PINA stakeholders and members found out at their recent summit in Noumea that the regional organization has been recently registered in Fiji as a limited liability company, Pacific Islands News Association Limited.
Explanations as to why PINA needed to incorporate ranges from the need for the organization to become compliant with the accountability requirements of a profit making corporate entity in Fiji, to claims that it would make it easier for donors to give money to a corporate entity.
Reactions from participants were mixed. There were those who questioned the reasons given, whether they were really valid.
Some also questioned whether this means that the board and all PINA officers would be paid employees of the new entity?
Others questioned the fact that the process of PINA getting registered has not been conducted in transparency, as most of the stakeholders and members did not know about it until the Noumea summit.
In fact, whatever was needed in Noumea from the membership was simply to rubber stamp a decision and action that has already been carried out in Fiji.
But President of PINA, Moses Stevens, says: “This status means a strengthening of our accountability and governance from a charitable organization.”
He says that the company status means that PINA has to file periodic reports to the Registrar of Companies in Fiji, and this will ensure good governance and transparency within PINA.
The implication from this statement is that PINA in recent years has not been filing the necessary compliant reports for a charitable trust, violating good governance and transparency principles.
When the announcement was made regarding PINA becoming a profit making corporation at the AGM, members were told that legal advice has been given in Fiji that they should retain the same board and officers for the next two years as “a transition period” while the new entity is being developed. Therefore, no elections, and no change to the office holders at the AGM.
PINA has been in existence for over 28 years having initially been registered in Samoa in 1986, and then shifted to Fiji where the secretariat is located. PINA was then registered in 1997 as a Charitable Trust organization.
Critics of PINA claim that the media association has lost its way. There is the sideswipe that PINA has chosen to kowtow to a Fiji agenda concerning the political control of media.
Former PINA President, Monica Miller of American Samoa, in an ABC interview, appealed to the members of PINA to uphold the original reason for which the organization was founded, to defend media freedom.
Miller claims too many media organizations have abandoned PINA, and that PINA no longer enjoys the confidence of many of its former members.
“And it’s almost like a divorce,” she said.
She also questions whether the current leadership is serious about safeguarding media freedom.
“Are we doing our duty and will the PINA we pass on to the next generation be one that we can be proud of?” Miller said.
“In a divorce there is always the chance for the couple to settle their differences. While we don’t want to dwell on the past, we need to look at the causes of the breakup and fix them and make the marriage work again,” she said.
During the seven years Miller led PINA, the organization was seen as the major champion of media freedom in the Pacific.
By Kalafi Moala