Thursday, August 28, 2008


. . .


in this letter:

  • due process
  • behind the scenes
  • conflict of interest
  • further conflicts
  • impact on pmw–pmc relations with agency
  • opportunity
  • options
  • future development
  • background
  • precedence
  • impressions
  • conclusions

David Robie
Pacific Media Centre

thursday 28 august 2008

re: application for database editor, pacific media watch, pacific media centre

kia orana david,

further to our discussions this afternoon, I wish to put on record some of my concerns surrounding the application, and, also some hopefully constructive suggestions of ways forward.

In doing so, I am also hopeful that all parties find these suggestions give comfort and confidence as to proper due process being followed.

Let me begin with exactly that.


Giving comfort and confidence to involved parties, is, I suggest, an integral part of due process. For that reason, I wish to apologise for the other afternoon and a number of assumptions I had made about accessing PMC / PMW resources.

I based my decision to establish a Pacific Media Watch group under the pmedia researcher indentity in the context of a continuation of infrequent but long running contributions to PMW. As a correspondent on mostly Cook Islands and French Polynesia media issues, I saw great potential for web2 integration and leapt in with my usual alacrity, without enough consideration for organisational due process. In setting up the PMW group under the AUT pmedia identity, and, including other Pacific media identities within AUT, I had only my own professional fixations with transparency and accountability.

It was by no means an attempt at a clumsy cyber-squat !


I had never accessed the pmedia researcher profile prior to Monday afternoon, confused as I was by a wide variety of login and other interface options for AUT staff and students.

The pmedia login only emerged that day because Allen from IT was helping me recover my account. I searched my gmail where I had copied details of my aut account, and it picked up an early email from you giving me the pmedia login on a confidential basis.

As discussed in previous correspondence and discussion, I have been in New Zealand for two years now, seeking formal medical treatment for chronic and sometimes severe depression. Behind the scenes, I began slowly reengaging with journalism through volunteer activities like helping set up Pacific Islands Journalism Online and the Pacific Freedom Forum.


My medical condition led me to deferring my studies till next year.

Following volunteer work on PIJO and PFF, I have only now begun to feel not just comfortable but confident, at being able to continue making more positive contributions, especially towards web2 integration with academic resources.

An impact on friendly relations between my agency and PMW might be a chilling effect on free speech, given the need for some measure of diplomacy on the part of any university, AUT no doubt included.


Discussions have thus far raised concerns from both sides regards conflicts of interest.

For example, I have had concerns about continued independence of my online entity, avaiki news agency, and my ability to be as forthright in online opinions as may or may not be appropriate given academic linkages on a contract basis, or to continue contributing to online groups like Pacific Islands Journalism Online and Pacific Freedom Forum.

Although there have been favourable discussion on options for building an editorial firewall between existing and potential roles, the fact remains that they remain obstacles that may not exist with other applicants.


As well as editorial roles on Pacific Freedom Forum and Pacific Islands Journalism Online, I am an interim secretary at Pacific Islands Media Association.

In reality, I am fortunate that I do not have to take minutes, this grinding duty being ably and enthusiastically carried out by a communications graduate, leaving me to more time for web2 housekeeping, and suggesting strategic stuff.

I am also involved with continuing efforts to revive journalists and media associations in Avaiki, Cook Islands.


I see opportunities for approaching this whole thing from a completely different but still productive direction.

Rather than my seeking appointment as database editor, it may be better for this agency to continue an informal partnership with PMW.

This informal partnership seeks no more than extending existing relationships – a journalistic practitioner sharing what they know with Pacific Media Watch.


Moving forward, I see these cross-cutting options:

  • Withdraw my application in favour of Pacific Islands or other applicants.

  • Continue contributions to PMW on an informal basis.

  • Extend contributions to include inputs on web2.

Professionally, I see these options as addressing issues of conflict-of-interest by, mostly, removing them.


On the other hand, there is close agreement between my current activities towards capacity or ‘capability’ building across the region and strategic goals for PMC:

PMC goals include:

  • undertaking and stimulating research into contemporary Maori, Pacific and ethnic media and culture production

  • raising research capability in the area of media production

  • presenting and publishing the findings of media research

  • winning funding from government and industry partners that support research into media production

  • developing collaborations and relationships with other centres of research excellence in media and cultural production

  • developing editorial and publications capability, including Pacific Journalism Review

Ahead of 2015 targets under the OECD Paris Agreement, New Zealand and Australia have to triple spending on aid, and were last year urged by OECD peer review to focus more on Pacific Islands. I see strategic opportunity for Aotearoa-based island media to ‘partner’ with island-based media, helping rebuild a badly neglected, indeed, much abused sector.


Ethics including approaches to conflicts of interest are often a contentious and controversial area.

Conflicts over ethics led to the so-called ‘media wars’ in the Cook Islands, years of often bitter dispute between the Pitt Media Group and everyone else. At the time, independent journalists suffered unending personal attacks. In the end, discussing it one day, Lisa (Lahari, nee Williams) and I resolved to just “aim higher” - as did other journalists like Florence Syme-Buchanan

So, it is with pleasure I recently discovered the Pitt Media Group has signed up to a code of ethics, and, of course, there is the recent passage of the Freedom of Information Bill through the Parliament of the Cook Islands, driven by an official at the office of the deputy prime minister, one Mrs Syme-Buchanan.


As well as aiming higher, I see a withdrawal of application for database editor at PMW as a continuity of career precedence. As an early example, in 1985, I was a reporter at then state-owned Cook Islands News. My employers were keen to farm me out for some training as stories were already attracting official displeasure, including threats of dismissal by ministerial discretion.

It was thus that my boss at the time, Arthur Taripo, introduced me as next on the list for training opportunities, in this case an inaugural scholarship for the now legendary Pacific Islands Journalism Course at Manukau Polytechnic. Walking into the office of the general manager at the former state-owned and only media outlet Cook Islands Broadcasting and Newspaper Corporation, I saw a fresh face, looking immediately disappointed. Brown is a fairly common family in the Cook Islands, as elsewhere, but my green eyes and blond hair gave the game away.

Sefita Haouli was coordinator for the nascent PIJC programme, tasked on that day with acting upon a decision to select the Cook Islands as recipient for the first ever scholarship to the PIJC. To his great credit, Haouli kindly explained to my face potential problems if the first Pacific Islander scholarship went to a papa’a – easy to imagine! This transparency gave me context and confidence to gladly accede priority status in favour of an ‘indigenous’ nominee. Long story short, I missed out on training for what I still regard as entirely ethical and reasonable reasons, going on to be sacked the next year for a story I wrote about an annual budget speech.


Just writing this letter raises interesting questions and ideas that I had not before considered to any depth.

For example, where did CIBNC reporters get their feisty sense of freedom from? In a state media monopoly, during a firmly post-colonial time, there was ample freedom of whisper but never speech, much less press.

Where did the CIBNC ethos, somewhat anarchic, draw its wellspring from? That ethos forms founding stones for many media careers, people like Lahari-Williams and Syme-Buchanan, and other well-known names like , Barbara Dreaver, John Utanga, Moana Moeka’a, Bobby Turua, or, even, Wilkie Rassmussen.


Personally, I feel it would be a pity if the first paid work on PMW was to go to a palagi like myself, even one with extensive islands life and work experience.

I leave it in your hands and that of the interview panel to decide what is best for the immediate future of PMW.

My instincts tell me, however, that an on-the-record disclosure will help PMC make the right decision, for the right reasons.

meitaki maata,


. . .

jason brown
avaiki news agency

+649 9167058 office direct
+649 9167552 facsimile
+64 2102484560 mobile

Project JPK
100 victoria street west
tangata pasifika
aotearoa | new zealand

. . .

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