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Savage assassination of Pacific media jewel

David Robie
Dr David Robie - "I have never experienced something as blatant, destructive and lacking in transparency as this"

| Café Pacific | Edited extract

Link here to read the complete illustrated chronicle of the Pacific Media Centre by its founding director Dr Robie

AUCKLAND - It really is bizarre. After 26 months of wrangling, stakeholder representations and appeals by Pacific Media Centre (PMC) to Auckland University of Technology, in the end the innovative unit remains in limbo.

In fact, sadly, it seems like a dead end.

In my 28 years as a media educator across four institutions in four countries I have never experienced something as blatant, destructive and lacking in transparency as this.

Six weeks after I retired as founding director of the centre last December, the PMC office in Auckland University of Technology’s Sir Paul Reeves building was removed by packing up all the Pacific taonga, archives, books and files supporting student projects without consulting the stakeholders.

And then the award-winning staff running the centre on a de facto basis was apparently marginalised.

As former New Zealand Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty noted:

“I am really shocked that a vibrant well developed centre is being treated like this - what is wrong with this institution?”

Screenshot from the Pacific Media Centre video (Alistar Kata  PMC Project)
Screenshot from a Pacific Media Centre video (Alistar Kata)

Academics such as Waikato University’s former associate professor in film and digital studies, Geoff Leyland, who produced several landmark research studies on the nature of New Zealand journalism and journalists, complained, “Auckland University of Technology has acted woefully [and the PMC’s heritage] has been treated shamefully.”

Across the Tasman, former Monash University head of journalism and creator of Australia’s first doctorate in journalism program, Professor Chris Nash, author of the challenging ‘What is Journalism? The Art and Politics of a Rupture’, wrote:

“Disgusting … A focus on so-called ‘new’ or digital media is a stalking horse for displacing journalism with apolitical communications studies.”

From the Pacific, the doyen of Polynesian publishing, Tonga’s Kalafi Moala, Taimi ‘o Tonga founder and author of ‘The Kingdom Strikes Back’, remarked:

“That's unbelievable. What kind of people are running AUT now? We are still trying to get over the Gestapo-style deportation of the [University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor] from Fiji, and now this? Without any consultation? How shameful!”

Head of the Pacific’s regional journalism program at the University of the South Pacific, Associate Professor Shailendra Singh, wrote:

“It's a cruel irony that at a time when Pacific journalism is at the crossroads – if not on its knees – and needs to be better understood to be helped and strengthened to face new challenges, specialised Pacific journalism and research programs in one of the centres of excellence in the region face an uncertain future. It just feels sad and surreal.”

And, in a perceptive article arguing that the Pacific Media Centre “must break free to survive”, media analyst Dr Gavin Ellis, a former editor-in-chief of The New Zealand Herald, wrote:

“[It ought to be] re-established as a stand-alone trust. It should continue its original remit… It may be time, however, to find a new university partner. I fear AUT has damaged its associations beyond repair.”

Opened by then Pacific Affairs Minister Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban in October 2007, the centre embarked on a vibrant, high profile campaign over 13 years with award-winning student media productions and projects such as Pacific Media Watch on media freedom and Bearing Witness on climate change.

PMC offered student internships in the Asia-Pacific region stretching from Beijing, China, to Suva, Fiji, Port Vila, Vanuatu, and the Cook Islands, and partnerships with the University of the South Pacific and Universitas Gadjah Mada journalism and communication programs.

It published books and journals such as the Pacific Journalism Review and Pacific Journalism Monographs, as well as undertaking quality research.

Dr Robie with books produced at PMC during his 13-year tenure (Laurens Ikinia)
Dr Robie with books produced at PMC during his 13-year tenure (Laurens Ikinia)

However, the elephant in the room was, as Professor Mark Pearson noted in a comprehensive external review of the centre in 2013, that while it had become a research and education “jewel in the [university] crown”, its operations “will not be sustainable beyond the tenure of the current director, Professor David Robie, without institutional, faculty and school commitment.”

Sadly, that long-term commitment was not sustained in spite of various management promises, especially under the current school leadership in the past two years. The centre has been effectively derailed by a series of inept decisions.

We fear for the centre's future in spite of the hard and dedicated work by the voluntary team at PMC, my former colleagues, over many months.


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