‘Pacific Media Watch – the Genesis’, a new freedom, ethics and plurality doco

Kalafi, Sri and Blessen
Kalafi Moala's jailing in 1998 for "contempt of Parliament" led to the founding of Pacific Media Watch and the documentary by Sri Krishnamurthi and Blessen Tom. Image: PMC

The new video produced by Blessen Tom and Sri Krishnamurthi for AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

By Sri Krishnamurthi

“It’s a bit of a lighthouse” for vital regional news and information, says former contributing editor Alex Perrottet summing up the value of the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project for New Zealand and Pacific journalism.The Radio New Zealand journalist is among seven international media people involved in the 23-year-old project featured in a new video released this week.

Pacific Media Watch – The Genesis is a 15-minute mini documentary telling the story of the project launched by two journalists at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in 1996 and adopted by Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre in 2007.

READ MORE: The Pacific Media Watch freedom project

The video was released this week to coincide with the global media freedom conference in London this week.

Pacific Media Watch has become a challenging professional development opportunity for AUT postgraduate students seeking to develop specialist skills in Asia-Pacific journalism.

It is was launched by Professor David Robie, then head of the UPNG journalism programme in Port Moresby and Peter Cronau, editor of Reportage investigative magazine at UTS.

Now Dr Robie is director of the Auckland-based PMC and Cronau is an award-winning senior producer of the ABC’s flagship Four Corners investigative journalism programme.

Tom and Krishnamurthi
Video producers, Blessen Tom of TVNZ’s Fair Go, and Sri Krishnamurthi of the Pacific Media Centre. Image: PMC

The ‘Tongan three’
The catalyst for Pacific Media Watch was the jailing of the “Tongan Three” – founding editor of Taimi ‘o Tonga Kalafi Moala, his deputy Filokalafi Akau’ola, and pro-democracy MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva, now Prime Minister of Tonga – for contempt of Parliament in 1996.

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Dr Robie and Cronau could not sit back and allow this happen – the second major attack on media freedom in the Pacific after Fiji was thrown into turmoil with the first coup in 1987.

“The Tongan Three was really how we got started,” recalls Dr Robie about their response to the unprecedented and “outrageous” 30-day jailing sentence imposed on the trio at the time.

Peter Cronau says: “The case of the three was just a shock and it was a rallying point.”

Since then Pacific Media Watch has grown to become a reliable media outlet based on professional development for student journalists but it also has a network of contributing media and academic correspondents around the region.

Many events
The PMW has covered many events in the Pacific including tsunamis, Fiji peacekeepers being taken hostage in the Golan Heights, beatings and torture of a prisoner by the security forces in Fiji, two Fiji general elections, the New Caledonian independence referendum and – most recently – the massacre of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch and the impact on journalism.

Blessen Tom
Blessen Tom pushing a dolly for the Pacific Media Watch documentary. Image: PMC

So far nine postgraduate student contributing editors and two reporters have been trained on the PMW project, and between them at least 11 awards have been won at the annual Ossie Awards for the cream of student journalism in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

For Blessen Tom, who produced last year’s Bearing Witness climate change project short film Banabans of Rabi along with Hele Ikamotu, and I, producing this Pacific Media Watch programme was a deeply satisfying project.

We hope that through our six interviews and countless hours spent in the editing suite that we have made a fitting tribute to the work of David, Peter, Kalafi and all those who have made the Pacific Media Watch project what it is today.

Media freedom challenge
In London yesterday, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and 31 other press freedom and media development agencies met in advance of the Global Media Freedom Conference.

Kalafi, Sri and Blessen
Taimi ‘o Tonga founding publisher Kalafi Moala’s jailing in 1996 for “contempt of Parliament” led to the establishment of Pacific Media Watch and this documentary by Sri Krishnamurthi and Blessen Tom. Image: PMC

They called on all nations taking part to ensure the protection and safety of all journalists and media workers in compliance with their existing obligations and international standards.

The group, representing and working with hundreds of thousands of journalists and media workers throughout the world, said new pledges would only be credible if countries immediately:

  • Release all imprisoned journalists;
  • Stop killing, attacking and denigrating journalists; and
  • Investigate and prosecute all murders of journalists.

The group demanded that all states hold themselves and their counterparts accountable and show demonstrable progress.

Several countries attending the conference have imprisoned journalists and unsolved murders.

This article was first published by Asia Pacific Report.