Tukana Mua and Mellodie Quiocho preparing for mock interview during the workshop

Journalists from Pacific Islands in Workshop Share Their Stories of Covering Violence

Journalists from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji shared their vivid and often harrowing experiences covering violent political crises and natural disasters in the South Pacific in a four-day workshop on media and violence at Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea October 11-14.

The comments of the journalists underscored the importance of journalistic preparation for coverage of these types of events and the lack of such training at present. None of the journalists said they had been adequately prepared for the events they covered, and all said they had been adversely affected by their experiences.

"This is the first time I am really talking publicly about these experiences," one of the journalists said. It had been eight years since he had returned from coverage of a conflict in which he witnessed the death of friends and intentional murderous attacks on women and children.

The workshop, organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia in collaboration with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington, was designed to explore the impact of trauma on journalists and the victims of crime that are often at the center of journalistic reports. Seventeen journalists and senior journalism students participated.

The workshop was a run-up to the 2001 Convention of the Pacific Island News Association (PINA), held in Madang from October 14-21. PINA, Divine Word University,John Fairfax Holdings Limited of Australia, and UNESCO also contributed support to the workshop.

The theme of the workshop was "Media and Violence: Designing Coverage to Foster Peace."

"The worst advice I got as a journalist (who witnessed violence) was to compartmentalize it," Cratis Hippocrates, one of the discussion leaders for the workshop, said. "It meant denying my humanity." Journalists need to be able to talk about their experiences and acknowledge the reactions they have when they witness human suffering, Hippocrates said.

"Let me start with a general principle, " Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker said in introducing the discussion of coverage of domestic violence. "At least, do no harm to the victim. Don't make the victim a victim a second time." Becker said this principle should underlie all coverage of victims of man-made and natural disasters.

These two themes - of journalistic suffering and of concern for the victims - permeated the discussions of the four-day workshop. Hippocrates and Becker were joined as discussion leaders by Dr. Jim Richstad, emeritus professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, and Prof. Clem Lloyd of the Department of Communication at the University of Canberra in Australia. All four discussion leaders worked as journalists and covered violence and its aftermath prior to become educators.

Abby Yadi, one of the workshop participants, covered the Bougainville conflict for the national newspaper, Post-Courier, for two years in the early 1990s. His account of his experiences, given for the first time to the group, were riveting.

"It didn't take long for me to experience fighting," he told the participants. The evening of his arrival in the province, while sitting in a tent near the airfield into which he had flow, the rebel soldiers began firing from just beyond the clearing. "I was really scared. I was right in the middle of the army soldiers (being fired upon) with only my camera and a notebook."

Later in his stay he was in an airplane with government soldiers who flew over a group of women and children washing their clothes in a river. The pilot circled around, and one of the soldiers crawled outside the plane, strapped to it by a belt. The soldier began firing on the women and children with his automatic weapon.

"The women and children were just running for cover, scrambling to get away," Yadi said. Many did not make it.

Yadi took pictures, which he managed to get back to Port Moresby, where the paper published them. It was the end of his stay in Bougainville. He was told by the commanders that he was banned from the island.

Yadi said he later learned that the pilot of the plane and the gunner who shot the women and children were from his own village-adding to his grief.

"It was really risky," Yadi said of his experiences. "Some of the places were 'no go. That was it for you.' I was really lucky.

"I thought I was doing my duty as a journalist to inform the PNG public about what was happening."

"I got recalled to (Port) Moresby when my wife called my editor," he laughed. He was reassigned to cover business news, without any debriefing or effort to help him explore the consequences of what he experienced.

Two of the 17 participants in the workshop were broadcast journalists from Fiji, and each had played a pivotal role in media coverage of the May 2000 coup in that country. One of them, Malakai Veisamasama of Viti FM radio, was in Parliament when the coup began, was held captive there, and ultimately was beaten twice by his captors.

"Going through something like this really matured us," he said of the journalists who were inside Parliament when the coup began and were held captive. "We have sleepless nights still.

"The important thing for those of you who have not experienced this is this. You must talk about this. I found it helped to talk about it."

Workshop participant John Adifaka, news director of PAOA FM in the Solomon Islands, was joined by Johnson Honimae, general manager of the Solomon Island Broadcasting Corporation, in telling about the effects of the coup of June 2000 in the Solomons. Honimae, radio industry representative on the PINA executive committee, was in Madang for the PINA conference.

Rebel soldiers came to Honimae's office with complaints about his coverage of the conflict.

"When you have a rebel and he doesn't know how to use a gun and is drunk, you have a problem," he said. "I was never trained in how to handle a situation like that."

The PNG journalists came from broadcasting and newspapers outlets around the country. Six of the participants were students enrolled in the journalism program at Divine Word University. Several of those already were working professionally while completing their studies, and the others worked for the campus newspaper and magazine. Some had written stories for a monograph of photographs and essays on the tsunami that hit the low-lying coastline north of Aitape in the north coast of PNG in July of 1998. The monograph was published by Divine World University in 2000.

Joe Webber is head of the Communication Arts Department at Divine Word, and he spearheaded the project on Aitape. The project focused on the survivors and is called "The Road to Recovery."

"The common experience we had was that people wanted to tell their stories again," Weber said.

Good listening skills are essential to good reporting, Hippocrates told the group. "I can't emphasize enough: Listen. There is not much sense in our talking."

Hippocrates gave the participants a list of tips for interviewing the victims of traumatic stress that included good listening. In addition, according to Hippocrates, journalists should respect the victim's "efforts to regain balance after a horrible experience" and share control of the interview with the victim.

"Give them the opportunity to set some of the conditions of the interview," Hippocrates suggested.

Lloyd urged the journalists to work with government officials when disaster plans are formulated to make sure that they are sensitive to the communication needs of the community. "The needs of journalists have to be incorporated into those plans," he said.

Cox Center Director Becker, talking about the special problems of covering rape and other forms of sexual violence, said experts report that the trauma effects of rape never go away completely. Victims experience fear, anxiety, and a heightened need for privacy. Establishing intimate relationships is difficult.

Becker said the media need to present an accurate portrayal of rape, avoid describing details that reinforce stereotypes, and include information that may be helpful to other rape survivors and others who might be victimized by rape.

Participants in the workshop conducted mock interviews in which some role-played a victim of crime and others played the role of journalists. In addition, the participants broke into groups and developed plans for disaster coverage appropriate to their communities.

"Peace is such a fragile thing," Cox Center Director Becker said at the end of the workshop. "As journalists we have special obligations: To do no harm at least but also to foster peace."

All of the workshop activities took place on the campus of Divine Word University, a Catholic institution with approximately 480 students. Eighty-five of those students are in the Communication Arts Department, which provides instruction in print and broadcast journalism. The journalism program at Divine Word is the only one in the country of 5 million people.

The workshop was the first collaboration between the Cox Center and the Dart Center, a unit of the School of Communications at the University of Washington. The Dart Center serves as a resource for students, educators, journalists and news organizations interested in journalism and trauma issues. Dart Center Director Roger Simpson, in collaboration with Michigan State University Professor William Coté, wrote the text, "Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting About Victims & Trauma," used as a resource for the workshop. The book was published by Columbia University Press in 2000.

Workshop discussion leader Hippocrates has worked with the Dart Center on projects in the United States and Australia. Hippocrates is group editorial learning and development manager at John Fairfax Publications in Sydney, Australia. John Fairfax is publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers. He has worked as reporter and editor for newspapers in Papua New Guinea and Australia and taught journalism at the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology in Australia and San Jose State University in the United States.

Hippocrates and discussion leader Lloyd, with a grant from the Australian Research Council, are developing programs on newsroom victims of violence and trauma in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Lloyd was a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Wollongang before moving to his present position at the University of Canberra. He was a journalist in Sydney and Canberra prior to his career in journalism education. He also worked as chief of staff and press secretary for senior figures in Australia and was a senior research fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Discussion leader Richstad, prior to joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, was a communication scientist at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he developed programs for journalists throughout the Pacific and conducted research in the area. He has taught journalism at the University of Hawaii, Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore, and the China School of Journalism in Beijing, China. He worked on newspapers in Seattle and Honolulu prior to becoming a journalism educator.

Richstad has collaborated with the Cox Center on a string of workshops for journalists in the Pacific going back to 1987, when the Cox Center held a workshop in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on management of media organizations.

The participants in the Media and Violence workshop wrote 13 resolutions, which Richstad delivered to PINA conference. The conference, jointly organized with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, had as its theme "The Pacific Child."

At the PINA conference, workshop participant Malakai Veisamasama of Viti FM radio, was honored for "courageous and fearless reporting from the dangerous front lines" for his reporting on the Fiji coup.

Cox Center Director Becker spent two days at the PINA conference before traveling to the University of Canberra, where he discussed research and training collaborations with the Division of Communication and Education there.

Dr. Becker also gave a summary to the communication faculty of research conducted in the Cox Center on newsroom structure and the use of expertise in covering specialized news.