January 1 2019, Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS — Strong newsrooms, free speech and access to public information continue to affirm the importance of digital spaces for keeping Pacific people informed towards 2020.
In offline spaces, the key ongoing threat for Pacific journalists will continue to be internal. Self -censorship and gender bias will continue to impact the news agenda across many developing island nations. Bold independent editorial leadership will continue to face pressures from governments and commercial interests at national level.
As we head into 2019, our Pacific newsrooms are well aware of the pressure to grow their footprint in the digital spaces where Pacific people are already expanding their voice and search for information.
And as the rest of the world joins those across the dateline in welcoming the opportunity and hope of a new year, the PFF team wish our newsrooms and island communities a year of growth and great journalism in the important work of keeping people informed and on top of the issues affecting their lives and our region. In 2019 we begin a fresh decade of championing an editorial agenda with the public interest and media ethics at the core of journalism. We urge Pacific news organizations to continue the pursuit of safe and fair workplaces as much as they fight for ethics and standards.
We welcome the growth in reporting of gender- based violence against women in journalism, and the cyberbullying and online harassment of women for speaking out. We commend those who’ve spoken out about their situation, and will continue and step up our vigilance and solidarity for women working in and through the media.
The region has seen cases in Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa women standing up against hate speech, violent threats and abusive cyberbullying revealing how silent legislation can be on enforcing their rights.
The growth of internet access and rise of mobile based platforms for public information has boosted diversity in voice, topics, and participation of more Pacific voters. Leaders are also becoming more tuned in to the opportunities for access to their communities, and sharing more in digital spaces. However, governments remain a major part of Article 19 work in the region. The responsibility of elected leaders for keeping their people informed will continue to be a key feature of PFF work across the Pacific, with kudos going to the Solomon Islands Government, who continue to fund an annual journalism scholarship and celebrate World Press Freedom Day with the national media association.
Fiji’s judiciary has been put to the test and delivered under pressure, in rulings for the Fiji Times leadership and most recently, in a post-election ruling that cabinet could be served with a summons via publication.
In Nauru, the refusal of the host government of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting to allow journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to cover the annual Leaders summit was condemned, and we urge the Forum Secretariat to ensure that host nations of its meetings do not compromise standards for media access for future Forum events. The arrest of a Pacific journalist in Nauru during the Forum, and reports from Papua New Guinea of Police and Defense force attacks against journalists on duty at public events continues to be a major concern. As well, the APEC side event where Pacific Forum Leaders met with China in a session where Pacific journalists were blocked from attending must not set a precedent, and we commend the President of Palau for his post-APEC briefing with national media where he highlighted the important role of the fourth estate.
Our Pacific governments stand to increase their own credibility and trust with their voters when they increase access to public information and promote transparency guidelines for public servants.
PFF will continue to offer dialogue and partnership to any of our governments committed to informing Pacific citizens, media independence and standards, and protections for whistleblowers. People should not have to hope for these things. Nor should they expect and wait for them. Leaders must lead, and act with the digital age in mind, or be left in its wake. (PR)