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Date Posted: 02:37:08 03/11/04 Thu
Author: Jason Brown
Subject: Open letter to the Cook Islands News

CLEAR CRISIS IN COOK IS NEWS MEDIA

As an independent journalist, I agree with government there is a clear crisis in the news media. This belief is not another shot in the so-called "media war." There may be a war, but it is not between media.
On one side you have journalists who follow a code of ethics. On the other you have managers who do not even have a code, let alone follow any.
In rugby, by comparison, you have rules. Players are not allowed to make up those rules as they go along. Dangerous tackles have been outlawed. Managers of one media group, however, believe by walking into a rugby field carrying baseball bats they can call themselves All Blacks.
They are not media. Never have been. Even in war, there are rules. They who ignore those rules are nothing more than war criminals.
Five years ago, the news media scene was much healthier. The news media was the only "institution" trusted by a majority of people as being "an effective
control on the political process", according to the 1998 Political Review Commission. Not parliament. Not police. Not the powerful privileges committee, or PERCA, audit, NGOs, lobby groups, or even voters themselves. Only the news media.
Existing news media were Radio Cook Islands and its talkback show hosted by Bobby Turua, daily Cook Islands News, and weekly Cook Islands Press.
Today, most of the journalists who helped build that historic recognition have left the two main news media companies. Other journalists have come to replace
them and are doing well. But we do not have any reporters with much more than five years experience of in-country reporting. In terms of experienced news
media workers, the industry is little more than a gutted shell of its former self.
It is, in short, an industry in crisis.
Finding out why may be uncomfortable, for both journalists and managers in the industry, and, government. If reforms are ever to have any lasting chance of succeeding, however, we must start with the industry that did most to begin the process: the news media.
But does government in fact have valid concerns about the ongoing crisis in the news media? Or are they just trying to shut the industry down before general
elections?
Certainly the timing should be regarded with suspicion. If government really is serious about media reform, however, then we will be able to judge that seriousness by their actions.
Any serious attempt at media reform will follow proper due process. Every step of that process should be transparent to the public. Accountable.
By the same token, media organisations must also begin to operate to the same standards of transparency and accountability. Media workers and managers make
money from asking questions and reporting criticism of others.
They should and must not take offence when the same thing happens to them.
Kia toa

Jason Brown
Freelance Reporter
Rarotonga

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