Rationale

The Melanesian Media Freedom Forum has been developed to respond to increasing media repression in Melanesia and to future-proof press freedom, though trans-national regional co-operation and knowledge-sharing among Melanesian journalists, editors, publishers, press-freedom advocates and journalism scholars.

This forum will provide a safe space for regional news media leaders from Melanesian countries and territories. It will enable them to collaboratively formulate strategies to counter increasing incidences of curtailment of media freedom and create pathways to enable mutual support in the face of existential threats to freedom of expression and communication. During the concurrent academic conference, scholars with expertise in this area will present research in this area and join the forum to provide knowledge resources and support for this work.

The conveners of this knowledge-sharing program believe it is vital for leading regional journalists across the Melanesian region to meet face-to-face at a neutral ‘safe’ location outside the Melanesian political theatre, in order to set in place  robust digital communication networks that enable knowledge and resource sharing; documentation of threats and accountability; and the development of innovative trans-national regional solutions and responses to current and emerging threats and challenges.

Objective

This workshop will provide a safe space for regional news media leaders from Melanesian countries and territories. It will enable them to collaboratively formulate strategies to counter increasing incidences of curtailment of media freedom and create pathways to enable mutual support in the face of existential threats to freedom of expression and communication. Scholars with expertise in this area will join the workshop to provide knowledge resources and support for this work.

Based on recognition that media freedom is a cornerstone of democratic culture, this knowledge-sharing event will identify opportunities for journalists and media organisations to share resources (of all types) to support democratic practice at national and sub-regional levels.

In addition, the workshop will allow for critical discussions of the political, economic and social impacts of climate change and climate politics in the region, which bring added levels of complexity for those who work in the media industries of the Pacific.

More specifically this workshop will provide opportunities for like-minded professionals:

  • to work together in appreciating, managing and navigating the current and emerging political, social and environmental challenges to media freedom in their countries and across the sub-region
  • to formulate transnational and regional strategies to counter increasing autocracy by creating pathways that enable mutual support in the face of existential challenges to the freedom of expression and communication
  • to explore the possibility of developing secure web-based transnational platforms to share knowledge and document threats to press freedom; and
  • to develop strategies and networks to increase the international reach of Melanesian journalism, encouraging and supporting local journalists to be telling their stories to the wider world. This includes developing a network that will enable international editors to identify and engage local reporters and editors
  • to further scholarly research, exploring press freedom in Melanesia through, culture sensitive, problem solution frames in collaboration with leading media practitioners in the region.

Why now?

Journalists, editors and media watchers across the Melanesian sub-region have been reporting and cataloguing numerous and varied threats and challenges to media freedom at micro and macro levels. The increased frequency of these threats coincides with an apparent shift in Melanesian politics, a slide to increasingly authoritarian attitudes, policies and practices exhibited by governments, often in the guise of ensuring ‘stability’.

Given the rapidly changing national, regional and global environments, it is necessary, now more than ever, that media freedom be defined, understood, protected, and enhanced.

While those who work in the regional media are already at the forefront of this, the proposed forum provides an opportunity to forge new alliances and reinforce existing ones to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Who is it for?

  • Senior journalists, editors and publishers from Melanesian countries and territories.
  • Scholars who can contribute to knowledge resources for media professionals around the media/democracy nexus, especially in the Melanesian context.

Target Countries & Territories

Fiji; Vanuatu; New Caledonia; Solomon Islands; Papua New Guinea; Autonomous region of Bougainville; Torres Strait Islands.

Themes

The State of Play

  • Current and emerging threats to media freedom in Melanesia.
  • Structural issues that constrain media organisations and practitioners (pay rates, legal restrictions, lack of wide understanding of the role of the media, cultural barriers, etc).
  • The significance of climate change and climate politics for media freedom.

Media, democracy and development

  • Developing strategies to entrench the oversight and ‘holding to account roles’ of the media on both sides of the equation (production and consumption).
  • Withstanding the pressures to be ‘telling the development story’ without critique (including from donors and providers of ‘media training’).
  • Initiating debate, including in complex and politically charged areas such as decolonisation, resource management, and climate change.

Social media – risks and opportunities

  • Countries in Melanesia have seen a rise in non-journalists accessing social media to contribute to public discourse. Writers, bloggers, advocates from all spheres are accessing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to voice their understanding and opinions about national, regional and global issues, including climate change.
  • Connecting these individuals to media houses, journalists may enhance the breadth of information, and level of critique.
  • Emphasis on connecting the diaspora to domestic journalists necessary to expanding the reach of information coming out of the country.

Climate Change in the Pacific

  • The impact of climate change is not just a concept in the Pacific, its impact is being experienced now, with a disproportionate impact on women, and there is a need to share this message more widely.
  • Vulnerable ecosystems and communities, are impacted by adverse weather patterns and events and rising water-levels with several islands already lost. Activities around climate resilience, disaster preparedness and response create opportunities and challenges for media professionals in Melanesia.
  • What impact can media reporting have on how climate change is being addressed in the region?

Surveillance

  • Globally we are seeing a crackdown on journalists and journalistic practice on the part of increasingly authoritarian states. Sadly, Melanesian states are also beginning to argue that state security hinges on monitoring and controlling journalists.
  • Journalists in and from Melanesia need space to discuss the increasing surveillance of their work and to connect with global journalists who have faced this surveillance for decades.
  • Since some of the new media in Melanesia (Facebook and Twitter for example) are both avenues for more expressing and avenues for increased surveillance, Melanesian journalists need the space to assess and strategise their relationships to these platforms.

Lessons learned

  • The lessons of history from Melanesia and elsewhere in the Pacific.
  • The lessons from elsewhere in the world.

What is the way forward?

  • What do we want and what can we realistically achieve?
  • What are the options, what is required, who can or will do what?
  • Roles of national and regional media organisations.
  • Opportunities to link with international and global ‘fellow travellers’ including international NGOs with appropriate resources and experience.
  • Cross-border linkages and alliances.
  • Where do we want to be come 2030?

Coordinating Team

Stefan Armbruster, Rashmii Bell, Jo Chandler, Jemima Garrett, Tess Newton Cain, Faith Valencia-Forrester, Kasun Ubayasiri

Venue

Griffith University, South Bank campus, Brisbane, Australia

Dates

11-12 November 2019

Pacific Journalism Review: Te Koakoa

Media and cultural diversity

The Pacific Journalism Review: TeKoakoa is a peer-reviewed journal examining media issues and communication in the South Pacific, Asia-Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. Founded in 1994 at the University of Papua New Guinea, PJR has been published since 2007 by the Pacific Media Centre in the School of Communication Studied, Auckland University of Technology, and has links with the University of the South Pacific. PJR is a ranked journal with SCOPUS metrics.

In partnership with the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum, Pacific Journalism Review: TeKoakoa invites presenters at the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum and other interested scholars to submit academic papers for a special edition of the Pacific Journalism Review: Te Koakoa focusing on Media Freedom in Melanesia.

Sponsors