Pacific Media Watch

5 July 2017

REGION: Scrapping of Walkley Awards category 'undermines' industry - JERAA

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Controversy surrounds 2017 Walkley Awards after the 'International Journalism' category is removed. Image: Walkley Foundation

AUCKLAND (JERAA/Pacific Media Watch): Members of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia have spoken out against a decision by the Walkley Advisory Board to remove the "International Journalism" category from its 2017 awards.

While the Walkley Advisory Board says to “think evolution, not revolution” following their decision, the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) believes it further undermines an important area of journalism.

“As journalism educators we fully acknowledge the need to embrace the changing nature of journalism in a multiplatform environment.

“However, certain genres of reporting deserve to be recognised for the particular skills, risks and importance of the role performed.”

Kate McClymont, former chair of the Walkley Advisory Board and current chair, Angelos Frangopoulos, say the decision comes in the face of changes within the journalism industry, particularly that of multimedia journalism.

“Journalists’ skillsets are expanding beyond one medium and new ways of storytelling keep popping up, but categories cannot be constantly added to take this into account.

“The awards cannot become unwieldy and the quality of journalism required to win a Walkley award cannot be diluted.”

International journalism 'valued' 
McClymont and Frangopoulos also said in a July 3 statement their decision did not mean they valued international journalism less. 

"The decision to cut the International Journalism category was not one made lightly, and should not be taken as a statement that we value international journalism less. 

"These stories are critical to our understanding of the world. Foreign correspondents often risk their safety and Australia has a long and proud history of international journalism."

JERAA state the advisory board’s decision has only served to further threaten the form of journalism, however.

“Removing this category serves to further undermine this important area of journalism that is increasingly under threat from governments and non-government actors in many parts of the world who seek to reduce the presence of international journalists.

“The people who are prepared to work in hostile environments, despite the danger, should be honoured by us and their work should be acknowledged.”

While the Walkley Awards seeks to “reflect the way Australian journalists work, and showcase the very best work being done”, JERAA says international journalism still remains a part of this reality.

'Boots on the ground'
“There is still a significant amount of journalism that is being generated by reporters travelling to stories that are under-reported or ignored.

“Having ‘boots on the ground’ remains the gold standard for reporting overseas as it garners eye-witness testimony to events and guarantees independent investigation.”

Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre is a signatory to the July 3 statement.

Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie says the move by the Walkley Advisory Board to drop the category is “scandalous”.

“This award is a really important one and an encouragement for the region.

"There have been some tremendous stories recognised by this award in the past, so I think it’s a real step backwards -- an unfortunate one in terms of encouragement for journalism in the Asia-Pacific region.” 

Pacific Media Centre research associates Professor Wendy Bacon and Professor Chris Nash have also expressed their disagreement with the decision, including former winners of the award, such as the University of Technology Sydney’s Helen Vatsikopoulos.

Decision reversal unclear
With entries currently open for the 2017 Walkley Awards, it remains unclear whether the advisory board will reverse its review decision which it states was based on “research and discussion’ with key journalists and media organisations from across Australia. 

JERAA and its members, however, remain steadfast in their disagreement over the move.

“We urge you to reconsider this decision and to re-establish the category of ‘International Journalism’ to ensure peer recognition of this often dangerous and logistically difficult genre of reporting that is under threat from hostile governments, weakening news organisations, and now its own media union.”

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