Monday, June 01, 2009

On Pacific membership to IFEX, Oslo 2009

Presentation to 14 IFEX General Assembly, Monday 1 June, Oslo, Norway
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you warm greetings from the co-chairs of the Pacific Freedom Forum, Monica Miller of American Samoa, and Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea. I bring with me the hopes of fellow media freedom advocates many thousands of miles and many worlds away from this, the 14th general meeting of the IFEX global network. I am joined here in my sincere call for your vote by my colleagues Mr Koroi Hawkins of the Solomon Islands, and Mr Matai Akauola of Fiji, here as the coordinator of the Pacific Islands News Association.
I looked at the IFEX meeting schedule for today and tomorrow and found myself nodding, with an increasing sense of empathy. The insights on the need to get more strategic, the planning and consultation involved, and your internal review findings already resonate for us in the Pacific. Better strategies, better funding, better at doing better. The demands upon IFEX to be as dynamic as the changing world its members live in are also being faced, in unique contexts, by the Pacific Freedom Forum.
And it has for me, confirmed that our network having this space before you now in Oslo is a matter of perfect momentum, of an event finding its happening, and its place. Today the Pacific Freedom Forum, in terms of its journey crossing the path of that of this global assembly, has found such a moment. Our application for membership comes at a time when we are at our greatest need. At the same time we may also be placed to share a little bit of the Pacific x-factor to help achieve the IFEX vision. And honestly, if we didn’t believe we could help IFEX bring about a world where freedom of expression is defended, respected, and upheld; then we would not be here.

The heart of the Pacific Freedom Forum is Article XIX of the UDHR. While a commitment to free speech, expression of opinions and sharing of ideas and information in our island communities forms the core for our monitoring and advocacy network, there are two key things that keep that heart beating. The first is the technology of the internet, which has turned what we know, and how we know it and share it, on its head. Without the internet, we would have taken a much longer and expensive path, and definitely would not have the fantastic outputs we have managed to achieve in just a year of existence. In less than 12 months, the Pacific Freedom Forum has put out almost 50 alerts – more than our umbrella body the Pacific Islands News Association has released on media freedom in the last 12 years. (And I say this with the utmost respect for the task one paid staff member plays in coordinating training, executive meetings, office communications, proposals and work plans and PINA policy, in addition to the many jobs related to monitoring and preparing alerts.) We have been able to achieve this through the second key element of our work, our members, who through their time, feedback and discussion, are the lifeblood of the Pacific Freedom Forum. In addition to their own busy lives, our online members are asked to commit to advocacy and keeping the lines of communication open for a small drafting team who take up the bits and pieces of information and craft it all into a statement.
In learning from the experience of PINA, and wanting to enhance media regionalism rather than turn it against itself, the Pacific Freedom Forum has one key task, and it’s all in our name. We advocate and discuss in Forum style, the specific media-related right to free speech and expression, with key goals to monitor, to advocate, to network, in support of Article 19. We are letting our Pacific people, our leaders, and our selves know that freedom of the media is everyone’s freedom, and the Pacific is facing its own crisis on that count.
We note with growing concern the majority of our media monitoring coming from one country alone, Fiji, where the voices of the media, the judiciary, and civil society continue to be silenced, with no end in sight, by an atmosphere of fear and an absence of the rule of law. The help of the international IFEX family in condemning the steadily growing abuses in Fiji can strengthen global awareness and condemnation. Importantly for us, even as we try to ensure clear and accurate information from the Pacific continues to be available to IFEX networks, the global nature of an IFEX alert can only put the regime and those Pacific leaders mulling over copycat actions, on notice that this is unacceptable. Along those lines of the information being part of the quality behind the watchdog role, we look forward to that mutual exchange of information and sharing from other regions, and bringing a Pacific space and voice to the IFEX communiqués we are subscribed to. We are happy to foster awareness of IFEX and its important work amongst the hundreds of Pacific journalists we forward the communiqués to.
So, as they say, what is in it for IFEX? As part of the global IFEX family, we will be able to catalyse the effectiveness and reach of our alerts, while growing IFEX networks and monitoring of the state of media freedom in the Pacific region—and by collaborating with PINA and others who share the goal of advocacy and monitoring of media freedom in the Pacific.
And in an industry with so many young cadets, training is an important area where the Pacific Freedom Forum sees the expertise of IFEX significantly boosting our capacity and skills at national and regional level. We have already enjoyed the support of IFEX outreach training in our inaugural gathering in Samoa this year, and we look forward to continuing and strengthening that alliance of better skills, better connections, towards better results all round.
Colleagues, in a few moments you will be deciding whether we will be able to join you at the table this week and support a stronger IFEX global network to take all our shared visions forward. In thinking of that vision, here’s something we found out from our inaugural meeting in Samoa. We learnt much about how journalism is couched in human rights frameworks. We laughed and learned, shared strategies and sorrow. Our freedom pioneers from the past met today’s media leaders coping with courage under the fire of oppression and threats to their colleagues, their loved ones and themselves. Part of the inspiring lesson so richly felt by the younger journalism students attending our meeting, is that those who answer the call to conscience described by the 2009 UNESCO WPFD laureate Lasantha Wickrematunge, do so out of a love and passion for what they do. (Because as we all know, it’s definitely not about the money!)
And that answering of the call of conscience by our individual members is essentially what gives us a special energy in the unified space where we are the Pacific Freedom Forum. We don’t just know Article 19. We own it. From all corners of the Pacific, we bring love and passion to our work so that we never run out of ideas to encourage our Pacific leaders and ourselves, in language both polite and bold, of the necessity of a free media to a strong Pacific future. We are the call to NOT be indifferent, and this unifying energy is what we both give and receive from this IFEX network, whose door we come a-knocking today. And in closing, I have only these four words. Please, Open the door. ENDS