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Development journalism – focus on conditions in developing nations and ways to improve them

Much of what I was to write on New Zealand’s international relations with Asia and the Pacific was not published for New Zealand or Pacific island citizens – it was syndicated particularly to 50 Asian newspapers through the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA) and further abroad through other media. PFA and the InterPress Service (IPS) were consciously providing “development journalism”, a genre introduced to me by my close friend Ross Mountain during the early days of his career in the United Nations Development Programme.

Development journalism was not enthused over by all journalists, and it, in hindsight, can be seen as a forerunner to the contemporary call for “sustainable Pacific economic development”.  Ross Mountain introduced me to development journalism as practised by Interpress Service, and by Press Foundation of Asia. I represented both services, knew they had United Nations support, but some western media disliked the concept.

Wisegeek, an internet site, says the first type of development journalism is a new school of journalism which began to appear in the 1960s. It is similar to investigative reporting, but it focuses on conditions in developing nations and ways to improve them. The other type of development journalism involves heavy influence from the government of the nation involved. While this can be a powerful tool for local education and empowerment, it can also be a means of suppressing information and restricting journalists.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was the site of vociferous-debate about global communication. Collectively, these arguments have come to be known as the New World Information and Communication Order [NWICO] debate. Nations of the south, many of which had relatively recently emerged from colonial domination, demanded a restructuring of the flows, distribution, and practice related to global information and communication. Many nations of the west, led by the United States and Great Britain, resisted any restructuring, arguing that such changes would have to be mandated by governments and would amount to undermining sound universal principles such as the free flow of information.

Among the most contentious issues in the debate was development journalism – a term referring to the role of the press in the process of socio-economic development, primarily in countries of the south (Development Communication). Development journalism was conceived in the 1960s at the Press Foundation of Asia (PFA), where Filipino journalists Alan Chalkley and Juan Mercado, men with whom I worked, were concerned that news organizations were inadequately covering socio-economic development. Journalists were reporting government press releases and quotes but giving little attention to detailed analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of development.

My type of development journalism

I can illustrate my type of development journalism. It was driven by the assumption that more and better was needed in the Pacific. There are new green shoots, and some old growth. New and old media covered the Auckland 2011 Pacific Islands Forum event; journalists from a range of backgrounds included. The internet provided an alternative freely accessible source about what some of the players thought. But it was not good enough then, and in follow up. More information and analysis on topics such as the role of China in the Pacific, and on options for Fiji were needed – and more citizenship education and economic development journalism should be written and published.

Juan Mercado was PFA editor in my active time in Asia, and is still editorial director, based in Manila. PFA now has an operation called World Association of Newspapers.  The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has called for socially conscious investors to join its efforts to increase social investment in newspapers in developing markets and contribute to the economic viability and independence of free media around the world. PFA’s development journalism approach could be applied in the Pacific – but its introduction may not be any easier now than it was in the past.

As I read the fine words from official pronouncements around the 2011 and 2012 Pacific Islands Forums of leaders I thought of the patchy record of the outside world in reporting on and responding to the vulnerable tsunami victims on Tonga’s Niuatoputapu, and other failures in providing more effective aid – more topics to illustrate to the next generation of development journalists what they could cover. Academics and media as well as governments have more to do to illuminate policy choices for Pacific peoples.

I prefer to assemble a range of opinions on issues facing Pacific peoples.  The April 2013 Pacific Parliamentary Forum at Parliament in Wellington is an opportunity for development and other types of journalism to focus on conditions in Pacific developing nations and ways to improve them.

From Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News representative in the NZ Parliament’s Press Gallery, publisher DecisionMaker Publications/ Destinations Tonga; Publisher 1984 edition of “A Taste of the Tropics”, Director Centre for Citizenship Education,  and author of the forthcoming memoir “Being Palangi: My Pacific Journey”. ahaas@decisionmaker.co.nz