Conference sheds light on Media and Democracy in the South Pacific
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The Permanent Secretary for Information, National Archives and Library Services of Fiji, Ms Sharon Smith-Johns delivers her address at the Media and Democracy Conference. Also in picture is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration and Regional Campuses), Dr Esther Williams.
Media practitioners and educators from around the region gathered at the University of the South Pacific to discuss issues on the role of the media in relation to the transition to and growth of democracy in the Pacific.
The two-day conference, which began on 5 September 2012, is being held at the Multi Purpose Theatre at the University’s Laucala Campus in Suva.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, the Permanent Secretary for Information, National Archives and Library Services of Fiji, Ms Sharon Smith-Johns outlined that there is a clear division of opinion among journalists and journalist educators about what form of journalism is appropriate for developing countries.
“In developing countries, we all have a responsibility to educate and enlighten, to create stability for investment and to create jobs our people so badly need. This does not come from fuelling division; we must acknowledge there is a special responsibility on all of us, in a multi-racial country like Fiji,” she pointed out.
In the interests of national stability, Ms Smith-Johns explained that Fiji felt it necessary to impose a period of censorship on the local media that has now been lifted.
She encouraged journalists to again rise to the challenge of giving ordinary people the information they need.
The conference is being hosted by the University’s discipline of Journalism. A number of key papers were discussed on the first day and a number of them will be presented today.
The event also rebuilds the momentum created by the symposium on ‘Peace Journalism’ that USP Journalism hosted two years ago. It extends its theoretical scope to include alternative models of media, such as Development Journalism and Asian Values Journalism.
In her remarks, USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration and Regional Campuses), Dr Esther Williams emphasised the importance of a responsible media.
“Making sure that the media lives up to its responsibilities is no simple matter. The question is how to find a mechanism that makes the media accountable for what it prints and broadcasts while not undermining its freedom of speech or its important role as a public watchdog. This is not an easy issue to resolve in countries across the region,” she said.
As the media in the Pacific strives to establish a responsible role in rapidly changing societies, Dr Williams stressed that attention must be given to the following issues:
· Potential impact of governments on the media;
· Impact of media on governments and on society in general; and
· Raising awareness in Pacific communities on the role of the media in growing democracy.
While training of journalists to improve the quality of reporting and journalism is needed, Dr Williams highlighted that, as a regional institution, USP provides education and training for future media and mass communication workers for Fiji and the region.
To date, USP Journalism has produced over 140 graduates working for 30 different media organisations in 10 Pacific countries.
“Many graduates have become established and influential journalists in Fiji and the South Pacific. The structure of our programme is intended to produce journalists who are not only skilled in their profession, but have a broad-based knowledge about the world,” she added.
The keynote address of the opening day was given by Professor Robert Hackett from the Simon Fraser University in Canada. His main areas of research include media activism, political communication and news analysis.
The conference ends today.