Tuvalu News


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 world.

"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 Mekere."

Taga says the former journalists working for Sir Mekere ensure his views are known. They also help get selected journalists access to the prime minister.

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 CHOGM.

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 says.

"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 so.

"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.'"

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