Conflict reporting in the South Pacific: a critical reflexive approach to Timor-Leste and West Papua
Peace journalism or ‘conflict-sensitive journalism’, as it is sometimes referred to in the Philippines, has emerged belatedly in the context of critical studies in Oceania, notably at the University of the South Pacific in the Fiji Islands, where seminars over the past two years have addressed conflict reporting and the notion of peace journalism (Robie, 2011; Singh, 2011). This academic field (Keeble et al., 2010; Shaw at al., 2011) has become increasingly addressed as an appropriate paradigm in a South Pacific context, following a 10-year civil war in Bougainville in the 1990s and an ethnic conflict in the Solomon Islands in the early 2000s. With other political upheavals such as four coups d’état in Fiji in two decades, paramilitary revolts in Vanuatu, riots in Tahiti and Tonga, protracted conflict in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands, and an earlier pro-independence insurrection in New Caledonia in the 1980s, conflict resolution poses challenges for the region’s journalists and their education and training. On the fringe of the South Pacific geopolitical region are the independent state of Timor-Leste and two contested Melanesian provinces of Indonesia known collectively within Oceania as ‘West Papua’. A Pacific media freedom report in October 2011 raised an unprecedented profile for both Timor-Leste and West Papua in the region, describing the latter in particular as a media ‘blind spot’ (Perrottet & Robie, 2011). Both territories experienced recent elections and in West Papua a controversy over a protracted miners’ strike and the future of the Freeport mine have been issues where the performance of the Pacific region’s news media has been under scrutiny. This paper examines the conflict reporting framework in the South Pacific, and articulates two case studies in Timor-Leste and West Papua within the context of a widening global debate about peace journalism.