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A future in journalism in the age of 'media phobia'

Journalism is nor a crime
Professor Robie says the journalism profession has rarely been more dangerous than it is today

DAVID ROBIE | Pacific Media Centre | Extract

Keynote address by Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie at the University of the South Pacific Journalism Awards, 19 October 2018, celebrating 50 years of the university's existence. You can read the complete address here

SUVA - For many of you millennials, you’re graduating and entering a Brave New World of Journalism. Embarking on a professional journalism career that is changing technologies at the speed of light, and facing a future full of treacherous quicksands like never before. 

When I started in journalism, as a fresh 18-year-old in 1964 it was the year after President Kennedy was assassinated and I naively thought my hopeful world had ended, Beatlemania was in overdrive and New Zealand had been sucked into the Vietnam War.

And my journalism career actually started four years before the University of the South Pacific was founded in 1968.

Being a journalist was much simpler back then – as a young cadet on the capital city Wellington’s Dominion daily newspaper, I found the choices were straight forward.

Did we want to be a print, radio or television journalist? The internet was unheard of then – it took a further 15 years before the rudimentary “network of networks” emerged, and then another seven before computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and complicated journalism.  

The first rule for interviewing, aspiring journalists were told in newsrooms – and also in a 1965 book called The Journalist’s Craft that I rediscovered on my bookshelves the other day – was to pick the right source. Rely on sources who were trustworthy and well-informed.

This was long before Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post made “deep throat’ famous in their Watergate investigation in 1972.

The second rule was: make sure you get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but…

We were told that we really needed to get a sense of when a woman or a man is telling the truth.

This, of course, fed into the third rule, which was: talk to the interviewee face to face.

Drummed into us were accuracy, speed, fairness and balance. Many of my days were spent on the wharves of Wellington Harbour painstakingly taking the details of the shipping news, or reporting accidents.

The whole idea was accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. And what a drumming we experienced from a crusty news editor calling us out when we made the slightest mistake.

If we survived this gruelling baptism of fire, then we were bumped up from a cadet to a real journalist.

There were few risks to journalists in those days – a few nasty complaints here and there, lack of cooperation from the public, and a possible defamation case if we didn’t know our media law.

It wasn’t until I went to South Africa in 1970 – the then white-minority ruled country that jailed one of the great leaders of our times, Nelson Mandela – that I personally learned how risky it could be being a journalist.

Jailings, assaults and banning orders were commonplace. One of my colleagues, banned then exiled Peter Magubane, a brilliant photographer, was one of my earlier influences with his courage and dedication.

However, today the world is a very different place. It is basically really hostile against journalists in many countries and it continues to get worse.

Today assassinations, murders – especially the killing of those involved in investigating corruption – kidnappings, hostage taking are increasingly the norm.

And being targeted by vicious trolls, often with death threats, is a media fact of life these days.

In its 2018 World Press Freedom Index annual report, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without borders (RSF), declared that journalists faced more hatred this year than last year, not only in authoritarian countries but also increasingly in countries with democratically elected leaders.

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement:

"The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies.

"Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda.

"To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire."

Fifty seven journalists have been killed so far in 2018, plus 10 citizen journalists for a total of 67; 155 journalists have been imprisoned, with a further 142 citizen journalists jailed – a total of 297.

While such ghastly fates for journalists may seem remote here in the Pacific, we have plenty of attacks on media freedom to contend with in our own backyard. And trolls in the Pacific and state threats to internet freedom are rife.

The detention of Television New Zealand’s Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver for four hours by police in Nauru at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit while attempting to interview refugees is just one example of such attempts to shut down truth-seeking.

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

I rather like the closing part of David's speech when he refers directly to our neck of the woods.

"Finally, I would like pay tribute to two of the whistleblowers and journalists in the Pacific and who should inspire you in your journalism career.

Firstly, Iranian-born Behrouz Boochani, the refugee journalist, documentary maker and poet who pricked the Australian conscience about the terrible human rights violations against asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

He has reminded Canberra that Australia needs to regain a moral compass.

And activist lawyer communicator Joe Moses, who campaigned tirelessly for the rights of the villagers of Paga Hill in Port Moresby. These people were forced out of their homes in defiance of a Supreme Court order to make way for the luxury development for next month’s APEC summit.

Be inspired by them and the foundations of human rights journalism and contribute to your communities and countries. Don’t be seduced by a fast foods diet of distortion and propaganda".

I don't know much about Joe Moses but he sounds like a great journalist.

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