Concurrent issues intercept quality journalism

Media in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand must adopt a constructive and proactive approach while reporting conflicts, a veteran journalist has said.

Speaking to journalism students at the University of South Pacific (USP) in Suva on March 25, Shailendra Singh said that journalists, reporters and owners of media should revisit their coverage of upheavals, riots and other conflicts.

“Violent conflicts are the biggest threat to sustainable development,” he said.

A former head of the School of Journalism at USP, Mr Singh is currently preparing a thesis on Conflict Reporting for his doctorate in Brisbane, Australia.

A recipient of three honours, including the International Research Scholarship, the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship for top students Award and the USP Staff Development Scholarship, he is respected for his balanced views on issues.

The Research

As part of his research, Mr Singh is investigating allegations that traditional journalism frameworks fuel conflicts by focusing on the manifestations of conflict, such as violence, while avoiding complex explanations.

He is using Fiji as the setting, with media coverage of the country’s 2006 elections as a case study.

Mr Singh has conducted a national journalist survey, a content analysis of Fiji’s 2006 elections, and in-depth interviews with various media stakeholders.

He said that his findings would form the basis of his recommendations about conflict reporting.

”I am looking at a framework of responsible conflict reporting. This is journalism sensitised to its role in, and impact on, conflict. This is important for Fiji, where instability has caused a huge and lasting setback on development,” he said.

Brain drain

Stating that there was scope for improvement in media standards, Mr Singh said that if critiques are to be useful, they must consider the context.

While there is well-documented evidence of problems with English, which is not the first language in Fiji and the Pacific, the standard of English in Fiji was high until the May 14, 1987 coup, he said.

The coup caused a huge flight of skills, including English teachers and journalists. We have never filled the gap because of successive coups. A high turnover of journalists had also affected standards because the ability to write analytically develops with time and experience. In Fiji, many journalists leave the industry before their time,” Mr Singh said.

According to him, older journalists in the industry were running newsrooms rather than writing or reporting.

Contributing factors

Production deadlines, market conditions, competition and the need to keep costs low were also affecting standards in Fiji and other countries.

Mr Singh said it would be imprudent to suggest individual journalists or media companies were to be blamed, since the decline was linked to several structural and environmental factors.

He said improving English language skills and addressing other structural factors must be considered if real improvements were to be made.

Mr Singh was justifiably proud that despite resource constraints, the Journalism Programme at USP had achieved several international benchmarks, such as winning the Ossie Awards for student journalism in Australia on a consistent basis.

Many top USP journalism graduates have secured scholarships at universities in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe and the US.

“USP journalism graduates are highly employable in Fiji and throughout the region, including Australia and New Zealand. Apart from the news media, our graduates are well represented in international organisations such as the International Red Cross, Worldwide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, and the UN,” he said.

Sherita Sharma recently graduated in Journalism with a gold medal from the University of South Pacific and is currently pursuing the graduate programme in Development Studies.

Mr Singh cited a number of journalists and journalism graduates from Fiji who have made their mark in several countries. They included the following:

Some prominent journalists from Fiji

Christine Gounder (former Reporter at Indian Newslink and Radio New Zealand)

Sudesh Kissun, a postgraduate (MA) in Journalism from AUT (a former contributor to Indian Newslink), Editor, Dairy News, Auckland

Arvind Kumar, Sub-Editor, Fairfax and Editor of Indian Weekender, Auckland; former Chief Sub-Editor, Fiji Times, New Zealand Rural Press

Harris Choy (former Fiji Sun staff), well-known rugby writer for NZPA, New Zealand

Rashneel Kumar, who represented Oceania at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Young Reporters Programme in Singapore in 2010 and a speaker at the 5th Women in Sports Conference in Los Angeles in 2012

Katrina Ma’u from Tonga, a Masters Graduate from the University of Glasgow, now working at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Tara Chetty, a US Fulbright Scholar

Reggie Dutt, a Masters Graduate from Bond University, working for the International Red Cross

Shazia Usman, the first Masters Graduate from USP, who won an award to present at the 2012 Journalism Education Association of Australia Conference

Arthur McCutchan and Sophie Foster (Former Fiji Times staff), employed at the Brisbane Courier Mail

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