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Response To Islands Business Editorial

RESPONSE TO ISLANDS BUSINESS EDITORIAL

* See http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/isbus.html

ATTN: EDITOR/NEWS EDITOR

The Suva-based Islands Business news magazine has published in its latest edition an unsigned and ill-informed editorial attacking the journalism programme of the University of the South Pacific.

This is the most recent misrepresentation of the programme and of Pacific journalism education in general by editors of that magazine.

The article is on Page 10 of the March edition of Islands Business.

The staff of the journalism programme, coordinator David Robie and broadcast lecturer Pat Craddock, have written an open letter (March 13) to the magazine for publication. A copy of the letter is attached for your information.

-----

13 March 2000

Editor Islands Business PO Box 12718 Suva Fiji Islands Fax: (679) 301423

OPEN LETTER FOR PUBLICATION

USP JOURNALISM PROGRAMME INNOVATIVE

We refer to your editorial column (IB, March 2000) misrepresenting journalism education at the University of the South Pacific: Criticism is waged again by your magazine against the USP journalism programme with your headline claiming “... that [USP] can produce not journalists but academic anaemics, far removed from the real world”.

If USP did produce that type of journalist, the “academic anaemic”, both of us would be concerned as it is clear the region needs quality journalists who can identify facts and refrain from the type of ill-informed opinion pervading this article.

Twenty-eight graduates have been produced by the USP programme in the first six years of its growing life (24 gaining the BA in journalism degree and four passing the new Diploma in Pacific Journalism). Nearly 30 are expected to graduate this year.

Many of our journalism graduates, who you classify as "academic anaemics", are doing outstanding work for reputable organisations both in Fiji and around the South Pacific region. Almost all graduates have jobs in the region’s news media — and some have been promoted rapidly.

Among the graduates are a radio station director and several reporters with the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation; the special projects editor with The Review business news magazine; the business editor with Fiji’s Daily Post; a feature writer with the Fiji Sun; a media officer with the Fiji Human Rights Commission; a senior journalist with the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Commission; a TV reporter with the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation; a senior reporter on V6AH Radio in the Federated States of Micronesia; and the publications officer for a Fiji-based regional non-government organisation, Pacific Concerns Resource Centre.

One student graduating this year writes a popular film review column for the Fiji Times and hosts a daily radio show on FM96 in her spare time from studies.

Even the two staff writers listed by Islands Business on its imprint page are USP journalism graduates.

Another two students were involved in a 1999 television documentary on AIDS shot in Rarotonga and Tahiti. Second-year television students recently completed a UNESCO-funded series of short news items on sustainability which will be shown on regional TV as part of SPC’s Pacific Way series.

Both of us have extensive international and Pacific media industry experience and are still active journalists in the “real” world. In the last few months, Pat Craddock has had USP-sourced radio items broadcast on Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand International and the BBC World Service. David Robie writes media commentaries, edits Pacific Journalism Review, publishes an award-winning website and was last year chosen as the Australian Press Council Fellow.

But back to the students of USP: Each year the university hosts a mini international forum called the South Pacific Island Conference of Leaders (SPICOL) with students playing the parts of prime ministers and other executives. They present authentic researched papers on issues of the day. Each year the journalism students cover this conference and produce a daily newspaper for a week, plus online, radio and TV reports.

The USP journalism programme also won two honours in the top regional 1999 Ossie Awards (organised by the Journalism Education Association of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific) — one for its online and print training newspaper Spicol Daily (published as a liftout in Fiji's Daily Post), which was named best occasional publication, and the other for Wansolwara, which was highly commended in the regular newspaper category.

The significance of this outstanding Pacific achievement is emphasised by the fact that no New Zealand journalism school has won recognition for publications in the Australian-dominated awards.

Wansolwara, the programme’s main training newspaper, also won Fiji’s 1999 Human Rights Award for its “outstanding contribution to women’s human rights in the field of media”.

Much of the training at the USP journalism programme is practically based. The programme is innovative with new technology and besides its two training newspapers it has six-week full-time attachments with daily news media; students broadcast news bulletins twice daily on Radio Pasifik. (This includes news from around the region by arrangement with Pacnews and original items written by the students). Students also publish daily news updates on their two-year-old website Pacific Journalism Online. A glance at the USP journalism website, for example, will reveal a voice report by a USP journalism student who covered the march for International Women’s Day.

The writers of the ill-informed editorial attacking the USP journalism programme commend the work of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association (PIBA). We also commend their work but deplore the implication in the commentary that they are the only leaders in innovative Pacific training for journalism. In fact, it can be argued that in Fiji the work of PINA is a dismal failure, despite many years of workshop programmes funded by international donors.

Youth and lack of experience are a major problem. Recent research by the USP journalism coordinator with 12 news media organisations in Fiji and Papua New Guinea showed that the median age for Fiji journalists is merely 22 and the median experience is 2.5 years — disturbing figures, and far below developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

For example, more than 82 per cent of American journalists have degrees and seven out of eight new media organisation employees are a graduate of a journalism school. (The median age in the US is 36 with a median experience of 12 years). In Australia, 35 per cent of journalists have degrees and the number is rising so that now a majority of journalists aged between 25 and 30 are graduates.

All professional journalists are concerned about raising standards. We would be delighted if PINA’s Suva office would stop knocking the USP journalism programme — the Pacific’s largest and the only one with a region-wide mandate — and instead knock on our door, which they have never done, and talk about how we might cooperate in raising the quality of journalism in the Pacific.

After all, we are lucky enough at USP to have excellent television studio facilities, one of the region’s finest radio studios, an FM community radio with a regional focus, and one of the best-equipped print/online newsrooms in the South Pacific.

(signed)

DAVID ROBIE and PAT CRADDOCK Journalism Programme University of the South Pacific Suva, Fiji Islands

+++niuswire

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, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

(c)1996-2000 Copyright - All rights reserved.

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