AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Centre / Pacific Media Watch): Government and opposition MPs and NGO representatives from 18 countries made a significant commitment to gender equality and sustainable development last weekend, but the forum received limited coverage from New Zealand and international media.
More than 70 delegates from across the Pacific were in Wellington for the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum, including New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and other National, Labour, Green and independent MPs.
Delegates agreed on the need for greater action around gender equality, climate change and healthcare - but overwhelmingly rejected a push from the World Bank to free up trade conditions and deregulate economies.
NZ Aid invested $330,000 in the forum - the first of its kind in New Zealand history - but media coverage was scarce.
While a special sitting of Parliament on Thursday focussing on issues affecting Pasifika New Zealanders was reported and televised by Parliament TV, limited coverage was given to issues raised during the rest of the weekend.
Reporters from Television New Zealand and other agencies left within three hours of Friday’s session, interviewing New Zealand MPs before returning to newsrooms to meet tight deadlines.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials outnumbered less than half a dozen journalists - including three New Zealand journalists from the Pacific Media Centre/Pacific Scoop and Radio New Zealand International.
Officials outnumber journalists
Ministry officials provided the small number of journalists with a unique opportunity to talk face-to-face with delegates on key issues, providing a broader range of coverage.
The Pacific Media Centre had two reporters based in Wellington for the conference. Its live Twitter and Storify updates created a real time discussion which delegates, New Zealand MPs and NGOs contributed to.
Pacific Scoop’s 15 articles made its coverage the most comprehensive from any news agency, and formed the basis for further coverage in the New Zealand Herald and Pacific media.
In the closing statements from forum delegates on Monday, leadership from parliaments, engagement from communities and regional action by Pacific governments were running themes.
Delegates agreed to improve women’s representation in Parliaments, address climate change and the need for renewable energy, and promote a free and independent press.
The importance of social media, community representation, rural infrastructure, primary healthcare and sound governance were also on the weekend’s agenda.
Significantly, many delegates argued that protecting their cultural identity was more important than growing their economy, and a majority voted to reject a World Bank motion for deregulation and free trade. Instead, they agreed to “facilitate trade and investment” through promoting sustainable development.
The forum was organised by New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, and committee chair John Hayes says the event provided a unique opportunity for the region’s youngest and newest leaders.
“The Forum was focused on giving them the opportunity to debate topics of relevance to the Pacific, and delegates adopted strong recommendations,” he said.
“Most pleasing was the willingness of all delegates to debate the issues, and provide their insights into such issues as regional leadership, democracy, climate change, health issues, and gender equality.”