SUVA (Pacific Media Watch): The Pacific Islands News Association meets today in Pacific Harbour, Fiji, to celebrate milestones and hold a Pacific Media Summit.
The regional organisation, which turns 40 this year, is pushing ahead with its controversial agenda to engage directly with the Bainimarama regime, making that patently clear by inviting the Prime Minister himself to make the opening address at the summit tonight.
The organisation has had a running feud with ex-members and several Pacific journalists, publishers and broadcasters over divided opinions on what the media priorities are for the region.
In 2010, a group of journalists formed PasiMA, the Pasifika Media Association. John Woods, editor of Cook Islands News had resigned as PINA Vice-President and joined others such as prominent Tongan broadcaster Kalafi Moala and Samoa Observer editor-in-chief Savea Sano Malifa.
Woods was critical of the summit in Fiji, calling it a “junket” of journalists who have “sold out” to the military regime.
“The whole gathering is utterly appalling. It’s a sham and they are paying homage to corruption and evil,” he said.
Woods said it was his personal view, not that of PasiMA, but that he is “furious” and uncompromising in his position.
“They are using their journalistic skills to pedal a barrow for the outspoken and radical Prime Minister.”
Matai Akauola is the manager of PINA and said today that he is focusing on the summit and not concerned about Woods’s comments.
“John is not a member of PINA so why should I be concerned about what he is saying,” he said.
More delegates than expected
“We aimed for 150 delegates, and now we have almost 180 people here.
“We are just disappointed that our traditional friends from Australia and New Zealand cannot be here. We thought politics didn’t play a part in Pacific media but obviously it does.”
Woods was not impressed with the numbers who have registered.
“I am sickened, and the saddest part is that there goes a whole group of journalists in the Pacific just for a free lunch.
“I could count on one or two hands the people who are there who have paid their own way. I am guessing that 80 per cent of them will be from Government, NGO representatives and people looking for a freebie.”
He said Bainimarama was a “scoundrel” and the media shouldn’t be concerned about what he has to say.
“Let’s hear what he has got to say when he is gaoled for sedition. He’ll be reduced to a wimpy bubble.”
A new way forward
Akauola defended PINA’s decision to host Bainimarama at the summit, which is entitled: “Building a healthy and responsible media culture”.
“The PINA AGM in Vanuatu decided for us to engage, as a new way forward and that is what we are doing,” he said.
“We are taking a Pacific perspective rather than a white man’s perspective.
“We need to engage with Governments, to talk and dialogue. We used to not engage and we would make statement after statement but that got us nowhere.
“We are taking this stance, it might be different, but it is not wrong.”
Akauola said accountability went both ways and the media in Fiji needs to “clean up its act” before it can demand accountability from its governments.
'Failure' of PINA
Savea Sano Malifa, editor of the Samoa Observer said PINA were simply inviting trouble.
"Without a doubt, a major part of PINA's failure is their weakness to say no to Bainimarama and his media decrees. Which means anyone who still wants to listen to what he has to say surely must have something seriously wrong with his head,” he said.
"It's clearly an invitation for more dictatorial decrees.”
But Savea, who is Chair of PasiMA, said his organisation had a different set of priorities and should remain true to them.
"We should remain focused on what we set out to achieve. We should let PINA do what it wants to do, and we remain dedicated towards achieving our desired objectives."
Focus on investigative journalism
For Woods and the rest of the PasiMA organisation, that means an extensive journalism training course for Pacific journalists to “address the whole business of investigative reporting and digging deeper”.
He said The PasiMA journalism training project had consumed “hundreds of our hours” and was headed up by Ana Currie, executive director of the Pasifika Foundation Hawai‘i and a consulting editor for Tonga’s Taimi Media Network.
Publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post Marc Neil Jones is a campaigner for media freedom in Vanuatu, and has himself been a victim of attacks on the media.
He said PINA’s approach to engage the regime had not achieved anything and was “a complete and utter failure”.
"Control over media in Fiji is worse now than ever before so PINA policy on dialogue with the military has failed,” he said.
"PINA is currently a waste of money and time, it does little to speak out against media censorship and is hardly transparent.
He said PINA was not representative of the Pacific as “Melanesians have dominated it for years due to block voting”.
“It's time for a radical change if newspapers and print journalists are going to take it seriously.”
Akauola said others were entitled to their opinions, and he did not want to get into discussions.
“They can throw stones but they should be here to discuss, not on the outside.
“We have Kalafi Moala here, we invited anyone and everyone. And we are disappointed that Radio New Zealand International is not here. We need professionals, academics, all kinds of people to be here and join the discussion.”
The Pacific Media Summit formally begins tonight and will feature sessions on indigenous media ownership, social media, anti-corruption, climate change and non-communicable diseases in the media. The opening session tomorrow is entitled: “Building public trust in media”.
The summit concludes on Friday with the Annual General Meeting at the Lagoon Resort.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.