WPFD 2024 – Keynote address by Dr Sivendra Michael, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change permanent secretary


Your Excellency Ms. Barbara Plinkert, Ambassador of European Union to the Pacific

Excellency, Mr Henry Puna, Secretary General Pacific Islands Forum Associate Professor Shailendra Singh Head of USP Journalism

Senior Faculty Members Members of the Diplomatic Corp

Friends from Development Organizations Friends from the Media

Students of this most prestigious university, one that has shaped me to be the person I am today.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all

This year’s World Press Freedom Day centres on journalism in the face of the environmental crisis.

The triple planetary crisis – the crisis of climate change, of nature and biodiversity loss, and of pollution and waste – is front and center on the global stage. Humanity now understands that we must transform societies and economies to protect planet Earth, our only home, so that this small blue vibrant planet, alone in the universe, may sustain everyone, everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are standing at a critical juncture where we need to do more than ever before to protect our environment. Our people need to know about our challenges, and our responses to the ever-growing threats posed to our environment. With this being said, journalists and media workers have a key role in informing and educating them.

Fiji and many Pacific Island Countries are not quite known in the global media for the frontline truths that our communities continue to experience. The exposure to both slow onset events such as sea-level rise and to sudden onset events such as the severe cyclone and flood events that our communities continue to experience remains an unknown fact across the Gulf Countries, the African Group, East Asia and even Europe. When you attend global meetings, many do not even know where Fiji or other PICs are located, and a handful that do know may have visited our shores for the white sandy beaches or for leisure.

We can easily address the gaps in knowledge by working together with our local and regional media friends, who can be instrumental in highlighting the stories about the environmental injustices that our communities experience on a day-to-day basis. Through their work, other like-minded people can be mobilized and empowered to drive change.

Media plays such a critical role in holding those responsible to account. I want to echo this by repeating myself.

Just yesterday, I returned from Ottawa, Canada where we had the 4th round of negotiations on an internationally legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. For days, we were divided on issues of plastic production and consumption. We listened in the rooms the arguments of many countries. As many of you know, small island countries in the Pacific do not produce plastic, we are importers of plastic. So, a polluter pay principle was not sitting well, nor was the discussion on imposing a global plastic production fee.

A handful of countries also tried to hold the discussions to hostage and thought, we as SIDS would just casually play to their delay techniques and accept their language. On the final day, the Pacific SIDS held all of these countries until 3am as a reminder that we are not here to negotiate our special circumstances, nor are we going to walk away from the room with a watered- down language that benefits producer countries. The media played a big role in disseminating real time updates to garner support from Civil Society. I would like to acknowledge that without them, probably the whole world would have not known the position of Pacific SIDS.

It is no surprise that powerful people, countries with big economies and companies will go beyond means to undermine the truth and realities of Pacific SIDS. In fact, many journalists risk their lives to document illegal environmental practices that continue to exist around us. They stand up and resist oppression just to get us the new. So, it is not an easy profession, and one that has to be grounded on multiple values, particularly, trust, impartiality, and integrity.

I honor my fellow journalist friends and regard them as fearless and daring individuals. They are the voice for the voiceless. In my view, they are superheros without capes.

However, it is imperative to address specific issues of disinformation, particularly with the growing reliance on social media.

In light of this realities that we will continue to face, it is imperative to separating facts from propaganda and hold stakeholders to account to

facilitate access to information is a critical component of ethical reporting. We need ethical and investigative journalism perhaps now more than ever. The Government of Fiji has demonstrated its commitment towards freedom of press, and we have been working collaboratively to ensure the safety of our journalist. We recognize that a free press is not a choice, but a necessity.

I encourage journalist to build further its relationship with key stakeholders in pursuit of amplifying environmental injustices.

To end, please allow me to express my heartfelt appreciation to USP Journalism, the EU Pacific, and the Pacific Islands Forum for organizing this event. I would also recognize the role of USP Journalism students in organizing workshops such as the Earth Journalism Network. The reports coming out of the network are fine examples of what can be achieved through collaboration.

I apologize for the rather long remarks, but it is a very important day, and this had to be said.

With this, once again

Vinaka vakalevu, thanvard and faeiskia

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