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Bearing Witness 2016: A Fiji Climate Change Journalism Case Study
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In February 2016, the Fiji Islands were devastated by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest recorded tropical storm in the Southern Hemisphere. The category 5 storm with wind gusts reaching 300 kilometres an hour, left 44 people dead, 45,000 people displaced, 350,000 indirectly affected, and $650 million worth of damage (Climate Council, 2016). In March 2017, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) launched a new 10-year Strategic Plan 2017-2026, which regards climate change as a ‘deeply troubling issue for the environmental, economic, and social viability of Pacific island countries and territories’. In November, Fiji will co-host the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) climate change conference in Bonn, Germany. Against this background, the Pacific Media Centre despatched two neophyte journalists to Fiji for a two-week field trip in April 2016 on a ‘bearing witness’ journalism experiential assignment to work in collaboration with the Pacific Centre for the Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD) and the Regional Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific. This paper is a case study assessing this climate change journalism project and arguing for the initiative to be funded for a multiple-year period in future and to cover additional Pacific countries, especially those so-called ‘frontline’ climate change states.