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Tuvalu Discussed at Major Australian Pacific Studies Conference

February 2, 2005

The tiny, threatened, central Pacific country of Tuvalu was discussed in two papers presented at a recent Australian Pacific Studies conference held in Brisbane at the end of January, 2006.

Dr Mark Hayes presenting his paper on Doing Journalism in and on Tuvalu at the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies (AAAPS), QUT Carseldine Campus, Brisbane, January 25, 2006. Picture by Dr John Harrison

Tuvaluan journalism and its contexts, and using Tuvalu as a site for university education in public relations, and raising community awareness of important issues, were covered by two journalism and media academics from the University of Queensland.

"There are deep cultural reasons why Tuvaluan journalists, and Tuvaluans generally, are very reluctant to tell their own stories to the world," Dr Mark Hayes, a specialist in Pacific journalism practices and contexts, told his attentive audience.

Using many original photographs, information gathered during his two trips to Tuvalu in late 2002 and 2004, extensive book and scholarly journal research, including interviews with local Tuvaluans and On Line discussions, Dr Hayes sketched out how journalism is done in Tuvalu, and about Tuvalu, criticised often poor journalism about the country, and pointed to how this situation could improve.

"I keep a file of examples of poor reporting in the Western media about Tuvalu which I use in my journalism classes at the university," Dr Hayes said. "A lot of it is hyped, exaggerated, and just plain wrong. It distorts the world's understanding of Tuvalu and its plight. I, and Tuvaluan journalists, hate this stuff."

The major way to deal with this situation, Dr Hayes explained, is for Tuvaluan journalists, and Tuvaluans generally, with sensitive and expert overseas support which is readily available, to tell their own stories.

But there are internal obstacles preventing this happening, according to Dr Hayes.

"Taking all the obvious resource and technical constraints fully on board, and these can be overcome with some ingenuity, it's not the done thing in Tuvalu to speak out of turn, to speak up if you're not 'authorised' culturally to do so," Dr Hayes explained. "This goes for local village happenings of no interest to anybody outside the village, to major stories of international significance such as the effects of global warming, sea level rise, and extreme weather or tidal events on Tuvalu."

"The way to get around this without offending Tuvalu's strong cultural traditions, is to carefully think about modern journalists performing the same roles as traditional storytellers, orators, or messengers," Dr Hayes said. "I've spoken with many Pacific journalists and, without exception, they all agreed that they at least partly stand in the modern shadow of their respective storytelling traditions."

"It's not an exact 'fit', because traditional storytellers can also be active participants in mediation or conflict resolution, something modern journalists must not be. Modern journalists are only observers and reporters," Dr Hayes cautioned. "But if we carefully re-think the modern role of Indigenous Pacific journalists in terms of their rich storytelling traditions, I'm certain we can improve the status of Regional journalists so they can do their jobs better."
Dr John Harrison presenting his paper on Tuvalu as a Site for Service Learning at the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies (AAAPS), QUT Carseldine Campus, Brisbane, January 27, 2006. Picture by Dr Mark Hayes

Tuvalu served as a 'site' for 'service learning' for a third year student group public relations project in late March and early April, 2005, supervised by Dr John Harrison, a lecturer in public relations at Queensland University's Ipswich campus, located to the west of Brisbane.

"The students really took to the project and Tuvalu's situation," Dr Harrison told his audience, which included the local consultant to the project, Dr Mark Hayes.

"They got what we estimated to be about $ AU 14,000 worth of free publicity out of the project," Dr Harrison said. "They organised a free public networking lunch at an Ipswich restarurant, got the Ipswich Mayor to attend, produced a 'goodie bag' of information materials on Tuvalu, and managed to get two major picture stories, with important background information on Tuvalu, in two local newspapers, one of which went into 30,000 letter boxes around Ipswich."

The central person in the 'Tuvalu Day' at Ipswich was visiting Tuvaluan journalist, Mrs Silafaga Lalua, brought to Australia for a major peace research conference held in late March, 2005, in Brisbane.

Mrs Silafaga Lalua, centre, Dr Mark Hayes, left front, and the 'Project Tuvalu' Team of third year University of Queensland Ipswich Campus PR students on Dr Harrison's back deck, late March, 2005. Picture by Dr John Harrison

"The students borrowed Silafaga for their project, and having a Tuvaluan present added enormously to the success of the publicity campaign," Dr Harrison said.

"She was wearing a traditional woven flower head garland, a Fou, which really helped the pictures leap from the newspapers," Dr Harrison said. "I was in the shower that morning and heard some rustling outside. It was Silafaga and Mark raiding my frangipani trees for flowers for Fong's Fou."

Showing pictures taken during the Ipswich event, Dr Harrison said that having such an articulate representative of her people available really made the project and the event come fully alive.

"This wasn't just another PR stunt," Dr Harrison said. "Ipswich journalists put their cynicism aside and really warmed to Fong and her message about her home and her people. She was magnificent."

Dr Harrison located the student's PR project in the United States' academic practice of 'service learning', which involves supervised university projects undertaken by students which have a reflective benefit for the students, the specific and wider communities to which is is directed and in which it occurs, and reflects positively on the supporting university as well.


Mrs Silafaga Lalua, Ipswich City Mayor, Cr Paul Pisasale, and third year UQ Ipswich Campus PR Students who worked on Project Tuvalu, early April, 2005. Picture by Dr John Harrison

"Overall, Project Tuvalu was a great success which the students really got a lot out of doing," Dr Harrison said. "It shows that 'service learning' in the context of university studies which has a direct, positive, social benefit can be done extremely well indeed."

Both Dr Hayes and Dr Harrison also extensively discussed their respective knowledge of Tuvalu with the over 100 delegates to the first conference of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies (AAAPS), held at the northern Brisbane Carseldine Campus of the Queensland University of Technology from January 24 to 27, 2006.

...TIDC and Brisbane Correspondents

 

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