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Pacific: The Case For Better Watchdogs

Pacific: The Case For Better Watchdogs

'It goes without saying that if journalists are better educated, they will do a better job and not hand government a gun to shoot them with.'

Review by Vasemaca Rarabici, of Wansolwara

SUVA (Wansolwara/Pacific Media Watch): Pacific media commentator David Robie's new book, Mekim Nius, makes a strong case about the need for journalists in the region to receive education and training to help them become more credible and effective watchdogs of democracy.

Education, says Dr Robie, will provide journalists with critical studies and the ethical and contextual knowledge needed to be effective communicators and political mediators in the Pacific.

Given the misuse of power by governments, human rights violations and the people's descent into abject poverty in many island countries, Dr Robie's message to the media - to have a relook not only at its form and function but how it is carrying out its social obligations - is very timely.

He says the media needs to play a far more important role in the nation-building process and the way to do that is have better trained journalists.

The issues of pay and cultural factors raised in Mekim Nius pose serious questions about the impact these may have on the autonomy of journalists and the Fourth Estate role of news media in a South Pacific democracy.

Dr Robie has long campaigned for better salaries and working conditions for journalists, not just to attract better qualified people, but to retain experienced journalists often targeted by corporate companies, PR firms and NGOs.

Now an associate professor in Auckland University of Technology's School of Communication Studies, Dr Robie, practised and taught journalism in the South Pacific for more than two decades. He is thus well acquainted with the attacks on media freedom by some governments in the region and has documented them.

One of the pretexts used is to attack journalism standards to justify bringing in new legislation to clip the media's wings, as was threatened in Fiji recently. It goes without saying that if journalists are better educated, they will do a better job and not hand governments a gun to shoot them with. The book draws on interviews, research, two news industry surveys and the author's personal experiences as a journalist and educator.

Published by the University of the South Pacific Book Centre, Mekim Nius includes historical case studies of the region's three main journalism schools - University of Papua New Guinea, Divine Word University (Madang, PNG), and the University of the South Pacific.

Dr Robie also questions international aid policies in the region and the culture of 'short course media training'.

Traditionally - with the exception of PNG where university education has been the norm - the region's journalists have mostly learned on the job in the newsroom or through vocational short courses funded by foreign donors.

However, Dr Robie believes that today's Pacific journalists now more than ever need an education to contend with the complex cultural, development, environmental, historical, legal, political and sociological challenges faced in an era of globalisation.

The book also 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.

Mekim Nius is also a tribute to the pioneers of journalism education in the region. It tells the story of New Zealanders Ross Stevens and Michael King, American priest Father Frank Mihalic and others in PNG from the 1970s and describes the later efforts of New Zealander Murray Masterton and then France's Francois Turmel to get journalism education going in Fiji.

* Mekim Nius: South Pacific Media, Politics and Education, by David Robie, published by the USP Book Centre, Fiji, US$20.



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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