Pacific storytelling with a focus on the ignored and ‘untold’ issues

A video made by an AUT screen production graduate, Sasya Wreksono, marking the 10th anniversary of the Pacific Media Centre. Video: PMC

PROFILE: By Craig Major of AUT News

​Based at Auckland University of Technology, the Pacific Media Centre is a small team dedicated to telling stories from across the Pacific that you won’t read anywhere else.

Established in 2007 by Professor David Robie in AUT’s School of Communication Studies, the centre focuses on postgraduate research projects and publications that impact on indigenous communities across the Pacific.

“We’re a small team, but the scope of what we cover is phenomenal,” Dr Robie explains. “As researchers and reporters, we look at the repercussions that big issues like climate change, human rights violations and press freedom have on these small communities in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The team are active publishers, managing several platforms including the Pacific Media Watch and Asia Pacific Report news websites, the half-yearly academic research journal Pacific Journalism Review and its companion Pacific Journalism Monographs, the blog Niusblog and Toktok, a quarterly newsletter.

The centre has also secured a media partnership with Radio New Zealand – the first content-sharing arrangement between a New Zealand university and a news organisation – and hosts the weekly Southern Cross radio programme on 95bFM.

Some of the Pacific Media Centre team: Sri Krishnamurthi (from left), Blessen Tom, Leilani Sitagata, Associate Professor Camille Nakhid, Professor David Robie and Del Abcede. Image: Craig Major/AUT


Dr Robie, along with Advisory Board chair Associate Professor Camille Nakhid, sees the centre as having a strong advocacy role across the Pacific and further afield.

“I think it is a real strength of the PMC that the team can find issues in the Pacific that just aren’t covered in the mainstream New Zealand media, then explore them and report on them with authority and conviction,” Dr Robie says.

Beyond a travel brochure
“The team is skilled in identifying issues that are beyond the scope of what the public sees in a travel brochure.”

Dr Nakhid echoes this sentiment. “New Zealand’s media can be very insular when reporting on what is happening in the Pacific – even though there is so much happening right outside our doorstep.”

Internally the team takes a cross-discipline approach, working closely with students and staff in the School of Communication Studies (particularly Te Ara Motuhenga, the documentary collective) and the School of Social Sciences.

The centre also has international partnerships, such as with the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, and maintains close ties to Pacific communities based in New Zealand – and are sure to collaborate with community groups for events and seminars.

“Pacific Media Centre organised a seminar about the refugee situation in Myanmar recently,” recalls publications designer Del Abcede. “Through talking to the Burmese citizens that we had invited, we discovered a range of issues that only came to light in the mainstream after the Myanmar election.”

PMC reporting staff – mostly postgraduate students – are encouraged to uncover and explore the issues that interest them.

“Working with the PMC has been very illuminating,” says Sri Krishnamurthi, a postgraduate student who has covered Fiji-based news for PMC, and has interviewed two of the three party heads hoping to win Fiji’s general election next month.

“I have a background in communications and journalism, but doing this kind of reporting has been a real eye-opener,” says Krishnamurthi, a Fiji-born journalist who worked with the NZ Press Association for 17 years.

Film festival screening
And just this week two students from the centre, Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom, have had their Bearing Witness climate change documentary, Banabans of Rabi, accepted for screening at the 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival.

The trailer of Banabans of Rabi, a short documentary on climate change accepted by the 2018 Nuku’alofa Film Festival. Video: BOR

The freedom to pursue stories in the region is an opportunity for Dr Robie and the team.

“Students that work with us learn so much – and there really is no underestimation of their abilities,” Dr Robie said.

“Not only that, it promotes media and journalism as a viable career path for Pacific students, and leads to opportunities for international journalism projects.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Fiji’s first climate change village forced to move from sea to ‘promised land’

Blessen Tom’s feature drone video of Vunidogoloa.

By Hele Ikimotu with visuals by Blessen Tom

Vunidogoloa was the first village in Fiji to be relocated – barely three years ago – due to sea level rise.

The village was in the Cakaudrove province and had backyard views of beautiful Natewa Bay on Vanua Levu Island.

The relaxing life for these villagers was however dampened by the impact of sea level rise.

Flooding was common for the villagers and so they needed to be relocated.

Their new village is 2 kilometres inland and was renamed by the villagers as Kenani (“Promised Land”).


The whole village of Vunidogoloa (pop. 130) moved to their new settlement in January 2014 and now have solar lighting.

We stopped by the old “ghost” village to see where the villagers once lived and also took some photos of where they are now settled.

1. Vunidogoloa’s “front door” to Natewa Bay. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

2. Vunidogoloa … now a ghost village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

3. Vunidogoloa … an abandoned home. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

4. Vunidogoloa … overgrown. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

5. “Slow” … the “promised land” village coming up. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

6. Kenani … the new village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

7. Kenani Village. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

8. The aid project kudos board. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

9. Hillside Kenani.

10. More Kenani houses. Image: Blessen Tom/Bearing Witness

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Migration expert calls for immediate climate action over displaced millions

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Migration expert calls for immediate climate action over displaced millions

Researchers in Bonn warn Pacific Islanders may be among the first to be forced to migrate due to climate change, as sea level rise threatens to make whole islands uninhabitable. Video: Democracy Now!

At least 23 million people were displaced by extreme weather as a result of climate change.

“If we act now in terms of climate change action, … it means we support for people to stay in their homes. … Let’s not make migration a last resort, a tragedy,” says Dina Ionesco, the head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organisation for Migration.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit in Bonn.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This year is known as the first “Islands COP,” with Fiji presiding over this year’s summit. The event itself is being held here in Bonn because of the logistical challenges of hosting thousands of people in Fiji at the start of the South Pacific cyclone season. Researchers here at Bonn are warning that Pacific Islanders may be among the first to be forced to migrate due to climate change, as sea level rise is threatening to make whole islands uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we got a chance to speak with Pacific Islanders who rolled out a red carpet to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel here at the COP23. The massive banner that went along the floor to the plenary read “Keep it in the ground.” Among those who rolled it out were Pacific warriors Joseph-Zane Sikulu of Tonga and Lusia Feagaiga, a delegate from Samoa. I asked them how climate change is affecting their islands.

LUSIA FEAGAIGA: With the sea levels rising, a lot of our lower-lying atoll countries are being affected. I mean, Marshall Islands is two meters above sea level; Tuvalu, probably three. And once king tides come in, it’s most likely that their villages will be flooded with saltwater because of the rising sea levels. Even in Samoa, places where families, their ancestral homes used to be on the shore, now have to be moved further inland because of the rising sea level. So, it’s affecting way of life. It’s affecting crops and indigenous root crops, because of saltwater intrusion, as well as fresh drinking supplies, as well.


AMY GOODMAN: But island nations are not the only places where climate change is threatening to force people from their homes. Last year, around the world, at least 23 million people were displaced by extreme weather.

For more, we’re joined by Dina Ionesco, the head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organisation for Migration.

So you just heard people from Tonga and Samoa. What do they face? What is a climate change migrant or climate change refugee?

DINA IONESCO: Well, climate change migration means that the impacts of climate change affect so much the lives of people that they can’t stay in their homes. And very often also, climate change connects to other issues—poverty, for instance, or demographic issues or conflict. And it makes it even more difficult for people to remain. So, climate migration means that people have to move, but also sometimes choose to move, because their environment is degrading. And it can mean, as you said, sudden onset, big storms, floods. There, it’s easier to count who moved because of those causes. But it means also the slow onset, like desertification, sea level rise, land loss. So it’s very complex, many different issues. But the bottom line is that we maybe do not want these people to be forced to move because of climate change. So, this was why we are here.

Climate refugees
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, a few years ago, a man from the island of Kiribati sparked a global debate because he became the first person ever to seek asylum, for him and his family, as climate refugees. So could you tell us about his case and what’s happened with people seeking asylum for climate-related issues?

DINA IONESCO: So, we have to realise that the majority of people who move because of climate change, they move internally. They move within borders. So that means they are under the responsibility of their own states. They are not seeking a climate refugee status, because their own state has to take care of them and respect their human rights. There are some cases—we had the case for these small islands or for Haiti after the earthquake—where people move to across borders, maybe to Brazil or to the US or just across within the same island. And then there’s the question: What right do they have to move, to stay? And there, there are also possibilities to give them a humanitarian visa or a temporary protection that can allow them to stay. You can’t be a refugee for the moment. Maybe it will be, but we don’t know that. It’s very difficult to create a status as a refugee for climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: But what do you think it’s most important for the world to know right now about what the world is doing about climate migrants?

DINA IONESCO: I think one key thing to realize is that if we act now in terms of climate change action, if we take care of the Earth now, it means we support for people to stay in their homes, that they are not forced to migrate. So that’s one key message we have to say. Invest in climate action. It gives people a choice whether to go. They have the right to move if they want to move, but let’s not make migration a last resort, a tragedy, when it’s too late, when there’s nothing else.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dina Ionesco, we thank you so much.

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