Professor David Robie, a prominent journalist and director of Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre, shared his experiences of human rights coverage in the region and stressed the role of news media as watchdogs at a Human Rights and Media Forum held on 13–15 April 2016 in Nadi, Fiji.
Professor Robie, former head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific (USP), was chief guest.
Senior journalists and government communication officers from 13 Pacific countries participated in the forum, which had the theme: “Enhancing a human rights-based approach to news reporting”.
“Human rights-oriented journalism is more focused on global rather than on selective reporting, with an emphasis on the vulnerable and empowerment for the affected and marginalised people — a voice for the voiceless,” said Professor Robie.
After the forum, he said in an interview “journalists ought to be human rights defenders and bear witness to Pacific human rights violations.
“This forum was remarkably successful in providing the tools for a wide range of Pacific media people to bring accountability to offenders against human rights. I congratulate the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) on organising this important forum.”
The forum, which was supported by the Australian government and European Union, released an outcomes document, reaffirming the vital role the media play and recognising the importance of strengthening news reporting, using a human rights-based approach.
The outcomes document also acknowledges the importance of building a strong relationship between government communication personnel and journalists in sharing information and the roles they play in disseminating information.
This document is being formatted into a poster for newsrooms in the region.
Romulo Nayacalevu, SPC’s Human Rights Adviser, said: “The media have a powerful voice in highlighting human rights issues and concerns, and this workshop provides the opportunity for journalists to dialogue on human rights and the media.
“The SPC is delighted to work closely with the Pacific media to support their work in human rights reporting and we are excited about the outcomes document, which provides them with tips on how to do that.”
Giving a Pacific journalist’s perspective, Stanley Simpson, managing director of Business Melanesia Ltd, stressed that journalists in the region were frequently victims of human rights abuses while reporting on human rights in the region.
“Pacific journalists are often young and almost always broke, some have very little life experience, they are underpaid and overworked, they get threatened and intimidated regularly, and they endure a high pressure environment,” he said.
“People like to see journalists as instruments of change, but sometimes journalists just feel that they are being used by different sides with different agendas.
“So often they are going through the day-to-day slog of getting a newspaper or news bulletin out — it is easy to forget that they have the potential to influence change. It is important that this is addressed and journalists understand their roles as agents of change.”
Belinda Kora, news director of Papua New Guinea FM, agreed that journalists could influence change but said their reporting must be responsible.
“I keep reminding my reporters that when it comes to reporting about human rights, if your story does not impact on the lives of victims or anyone else for that matter, you are only taking up space,” she said.
She added that, importantly, journalists needed to know their rights to be able to report responsibly.
“How can we journalists in the region report effectively if we don’t know our rights?” Kora asked.
The three-day forum strengthened media capacity in rights-based reporting to reflect the aspirations of Pacific Island communities for equality, development and social justice, said RRRT team leader Nicol Cave.
Marian Kupu of Broadcom Broadcasting Limited, Tonga, said: “I found the three-day forum very encouraging because I learnt about my country’s human rights commitments and I see my role as a journalist to report on the gaps in order to encourage decision makers to prioritise and address the issues.”
“Giving voice to the voiceless” and “championing the rights of all peoples” were key messages highlighted at the forum.
The forum was organised by the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) of the Pacific Community in partnership with the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the Journalism Programme of the University of the South Pacific.