Two New Zealand journalism educators are still in suspense over their positions at the University of the South Pacific amid controversy over the “politicising” of the appointments by non-academic bodies.
By a Pacific Media Watch correspondent in Suva
STOP PRESS: Work permits were finally authorised for both journalists and educators on 3 March 1988. See Pacific Media Watch for updates.
Two New Zealand journalists recruited to run the University of the South Pacific journalism degree programme have been told they were granted work permits by the Fiji government after weeks of controversy.
But a day later they were told Immigration officials were still considering their case — after one lecturer had turned up for work.
University authorities earlier confirmed that officials had authorised the permits after journalism students had petitioned Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and a series of letters in the daily newspapers had supported the recruited lecturers.
Author and journalism academic David Robie, who currently heads the journalism programme at the University of Papua New Guinea, has been appointed senior lecturer and journalism coordinator at USP.
Ingrid Leary, who has been executive producer at Fiji One television over the past year, has been appointed television lecturer.
The Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), comprising news organisations and senior media executives, had been pressing for the appointment of a local candidate who had no academic publishing record or experience of running a journalism programme.
Unsigned stories in the Fiji Daily Post, apparently linked to PINA officials, highlighted Robie’s past articles and books critical of the 1987 military coups.
Recent letters to the two daily newspapers in support of the recruited lecturers have highlighted the issues of academic and press freedom.
“There is the pungent scent of a personal and ideological vendetta against Robie. This is in stark contrast to PINA’s stated objective of ‘fostering professional fellowship and cooperation’,” Pacific Media Watch co-convenor Peter Cronau said in the Daily Post.
In The Fiji Times, a former USP journalism lecturer, Philip Cass, said a “petty-minded campaign” appeared to have delayed the work permits.
“Perhaps that attitude stems from the notion that PINA should be the controlling body for journalism training and education in the Pacific. This idea is, of course, nonsense,” he wrote.
Fiji Media Training Institute director Jo Nata, also writing in the Times, claimed there appeared to be a “concerted and orchestrated effort” to prevent Robie’s appointment.
He added: “I further suspect that the Daily Post and PINA have been used for the personal agenda of people who have had a long standing feud with Robie.”
This is the third incident involving New Zealand journalists and work permits in Fiji in recent months. Auckland-based Agence France-Presse correspondent Michael Field was last year twice denied a work permit application to set up a Suva bureau for a New Zealand newspaper.
Immigration officials considered the cases of Robie and Leary again yesterday after delays of more than two months.
On Monday, a Journalism Students Association deputation delivered a protest letter to Prime Minister Rabuka complaining about the “politicisation” of the work permits by “non-academic” bodies and appealed for the two lecturers to be allowed to start work.
“We feel that it is extremely unfair on us students to have to suffer because some non-academic bodies are not happy with their appointment,” the letter said.
“We understand that David Robie and Ingrid Leary were considered the best qualified and experienced to teach Pacific journalism at the present time by the USP Selection Board.
“Through our own investigations, and having looked into their accomplishments as journalists and/or lecturers, we support their appointments and have been looking forward to learning from and working with them,” the students said.
“As students we are gravely concerned that the university’s academic independence appears to be compromised by outside influences.”
Leary is taking up her position immediately and Robie is expected to arrive at USP from Papua New Guinea in mid-March.