By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch
Tagata Pasifika reporter Aaron Taouma (pictured) has stepped down from his post of interim chair of the New Zealand-based Pacific Islands Media Association.
The executive committee will meet later this week to discuss his successor.
Taouma announced his resignation in a letter later circulated on Pacific Islands Journalists Online, saying PIMA was “pushed towards certain political directions”. This went against the founding documents of the organisation.
He wrote that a recent PIMA news release about media freedom “may have been at odds with PIMA’s constitution and general Pacific media opinion”.
PIMA was not just a forum for journalists but everyone involved in Pacific Islands media, he added.
According to PIMA spokesperson Phil McGrath, Taouma’s statement followed PIMA’s stand in support of journalists at the Pacific Freedom Forum conference held in Samoa on May 6-8.
This was during the height of debate surrounding Television New Zealand’s controversial report by Pacific affairs correspondent Barbara Dreaver on gangs, guns and drug smuggling in Samoa.
“Barbara Dreaver, being a member of PIMA, approached the executive for support,” McGrath told Pacific Media Watch.
“Our position at the time was that we support the right of any journalist to investigate and report - without fear of attacks - either personally or professionally,” he said.
McGrath added that an executive is “all about compromise”.
Dreaver’s television exposé ran on April 6 and included footage of young Samoans smoking marijuana, wielding machetes, and discussing the drug trade in Samoa.
It also reported that guns were smuggled into Samoa from the US and drugs from New Zealand.
The Samoan government has since filed a broadcasting standards complaint against TVNZ . The government alleges the report damaged the country’s reputation as a tourist destination and that Dreaver’s crew staged interviews with “actors”.
TVNZ rejects this claim and is vigorously defending the Dreaver report.
In his resignation letter on May 10, Taouma said “recent reports have…brought to light the issues of ‘parachute reporting’ and sensationalised single-angled accounts of events in the Pacific Islands”.
However, PIMA deputy chair Chris Lakatani, who accepted Taouma’s resignation, said PIMA was not a political body and had “no advocacy issues in its constitution”.
“We haven’t come to our members and said, ‘well what do you think of [the Barbara Dreaver] issue’, because we don’t have any mandate to make statements on those issues,” he told Pacific Media Watch.
“We will not support her just because she is a member of PIMA, but just like any other regular journalist, we support her right to be protected.”
McGrath said PIMA’s statement concerned the rights and freedoms of journalists across the entire Pacific.
Several Samoan newspapers have published articles with personal attacks on Dreaver and the issue was debated at an evening talanoa session of the UNESCO-funded PFF workshop in Apia.
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Media Watch
'Gangsta paradise' vendetta against Dreaver
Dreaver story on Samoan gangs [video]