Pacific groups highlight role of media in addressing climate crisis

Solomon Islands media

Journalists discuss the state of media in the Solomon Islands. Screenshot from the YouTube video of MASI: Media Association of Solomon Islands posted in May 2022. Fair use.

Media groups, heads of state, and free speech advocates across the Pacific marked World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on May 3, by emphasizing the role of upholding the right to information in addressing the impact of the climate crisis in the region.

The theme of WPFD this year, “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of the Environmental Crisis,” resonates with the work being done by media groups in the Pacific. The statement of the Palau Media Council reflects the WPFD theme:

A free press is vital to informing our communities about the environmental challenges we face and holding all accountable for protecting our precious environment.

We celebrate the courageous work of journalists and recommit ourselves to defending press freedom, ensuring a strong and independent media that serves the people of Palau.

Moving forward, we pledge to prioritize climate crisis stories, ensuring they take center stage in our coverage. We will amplify important voices advocating for environmental protection.

Robert Iroga, chair of the regional media watchdog Pacific Freedom Forum, underscored the need for media coverage and inclusion of Pacific journalists at global climate conferences.

If there is work to be done by journalists in the Pacific, it is to urge and encourage global awareness of climate change's impacts and hold wealthy polluters accountable.

Pacific Islands News Association President Kora Nou asserted that journalists should have an active role in implementing initiatives that seek to address the harsh impact of climate change.

Journalists must be included in projects not merely as observers but as active participants, providing independent and objective coverage that uncovers the truth, expose wrongdoing, and amplify the voices of marginalised communities.

Fiji Media Association General Secretary Stanley Simpson has a reminder for fellow journalists.

Ethics must guide our industry; our code of ethics must guide us. We must serve the people with integrity; our articles must have integrity, balance, fairness, and accuracy.

Media groups also highlighted the various challenges they face in fulfilling their work. Some countries like Fiji saw an improvement in their media landscape after the parliament annulled repressive media laws; but there are also countries like Papua New Guinea where journalists are being threatened with stricter media regulations. Meanwhile, a “word war” recently created tension between some media outlets and a minister in New Zealand’s new government.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Federal President Karen Percy cited the weaponization of laws that undermine the work of media in Australia:

When whistleblowers are prosecuted for revealing wrongdoing by governments and corporations; when defamation is weaponised to prevent scrutiny; when information that should be publicly available is inaccessible or wrongly marked top secret; and when the basic role of journalism is criminalised on ‘national security grounds’ – then it is the public who loses out.

In the French overseas territory New Caledonia, a union conducted a sit-in protest in solidarity with Kanak Indigenous journalist Thérèse Waia who was criticized by pro-France forces for her reporting on pro-independence protests. Sonia Togna of New Caledonia’s Union of Francophone Women in Oceania said in a media interview:

We are here to sound the alarm bell and to remind our leaders not to cross the line regarding freedom of expression and freedom to exercise the profession of journalism in New Caledonia.

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