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Professor slams 'slur' on USP academics

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PROFESSOR SLAMS 'SLUR' ON USP ACADEMICS

By SHIRLENE GOUNDAR and GEORGE HERMING: August 23, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP) http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/index.html

SUVA: An associate professor at the University of the South Pacific today strongly rejected claims that academics at the regional institution have failed to help local media provide analytical reports on the elections.

Professor Scott MacWilliam of the history/politics department, was angered by comments made on a radio talkback show yesterday blaming academics for not providing in-depth analysis on political party manifestos in the lead up to the Fiji elections.

Professor MacWilliam, who is also on the executive of USP's academic staff association, told Wansolwara Online in a statement that he was offended by the claims made by Samisoni Pareti, acting editor of the Sun newspaper.

"I regard the comment made by the editor as an unjustified slur," he said.

"I find it offensive when senior newspaper officials make claims which reflect adversely on myself as well as other academics."

Professor MacWilliam, who has a high regional profile as a media commentator with programmes such as the ABC's AsiaPacific current affairs programme, said he had almost never been approached by local media - especially the local press - for comment or information.

On one of the few occasions a local journalist had approached the academic, she was from the Sun.

"She did not turn up [for the meeting] and has never contacted me to either explain, apologise or make another appointment," he said.

The professor pointed out that two of his colleagues, Professor Stewart Firth and Dr Sandra Tarte, had also been regular commentators on issues, including the elections, in the local media.

Asked by Wansolwara Online to comment, Pareti said today he had been referring to economists when he made the comments on Radio Fiji yesterday.

He declined to reveal names of any academics he was referring to.

Pareti also said the newspaper had made an attempt to interview Professor MacWilliam one week after the failed appointment with one of his journalists, but he had declined.

USP's public relations director Susannah Thackray said the university rarely received inquiries from media asking for impartial academic experts to comment on political issues.

"We're addressing this issue by creating an academic expertise database for journalists, which will be available to all local and regional media," she said.

"This will be available both as a web-based database, searchable by subject matter (such as politics, women's issues, history and marine studies), as well as in hard copy, as many journalists don't have ready access to the web for research purposes."

Ms Thackray added that USP's public relations office would make a greater effort to help make local and regional journalists more aware of the extensive and valuable expertise resource they have through the university.

+++niuswire

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