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Lack Of Depth Reporting Over Pacific Refugees

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By ASHWINI PRABHA: May 12, 2002

Wansolwara Online (USP)

NADI, Fiji (Pacific Media Watch): A three-day Pacific conference on refugees' rights to information and communication has raised concern on lack of in-depth reporting by regional journalists.

"To be an effective journalist in the Pacific, you have to be more than cautious and very analytical,” said Solomon Islands communications consultant Ashley Wickham.

"We live in small island communities with more intense relationships, where almost everyone knows each other. There is a need not only to be gatekeepers, but also ensure broad exposure of journalists," he told Wansolwara Online.

Rochus Tatamani, vice-president of the World Association of Christian Communication-Pacific, said media had many times failed by wrongly reporting issues and misquoting."

He was referring to the Papua New Guinea media’s reporting on refugee issues, where sometimes sensational headlines had misled people.

The WACC-Pacific workshop heard of a culture of silence and fear that prevented sufficient analysis of issues that should help people discuss community problems openly and honestly.

This workshop brought together communicators representing the media community from Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Among issues discussed were media representations of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, coverage and regional consequences of Australia's so-called "Pacific solution" and the quality of journalists' reporting of issues related to refugees and displaced people.

According to Australian journalist and researcher Nic Maclellan, media shapes public perception and the failure of journalists in not checking their facts during the children overboard issue and their headlines claiming that only seven (out off nearly 1500) refugees in Pacific processing centers (PNG and Nauru), had been proved to be genuine refugees, damaged the reputation of the asylum seekers.

"The negative stories and unchecked facts do not do justice to the refugees," he said.

Fiji Television journalist Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said media organisations needed to pay more attention to sending journalists to such workshops.

"Sometimes biggest huddle is media organisations themselves when it comes to training and support for good journalism," he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum presented the case-study of internally displaced people (called refugees by local media) in Fiji since the coup in 2000. He pointed out that media had inadequately covered the refugees issues in Fiji, especially those in Valelewa, Labasa.

He said media had failed to look into deeper issues of fear and loss of trust in these displaced people. They lost trust in local authorities, the people they lived with and neighbors — who in many cases attacked and some raped the women, and destroyed their property.

"Media had the opportunity to act as the educator but our reports remained reports, they were not analysed," he said.

Ming Ya Tu’uholoaki, secretary of WACC-Pacific said the orgabistion would look into how it could help in organising training for journalists.

The workshop agreed that the refugees and displaced people had their own stories to share. It was vital that the media in the Pacific prvided space for such stories.

Refugee’s issues have surrounded the Pacific for long and the Australian government's "Pacific solution" had attracted criticism and condemnation amid problems of internally displaced victims of political and civil upheaval in the region.

As part of the Pacific solution, Pacific Island countries are used as processing centers for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. They are kept in these centres while their migration/refugee status are processed by the United Nations.

Manus Island in PNG and Nauru have almost 1500 asylum seekers detained in camps.

New Zealand has also taken refugees. Tuvalu and Fiji were also approached.



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.

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