Pacific Media Watch
Matangi Tonga editorial by editor Pesi Fonua
PORT VILA: The Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) continues to struggle to establish itself as a champion of media freedom in the Pacific Islands.
Meeting in Port Vila last week, about 200 PINA members and observers from around the region were addressing the important issue of access to information.
But what appeared to be a sincere intention by the former PINA board to turn its biannual convention into a Pacific Media Summit under the theme "Breaking Barriers - Access to Information'" did not live up to expectations.
Despite the great effort to attract as many participants as possible to attend the Vanuatu PINA inaugural summit, their contributions did not see the light of day, because most participants were not permitted to attend the AGM, and so some serious observations made by working
journalists and media people were not translated into the decision-making process.
The few members who were tasked to evaluate and to take action on matters raised during plenary sessions and panel discussion simply could not make any decision, and for the first time ever at the end of a PINA convention there was no communiqué.
The PINA secretariat and its board restricted its thinking capacity by closing its membership registration in March, so that any member who did not pay its membership fees by March 31 would not be able to vote at the annual general meeting in July.
Unfortunately, many regular members of PINA had not paid their dues by that date and so were not permitted to either attend or to vote in the AGM in Vanuatu, although they were present to participate in the various workshops, plenary and other sessions preceeding the AGM.
It was an unfortunate decision to disallow voting of a significant number of members who were there, particularly at a time when PINA needed as many constructive contributions that it could get to help with its decision-making process.
A mere 24 members (who were paid-up at March 31) were left to deal with the numerous pressing issues that PINA has to deal with to regain its credibility.
Fiji media suppression
The Fiji government suppression of its media dominated the summit plenary sessions, for very good reasons, because the PINA secretariat and its regional news outlet PACNEWS are based in Suva, Fiji, and of course participants were saddened by stories of Fijian journalists of how their work was being censored and how they were working under threat by the military government. Even the Fiji journalists testimony in Vanuatu was made difficult by the presence of Fiji military censors taking part in the meeting who said they were there to report back to
their military government.
It appears that PINA voluntarily decided to become a lap dog instead of a watchdog:
* PINA shied away from revoking the PINA membership of the Fiji Ministry of Information - the same ministry that places censors in news rooms in Fiji;
* PINA brushed off the suggestion to remove the PINA secretariat and the PACNEWS from Fiji;
* PINA did not make a strong statement against media suppression in
Fiji, which had been a proposition that a majority of participants
supported during the summit.
Meanwhile, one of two decisions that the PINA AGM made that was relayed through the "coconut wireless'" was that there had been a new approach to the selection of the president and the vice-president of PINA.
The president of the host country, in this case Vanuatu, would become president and the vice president would be the president of national news association that will host the next PINA convention, the Cook Islands.
The new PINA board members are:
President: Mosese Stevens, president of the Vanuatu Media Association, a public relations consultant
Vice-President: John Woods, editor of the Cook Island News
Radio representative: managing director of the Solomon Islands
TV representative: Tapinga Lavemaau, a camera operator with the Tonga
Print representative: Michael Jackson, publisher/editor of a newspaper
National organisations representative, Samisoni Pareti, a journalist
with Islands Business International, Fiji. (Fiji apparently no longer has a national media association).
The feeble outcome of the PINA Pacific Media Summit 2009 is a matter of grave concern for many Pacific Islands journalists and media people who sincerely believe that there is still a need for a credible regional news association.
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