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Scoop Book Review: Mekim Nius South Pacific Media


South Pacific Media: Dilemmas And Solutions

Book Review By Yasmine Ryan

One of the biggest problems faced by journalists Author, academic
and Pacific journalist, David Robie.working in the South Pacific is that questioning authority doesn’t sit well with traditional values. Many have spoken of a culture of conservatism in traditional Pacific societies, and in his new book Mekim Nius: South Pacific media, politics and education, New Zealand journalist David Robie shows how this does not bode well for the Fourth Estate. This is compounded by small local communities in which a journalist who gets off side with leaders can easily be targeted and destroyed.

Especially in chiefly societies, lower ranked people just do not question their superiors. In exposing abuses of power and corruption, journalists, then, are often viewed as trouble-makers who create problems that people would ordinarily turn a blind eye to. Robie provides a particularly interesting insight into this dilemma with his quotes from Pacific journalists themselves, for example: “There’s a ‘code of silence’: You ask questions to a certain point – beyond that is taboo” and “Cultural ostracism is something journalists are wary of. Criticism of the Fiji President, Ratu Josefa IIoilo, is seen as an insult by western division Fijians as he is their paramount chief.”

In terms of case studies, the book focuses almost exclusively on the media industries and schools in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. In the more general chapters, Robie gives frequent examples from each nation. There is a chapter on each state looking at ownership, media laws and regulations, self-regulation and the performance of the media in significant local events.

At the centre of the book are three chapters on each of the educational institutes with the most notable journalism schools in the South Pacific: the University of Papua New Guinea, Divine Word University (Papua New Guinea), and the University of the South Pacifc (Fiji). Chapter Eight is dedicated to an empirical breakdown of the Fijian and Papua New Guinean newsrooms, based on two surveys conducted by Robie on staff members from a variety of local media organizations. These surveys seem to have been the original basis for the book, and provide some particularly interesting insights into the local media. Most significantly, they allow Robie to refute the suggestion that there is a common “Pacific style journalism”: rather, he concludes, “distinctive Fijian and PNG journalism styles and approaches have been emerging”.

Robie puts forward a strong case on the need for the development of local media in the Pacific. Drawing on research on media education in the West, he shows that the most educated journalists in the world are those in the United States, where 94 percent of professional journalists have degrees. Less impressively, two-thirds of New Zealand and Australia journalists had some level of tertiary education – not necessarily degrees.

Research on the Pacific media is scarce, but Robie’s own research shows that in Papua New Guinea, some 81 percent of journalists have tertiary qualifications (30 percent of them with a degree, the rest with diplomas) while in Fiji, the total is just 26 percent. Correspondingly, the Papua New Guineans have a more sophisticated understanding of the role the Fourth Estate plays, and are on average older, more experienced, and more likely to stay in the media industry. Ironically, the Fijians earn more.

While it would have been interesting to have seen case studies on some of the smaller Pacific states, Robie has clearly honed in on Fiji and Papua New Guinea as the sites of the major journalism schools in the region – where students from the other islands also study – and as such, they serve his purpose well. And such comprehensive coverage and comparisons between the two are vital to understanding the South Pacific media in general.

Another common myth that Robie seeks to debunk is that the solutions to the problems faced by the South Pacific media lie in self-regulation and throwing more donor-funded training at them. These approaches, Robie argues, have failed. The answers lie instead in education for journalists and a professional ethos. Only then can journalists understand the importance of their role in nation-building and acting as an agent for change. They will have the analytical skills needed to deliver quality development journalism, and South Pacific media can overcome the combined challenges of increasing globalisation and a cultural reluctance to question authority.

As one Papua New Guinean journalist surveyed by Robie says: “News media organizations in PNG seem to be focused in being watchdogs, reporting on what is happening. But I believe [they] have a wider role and that is to be an agent for change. Papua New Guinea is a developing country which does not have the financial resources needed for development such as health programmes etc, but established media, including radio, can be used to bring vital information to people to reinforce positive changes.”

Only renowned South Pacific veteran David Robie – with more than two decades of experience as both a journalist and a media educator – could have written Mekim Nius: South Pacific media, politics and education, perhaps reflective of the lack of quality media development in the region. And it is media development in the South Pacific that his book Mekim Nius explores. This book is an essential reference book for anybody with an interest in media in the Pacific. It is well-structured, and full of tables, graphs and original empirical research. Robie combines his impressive knowledge of the history of Pacific journalism and its nuances, with extensive research to produce the most significant book on South Pacifc media, politics and education since, well…ever.

  • Mekim Nius Distributed in NZ by South Pacific Books Ltd through specialist bookshops. NZ$49.5
    sales@southpacificbooks.co.nz

    - Further information from David Robie: David.robie@aut.ac.nz

  • See also: New Book Challenges Pacific Donor Media Training
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