Sunday, May 8, 2011

[pima.nius] PACMAS review: A minority report

12:33 PM |

PACMAS review: A minority report

http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/articles/pacmas-review-minority-report

Pacific Media Centre

7 May, 2011

Mike Reitz analyses the recent PACMAS policy review and is not impressed with what he has found.

OPINION: I came across a copy of the PACMAS (Pacific Media Assistance Scheme) review a few weeks ago. It left me wondering how my media colleagues in Pasifika might be reacting to it, and what sorts of feedback they were going to offer. As it turns out, none of them had planned to offer any response. The primary reason for this, in summation, is that none of them saw any evidence that PacMAS was an honest or serious initiative to accomplish its stated mission. I say "summation" because the laundry list of reasons cited for that conclusion would be more lengthy than the review document itself.

As one Pasifik media practitioner put it: "They should have called it OZMAS as the Aussies are the only beneficiaries."

In listening to them, it's difficult to find fault with that perspective. As the review itself indicates, ABC is the primary partner with AusAID; ABC wrote the plan for PACMAS; ABC will be directing the programme going forward. The three secondary "regional" partners are the Pacific Islands Forum, PINA (Pacific Islands News Association) and PIANGO (Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations)—all of which are Australian founded/mentored/guided and funded organisations to some greater or lesser extent.

And then what sort of partners are they? As the Pasifika media practitioners I communicated with pointed out (and again only the key highlights as the full litany of issues seems too extensive to include here); the Forum has been the largest regional roadblock to media development for at least the past decade; PINA currently "supports" regional media by its representation on the Fiji Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) where it assists in enforcing media censorship under a military dictatorship; PIANGO was finally gutted of all regional representation and collapsed enough to fit into a basement-office file drawer in Suva, where it has been an empty-shell organisation since 2008. The PACMAS review, however, notes that individuals hired to partner with PACMAS will be vetted by a "merit-based selection process." There was universal bafflement among regional media practitioners about what "merit" might mean under these circumstances.

There was further bafflement about the current annual budget for PACMAS - $A418,000 (Source: PACMAS Consultation Paper Phase 2, 21011/12-2013/14) - which, according to recent media reports, isn't enough to hire even one senior Australian consultant, and that the amount represents something like 1/10,000th of the AusAID budget ("what are the 9,999 other things more important to them than media?"), or perhaps, $6 a day of media-development investment per island group. Why do PACMAS reviews cost nearly as much as PACMAS's annual operating budget…and with 90 percent of the review funding going to Australian consultants? If AusAID can't afford to properly fund PACMAS, where is the effort to make it a joint project with other like-minded media-mission aid partners like NZ, France, US, Japan, the EU?

New hub?
How does Vanuatu make sense as a new hub for regional media when its best, yet minimal, transportation and communications connections are to Canberra and not the Pacific region?  

If the review document refers to ICTs as well as social and mobile media as being the region's media future, why is broadcasting the only medium (TV, radio, both?) in the PACMAS strategic-support arsenal, and then just barely? Given media developments elsewhere in the world, and the remaining 8-year arc for this project, what are PACMAS's chances for a successful outcome if the media of the Pacific's future aren't placed front and center now?

Why are the policies—and politics—of the national governments of the region placed at the center of the "systems approach" (whatever that is) when the historical record of the region continues to reveal them as the key source of the illegal jailing, deportations, baseless and debilitating lawsuits, media company arson and destruction, and journalist bombings, beatings and murder? (This was a particularly divisive and egregious issue for those I communicated with…and the number and range of examples offered was stunning.)

Additionally, if the mantra of AusAID and the Forum has been the development of regional organisations for regional solutions in nearly every other sector, why is media under PACMAS still being excluded from that solution? Why do the major professional media organisations around the world—ABC included—find their success in operating transnational organizations removed from government interference, but somehow, for some unspoken reason, this just isn't a solution to explore and develop for Pasifika? Or is the whole point of PACMAS—as the plan and review and players and partners seem to indicate—to indeed create just such an organisation…but merely as some minor programming department somewhere within the ABC empire?

Oh, there was one complimented element in the PACMAS plan, though—those "capacity building" training meetings. As more than one reviewer noted: 'The Aussies throw the best drunken junkets in the Pacific!'

Anyway, those are probably the only review perspectives from Pacific media practitioners civil decorum should permit one to share.

As for helpful suggestions for PACMAS's future direction?

Diversity mission
Well, its mission to "develop a diverse, independent and professional media that promotes informed and meaningful public discourse throughout the region" I found to be uniformly endorsed by the respondents.

Beyond that…an organisational structure for an independent and transnational Pacific media network, modeled along the lines of other international media organisations (ABC could be a possible model, or perhaps SBS) which can operate free from governmental/political intrusion, and which would be guided by the PACMAS mission, would be a good start. Less worry about setting up remote offices, research projects, reviews, and reviews of the reviews and more focus on ICTs and social/mobile nodes on an interactive and participatory network, would be good. Adequate and multi-lateral funding, neutral of any given foreign policy agenda and provided solely in support of the development of a free and open community-based media for the region, would also find broad support.

First and foremost, however—after a half-century of failed solutions via imposed colonial culture, "capacity" and consultants on Pasifika—finally take that leap of faith, trust and respect, and support Pacific peoples in the creation of their own media holding environment within which they can share their own stories in their own way.

If PACMAS can't be redesigned to do that, as one respondent put it: "The funds would be better spent on the Defence Force for planning the next Regional Assistance Mission because, if this is an example of Oz's best foreign policy thinking, they're going to surely need it."

Mike Reitz has 30 years of community-based media experience—the last 10 focused in the Pacific—as editor, publisher, CEO and consultant. He is currently based in Hawai'i.


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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information. Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications.
 
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