pacific media body needs credibility - and cash




New members on the board of the Pacific Islands News Association are making a welcome return home to inboxes around the region.


More has been from this board in the last few weeks than earlier members managed in the last few years.


They handled an in-house controversy about their own Freedom of Information Award just hours after being elected. Since then they have commented on a ban in Tonga on television coverage of Parliament, and a journalist, Mike Field, being banned from Fiji.




Finding a voice again is a long awaited step back towards credibility.


PINA has become something of an embarrassment for regional media and aid donors alike. Saying so might send shock waves around the industry but the only thing worse than getting criticism? Getting no criticism. Speaking into a void so deep and wide not an echo comes back.


All too common for Pacific commentators. PINA needs all the support, commentary and debate it can stimulate.




What PINA does not need is more of the shhhhh, nudge-nudge, wink-wink governance that saw a former president, Samoa publisher Lance Polu, turn up on an (undisclosed) junket to China.


Or colonial style benign neglect as shown by immediate past president, Fiji TV’s Ken Clark, failing to show for his own meeting. Or go back a few years further when new president, Fiji’s William Parkinson, admitted there were no records on hand from previous administrations.


Years later, Parkinson remains the wonder boy of island media, yet there still is no record of resolutions, making it impossible to judge progress on the dozens passed at PINA biennial conferences.




Industry criticism tends to be of the shrill academic variety, exceeded in volume only by the response from publishers and broadcasters, squealing alarmingly like stuck pigs. Diplomats add distressed lowing from the milk shed, media watchdogs yapping in ever decreasing circles outside.


Amid the barnyard cacophony, it is often hard for media to follow the action, let alone give innocent bystanders any clarity on what the industry feels deeply about.


Such is democracy, time consuming at best. Trouble is, most media people just don’t have time, or money. It is, once again, a question of resources.




Visit the dark, dingy PINA offices today and any wink-wink action is likely to be caused by dust falling in eyes.


Decades of city grime grace this inner Suva bastion.


Islands Business is one more flight upstairs, air conditioners dripping away lustily in sultry tropic air.




What the Pacific Islands News Association needs is a coat of paint. Nothing fancy, just enough to get through the next year or so.


Less spending on websites costing thousands of dollars only to end up bottle-necking and being left to stagnate and die. More spending on projects to review where PINA has come from, including, say, tracking down old resolutions.


Cheapest way of making PINA look shiny and new again? Adopt solutions that add more transparency and way, way more accountability. PINA might explain what “mechanisms” it hopes to employ to achieve stated goals of ‘advancing media freedoms’ along with always intriguing promises of a ‘number of other initiatives.’




Instead of a four sentence update via Radio Australia, new board members on PINA might like to email the industry a full press release.


Vague references to management projects and long term programmes need fleshing out, with recent reviews available all, not just the select few. And add facilities for social networking that encourage media workers in the island region to stand up and be counted.


From top to bottom, such membership could easily vote on issues of the day, giving PINA instant feedback on what needs to be done next.




It would be easy to chapter and verse years, on and on through decades of PINA horror stories. Let’s identify the real problem.


Fact is, PINA is merely representative of a range of regional organisations being starved of resources by diplomatic partners Australia and New Zealand.


Both countries stand shamefully guilty of spending one third of aid targets they themselves agreed to years ago.




Overseas donors withdrew their support over the years from PINA. Not because PINA was running badly, particularly, but because it was doing its job too well – creating a generation of well trained, well informed journalists.


A decade later, it is hard to take seriously continued promotion of colonial solutions to “ethnic tension.”


Most tension derives from foreign exploitation of local resources, often through corrupt expatriates and their local stooges. Step back and the bigger picture shows two minor western nations struggling to assert global relevancy, playing high-stakes free-trade chicken with the likes of China and the United States, with the Pacific Islands expected to do nothing more than cheer duskily.




If Australia and New Zealand want to play capitalism, new board members need to show donors that funding “confident” and “well-informed” independent media is the new price of doing business in the Pacific - starting with solid funding for redeveloping PINA.


No longer should donors expect to be spared criticism. In fact, assessment, monitoring and evaluation should be built into all aid processes – publicly, in real time and for all to see – via the media.


As critics know well, it is hard enough managing a well funded organisation – even harder managing without them.



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