Voice for Pa­cific peo­ple

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABADIA

VET­ERAN jour­nal­ist Dr David Ro­bie doesn’t shy away from a chal­lenge when cov­er­ing a story.

He has spent his ca­reer pro­mot­ing is­sues per­ti­nent to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. His lat­est book Don’t Spoil My Beau­ti­ful Face. Me­dia, May­hem and Hu­man Rights in the Pa­cific re­counts his ex­pe­ri­ences cov­er­ing coups, the nu­clear-free and in­de­pen­dent Pa­cific move­ment and abuses of hu­man rights.

Over his ca­reer he’s al­ways tried to bring grass­roots voices to pub­lic at­ten­tion.

The im­pli­ca­tions of cli­mate change and Aus­tralian for­eign pol­icy to­wards asy­lum seek­ers are just two is­sues which don’t get enough cov­er­age, he says.

An­other is the need for gen­uine self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in West Pa­pua. In­done­sian hu­man rights atroc­i­ties there are a threat to the se­cu­rity of the Pa­cific re­gion, he says.

Ro­bie has been ar­rested a few times while do­ing his job, in­clud­ing twice in New Cale­do­nia. His ‘‘crimes’’ in­cluded tak­ing pic­tures of a mil­i­tary camp in a Kanak vil­lage where sol­diers were ter­ror­is­ing vil­lagers and pho­tograph­ing white vot­ers al­leged to be us­ing dead peo­ple’s cre­den­tials for proxy votes against in­de­pen­dence.

The Grey Lynn res­i­dent has also been at the fore­front of some sig­nif­i­cant events in New Zealand.

As a jour­nal­ist he was there when pro­test­ers stormed Rugby Park in Hamil­ton dur­ing the 1981 Spring­bok Tour. In 1985 he spent al­most three months on the Rain­bow War­rior and dis­em­barked just days be­fore the bomb­ing.

Ro­bie didn’t al­ways have as­pi­ra­tions to be a jour­nal­ist. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school he started work­ing for the for­mer New Zealand For­est Ser­vice. A cou­ple of years later he de­cided he wanted to write and quickly moved up the ranks, work­ing for The Do­min­ion, The New Zealand Her­ald, Mel­bourne Her­ald and Sun­day Ob­server.

He moved to Jo­han­nes­burg in 1970 and was chief sub-edi­tor at the for­mer Rand Daily Mail.

‘‘The news­pa­per was to­tally op­posed to apartheid and there were about 3000 banned peo­ple who you couldn’t quote. Our tac­tic was to of­ten run blank spa­ces so peo­ple knew stuff was be­ing cen­sored.’’

His next job was in Paris at the Agence France-Presse. That’s where his in­ter­est in French pol­icy in the Pa­cific re­ally took hold.

Back in Auck­land he worked at the Auck­land Star and in 1981 he set up the Pa­cific Me­dia Agency, which he ran for the next decade from his Grey Lynn home.

In 1993 he was ap­pointed a lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Pa­pua New Guinea and later shifted to the Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific in Fiji.

Ro­bie joined the Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in 2002 and started the Pa­cific Me­dia Cen­tre in 2007. He is also edi­tor of the Pa­cific Jour­nal­ism Re­view.

‘‘We don’t do enough to try to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on in the Pa­cific,’’ he says. ‘‘Fiji is a case in point. We don’t re­ally un­der­stand why it had coups and why many Fi­jians want some­thing dif­fer­ent from the colo­nial sys­tem that was set up when the coun­try be­came in­de­pen­dent.’’


Hid­den voices: Dr David Ro­bie says the New Zealand me­dia could do more to un­der­stand Asia-Pa­cific po­lit­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

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