By Crosbie Walsh
The highlights of a symposium at the Pacific Media Centre of the Auckland University of Technology on 1 December 2020 — West Papua Independence Day — were the numerous accolades paid to PMC director Professor David Robie and Del Abcede, who are retiring at the end of the year.
David has lived in the Pacific, been involved in Pacific human rights and media freedom issues and taught journalism to Pacific Islanders and others for 40 years. He will be a hard man to replace.
He was aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985 shortly before it was sunk by French saboteurs (Opération Satanique). The Warrior had been on its way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test in Moruroa.
And he was close at hand when French “state-backed terrorism” also targeted independence leaders in New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
David has actively criticised the Indonesian government for the ruthlessness of its attacks on the West Papuan independence movement, the Philippines government for the murder of journalists and has protested against media suppression in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
From 1993-97 David headed the journalism programme at the University of Papua New Guinea, where he also launched Pacific Journalism Review (the latest issue has papers on climate change and the pandemic) and Pacific Media Watch.
Sri Krishnamurthi’s short documentary about Pacific Media Watch.
From 1998 to 2002 he was head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. He joined Auckland University of Technology in 2002 and pioneered the Pacific Media Centre and had been its director ever since.
Students are not known for their accolades, especially for teachers who are leaving, but then many teachers do not inspire their students as David does.
His own inspiration comes from using his head and passionately believing in what he is doing.
Del Abcede spoke on behalf of the West Papuan students, declaring, “I will say the things they cannot say because it puts them at risk”.
She appealed for more support from New Zealand and Pacific countries for the West Papuan self-determination cause.
Dr Crosbie Walsh was the foundation professor of development studies at both Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand and the University of the South Pacific. He publishes a blog on Fiji and Pacific affairs where this article was first published and it was republished by the PNG Attitude blog of Keith Jackson.