Report – By Rachel Reeves on Rarotonga
Foregoing his commitment to play 18 holes with French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru, Prime Minister Henry Puna has spoken at a meeting of Pacific journalists.
He officially opened the PINA/PIFS Forum regional media workshop yesterday, at which a handful of journalists were present.
“I was reported in the Cook Islands News as playing golf with President of French Polynesia this morning … I did commit to playing golf but my PA reminded me last night I am committed to being here so I had to work with diplomatic channels to withdraw graciously from playing golf with President Oscar,” Puna joked in his opening address.
“Media and media relations can present a complicated mix of interests,” Puna began. “We all know how difficult it can be in managing the dynamics of working under the pressure of deadlines, the sensitivities to affairs of state and the social mores and beliefs peculiar to our Pacific Island communities.
“Many outsiders see us as people in the region with simple lives. But sometimes we sure know how to complicate things, [which is] one of the many paradoxes, I believe, at work in the Pacific.
Media freedom history
“Our experience in the Cook Islands is marked by long history of media freedom. Twenty-three years ago one of our former leaders, the late Sir Geoffrey Henry, was instrumental in shaping the local media into what it is today,” he said, acknowledging the late Sir Geoffrey’s move to privatise media and broadcast organisations.
“Although this history may well be portrayed as chequered, patchy or uneven, what has remained important to us over the years is that the pillar of the fourth estate continues to be an essential ingredient in the maturity of our country.”
Puna said the Cook Islands had enacted the Official Information Act, which committed a government to addressing the information needs of the community it represented.
“In fact, these responsibilities to uphold such freedoms in the flow of information, I believe, are shared responsibilities. The weight of our freedoms is a burden for us all, elected officials and the media alike. In balancing the need to know, particular consideration must be paid to the way that this commitment and responsibility is managed,” he said.
“The process is very much a two-way street, and perhaps this is why the flow of information is often disrupted and marred by the erratic driving of particular interests.
“The need to know is therefore very much balanced with the need to be responsible. For any of us in the Pacific region, achieving the right balance in contending with development needs and challenges, often relies on fostering the right partnerships. In fact, we often talk about nurturing these linkages and securing partnerships as the key to overcoming obstacles.
Strangely, however, very little is said about developing partnerships between the media and governments. I ask the question: Are our interests so at odds that the divide cannot be bridged? I don’t think so.”
Puna told journalists a “number of announcements” will be made over the coming week concerning challenge of preserving and protecting the Pacific Ocean.
“These partnerships engage Forum island countries in ways that tie us together in terms of our maritime boundaries, our need to preserve and safeguard our ocean and its resources, and in the way we must work together to secure basic needs like water supply and sustainable climate-proof infrastructure.
“I am sure there will be many questions over such pressures throughout the week,” he advised the room. He extended his “support” to their journalistic pursuits during the Pacific Islands Forum.
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.