Dr Marc Edge, coordinator of the School of Journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, says contrary to claims by organisers of the Pacific Media Summit that there was a sense of unity, there was a lot of disagreement behind the scenes.
He says part of the reason that opposition to the direction of the regional media organisation wasn't heard was that the other side simply wasn't present at the meeting.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Dr Marc Edge, coordinator of the School of Journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji
EDGE: The PINA conference organisers have to be very happy but they've managed to keep a lid on all the dissension. That was largely because many of the dissenters were not there, and those who were dissenters were either trying to act as conciliators, or were not able to make their voices heard because it seems most of the decisions were made behind closed doors by a small group. USP is an associate member of PINA, and I have wanted to bring up certain issues and I just found that there was no opportunity. Like I said they managed to keep a lot of the dissension out of the conference, but that doesn't mean there's not dissension. I was not impressed at all with some of the speakers, a lot of the panellists were forced to confess from the outset that they had no expertise on the subject. It seems just that whoever donated money as a sponsor was given time on the program whether they knew anything about the subject or not. Most of the sponsors donated money so that they could give sessions on different topics which were largely propaganda; things like non-communicable diseases dominated the agenda. And certainly it's right propaganda because it's for a good cause, but it's propaganda nonetheless. They were paying to get a captive audience of journalists in one spot to get out their message.
HILL: You say there wasn't any real dissent at the PINA conference. Where is this dissent coming from and what kind of point of views do the dissenters actually hold?
EDGE: Well the dissent seems to be coming mostly from Polynesia, a lot of the Polynesian journalists think that PINA should be standing up more for press freedom, which of course in Fiji has been pretty well non-existent in the past few years. Many PINA members objected to PINA even remaining in Fiji. Journalists are having to work under the Media Decree, which basically criminalises journalism ethics, and so there's a great climate of fear here when it comes to journalism. We might not have overt censorship at the moment, we've certainly had rampant self-censorship. The media are being very careful because they don't know how the new law is going to be applied, but they do know that it provides for fines up to 100-thousand dollars for media organisations and prison terms of up to two years for individual journalists. So under the circumstances a lot of PINA members felt that it was inappropriate for PINA to remain in Fiji, and felt it should move to another country like Samoa.
HILL: Well if the dissenters decide not to show up at the PINA conference, isn't it their lookout if they don't get their point of view heard?
EDGE: Yes to an extent, Kalafi Moala was there from Tonga, he's a member of PasiMA, but just the fact that there wasn't a lot of dissension at the PINA conference doesn't mean that there won't be dissension, because you can read it on the blogs. If you go on the Pacific Freedom Forum blogs there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the PINA. So I think they have to address some of the issues. They seem to have escaped doing that and may not have to for another couple of years, maybe they're hoping things will calm down by then. But just because there was no dissent at the conference, doesn't mean there is no dissent in PINA.
HILL: There's been criticism of the kind of journalism practised in Australia and New Zealand, that it's inappropriate for the Pacific, that it's western, that it's conflict-based and that's not really appropriate for the Pacific Island countries which are developing at the moment and need a different style of journalist. Do you agree with that?
EDGE: Well of course there are two schools of thought on this, that the press should be a watchdog on powerful groups in society, including government. The other school of thought is the development communication school of thought which says that the press should not be a watchdog and should be more of a cheerleader promoting development. I don't believe that in the long run that's good for a country, it's much more important to keep an eye on powerful groups that will help avoid corruption and political corruption, things like that. So in some countries this Asian values model of journalism is found to be operative, peace journalism is another model that some people are proposing to take conflict out of journalism. But it's a basic tenet of news that if everything is working smoothly then there's no story. It's when things don't work smoothly that you have news and you have conflict. So in western-style journalism conflict is inherent to most stories.