Monday, July 6, 2009

Post-putsch Fiji journalism training under cloud

MIXED REPORTS seem to dog the AusAID-spawned journalism schools that have been springing up around the Pacific. In spite of the usually gushing puff pieces that get turned out by the technical institutes and the donor guardians, things don’t seem to be as rosy as they’re portrayed. Given the climate of censorship and media paranoia in post-putsch Fiji, there should be a lot more scrutiny about their activities and progress. In the light of many jaundiced messages from media old hands around the region, Café Pacific wonders how rigorous these new schools are – certainly compared to the transparent and thorough practices in the universities.

On the one hand, it is good to be providing more entry-level opportunities for both students and media practitioners to develop their professional skills, However, many oldtime professional educators are troubled about the “bypassing of establishing teaching institutions” and the undermining of the sustainable institutions in the region offering journalism programmes – the University of Papua New Guinea (j-school founded in 1975), Divine Word University at Madang, PNG (1982) and the University of the South Pacific (1987). Journalism being taught with a bunch of skills but without critical studies (the training of the ability to think and question) is rather pointless for a serious Fourth Estate role. And the universities are out on their own in this regard.

Some old hands are questioning the value of the Fiji Institute of Technology j-school, for example, describing it as “poorly thought out and implemented in a jiffy”. According to some media education and training critics:
Many courses are under-taught, poorly taught or not taught at all. Attendance by both lecturers and students are poor.

But somehow students are still graduating.
Students are voting with their feet … and they have some horror stories to tell.

The TVets were supposed to have become self-funding. But this has not happened. Recently AusAID pumped another $190,000 into the FIT programme to stop it becoming yet another failed Pacific media aid project and an embarrassment.
Café Pacific wonders whether it was also to avoid uncomfortable questions from taxpayers. How much longer will AusAID continue propping up these schools. What happens when AusAID eventually bails out? And why is that there is virtually no critique of standards? Not just in Fiji, but in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and elsewhere as well. For years, the university courses encountered flak from some industry quarters when in fact time and again they demonstrated value – by winning awards against international, competition in Australia and New Zealand, for example.

Where is the independent media being produced by these TVet programmes? All the university j-schools have run their own media for years – newspapers, television programmes, radio stations etc. This is the hallmark of good and challenging journalism programmes overseas. Yet the TVet outputs are almost invisible. Merely producing fodder for industry at a time when critical, independent journalism needs to be nurtured more than ever. And where are the transparent audits of these virtual courses? If a flourishing Fourth Estate across the Pacific is what they really had in mind, the AusAID moguls must be regretting their investment.

PM Sikua supports new journalism school
UNESCO supports new approach to journalism training

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