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Former Editor Speaks Out On Resignation

Former Editor Speaks Out On Resignation

by Jason Brown, Avaiki Nius Agency

AVARUA, Rarotonga (Avaiki Nius/Pacific Media Watch): The former editor of the Cook Islands News says the daily newspaper has failed to develop any depth with its editorial staff.

Moana Moeka¹a says he resigned after being docked a day¹s pay in a dispute with management over holidays owing.

"It was only a small thing but they didn¹t want to talk about it,² he says.

This lack of discussion comes despite, he says, contributing long hours and hard work including editing the paper for 10 months without a senior reporter.

Moeka¹a says the pay dispute came on top of years of staffing problems.

"After 10 to 12 years of senior staff walking out you have to ask yourself - why?²

The paper was privatised in 1989 after nearly half a century of publishing as a government newspaper.

Sackings were common under government management with reporters called to ³upstairs² ministerial offices and threatened with their jobs if they wrote what officials often referred to as ³naughty² stories.

After privatisation, reporters are free from government interference but frequently resign after disputes with management.

In the most recent case, Moeka¹a says he wanted to resolve the pay dispute.

But one of two long-time expatriate managers since privatisation, Phil Evans, refused.

As he reached the manager¹s office door to leave, Moeka¹a says Evans threatened him: ³Go home today and you lose your job.²

It was at that point Moeka¹a says he decided to quit.

"It was not like I was under contract. I kept asking for a written contract but they would never give me one.²

Moeka¹a resigned in July. The daily newspaper company just this week announced the appointment of a new editor.

Evans refuses to discuss what happened to the paper's last editor.

"I have no comment to make on Moana¹s resignation,² says Evans.

A manager, director and shareholder of the company, Evans appears to have stepped into the editorial chain of command, responding to questions sent to the editor¹s email address about the resignation of Moeka¹a.

No response was received from the acting editor or the new editor, the fourth in the last five years.

"The matter has been closed for six months and we now have a new editor who started work this week,² Evans told Avaiki Nius Agency.

The new editor is founder and former publisher of New Zealand Geographic magazine, John Woods, 52.

More recently, Woods acted as a communications director for the Maori Party of New Zealand during recent general elections.

He was quoted in the daily as basing his editorial principles on an old publisher¹s motto, ³For the cause that needs assistance, for the wrong that needs resistance, and the good that we can do.²

He is the second Kiwi hired to helm the daily, with former Bay of Plenty Times staffer Cameron Scott joining in 2000, resigning two years later.

Neither Evans or Wood responded to a follow up question about ³whether the news media has a higher obligation to comment publicly when questioned since that is what they ask and encourage others to do every day.²

Moeka¹a says Evans and his wife, who also manages the newspaper, were fine ³95 percent of the time,² and rarely interfered in editorial affairs.

³At the moment, I can¹t remember them ever telling me I couldn¹t print a story or anything like that,² he says during a chance interview while walking home from an evening AGM of the Library and Museum Society.

Moeka¹a says he joins a long list of Cook Islands journalists who found they could not tolerate working long term at the paper.

Out of four surviving reporters, only one now has more than five years experience.

Moeka'a says he spent most of his time rewriting stories from junior reporters.

Former publisher of the Auckland community monthly, Kuki Airani, and a senior reporter and then editor with Cook Islands News, Moeka¹a says he is enjoying being away from the grind of newspaper deadlines and spending time back on the land, planting taro.



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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