APIA (Samoa Observer/Pacific Media Watch): A newly formed group of Pacific media educators have come together as the Media Educators Pacific (MEP) with a vision to make a difference in media training and education.
Members are educators at the Technical, Vocational and Education training (TVET) media institutes from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and the university-based journalism schools. They have united as a way to bring together the ideas and concerns of all education providers involved.
Representatives include Nora Tumua and Misa Vicky Lepou (National University of Samoa- NUS), Eslyn Kaltongga and Dave Charlie (Vanuatu Institute of Technology-VIT), Siosifa Pomana (Tonga Institute of Higher Education-TIHE) and Shailendra Singh (University of the South Pacific-USP, Fiji).
MEP was formed at the end of the second and final Pacific TVET Journalism Initiative Workshop held in Suva, Fiji, last month. There was no representative from the Solomon Islands National University at the final workshop but there was clear support during the first meeting in January this year.
NUS media and journalism lecturer Misa Vicky Lepou, who is also spokesperson for MEP, said that regional educators had met a few times and had seen the need to form such a group.
In the region, Misa said that governments looked to more revenue-earning industries and community interests to take care of, affecting how each country's media education courses were run.
She also said that Pacific educators tended to focus on what was happening on a global scale, forgetting what needed to be done on a local front.
"We work and live in an environment where we learn and observe so much from higher education institutions in Australia and New Zealand," she said.
"We build our learning and teaching experiences on a global view that we are not often being heard of what low resourced institutions like us do need.
"With MEP's presence now in the region, we want to stay clear on our objective to get the best help we need to improve the quality and quantity of future journalists that do come through our institutions."
Misa said the group wanted to work with all their stakeholders because they needed their support.
"For example, our first and foremost partners are the media industry that we, as educators, need to forge a strong relationship with, as they are the immediate employers for our graduates. We learn from the needs of the industry," she said.
"Our current situation always has been that each TVET is on its own, finding ways to source and draw the attention of donors at some point to look more deeper into the reality of running short with resources and equipment, having limited space to expand its scope, or even staff turnovers that will continue to implicate on quality of media education in the region."
Misa believes MEP members also need to go outside their comfort zones to gain the respect of stakeholders, including students, the media institutions, and communities.
But Misa said these issues could be worked on under MEP.
"We help each other in terms of when one needs help we knock on those doors for assistance," she said.
"We then look elsewhere such as short-term training opportunities for media practitioners that can provide an avenue for media educators to upgrade skills, knowledge and attributes, but it isn't a path that we, as educators continue to walk on."
If educators chose to continue on this path, Misa said challenges across the region would not be fully addressed.
"We need to take that step ahead of the industry so we invest in producing quality and quantity of not just professional but qualified journalists in the region."
MEP is currently working on ideas to get the initiative started, including a non-competitive film festival to produce content, regional competitions through print, radio and online, and regional media and journalism student awards.
Although there were challenges ahead, Misa said there was also potential and talent in the region that needed to be led along the "right pathway".
"We just need to come together as one body, one voice, one mind to address media training and education challenges in the region."
But Misa said unless educators could "walk the talk" and front up to their challenges and put the needs of their students and stakeholders first, "it will all be just another political game".
Another MEP member echoed the way forward , University of the South Pacific's Shailendra Singh said it was important to get something started this year.
"We will try and get something off the ground this year, hopefully to create pathways and for student exchanges."
Part of the group's vision is to also gain the support from educators in Australia and New Zealand.
"You cannot stand tall like a mountain, as the saying goes," Misa added. "We will not refrain from inviting our bigger institution partners in Australia and New Zealand.
The director of New Zealand's Pacific Media Centre, Professor David Robie, welcomed the initiative, saying journalism could not simply be taught in a classroom.
"Journalism is about publication and broadcast on multi-platforms these days and Pacific journalism educators need to ensure that they are upskilling their methods to not just keep up with the times, but to ensure they are introducing cutting-edge ideas," said Dr Robie, who was also previously head of journalism programmes at the University of Papua New Guinea and USP.
He said that many issues confronted the Pacific, including climate change, and there was too much dependence on Western news agencies and sources in the region.
"Pacific media groups should also be looking to educators in many other countries, not just Australia and New Zealand. For example, the experience of journalists and educators in the Phillipines is far closer to the Pacific reality than Australia and New Zealand."
The group plans to use online platforms as a way of keeping in contact, share staff and student resources, create open chat forums, showcase and publish staff and students' work and research and assist each other with content exchange.
They will function as a semi-formal group where an online platform has been set up for educators and students to exchange ideas and resources among each other to see how well it goes over a period of time.
This story was filed by Alistar Kata while she was recently on the Samoa Observer on internship with a regional student journalism exchange programme organised and funded by New Zealand's Pacific Cooperation Foundation.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.