Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Scholarship supports Pasifika research on Fiji media freedom

By Yvonne Brill: Office of Pasifika Advancement

Former publisher of Fiji’s Daily Post newspaper and political commentator Ranjit Singh has been given the opportunity to fulfill his dreams of working on a media research project close to his heart - media freedom in his homeland.

Singh says that while he has experience in the media industry, academic study will help him “smooth out the rough diamond”.

The funding received through the AUT/Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) Pasifika Communications scholarship for his studies has enabled him to begin that journey.

Singh is the 2009 recipient of the postgraduate scholarship. Through his research, he is investigating media freedom with a focus on Fiji. Singh also has an interest in issues of fairness and balance in reporting by Fijian media.

Already tertiary qualified with an MBA from Massey University, Singh’s decision to resume study reflects his desire to see a truly ‘free press”, and stand up to what he says is “ignorance and misinformation” on the part of some journalists and media outlets.

“I have held a belief that any media in any country should be a reflection of society,” says Singh.

“My research is of great importance and significance to media studies, as it attempts to firstly remove the myth about a free, responsible and balanced press and about media freedom in a Third World country.”

Abuse of freedom
Singh says that it is not good enough for media groups and organisations to blindly blame governments for interfering with press freedom. They must also consider if any abuse of press freedom is happening within the media organisations themselves.

This is of special interest in multiracial environments such as Fiji, which has been crippled by racially divisive politics and racial overtones from politicians through the media for many decades, he says.

A key part of his research considers the responsibility of media in a developing country suffering from racial divisions. Upon completion, he plans to send his research to academics and press organisations in his native Fiji.

A chance encounter with Asia-Pacific journalism educator and director of the Pacific Media Centre, Associate Professor David Robie, prompted Singh to consider researching the media in his homeland.

After learning about the AUT/PIMA scholarships, Singh applied and won one of the two annual awards.

“I have always felt that there was a vacuum in media research on Fiji,” says Singh, who hopes his research will encourage others to conduct research in media studies.

Singh plans to work within the New Zealand media in future to add diversity to the industry.

“Had it not been for the scholarship, I would not have done it so I am very thankful. I am thankful to PIMA and AUT, and in particular David Robie, who encourages Pacific media and research,” says Singh.

Long established
The AUT/PIMA scholarships were established in 2004. AUT School of Communication Studies sponsors the scholarships, which are worth NZD$10,000 a year and cover tuition for one year of full-time study. They may be renewed depending on academic performance.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate students are eligible to apply.

PIMA executive board chair Iulia Leilua says scholarship recipients are assessed by academic performance, work experience, maturity and general commitment to Pasifika media. She adds that the scholarships reflect PIMA’s desire to encourage more Pasifika people enter the media industry.

There are 17 alumni of the AUT/PIMA scholarship, starting with the first, Leilani Momoisea - now a successful broadcast journalist working at Radio New Zealand.

At the PIMA annual general meeting on October 1, undergraduate scholarship recipients Courtenay Brooking and Jordan Puati acknowledged PIMA and AUT for providing Pasifika students with the opportunity to add to the advances in media studies.

“My ethnicity definitely has an impact on who I am as a person and will no doubt influence my career. I think it’s important for there to be more Pasifika and Maori students to go to University and to be supported and succeed” says Brooking, a Samoan/Māori student in her last year of the Bachelor in Communication Studies programme.

Applications for the 2011 scholarships close in November 2010 for undergraduate and January 2011 for postgraduate study. This year people enrolling for the new Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism can apply for the scholarship.

Yvonne Brill is a postgraduate student from AUT’s School of Communication Studies. She is completing a corporate studentship in PR/communications for the Office of Pasifika Advancement.

Pictured: (from left) AUT/PIMA Pasifika Communication Scholarship holders Ranjit Singh (postgraduate), Courtenay Brooking and Jordan Puati (undergraduate). Photo: Yvonne Brill/OPA

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