“Journalism is in crisis in the Pacific region and this is reaching a new level of intensity,” says one editor. But independent Pacific Scoop challenges the status quo. Jane Jeffries reports for Asia-Pacific Journalism.
Report – By Jane Jeffries
Pacific Scoop exposes New Zealand to Pacific issues and gives a fresh voice to people in the region on a wide range of topics including health, human rights, media and social justice, say journalists and media commentators.
This regional independent news website provides a strong platform for Pacific issues to be heard and debated. Mainstream media no longer report widely on Pacific issues so it plays a vital role, say the media analysts.
Pacific Scoop and its founding partner, Wellington-based Scoop Media Limited, last month announced a new $5000 internship to fund a postgraduate student journalist to report and edit for the service.
“Journalism is in crisis in the Pacific region and this is reaching a new level of intensity,” says Scoop Media general manager and editor, Alastair Thompson, who has been involved with the project since the website was launched in 2009.
This is believed to be the first media industry-journalism school partnership of its kind in New Zealand and the first internship winner has been named as Auckland-based Norwegian radio journalist Daniel Drageset.
“There is an abysmal reportage of Pacific issues in mainstream media in New Zealand,” says Dr David Robie, professor of journalism and communication studies at AUT University, who is editor and co-founder of Pacific Scoop.
“In the late 1970s into the 1980s, main media services put effort into the Pacific region. However, resources have declined.”
He said the PMC and founding co-editor Selwyn Manning recognised a niche non-profit market for postgraduate students on the new Asia-Pacific Journalism specialist course.
It also publishes work from independent journalists, academics and other students filing from around the region.
“Mainstream media in New Zealand and Australia don’t give enough thought to the Pacific,” says a former University of the South Pacific journalism head Shailendra Singh, currently completing his doctorate at a Brisbane university.
“They are often getting their leads and linking stories from Pacific Scoop. In essence, Pacific Scoop is helping the Pacific get wider coverage, critical to the region.”
Barbara Dreaver, Pacific correspondent for Television New Zealand (TVNZ), says while her station will cover breaking news in the Pacific region, there is little funding or time to cover many in-depth stories from such a large and diverse area.
“Pacific Scoop is very good at reporting opinion with in-depth analysis. It adds much more than the bare facts – it adds context and background,” she says.
West Papua Media Alerts editor Nick Chesterfield says Pacific Scoop is committed to looking at parts of the Pacific not traditionally reported on and covers stories with integrity, particularly in Melanesia.
He says other mainstream media services will only cover stories “that bleed”. Most media services are not interested in looking at the “real issues”, he believes.
Scoop Media was “working the Asia-Pacific beat” and were looking for someone to partner with a common interest in the region.
Thompson says journalists in the Pacific region are declining in numbers and skills, and media groups are seriously underfunded.
“If we don’t try to keep some of the journalists, their knowledge and skill, we will lose them.”
The Pacific region has very complex needs, with a strong interest from super powers like China and the US, and also France and Indonesia.
It is critical that these relationships are reported so the local and wider communities know what is going on, says Thompson.
The only consistent mainstream reporting on the Pacific from New Zealand is TVNZ Barbara Dreaver and Fairfax NZ’s Michael Field, a former correspondent of Agence France-Presse.
A recent report on the “Strengthening of National Media Association in the Pacific,” prepared for Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), says there are fundamental issues to address.
Many of the Pacific nations do not report critical news stories because of political issues and lack of freedom of speech, the report says.
Lack of industry training and funding has also been highlighted as a reason many of the Pacific nations do not report important issues.
Pacific Scoop’s strong connections with AUT University’s PMC and the postgraduate journalism programme make it unique, says former Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning, who is now chair of AUT’s School of Communication Studies industry advisory group.
“Pacific Scoop is a great depository for postgraduate Pacific student journalists to publish work on the Pacific region. The postgraduate work has a sound foundation, is robust, reliable and well edited from very creditable sources,” says Manning.
As well as students with an interest in Pasifika, academic staff, regional journalists, civil society advocates and analysts all post edited articles on Pacific Scoop.
Pacific Scoop is independent and has no agenda giving it licence under Creative Commons to report the facts, and provides a voice to those who are denied one.
“It is important some of the stories blocked by ‘censorship or local sensitivities’ get a chance to run and the regional audience have a wider choice of information,” says Dr Robie.
Kalafi Moala, publisher of Taimi ‘o Tonga, says, “Pacific issues need to be heard and debated honestly.
“Pacific Scoop needs to be independent in its coverage so that opposite points of views may be heard.
“Coverage about ‘Pasifika’ is often one-sided and lacks a balanced view of issues or alternative ways of looking and dealing with Pacific issues,” says Moala.
Associate professor Trevor Cullen, a longtime Pacific and international journalism academic, says he is impressed with Pacific Scoop because it is not slanted or biased and “you get the full story”.
It is a valuable asset and enables a true understand of what is happening in the Pacific, he says.
Another strength of Pacific Scoop is its role as a media watchdog for the region, holding powers to account and bringing issue of importance to light, especially through its Pacific Media Watch freedom project.
Singh says Pacific Scoop covers events that impact on people and issues that “we should be concerned about”.
“Look at what’s happened in West Papua. The territory suffers from media neglect. It is akin to a journalistic crime,” he says.
“If no one is watching and raising the alarm, the atrocities will only get worse.
Eye on Papua
“Pacific Scoop deserves praise for keeping an eye on Papua and other trouble spots in the Pacific,” he says.
Pacific Scoop is non-commercial and is not constrained by any advertising pressures ensuring contributors are not compromised.
“There is no obvious commercial rational for anyone to cover journalism in the Pacific region,” says Thompson. “Advertisers have no connection to the content.”
While this gives Pacific Scoop media freedom, a lack of resources and funds could potentially expose the website to a threat.
Thompson says, “As such, it serves as a very good example of the wider problem that journalism is facing.
“Projects such as Pacific Scoop effectively have almost nowhere to go to seek funding to enable even a subsistence level of support.
“There are no institutions in New Zealand which see funding of online ‘news’ projects as their primary responsibility, neither government, corporate or philanthropic.
“Guidelines for the NZ On Air digital content funding grants schemes specifically exclude news.”
Jane Jeffries is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.