Pacific Media Watch

18 April 2012

REGION: 'Peace journalism' in conflict resolution in the Pacific

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Pacific Media Centre director with Professor David Robie with Fiji journalists at the recent Pacific Media Summit in Suva. Photo: PMC

MELBOURNE (Radio Australia Pacific Beat / Pacific Media Watch): The director of the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology says encouraging "peace journalism" in the Pacific is the best way to promote conflict resolution and a peaceful future for the region.

Professor David Robie's paper "Conflict reporting in the Pacific" published in the Journal of Pacific Studies says Pacific journalists should investigate the underlying causes of conflict to promote conflict resolution.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr David Robie, director, Pacific Media Centre, Auckland University of Technology

Listen to the interview on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat

ROBIE: We actually teach this as a core element of a postgraduate course that I run, Asia-Pacific Journalism at AUT, and it's really derived from what we've experienced in the Pacific for the last two decades, as a methodology of actually dealing with conflict situations. The type of journalism which is most prevalent in say Australia and New Zealand for example, is rather inadequate in coping with the complexities of the Pacific region. So what we've tried to do is give a lot more context and background to the reporting for the region. And there's been really a growth, I guess, of this sort of concept, you see nodes of information about this and a focus on this style of reporting at, obviously, the University of the South Pacific, and also in Sydney at  the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and also the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
COUTTS: Is part of this David recognising covert censorship, because there are a lot of governments across the region who will put out press releases and expect them to be reported on?
ROBIE: Well, I think it's a means of actually dealing with censorship. Censorship has been in the Pacific for a very long time, of course there's been a lot of focus on the overt censorship under the current regime. But it goes back a lot further, it goes right back to 1987 when there was a period of censorship after the original coups with Rabuka. And there's been fairly blatant self-censorship right through the Pacific. So this is really a focus on providing tools to journalists to report in more depth and actually sort of coping with a situation when they're facing censorship and conflict.
COUTTS: Well what do you encompass in peace journalism?

ROBIE: I really would describe peace journalism as rediscovering of core values. In fact, I would make a comparison between peace journalism and investigative journalism. Essential elements, when we talk about what is peace journalism for a start, it's a counter-balance if you like to what is the most common style of reporting in conflict which is generally described as "war reporting", where the focus is on "demonising" the enemy, propaganda etc., etc., and very close reporting reflecting the policies of a particular government. For example we have that in Australia and New Zealand, much of the reporting of Fiji for example reflects Australia-New Zealand policy, there's very little depth in the reporting. And peace journalism is really trying to provide a "voice to all parties" focussing on the invisible effects of the violence and so on and exposing untruths on all sides. So it's really just getting back to a lot more in-depth contextual reporting, but particularly with a focus on trying to find some kind of solutions. Essentially most journalism doesn't actually look at solutions, but in a Pacific context and also in many developing countries solutions are a very important part of the process.
COUTTS: And is part of this peace journalism also involve report the truth, investigate properly, but report the truth no matter what the consequences might be?
ROBIE: Yes, that's right, that's right, but in the process what we're looking at really here is a lot of the reporting in the region inflames the situation because there isn't enough background, enough context and enough depth in the reporting. So that the idea is that a lot more depth in the reporting, a lot more focus can actually contribute to a better understanding of the region.
COUTTS: Well, we had an interview earlier this week where the interviewee who was from Fiji was suggesting and calling on NGOs to make sure the democratic elections there are held and brought forward if possible, and that women be 50 percent of the new Parliament. That now has caught the ire of the regime there and they've made statements saying don't take any notice of the NGOs. So it's all very well for us in our armchair strategies to sit back, but when you're in the frontline it's not so easy because of the attention I guess that every comment draws?
ROBIE: Well, absolutely, but that means we just have to keep the pressure up. I would say that much of what I teach is actually drawn from my own personal experience as a journalist in conflict situations. I reported in conflict situations in Africa for many years, I worked for an international newsagency as both a correspondent and a senior editor, I covered the Kanak struggles in New Caledonia in the mid-80s. So these ideas have actually sort of grown out of real situations. In fact, as an educator I had a group of students covering the George Speight coup in 2000 where we actually ran one of the few news websites right through that conflict. And more recently, I can think of the coverage of the Pacific Islands Forum last year. We had ten students covering that forum and one of the major reports that came out from our students was about the West Papuan conflict, which is largely ignored by the region's media.
COUTTS: Pacific Island journalists face a double-edged sword don't they because traditionally they're supposed to sit back and listen to their elders and take on what they say without question. Journalists are still finding that if they report on their communities or their elders or the politicians that when they go home to their communities they're rubbing shoulders with them in a personal way, and also then they have as I mentioned earlier the governments issuing press releases and demanding that they be reported. So it's a tough job?
ROBIE: It's an extremely tough job, I think the average journalist reporting around the Pacific faces a lot more risks and a lot more threats and a lot more difficulties in their daily job than say a journalist in Australia and New Zealand. But I would sort of make a comparison with the Philippines where we have supposedly a vibrant democracy and yet it's one of the most dangerous countries in the world to operate for journalists. And the whole culture of impunity there where journalists have been routinely  murdered since the end of Marcos, that's a quarter of a century we've had regular assassinations of journalists. But in spite of that sort of climate there's a very vigorous level of journalism. A lot of it I think in the Pacific is about gaining better skills and a lot more experience. One of the difficulties I think is that there's such a high turnover of journalists that gain some experience. If you take for example, well even 2006 when the Bainimarama regime took over and then prior to that in 2000 the George Speight coup and then back to 1987, you would think well Fiji actually has got quite a track record experience of military coups. But by the time 2000 came around most of the journalists there in newsrooms were very young and had very little experience and had no experience of the previous coups in 1987. And the same thing happened again in 2006.
COUTTS: Well, how do you keep those experienced journalists in who actually do know about peace journalism in the system?
ROBIE: Well, that's something that I think we need to engender is a sort of a commitment to countries and of course it's very difficult to do that when journalists face such difficult environments and threats. That's a natural inclination if you can get a job elsewhere and get out of this sort of environment, but unfortunately countries like Fiji need really good journalists that are committed to stay and to tough it out and things will get better.
COUTTS: And is that part of the reason they don't stay in the system, because once they make a name for themselves, other organisations pay them more to go off and be media liaison people. They also are thumped as we see in Vanuatu for speaking out, and also the issues that we've spoken about this morning, and the reasons behind why they don't take up the profession or stay in it?

ROBIE: Well yes, I mean that's a natural trend. It was a big problem when I was teaching at the University of South Pacific in Fiji that we'd have really, really talented young journalists coming out and they'd stay in the industry maybe for six months or a year or so, then they'd land some really plush job at one of the international agencies, UN agencies or whatever. And of course they're paid so much better and they're safe positions. But unfortunately the media actually needs them right there in the news organisations.
COUTTS: David is your message being heard about peace journalism?
ROBIE: I think so, I think there's a sort of a groundswell, certainly there was a big debate in Fiji about a year ago - there were two conferences actually addressing this issue with people like Professor Jake Lynch who has been a journalist for many years but he's one of the key people - an advocate for peace journalism in Australia. And there's also a conference coming up later this year in Fiji at the University of the South Pacific with the theme "Media and Democracy", and a lot of these issues will come up then.

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