LEARN FROM PNGíS SIR MEKERE, TUVALUíS TALAKE, PACIFIC
SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 6, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Pacific Islands
leaders attending the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)
have been accused of missing a major opportunity to promote their
countries and views.
Most failed to use the presence of a vast international news media
contingent at the CHOGM meeting in Australia, Pacific Magazine managing
editor Laisa Taga says.
Instead they stayed locked away behind "Australia's huge and obsessive
security cordon," Taga says in her Letter from Suva column in the regional
news and business magazine.
She says other Pacific Islands leaders could learn from two prime
ministers who did seize the opportunity to get their message out to the
world: Papua New Guinea's Sir Mekere Morauta and Tuvalu's Koloa Talake.
Taga, who covered the meeting at Coolum, Australia, for Pacific Magazine
and PINA Nius Online, says:
Sir Mekere has experienced former journalists working for him as media
advisers. He was the one Pacific Islands leader at CHOGM whose views and
spin on events were quickly known, and not just in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Talake didn't have a sophisticated media support team. But he, too,
seized the opportunity to talk with international journalists and win
international headlines for his strong views on climate change.
Taga says: "Outside the security cordon journalists were fretting over
having to put on yellow bibs and have security escorts to go visit a
leader. That's if a leader agreed to talk with them.
"So why didn't some of our other Pacific Islands leaders do as Mr. Talake
did? Come out and meet the journalists and get their story out to the
"With difficulties gaining access to the leaders, any Pacific Islands
prime minister or president who did this could have found an eager
audience, just as Mr. Talake did so well.
"There could be a number of explanations for this opportunity lost by so
many of our Pacific Islands delegations.
"But one that comes to mind immediately is that most of our leaders are
surrounded by civil servants who have no real inkling of how the media
works. In some cases they regard the news media as an enemy.
"It is time some of the other leaders start following the example of Sir
Taga says the former journalists working for Sir Mekere ensure his views
are known. They also help get selected journalists access to the prime
She adds: "One of Sir Mekere's men had been at the big Pacific Islands
News Association conference in Madang late last year making contacts with
news media there from around the region.
"Long before CHOGM he was e-mailing these contacts in their home newsrooms
around the region and elsewhere, seeing who was going to be in Coolum. He
was seeing how he could link up with them there. And he was offering any
help he could provide."
Taga hails what she called one "significant" Pacific Islands event at
This was a private breakfast where Pacific Islanders met as a group and
discussed a regional strategy for the CHOGM meeting.
"The Pacific Islands group or bloc is a small one. It is critical that
they stand united if they are to be heard at events such as CHOGM," she
"I was impressed by ... how African leaders stood together on the Zimbabwe
issue, when there were moves to suspend it from the Commonwealth.
"It's something Pacific Islands leaders should learn from ... that they
need to stick by each other, particularly when the going gets tough and
the tough need to get going.
"There are many stories from the past about how this has not always been
"Fiji's Mr. Qarase must have looked at how the African block rallied so
strongly behind Zimbabwe against the huge pressure from Australia,
Britain, Canada and New Zealand. In the end Australia, Britain, Canada and
New Zealand were unable to bully their way through.
"Mr. Qarase must have thought back to how quickly one or two fellow
Pacific Islanders - especially from Polynesia - toed New Zealand's
anti-Fiji line following the coup crisis.
"And as anyone who has been to such an international event before knows,
Australia and New Zealand like to project themselves as the spokespersons
for the Pacific.
"Too often some of our Pacific Islands representatives at international
meetings let the Australians and New Zealanders do this, while they get on
with having a good time.
"The good news, as that private breakfast at Coolum showed, is that
Pacific Islands leaders are starting to realize the need to be united,
particularly in big international meetings such as CHOGM.
"That's if Pacific Islands issues are to be heard, taken seriously, and
the Pacific Islands region is to have an impact.
"As Kiribati's President Teburoro Tito said during a CHOGM reception: 'For
the first time Pacific Islands leaders were coming together as a bloc like
the Africans. I feel like the Pacific Islands are moving ahead, getting
more aggressive to be heard.'"