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The School Of Hard Knocks

The School Of Hard Knocks

SUVA (Wansolwara/Pacific Media Watch): They have covered coups, military insurrections and faced off against armed and dangerous thugs. Their lives have been threatened more than once. Their experiences show that practising journalism in the ³idyllic² South Pacific can be quite perilous.

Fiji One reporter Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation¹s (SIBC) Rosalie Nongebatu, and Taimi 'o Tonga¹s Manu Manuofetoa have been through thick and thin in the course of their work.

They are among eight working journalists who joined the University of the South Pacific¹s journalism programme this year.

With plenty of field experience under their belts, these seasoned journalists say they felt they needed tertiary qualifications to win recognition as professional practitioners of their craft, and to command better salaries and working conditions.

Solomon Islander Nongebatu said that while she learnt journalism on the job, she had always desired a tertiary qualification.

Journalism was something she had always had an interest in but this was tested to the limit during the six-year Solomon Islands ethnic crisis.

³We were held at gunpoint twice in our own newsroom by the Malaita Eagle Force militants," she said.

³They were not happy about one of the news items we had broadcast. They threatened us at gunpoint and told us to take the story out.

³They bashed up our security and chased one of our reporters. And they damaged computers and other equipment.²

Nongebatu said that journalists did not have access to the Weathercoast area because warlord Harold Keke controlled it. "We were not able to go outside Honiara at all."

According to Nongebatu, the media back home has had more freedom since the interventionist forces arrived.

³We can work professionally without fear of violence and reprisals,² she said, adding that she felt her journalism career was looking brighter.

Sayed-Khaiyum, a senior journalist at Fiji TV and presenter of Fiji One¹s current affairs programme, Close Up, has been reporting since 1993.

He was one of the journalists at the forefront of the 2000 Fiji coup coverage.

He barely escaped the wrath of the supporters of coup leader George Speight, who trashed the TV station moments after the airing of a Close Up segment in which constitutional and media commentator Jone Dakuvula mocked Speight¹s claims to be fighting for indigenous rights.

Sayed-Khaiyum, who is pursuing a Diploma in Pacific Journalism, says it is his passion for journalism that has seen him carry on despite threats to his life. His dedication to his work has seen him win numerous awards.

Sayed-Khaiyum says he is studying now because of his parents.

³My parents always wanted their son to have university qualifications, so here I am. I also want to be a good role model for my son and daughter.²

He added that stepping into a classroom after 11 years was daunting to him.

"Its more of a shock than anything else. Everything feels different. But the programme is very interesting.²

Taimi 'o Tonga¹s Manu Manuofetoa has seen his share of anti-media activities. The publication he worked for has been repeatedly banned by the government in Tonga.

But Manuofetoa said this would not stop him and his newspaper from serving the people of Tonga.

"Our company plans to start a radio service, and we are even willing to take it offshore if we do not get permission to operate at home.²

The publisher of Taimi 'o Tonga, Kalafi Moala, paid special tribute to his Tonga-based staff at last year¹s Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference in Auckland, saying they bore the brunt of the government¹s anti-media stance.

The other working journalists are Sakiasi Waqanivalagi, formerly of The Fiji Times, Fiji TV reporters Gary Rounds and Ruci Mafi, part-time news presenter and broadcast personality Inoke Bainimarama and Fiji Sun reporter Pedro Rounds.

Waqanivalagi, a journalist with 11 years experience, said it was high time local journalists had formal media qualifications. He resigned from The Fiji Times to study full-time.

Waqanivalagi agreed that previously some of the more experienced journalists scorned qualifications, saying experience was better.

"I believe that now the mentality of getting qualified is setting in. More and more of our local journalists are realising the importance of it,² Waqanivalagi said.

Rounds said that academic qualifications were just as important as experience. He started reporting a year ago, straight out of high school.

"I like the culture and the teamwork of the students. When I first came here, I thought I was going to be a loner, sitting in a corner alone somewhere, but activities like the weekly editorial meetings keeps me really involved."

Working with the journalism programme staff and students is nothing new for Bainimarama. The former broadcast television personality has nine years of experience in television broadcasting. He started as the host of the popular local children¹s programme, Get Set.

Bainimarama worked with the journalism programme in 2002 at the UNICEF organised Pacific Regional Youth Congress on HIV/AIDS, and in 2003 at the South Pacific Games.

³I¹m really enjoying my classes and I know most of the students and the staff and this motivated me,² he said.

Assistant journalism lecturer Shailendra Singh said the experienced journalists acted as role models for fellow students and that they added value to the programme.



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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