Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lack of reporters, resources big challenge for Pacific media, say local journalists

By Josephine Latu, Pacific Media Watch

A serious lack of reporters and financial resources means that “some stories do not get told”, say some journalists from the region.

Three visiting correspondents from the Pacific Islands, including Samoa Observer editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa, Matangi Tonga photojournalist Linny Folau and Cook Islands News political journalist Nerys Case, discussed the challenges faced by local media at a public forum held on Friday at the University of Auckland.

Folau said that although the Matangi Tonga website – the most popular online source for Tongan news – gets over 60 million hits every year, all reporting is carried out by only herself and the editor, Pesi Fonua.

“The challenge is a lack of resources and trying to remain afloat as a small organization,” she said.

She added that young people in Tonga are “just not attracted to journalism” as a career due to the demands of the profession.

With such a small pool of reporters, Folau said: “The result is that news gets left out. [We] can’t cover everything, daily, and… we have to pick and choose. The challenge is [selecting] what’s more important.”

In the Cooks, the daily newspaper Cook Island News is sustained by only three reporters plus the editor, John Woods.

Nerys Case, originally from the UK, took up the post of political journalist at the paper, after her position was advertised three times with no local applicants.

“There was no interest, it’s not seen as an attractive area of work,” said Case.

Threat of the watchdogs

Due to lack of manpower, local news only trickles to overseas audiences, as the Cook Islands News website is only updated once a week.

Case added that political reporting was especially challenging, as most politicians do not appreciate the watchdog role of media.

“Many believe the media is an irritating fly to be swatted away. They don’t see us as holding them to account – they think we should just leave them alone.”

Meanwhile, the editor of the Samoa Observer, Mata’afa Keni Lesa said that most of Samoa’s journalists do not have proper training. Although the newspaper trains recruits on the job, “as soon as the next job opportunity shows up, they’re gone”, he said.

Lesa added that the Samoa Observer was “the lone voice of opposition” in a one-party state, and was seen by the government as a threat.

From the audience, Lisa Williams-Lahari, founder of the Pacific WAVE Media Network, commented that Samoa had some of the most “punitive” media laws in the region which in some ways, were “worse” than the Fijian regime.

The panel discussion was chaired by University of Auckland’s Dr. Steven Ratuva and also included award winning Samoan journalist at the New Zealand Herald Vaimoana Tapaleao.
The three visiting journalists were in New Zealand on a week-long exchange programme sponsored by NZ’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As part of the programme, they visited the Beehive in Wellington as well as various media organizations, including meetings with MP’s and leading media professionals.

Pictured Top: Samoa Observer editor Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Above: Panellists - NZ Herald's Vaimoana Tapaleao, Matangi Tonga's Linny Folau, Cook Island News' Nerys Case, University of Auckland's Steven Ratuva (back row), and Samoa Observer's Mata'afa Keni Lesa.

Above right: Founder of Pacific WAVE media network, Cook Island journalist and human rights activist Lisa Williams-Lahari

Josephine Latu is a postgraduate communication studies student from Tonga at AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre who is also contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch.

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