The talanoa and the tribal paradigm: Reflections on cross-cultural reporting in the Pacific


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By David Robie

Alongside normative definitions of the Fourth Estate as an independent watchdog on political power, in the South Pacific there is also a notion of a “fifth estate”, an Indigenous traditional cultural pillar, which is a counterbalance to all other forms of power, including the news media.

This is especially so of Fiji in the wake of four coups, or five if the 2009 Easter constitutional putsch is counted as a separate coup.

This paper explores traditional chiefly political power, the Taukei ethno-nationalist movement and the dilemmas of cross-cultural reporting with a particular reference to the expected return to democracy in Fiji with a general election due in September 2014 after a quarter-century of coup cycles.

It also argues for a tanoa model incorporating culture as part of a philosophy of talanoa, or a more nuanced, reflexive approach to journalism in the Pacific based on a flexible and open form of communication, dialogue and negotiation.

The paper draws on the author’s experience as both a journalist and media educator for almost three decades in the region.

"Sit down everybody, this is a takeover"
“Sit down everybody, this is a takeover” – Sitiveni Rabuka’s first coup in Fiji, 14 May, 1987. Image: New Outlook
David Robie
David Robie
Dr David Robie was previously founding director and professor of journalism at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre (PMC). He worked with postgraduate student journalists to edit Pacific Media Watch - a daily digital archive of dispatches about Pacific journalism and media, ethics and professionalism. The PMC also jointly published the high profile independent Pacific Scoop news website with industry partner, Scoop Media, and Asia Pacific Report, which David now edits independently in partnership with Evening Report: David is also the founding editor of Pacific Journalism Review (PJR).
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