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Book Review:

HONOLULU (PIR/Pacific Media Watch):
Mekim Nius: South Pacific Media , Politics and Education
By David Robie
Published 2004 by USP Book Centre, Fiji, The University of the South Pacific; 306 pages; paperback; US$20.

Review by Shailendra Singh

Anyone wishing to understand the intricacies and challenges of practising and teaching journalism in the South Pacific will find Mekim Nius, the latest publication by David Robie, an authoritative and informative source.

Now a senior lecturer and publications coordinator at Auckland University of Technology's School of Communication Studies, Dr Robie, a New Zealander, practised and taught journalism in the South Pacific for over two decades.

The book is a summation of his experiences as a reporter covering the region and later an educator at the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of the South Pacific in Suva for nine years.

While the publication¹s primary focus is PNG and Fiji, where Dr Robie spent most of his time, it also gives a broad overview of journalism in the region with a focus on the ethical, legal and other dilemmas faced by Pacific Island scribes.

It touches on ownership issues, government, corporate, institutional and cultural pressures, pay and working conditions and training and development concerns as voiced by journalism practitioners, educators and students in the Pacific Islands.

The book contains research conducted by the author over several years, including data from two news industry surveys.

This includes an interesting comparative analysis of the training and education levels of PNG and Fiji journalists and their perceptions and understanding of the role of the media in their societies.

The research component of the book makes it a welcome addition to the small body of academic work available on journalism in the South Pacific and as such, will have a special appeal for scholars.

Significantly, the book is the first comprehensive historical documentation of the beginnings of university journalism education in the South Pacific.

It recognizes and pays tribute to the sterling efforts of those who pioneered journalism education in the region, such as the now retired Murray Masterton, the late British journalism educator Peter Henshall and New Zealand investigative journalist Ross Stevens.

Henshall and Stevens were instrumental in starting the program at UPNG in 1975 while Dr Masterton, a Kiwi, established the USP journalism program in 1987.

Interestingly, the journalism programs at both UPNG and USP went through the same birthing pains as journalism programs at many other universities in western countries, facing scepticism and struggling to find acceptance from both the academia and the industry.

Dr Masterton, who is interviewed in the book, recalled that USP staff did not consider journalism a worthwhile addition to the curriculum and felt that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. He also faced a "never-ending" computer problem.

At UPNG, Stevens and his colleagues had to deal with prejudice against journalism education at a university and faced serious resource constraints.

Given the prevalent attitudes at the time, it is not surprising that the journalism programs at both UPNG and USP were outside initiatives by the New Zealand Government in UPNG¹s case and the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation at USP.

The French stepped in after the departure of the CFTC, funding a double major degree program between 1994-97, after which the USP took over.

The third university journalism-training program in the South Pacific is based at the Divine World University in PNG, founded by the Catholic Mission.

The university education versus on-job-training debate, which flares every now and then in the region, is also addressed in the book.

Dr Robie takes the question to the journalists and an overwhelming majority both in Fiji and PNG favored some form of academic training to enable them to be better at their jobs and improve their working conditions and career prospects.

A survey on the journalists¹ salaries found widespread dissatisfaction among journalists in both Fiji and PNG.

Dr Robie¹s concern is the lack of support and low priority placed on journalism education in the region by not just the industry, but also academia.

He sees this as dangerous, particularly in an era in which Pacific Island journalists are required to report on highly complex issues and need to be provided with the philosophical, sociopolitical and historical contextual knowledge to meet the technical skills of being effective communicators.

In order to effectively carry out their watchdog and nation-building roles, Dr Robie contends that today¹s journalists need to be better educated to have the capacity to understand and interact with their political and social institutions in what is a rapidly changing, globalize world. "Only a genuine understanding of what is at stake can give the journalists the will and wisdom not to bow to the considerable pressures on South Pacific media freedoms by governments, businesses, corporate power, and by non-governmental organizations," he says.

Low wages, he adds, is a serious threat to autonomy and warns that journalists could become part of the corruption problem instead of the solution.

Crusading for better salaries and more investment in training and education for journalists has earned Dr Robie his fair share of critics and enemies.

But the effort is starting to bear fruit. The USP journalism program, for instance, now receives an increasing number of applications from working journalists.

At the Journalism Education Association Conference in Suva in December, Fiji TV news director Netani Rika said that his company supported academic education for its journalists and backed calls for better pay and training.

"You pay peanuts, you get monkeys," said Rika.

Last year, the pay and training issue was raised in the Fiji Parliament.

The likes of Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte and former Fiji Times journalist Matt Wilson have also called for better working conditions and training for journalists as a means of improving standards.

In this regard, Mekim Nius should heighten awareness among South Pacific journalists about not only their societal roles and responsibilities, but also their own rights and entitlements, which is something they have not been very vocal about.

This book is a wake up call to the Pacific media industry and governments over pay, working conditions and training for journalists.

It is time politicians put their money where their mouth is by boosting training resources for the region¹s media instead of relying on outside donors.

© Scoop Media

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