings of madmen, fools and idiots.

You are absolutely right. Because that, precisely, is the mark of a man with an honorable vision for his country which he is determined to fulfill, despite what anyone else says.

I truly admire you for that.

Watchdog ... Savea Sano Malifa.
Photo: IPI
As for the “mistakes” and the “inaccuracies” in this newspaper’s stories that you’re seeing all the time, well, I want to say thank you for pointing these things out to us.

It’s a shame really, but then I just don’t know what the answer is. I only wish we were all perfect and flawless like you and Terry Tavita but the truth is that we are not.

Still, I want to say I apologize unequivocally for all the idiotic mistakes you see in the paper day after day. Honestly I have no excuses to offer.

I am sorry also that this paper’s “the English publications (have) noticeably fallen in standards in recent times” due to poor editing, but I want to remind you that it is the very high VAGST, import duties and taxes combined, that are directly responsible.

So if you want to see that what you say during an interview is “read (accurately) across the globe” on this newspaper’s website, you should do two things:

1. Lower the VAGST on newsprint, film, plates, computers, cameras and voice recorders from 15% to 5%, as it is the case in other Pacific Island countries, where all newspapers are considered an educational necessity.

2. If you want your interview to be published on the website, make sure you speak in English. This way, since your interview is now captured in the voice recorder, no translation is needed and every sentence you utter therefore will make “darn (good) sense.”

"Lapdog" ... Tupuola Terry Tavita.
Photo: Savali
As for your offer of Tupuola Terry Tavita to work with us we have to say no thanks. Please don’t get me wrong. I only wish you did not bring this name up. For someone who is known around the world as your “lapdog,” how can you possibly say you’re extending “his Good Samaritan … standards,” when we know the man has no principles whatsoever.

Let me tell you a story. Several years ago Tavita came asking for a job. He said he had been a teacher at Samoa College, and he wanted to work as a reporter. Why did he leave Samoa College, I asked. He did not give a credible explanation.

Anyway, I gave him a job. He became a reporter. Sometime later, he approached me again and said he had been given a scholarship to do his Masters at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, and he wanted time off from work.

I gave him time off. Later still when he returned from Suva, he came back to work. Asked if he had finished his Masters, he said yes, but he had to finish his thesis.

Well, what do you want to do, work or finish your thesis? He wanted to work, so I gave him work. Again.

At the time, we had a policy – we still have it – that no reporter conducting an interview at any function – public or otherwise - helped himself to food and drinks if such were served.

The rule is that when the interview is done and the photos are taken, the reporter leaves. In those days, all of our reporters respected this rule except Terry Tavita.

Since he would not leave until he was fed and soused, we gave him money for his drinks somewhere else, on the understanding that he left the function immediately after his interview.

Later still, he had an argument with the paper’s editor at the time, Peter Lomas, and Terry Tavita stormed out the door. He did not have the decency to come and tell me what his quarrel with Lomas was about.

I felt let down and sad.

Later still I was told that he went straight to Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s office, and he was hired to work for the Savali. You know the rest.

And then he started attacking me in the Savali, which is a government paper funded with my taxes. I never said a word.

Since then he has been developing a defiant standard of reporting in defense of his “boss” – Tuilaepa – so that he inevitably earned the unflattering moniker “lapdog” among his media colleagues.

And you want him to come and work as a “good Samaritan “ in this paper? No, thank you very much. Keep him there. You need someone like him to defend you and protect you.

As for your worries about the clothes you’re wearing when your picture is taken, well, honestly you should not. Personally, I don’t care about what clothes I’m wearing anyway. If it hadn’t been for common decency and the fear of disturbing the peace, I would go around with what I was born with.

I reckon you should think the same way too. Besides, clothes are just skin-deep. It is what’s inside you that count. I know you’ve got a good heart and that is all that matters. Trust me. The rest is all rubbish thrashed about in the wind.

And lastly Tuilaepa, you are a handsome man. We all know that. You are handsome both outside and inside. So that wherever in the world your photo is taken, it is published and your fame is assured. And always remember that it is not the photo that counts but the man behind the photo.

So don’t be paranoid. You are still our “Man of the Decade” whether you believe me or not. And that’s the naked truth.

But thank you for your kind words about my “growing old gracefully and, well, comfortably.” I know. I’m finding it rather hard not being able to grow old fast enough. Which is why I must thank you once again for those mind-wrecking court cases that sort of really hastened the aging process along.

God bless you too, Tuilaepa.

Sincerely yours,
Savea Sano Malifa

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fiji game on - Repúblika aims to restore media credibility

Publisher and editor Ricardo Morris at the Repúblika launch in Suva yesterday. Photo: Fiji Times
SO, AT long last, the era of soft journalism and self-censorship in Fiji is truly over. Or is it? Some media personalities such as Communications Fiji's Vijay Narayan say there is no self-censorship. And he is backed up by "checking" this out with three other media organisations. But others disagree. In fact, some disagree so strongly that former Mai Magazine editor Ricardo Morris has jumped ship and launched a new monthly magazine, Repúblika, yesterday which is dedicated to restoring Fiji's media credibility. This crusading step is so courageous, that it is worth republishing his launch release here:

Mainstream Fiji media failed in its duty
The first edition.
Over the past decade or more, Fiji along with the wider Pacific – and indeed the world – has seen a change in the media environment. Apart from government regulation there has been corporate encroachment, ethical lapses and a failure to serve the public in whose interests we should have been working.

The news media in general has embraced commercialism at the expense of journalism; the independence of newsrooms from the commercial arms and activities of their companies has become suspect.

The mainstream print media in particular, with relatively vast resources at their disposable, has failed to consistently and properly carry out its public service duty. They have failed to maintain integrity, balance and accuracy. Failed to tell people what they need to know, as opposed to the fluff the media thinks they ought to know. Infotainment has overcome news analysis.

Certain media outlets have blatantly sided with one side or the other of vested interests in their news reporting.  The profession of journalism, once an honourable and respected calling, has taken a tumble in the eyes of many.

As journalists, we have sometimes easily been swayed, letting the baggage of our biases, political leanings, provincialism, racism and sometimes our open support for political parties and actors, get in the way of good, honest journalism.

We must regain the vibrancy, excitement, the passion, the truth-telling and – probably even some of the gung-ho attitude – that were once the hallmarks of some of Fiji and the Pacific great journalists such as the late Robert Keith-Reid.

That’s why we’ve created Repúblika. Over the past six months, the team at Republika has worked on putting together a publication whose time has come. We have been blessed to have had the unconditional support of family, friends and colleagues – and all those who contributed without hesitation to the first edition.

In the week since we have launched, we have had several questions about how the project is being funded.  Whoever is interested in finding the answer to that question is welcome to pursue it.  I can confirm that there are no big corporate interests behind Repúblika. The creation of Repúblika has been pure sweat, tears and sleepless nights to assemble a magazine that captures pressing issues that affect Fiji and the region today.  What we may lack in finances and resources is more than made up for in passion, drive and determination and a belief in our dreams.

For too often, the media has insulted the intelligence of its audiences by delivering content that’s been passed off as journalism but has involved nothing more than ripping articles off the internet. This is something we will change.

Through the public’s support we will be able to produce journalism that jumps. For Repúblika, content is king and our editorial independence is important to us. We are less gloss and more substance.

It may seem idealistic, and whatever the practice may be, the bottom line is that as journalists we serve the public interest first and foremost. When we conceal or confuse issues for the public, we fail in that duty.

Our entry into the market has been described as triggering a “magazine war”, which is nonsense and baseless.  The established magazines have their own approaches and audiences but a wide gap currently exists in the market with nobody willing to take on what’s perceived to be a sensitive and difficult market – current affairs, corruption and politics, without the propaganda.

Repúblika will bring back investigative journalism, ask the hard questions without fear or favour, on issues of current affairs, corruption or politics. Politics affects all of our lives every day, whether we like it or not, so we might as well discuss it.  And with a new constitution in the making, it is an even better time to document the course of Fiji’s political development.

We at Repúblika wish to acknowledge the members of the public who have given us their blessings and whole-hearted support. We have come into existence to serve the public and we will only be able to survive with the support of the public.

We also urge our journalist colleagues to rally around us and work with us to bring back honour and integrity into our profession.

 To sum up, as I wrote in the inaugural edition of Repúblika:
We aim to regain some of the vibrancy of a free media, to act as a mirror on society without fear or favour. The Pacific – and Fiji – has not been immune to the ethical lapses that have been all too common in recent years in media establishments around the world so we anticipate being held to the same high standards we expect of our leaders and those we criticise.
Repúblika also recognises the inextricable link we share as Oceanians. We will explain Fiji to Oceania and explain Pasifika to Fijians.
We are independent, we aim to be informative and we will inspire you.
Ricardo Morris

Café Pacific says good luck Ricardo. And now the challenge is really on to deliver on the promises.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Fiji self-censorship. Yeah right! Reality check time

Round two of the FijiVillage.com "no self-censorship" pats on the back.
By Alex Perrottet of Pacific Media Watch

IF ROBUST debate is lacking in the Fiji media, there was certainly plenty of it at the Media and Democracy Symposium hosted at the University of the South Pacific.

In the aftermath, award-winning Communications Fiji news director Vijay Narayan criticised conference organiser Dr Marc Edge, head of the USP journalism school, for asserting there is a practice of self-censorship in Fiji media – without providing proof from a specific study.

Narayan and fellow reporters opened their FijiVillage.com website article on Tuesday with: “Everyone who is commenting on claims that there is widespread self-censorship in the country are making comments without any proper surveys conducted with journalists and media outlets.”

Indeed, Narayan was one of those vocal journalists at last week's conference who defended the Fiji media’s performance.

Self-censorship claim
But lawyer and outspoken regime critic Richard Naidu, also a former award-winning journalist, told Narayan at the symposium: “To suggest that the media is not operating under a set of self-censorship rules means that one of us is on the wrong planet.”

Narayan had said no one from his organisation was threatened or taken to the barracks. He said that since the lifting of the Public Emergency Regulation in January (which included strict censorship), his media organisation had not consulted the Ministry of Information before publishing.

“We have never called them [Ministry of Information] after the PER was lifted because we are comfortable about our decisions. We have never been taken to the camp, we have never appeared before the media tribunal,” he said, adding that “some people want to be heroes”.

He added that people like Naidu had not been in a newsroom and didn’t know what it was like.

Naidu retorted: “I worked in a newsroom – you can’t tell me I don’t know. If your organisation hasn’t gone to court I don’t think it’s doing its job.

“That’s why most media organisations have lawyers.”

Earlier in the panel discussion, representatives from the Fiji Sun and Fiji TV had told their stories of operating under censorship, before the lifting of the PER.

Before lifting of PER
Fiji Sun's Josua Tuwere ... "it made us better
journalists". Photo: David Robie
Josua Tuwere, deputy editor of the Fiji Sun, said censorship had been a good thing for them.“It made us better journalists – we were forced to think about the repercussions of what we write,” he said.

While Tuwere said censorship was “all civil, no one was threatened ever”, Fiji TV’s legal manager, Tanya Waqanika, had a different experience.

“We had our fair share of detention, fair share of threats,” she said.

She said Fiji TV operated under censorship by consulting with the Ministry of Information and obtaining prior permission for a story to avoid a backlash once it was broadcast.

She said it involved the ministry disallowing vital stories such as one on the Sigatoka hospital running out of water.

Issues remain
And even though the PER has been lifted, and Fiji TV was operating under a “business as usual” approach, it still consulted the government this year before running an advertisement from a client which featured brief footage of military men with guns.

She also said journalists were still afraid, and apprehensive to ask the questions they would normally ask.

“The journalists, they see the penalties. If you were in that situation, and there’s a court case currently against The Fiji Times, for any person, it freaks them out,” she said.

“No one wants to be fined.”

It resonates with Naidu’s claim it was of no impact that the decree had not been used against a journalist. He said the threat of the fines were penal enough – a journalist can be fined up to F$50,000 without the right to appeal. (The media decree provides penalties of $100,000 for media organisations, $25,000 for publishers and editors and $1000 for individual journalists).

Naidu described the six-month extension of Fiji TV’s licence “more like a good behaviour bond than a licence” while Waqanika said: “We just have to play it safe” and “We have to make a business decision”.

Now Narayan might be able to defend Communications Fiji and its website FijiVillage, and he is correct in his assertion that there has been no specific study on FijiVillage’s reporting, but perhaps he was ignoring the elephant in the room after hearing from Tuwere and Waqanika.

Evidence is in
His organisation has published an update yesterday on the self-censorship debate. Narayan and fellow journalists Dhanjay Deo and Sarah Vamarasi claim there is no self-censorship, after "checking" with Fiji Times editor Fred Wesley and Fiji Sun publisher Peter Lomas, and their own editors.

That is hardly an academic study.

They also say Fiji TV says it will not comment. How they would have handled an honest answer may have been interesting.

This writer is undertaking a study into the print media in Fiji and other Pacific countries and there is extensive evidence that due to censorship, the print media in Fiji is suffering from self-censorship, as they are not sure where the line will be drawn by the government.

Fiji lawyer Richard Naidu ... Code of Ethics
"doesn't work as law". Photo: David Robie
As Richard Naidu pointed out, the Media Industry Development Decree is full of subjective tests.

“What is and who decides what is against public order? What is and who decides what is against the public interest?” he said, referring to the decree’s punishments of fines and jail terms for those that fail to pass the test.

He also said the Code of Ethics enshrined in the decree was cumbersome”: “It does not work as a law. A law is required to be precise and accurate. A code is a guideline, a set of practices. A code cannot be enforced as a law.”

Drawing the line
The Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns, to her credit, presented and sat through the whole two-day symposium, and was willing to be interviewed by any media or student journalist.

She gave me a small insight into where the government’s line might be.

She recognised it “would only be natural to have caution” for journalists coming out of censorship, but said: “Come out, there’s no need to be afraid”.

“It’s like all of us – the laws are only there for when you or I break them. And the chances of you or me ever breaking the law, apart from a speeding ticket or fine, it’s never going to happen because we know how to behave because we know what’s right.

“And so journalists know what’s right as well.

“It’s always that small one percent of people that want to push it to the limit, and that’s what it’s for. We want to be able to say: no, we want social harmony.”

But certainly more than that one percent feel intimidated. And what is it that the one percent are prone to publish against “social harmony”?

Smith-Johns said journalists need to “embrace what the next step is” but at least publicly, she hasn’t shone too bright a light on that area between the next step and the abyss should they step too far.

Media ‘at fault’
She did say there must be caution: “We are very sensitive to the racial and religious issues here. And in the past, that’s always what has really got the media into trouble…

There’s been some hard stuff said in the media that you wouldn’t be allowed to run in the media anywhere in the world.”

Tuwere from the Fiji Sun agreed – he said the media “were irresponsible in their reporting, especially on issues of race”.

Perhaps if journalists steer clear of racial invective, which is the right thing to do anyway, they can get away with much more than they are currently attempting regarding analysis and criticism of the government.

At the symposium, a former head of journalism at USP, Shailendra Singh, said it was certainly not a “cut and dried” issue as some would like to make out.

“More cautious, more responsible and more circumspect, doesn’t mean self-censorship,” he said.

Perhaps this is not only a time to be more circumspect, but more courageous.

But that’s easy for me to say, writing from New Zealand.

As an example, Smith-Johns referred to the recent accusations of self-censorship levelled at newspapers by Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Women’s Crisis Centre.

Smith-Johns argued that when publishers did not run Ali’s advertisement they were not under any government directive and they made their own decision, probably based on readers’ tastes.

‘Let public decide’
She said there was a lot of “irrelevant” information in the release despite the fact the women’s groups had a lot of good things to say.

“I would have preferred that ad to run because it was quite silly in a lot of ways and quite defendable from our point of view,” she said.

“Let the public see what they are saying. I’m sure a small percentage of people would agree with them and a large percentage would disagree.”

So Smith-Johns and the government are happy for the papers to run “silly” press releases, as people can make their own minds up. It seems, however, that they don’t trust people making their minds up about some other issues, hence the decree and its fines for those that “push it to the limit”.

From what we saw at the Media and Democracy Symposium – and the reporting of it in the press the next day – there are not a lot of limits being pushed.

Alex Perrottet is contributing editor for Pacific Media Watch, a masters student at AUT University researching comparative journalism in three Pacific countries and was at the Media and Democracy conference in Fiji. He also has a law degree.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Media, democracy and self-censorship in the Pacific

Robert Hackett speaking at a recent seminar at Fairhaven College, WWU on Vimeo.
USP media and democracy video coming soon

RAMPANT SELF-CENSORSHIP in action? It was astonishing to see a Media and Democracy symposium at the University of the South Pacific – which raised the tempo of “quality” journalism debate in post-coup Fiji by quantum leaps – being ignored over substantive issues while the regime’s chief media official was splashed across both daily front pages.

Keynote speaker Professor Robert Hackett, a world-renowned Canadian authority on peace journalism and “alternative” journalism models, was not even reported. Instead, the news was Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns saying “rise to the challenge” and take advantage of the lifting of censorship. But while the local media duly splashed this message, few local journalists actually engaged with the challenging ideas canvased at the conference.

Speaking to some of the young journos on hand, Café Pacific certainly had the impression that they were not experienced enough or well-equipped to cope with fundamental questions challenging the news media. Countries as diverse as Britain, Australia and New Zealand are pre-occupied with rebuilding public trust in the media – and strategies for doing this - in the wake of  the Leveson Inquiry triggered by the “hackgate” scandal that closed Murdoch’s big-selling tabloid News of the World and has led to prosecutions of several journalists and media personalities. 

But the local Fiji journalists seemed immune from this and not familiar with global debates about the future of journalism. A critical conference opening speech by USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Esther Williams savaged the Fiji media (front page in the journalism student newspaper Wansolwara), complaining about reports “riddled with editorial mistakes”, drew defensive retorts from local scribes.

Yet the interesting research and analysis about Fiji and Pacific media presented at the symposium was covered in a very superficial manner, if reported at all. Fiji Television produced an atrocious Close-Up programme about the symposium by Myron Williams - not in the same class of the Geoffrey Smith special report about the Pacific Media Summit run by PINA earlier this year. Even Radio Australia and Radio NZ International (usually reliable) failed their audience on coverage. Readers need to go to Pacific Scoop or Pacific Media Watch for independent and informed and reportage.

The most insightful preliminary article was actually an offshore blog column on Grubsheet by Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis who wasn't actually even there (and should have been invited). While this mainly dealt with behind-the-scenes tensions leading into the conference, it at least raised some of the core philosophical issues facing the future of  regional media. Such issues included what models of journalism might be best suited for Fiji and the Pacific – an unbridled “publish and be damned” Anglo-American approach, or something more subtle but equally robust such as a range of journalism models grouped under the label “deliberative journalism”. “Deliberative” models – as deconstructed by the Pacific Media Centre’s Professor David Robie, are essentially those more suited to citizen empowerment for a better democracy – include those such as public journalism, alternative journalism, critical development journalism, peace journalism and human rights journalism. None of these models are “soft” or core journalism values, but add a wider range of skills as well.

Bob Hackett, co-editor of a recent book called Expanding Peace Journalism – comparative and critical approaches, deserved serious attention by the local media. His speech will eventually be published in Pacific Journalism Review. He spoke about what kind of journalism a democratic society needs, if it wants democratic governance to be stable and sustainable. Depending on which rationale for democracy is key – “protection or development” – there are “different models of democracy, each with different expectations of how journalism should function, what their ethical pronciples and practices should be and what legal framework best supports it”. He considered three models, in particular:

1.    Market liberalism – the “free market” model in Fiji (as it used to be) shared with Australia and NZ: “Democracy is seen not as an end in itself, but as normally the best institutional arrangement to maintain political stability and a liberal political culture characterised by individual rights and choice.” The media serves as a watchdog on government power.
2.    “Public sphere” liberalism – “prioritises the role of the media in facilitating or even constituting a public sphere so that public opinion can be formed”. The independent watchdog role continues, but a higher value is placed on popular participation.
3.    “Radical democracy” and a political economy critique – “radical democrats seek not to just reinvigorate an existing system of representative democracy, or to ensure quality of legal and political rights for everybody. They also prize direct participation by people in making the decisions that affect their lives and approximate equality in wealth and power.” The watchdog media role is endorsed, but greater emphasis is placed on social change and popular mobilisation against social injustices.

During the conference, the excellent new USP documentary on media freedom in the Pacific, made in association with the International Federation of Journalists (and directed by Don Pollock), was also screened. And there were feisty debates about media freedom and journalism education.

Stop press: Current USP head Dr Marc Edge has again misrepresented David Robie in his Fiji media wars blog. What was actually said about Pacific journalism education and standards at the USP symposium is reported here. Edge has also been blasted by the FijiVillage news team over his self-censorship claims.

The local media partially redeemed itself a week later with the Fiji Sun republishing a symposium overview by the Pacific Media Centre team on Pacific Scoop and the Fiji Times running a short (900 word) extract from David Robie's 8400 word paper about "deliberative" journalism and media models. Perhaps they read this blog? But Café Pacific wonders why no local scribes present at the conference produced a reflective overview article.

Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns (speaking) and USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Esther Williams at last week's media and democracy forum. Photo: USP

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