Pacific Media Watch
Pacific media 'gatekeepers' condemned at conference

Title -- 3766 REGIONAL: Pacific media 'gatekeepers' condemned at conference
Date -- 17 September 2002
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Pacific Media Watch, 16/9/2
Copyright -- PMW
Status -- Unabridged

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SYDNEY (Pacific Media Watch): Some Pacific news media industry leaders are manipulative and hostile towards the region's education and the Solomon Islands media is dominated by ethnic Malaitan gatekeepers, an Australian public right to know conference has been told.

In a session entitled "Journalism in the Pacific: Corruption, censorship and freedom of speech", former University of the South Pacific journalism coordinator David Robie and a Solomon Islands journalist in exile, Duran Angiki, spoke of problems facing the region's media.

Robie, now a senior lecturer at New Zealand's Auckland University of Technology after 10 years at the region's two main university journalism schools in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, was scathing about the opposition of "some influential news media organisations with an anti-intellectual tradition" at the three-day conference hosted by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ).

The Sydney conference was attended by leading political and investigative journalists, media academics and researchers, and debated issues such as freedom of information policies and coverage of the United States-led war on terrorism and asylum seekers.

"Almost every staff member of the region's major journalism degree programme [at USP] has faced political pressure manipulated by one sector of the media industry that shelters under the umbrella of donor funding and cultural traditions," he said.

"This group appears threatened by the development of critical and university-based journalism education."

At times, political pressure had been strongly overt with demands to review or revoke work permits and misguided attempts to censure the USP programme.

He blamed the Suva secretariat of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and cited details of action taken against the region's journalism educators, including over the award-winning Pacific Journalism Online website during the attempted coup in May 2000 and a series of work permit "manipulations".

Robie praised ACIJ director Chris Nash and staff at the University of Technology, Sydney's Department of Social Communication and Journalism for their role in upholding media freedom by hosting the student Fiji coup reports.

He was optimistic that the USP journalism programme would continue to "develop and mature". It had produced 55 double major degree and diploma journalists so far for the Pacific media industry.

"Many of the graduates have already become established and influential journalists in Fiji and the South Pacific," Robie said.

"And the university will continue to play a growing and valuable role in future media development with a critique of professional and ethical standards."

Duran Angiki, a masters student at UTS, said: "One of the challenges facing journalism in the Solomon Islands is how to deal with allegations of corrupt politicians from the ruling elite and ethnic group [Malaitans].

"As is often the case, they must make a critical choice either to keep silent or take the risk of covering ethnically sensitive issues.

"While the dominance of ethnic Malaitans in the police, the public and the private sectors of the country is common knowledge and contentious, their control of the news media has never been publicly debated."

Angiki said that not until the ethnic conflict between Malaitans and Guadalcanal militants in 1998 did critics start to voice their concern over the "clear bias" of coverage of the conflict.

The Solomon Star and Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) were cited as examples.

"In the lead up to [Prime Minister Alan] Kemakeza's election and afterwards, the so-called 'independent' news media in the Solomon Islands, for reasons only known to their proprietors and journalists, just kept silent and failed to question the obvious 'suitability and credibility' of Kemakeza as a candidate.

Angiki also cited incidents of harassment of some Solomon Islands journalists and attempts to gag them.

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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