Coastal region and small island papers 13
Nevis Peak, Nevis, 2002.
2. Utilizing mass media for dialogue and debate
During the first year of Small Islands Voice, the start-up countries used the mass media in their islands, first of all to tell the general public about the initiative, and then to begin the debate about the issues.While Small Islands Voice seeks to determine issues of concern to the general public and to promote the use of new information and communication technology in this process, given the reality of the small island context, the need to fully utilize traditional media forms is of utmost importance. One of the preliminary activities of Small Islands Voice was to conduct a media survey in each of the islands (Cook Islands, Palau, St Kitts and Nevis, and Seychelles).These surveys covered newspapers, magazines, radio, television and internet service providers and are available on the Small Islands Voice website (http://www.smallislandsvoice.org).
The inter-regional workshop provided participants with the opportunity to liaise directly with media representatives in Palau, to learn from their experiences through presentations, discussions and small group sessions, and thereby to improve on their own national utilization of the media to further the debate.
Key considerations relating to effective utilization of the media are:
understanding your goal;
maintaining the integrity of the message;
understanding the driving force behind the message;
knowing the target audience;
providing for strategic dissemination;
considering visual interpretation;
maintaining cultural sensitivity and respect;
keeping in mind the globalization trend and the marketing of culture.
Against the background of the workshop deliberations, this chapter discusses how the various media forms – print, radio, television, theatre and drama – can be effectively utilized by Small Islands Voice in the various islands.
Mother Earth's Dying Cries
The media surveys in the start-up islands covered the published newspapers, and recorded the names, editors, publishers, price, type of content and circulation numbers. Each of these islands has several newspapers, which are published daily, twice-weekly, or weekly. The scope of these publications varies from covering local news only, to including regional and global pages. Some of the newspapers are independent, while governments and political parties have a controlling interest in others.
As was described during the inter-regional workshop, some of these newspapers went through a stormy development process before becoming established. Moses Uludong, the publisher of the Palauan newspaper ‘Tia Belau’, described how he started out as an activist with a propaganda sheet advocating independence and environmental responsibility. As the newspaper evolved, it was often difficult for it to survive financially especially before printing facilities were available in Palau.
‘As good Palauans and Micronesians we were not supposed to speak out against our elders or to protest. We thought a good way to ensure attention to issues such as the rights of indigenous people was through publishing’.
Moses Uludong, Palau, November 2002.
Many forms of media started off in Palau on an anti-establishment platform, and this can be frightening for some villagers who may not have a real understanding of what a newspaper does. In Palauan (and Micronesian) society, people are not meant to speak against or challenge their elders. During the workshop, Mr Moses Uludong described how he and his property have been physically attacked for some of the stories he has run in his newspaper.
Interaction between the community and newspapers is very important, and the voice of the people can be instrumental in influencing national events. For example, in the Cook Islands in mid-2002, a controversial environment bill was scheduled at short notice for a reading in parliament.This bill was opposed by the NGO community and the announcement of the bill’s reading galvanized them into holding a series of public meetings and consultations. The synthesis of these meetings was compiled into a newspaper spreadsheet, the ‘Viewpoint’, which was distributed freely in all the islands (Viewpoint, May 2002, Issue 1). The ‘Viewpoint’ newspaper, together with a petition of 2,000 signatures opposing the bill was submitted to parliament. As a result the bill was placed on hold while the government reconsidered it. Several further issues of the ‘Viewpoint’ newspaper have since been published dealing with other matters.
A ‘Did you know?’ notice
board at the public library in Victoria, Mahé,
The question of language is critical. In Palau, where the native language is Palauan, the print media writes in English for 85–90%. As a result an elite group has emerged in Palau which consists of educated Palauans and many foreigners who discuss issues of the day in English, but this discussion does not filter down to the village level. Palauan is first and foremost an oral language and now there is much controversy over Palauan spelling, which is causing difficulties for the media. Some feel that the local media should prioritize the country’s communities first and foremost and that therefore the local language should be used for the most part in newspapers. However, this would not solve the inherent problems of a written Palauan language, which the villagers would also not be used to reading. The same problem exists in Samoa where everyone speaks an informal indigenous language, but most have great trouble translating this into a standardized written version.
Others in Palau feel it is necessary to have the newspapers in English, because like it or not, Palau is now a multi-cultural society. However, people advocating this view also emphasize the importance of using and retaining the native language because it is made to Guam and Saipan where the local language and culture have almost disappeared.
The local language as well as English is
used in Palau to convey important
A weekly Palauan language newspaper is scheduled to start in 2003 so that information on issues such as environment and development can filter through to the local community level. A regular column will be made available for environmental issues.
The situation in Seychelles is different. Here English, French and Creole are the languages and most of the print media mix the three languages. Some issues, which are strictly local, are often written only in the local Creole language, while issues of global concern may be written in a common language such as English so that everyone can read about them.
Monument in Victoria, Mahé,
Seychelles, symbolizing the African, Asian and European
Because Palauans traditionally have a tendency to listen more to the spoken word than read the facts, newspaper circulation numbers are fairly low. If the print media wishes to improve its standing with the community in general, then it must use pictures and action photos. These are one way to capture the attention of readers, especially with environment and development stories. In St Vincent and the Grenadines some of the newspapers use contrasting pictures showing before and after situations and the good and the bad sides of development, with no text. Comic strips are another way of conveying a message in pictures.
|A mural painted on a fence by
schoolchildren in Victoria,
Mahé, Seychelles, is one way to gain attention, 2002.
Another issue relates to the way stories are reported. Journalists often have to be instant experts translating complex topics into language and format that is understandable to the general public. It is the journalist’s responsibility to know and understand their readership and to produce information in a style and at a level that readers can easily understand. There is a need to use simple English, so that ordinary people do not need a dictionary to read the newspaper. Fairness is essential and the reporter is duty bound to be objective, to record both sides of the story, and to continually cross-check facts and stories. Letters to the editor are another tool that the community can use to respond to issues or highlight new ones, and they also provide newspaper editors with direct feedback from their readers.
However, many newspapers have their own agendas and essentially serve as propaganda machines, using sensation as a tool to sell newspapers.Thus the media not only opens the minds of people but can also close their minds. Nevertheless, perhaps an element of sensationalism needs to be injected into Small Islands Voice to attract attention.
‘In our country and around the world, sensationalism works, it sells. How can we add an element of this to Small Islands Voice while staying honest and fair’?
Herman Belmar, St Vincent and the Grenadines, November 2002.
Editors are often biased and have their own interests. Sometimes it is hard to find positive stories; the negative ones are fast, visible and easy to focus on.While happy perspectives are good in the family context, the media needs controversy, for often this is what people want to read.
|Sign at the entrance to VON
radio in Nevis, 2002.
Sign at the entrance of
The media survey conducted in the start-up islands also covered radio stations. Most of the islands have AM and FM stations, both government-sponsored and private ones. In some regions, particularly the Caribbean where at least some of the islands are fairly close together, the national stations reach adjacent countries, for instance VON Radio in Nevis (Voice of Nevis) is widely listened to in neighbouring islands. In other archipelagos, particularly in the Pacific, and Cook Islands is an example, the islands are so widely dispersed and distances so great that the radio signal is not picked up in the far-flung outer islands, leading to a real sense of isolation.
Some of the radio stations in Palau, like the newspapers, had quite a difficult time getting started. Mr Alphonso Diaz who runs a radio station WWFM, described during the workshop how his car was firebombed and he was physically attacked when he started the radio station. However, now his radio station has a very wide audience in Palau as well as abroad through a live web broadcast and features a daily one to two-hour talk and call-in show called ‘Express yourself ’.This call-in show is conducted mainly in Palauan, with some translation between Palauan and English where necessary. It was viewed as very controversial at the beginning, but now Congressmen sometimes request to have certain issues discussed on the show. Mr Diaz’s activities are now acknowledged as having been a positive force for change in Palauan radio.The ‘Express yourself ’ call-in show has been used to address a number of controversial issues such as AIDS, drugs, suicide, and has targeted special groups such as youth and women. It also has a positive thrust, working with organizations, such as the Palau High School and the Police Academy, to help them achieve their goals.
The absence of media training in Palau is a serious drawback.There is no journalism programme at the Palau Community College and as a result the newspapers often have to recruit reporters from the Philippines. However, an offer was made by Mr Diaz to give youth groups air time on his programme to discuss environment and development issues and to teach them how to operate a radio station. Still Mr Diaz stressed that this would need careful planning and the issues would have to be thoroughly researched.
Having a sound factual basis is very important when discussing issues on radio and other forms of media. Radio has the advantage that it is verbal, and unless taped, leaves no permanent record of what is said. Conversely with print, there is a permanent record.
The daily rush-hour traffic
Talk-back radio promises to be a very effective medium for Small Islands Voice. Live roundtable or panel discussions with open lines for callers can help initiate and develop the debate. The anonymity of radio is also useful especially for sensitive topics, e.g. teenage pregnancy.
Radio can be listened to everywhere – driving in the car, working on the taro patch – in contrast to television which requires a passive audience. Radio can also reach the isolated through community radio stations which are managed and run by communities themselves.
Radio is also a very important tool for education. However, in order to relay a message or information, it is necessary to create a picture in the listener’s mind. Music and appropriate sound effects are ways of doing this, such as in the Cook Islands, where multiplication tables are broadcast to music for children in the mornings. Using famous athletes, stars and media personalities for public service announcements is a way of strengthening the message. Private sector support for radio advertising time can reduce the cost. This has been used effectively in the Cook Islands where Anchor Milk and Mobil Oil have sponsored time for environmental messages prepared by the Rarotonga Environmental Awareness Programme. However, to achieve their full impact, radio messages have to be repeated frequently over a short period of time.
Many of the islands involved in Small Islands Voice receive satellite television from the USA and other countries.This is the case in the Caribbean islands and also in Palau. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, youth are strongly influenced by this dominance of foreign cultures, and in particular the US Black Entertainment Television channel has changed youth culture, e.g. young females have become very aggressive. In Palau, 15 American channels, most of them from the San Francisco area with a six-day delay, can be received.
All the countries presently involved in Small Islands Voice have at least one local television channel, although the quality and content varies. For instance in Palau the local channel features only tele-text of announcements and advertisements, while in Seychelles, the local television station produces its own programmes featuring news, documentaries and dramas, supplemented with some foreign programmes. Locally produced programmes featuring island content generate considerable interest. For instance, Palauan students visited the Ngardmau State Capitol in October 2002 and took part in a mock congress, which was taped and broadcast on local cable TV with considerable impact.
In the Cook Islands, many of the more isolated outer islands have until very recently not had any radio or television channels. As a result, videos have become very popular. In 2002, satellite television from Tahiti became available to the outer islands with a choice of four foreign channels, although only one at a time can be broadcast locally. This opens up a new world for people living in these isolated islands, and allows Small Islands Voice the opportunity in the future to assist these islands with developing some community television programming.
Mr Samal Duggins
Theatre and drama
The Belau Theatre Group in Palau produces local drama and video.The potential exists to attract youth to a more active life, away from the sedentary passive pastime of watching television, by involving them in locally produced drama, discussions and debates.The community theatre group in Vanuatu ‘Wan Smolbag’ has visited Palau and is well known throughout the region. In St Kitts and Nevis, local theatre and music groups are organized to try and keep young men off the streets. Mr Samal Duggins’ performance on 21 November 2002 of the Small Islands Voice rap poem ‘Mother Earth’s Dying Cries’ was well received by Palau’s Mindzenty High School students, and is a good example of what can be achieved by island youth.
Community theatre brings plays to the people, plays about environment, health, social and human rights. The Wan Smolbag Theatre writes and produces a large number of plays, drama sketches, and participatory drama workshops for government agencies, NGOs and development programmes. They have plays with science messages like the life cycle of turtles, how the body works, and
immunization and they have animated drama sketches with health messages and information involving audience participation. They perform their pieces throughout Vanuatu and the Pacific islands, and train groups from all over the Pacific islands in creating and performing participatory community theatre.
(Wan Smolbag Theatre Group, 2002)
RARE CENTER FOR TROPICAL CONSERVATION
Serial Drama Broadcasts
What does a subsistence farmer from the Micronesian islands of Yap have in common with a high-rise dweller in Guam? They have different languages, faiths and cultural traditions.Yet they share a region fraught with environmental pressures and, like islanders around the world, population growth is near the top of the list. The populations of the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam are predicted to double in just over 25 years; in the Marshall Islands, a scant 19 years. (Contrast these with 120 years for the United States and over 600 for England.)
To help address this challenge, RARE has partnered with public health and environment officials from Palau, Guam, Saipan, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.Working together, we are developing our third radio serial drama, using the ‘education-entertainment’ method that has proven successful in the Caribbean.
The key to the programme’s success is careful research. The common themes for islanders throughout the region – dealing with family planning, environmental and social equity issues – are emerging through painstaking surveys, focus groups, and collaboration from partners throughout the region.
‘Despite being half a world away, with vastly different languages and cultures, the core issues are very much the same as in the Caribbean,’ explains Alleyne Regis, RARE’s associate director for the Population and Environment Program.
Palau’s Belau Theatre Company, the writing and production team, will recruit actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds to give the show a broad regional appeal. The programme will rely on the Micronesian dialect of English, a common second language among the island’s young people, who study it in school and master it through radio and TV.
By mid-2002, when the programme goes on the air, we hope the subsistence farmer in Yap and Guam’s high-rise dweller will have something more in common: a love for a certain radio show that airs twice weekly on their local stations. ‘Many of [our] members work in public health or conservation and we are looking forward to making a positive impact on our communities with this programme,’ says Jane Olsudong, a Belau Theatre Company actor and writer.
Locally-produced radio and television drama is a very important way to explore and preserve local culture. Such local television dramas are very popular in Seychelles. Following a successful radio drama series produced in the Caribbean in the 1990s, a new series is being produced and broadcast throughout the islands of Micronesia in the Pacific. More than 100 episodes are planned which are being written, directed and produced in Palau. This series is supported by the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation. Each episode lasts about 15 minutes and the scripts in the drama include topical and educational issues relevant to the islands of Micronesia, e.g. one character has diabetes, a common health problem in the region, and current issues such as police enforcement are built into the scripts. The series is broadcast on the government radio station which is free, at 7.30 am in the morning when many people are in their cars going to work. This initiative is also allowing Palauans to be trained in the media as actors, technicians, producers, and hopefully some of them will want to take this up as a career, thereby filling the local capacity void previously discussed.The series also has potential for adaptation to classroom discussions.
In Palau everyone wants to see local news, but very few people want to report it. People have seen what has happened to those who have started newspapers and radio stations, and in the communities there is still some fear and concern about the passion of the media. Taking an inter-regional perspective, there are significant differences between the regions; for instance, customary social structures and governance traditions in the Pacific rely on methods for debate and conflict resolution that typically do not encourage individuals to express their views publicly. As a result, many Pacific islanders are somewhat shy and not used to speaking out, while in the Caribbean, people are more open and extrovert and used to speaking their views. In all three regions, Small Islands Voice can play a key role in getting people to present the stories that exist in small island communities and bring these to the attention of the media.This will result in better coverage and political, social and economic benefits.