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Fiji Journalists 'Underpaid'

By Isikeli Sauliga USP's Wansolwara newspaper

SUVA: Student journalists graduating from Pacific universities are being paid far lower than other starting media graduates in the region.

And many media industry people believe starting rates should be higher with "career path" structures as in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Although some Fiji media companies were reluctant to give pay scales for a Wansolwara survey in the latest edition, it is understood that starting journalism graduates get paid about F$7000 to $10,000 a year.

The lower range is about half the starting salaries for Fiji’s secondary schoolteachers and nurses.

William Parkinson, president of the regional industry body Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), says: "From the entry point of view, graduates need to be paid more than those that join from unrelated work and academic settings."

He says salaries have risen "dramatically" due to greater competition in the media market.

"More competitors are entering the industry and there is stiff competition among media companies for first-class staff," he said.

His own broadcasting company, Communications Fiji Ltd (FM96), pays higher for graduates - about $8000 a year.

"We actually pay more for graduates when they enter, and I am sure other organisations do.

"But once they are in the work place than it is up to them," he said.

However, Mr Parkinson was critical of the idea that graduates be paid more than those long in the industry.

The Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association's chief executive officer, Jese Sikivou, said maturity should be part of the criteria in making decisions for salary.

"Some have been in the job for years with heaps of experience but they still commit dramatic errors in simple situations," he said.

Mr Sikivou said the media industry needed an overhaul if a salary structure was set up.

"There has been no evaluation done in the media industry like those done in other professions.

"And I feel that it is time that employers and employees of the media should come together and draw up guidelines that benefit both sides," he said.

Information Director Eliki Bomani said any formal salary structure would be the prerogative of media owners.

"Here in Fiji, government does not regulate the media industry. Any decision on salaries is for media owners to resolve," he said.

But Mr Bomani says media owners be objective about the profession to maintain its integrity.

"I feel media owners have a responsibility in raising the standard of the profession so that it comes on a par with others," he said.

Head of programming at Fiji TV Richard Broadbridge said the idea of a formal structure had been "floating around" with no constructive action.

"Actually the idea is there but no one seems to take particular interest in it," he said.

"It would be difficult as media organisations are competing among themselves."

Mr Broadbridge said all organisations had their own structure and policy for paying journalists and it would be difficult to set a standard.

"We pay our journalists differently from those at the Fiji Times and FM 96," said Mr Broadbridge.

"We pay graduates more, that's for sure."

Fiji Times deputy editor Netani Rika said the problem of salary had been in existence since the industry was established and nothing could be done about it.

"Profit is the bottom line and if there is no profit, then the industry collapses," said Mr Rika.

However, Mr Rika said improvements could be carried out in areas other than salary.

"I suggest that graduating journalists form alliances with those already in the workforce and look at areas like working conditions."

Journalism coordinator David Robie at the University of the South Pacific said media owners had a duty to recognise the professional role of journalists in the Pacific.

"They cannot just put up their hands in horror and say that they cannot pay journalists better. Not if they are serious about raising professional standards.

"A career path is vital, or you have a constant drain of good people to better paid jobs."

It was possible for the local media industry to introduce a professional cadet and graded journalist system like in other countries.

"Nurses, teachers and starting graduates in other professions are much better paid.

"It is simply a double standard not to recognise this and be aware of global trends," he said.

USP's Journalism Students Association president Tamani Nair said the concern of young journalists about salary was a challenge and media owners needed to be open to change.

"More graduates are entering the market every year and proficiency levels have improved," he said.

"Employers need to value the time a student spends on training."

* Note: Wansolwara published a table comparing media organisation salary scales and structures in Fiji, and also with Australia and New Zealand.



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