New media freedom advocacy institute formed in Marshall Islands

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Pacific Media Institute formed
US Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Roxanne Cabral provides a seed funding grant to the newly established Pacific Media Institute in Majuro. With her are Daniel Kramer (from left), Giff Johnson and Fred Pedro. Image: Evelyn Jeadrik-Ralpho

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The first media freedom advocacy group has formed in the Marshall Islands. Organisers this week were in the initial phase of outreach to launch the Pacific Media Institute, which was incorporated last month as a non-profit organisation.

Despite a small but robust independent news media in the Marshall Islands, there has never been an advocacy group for media freedom in this nation.

“If ever there was a ‘right time’ to form an advocacy organisation for freedom of expression and transparency in government, now is it,” said Marshall Islands Journal editor Giff Johnson, one of the founding members of the institute.

“Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is a prime example of a violation of a sovereign, independent democracy that undermines the rule of law.

“Moreover, we watch as Russia suppresses access to independent media at home to prevent its citizens from knowing what is happening in the Ukraine and the world’s reaction to the invasion.”

Founders of PMI said closer to home, there were indications of democracy and media freedoms eroding in island nations that banned visits by foreign independent media and attempted to restrict their own media and freedom of expression by their citizens.

“We are fortunate in the Marshall Islands to have clear free speech rights enshrined in the Constitution and to have had governments for decades that respect this essential element of democracy,” Johnson added.

Freedoms ‘cannot be taken for granted’
“But these freedoms here and in the region should not be taken for granted. We need to celebrate them where they exist, strengthen them where we can, and advocate for them where they don’t.”

A growing concern is the increasingly active presence in the islands of governments outside the region that do not support media freedom and transparency in government operations at home and bring this philosophy with them into the region, he said.

The PMI is a joint effort of three people in independent media in the Marshall Islands.

Joining Johnson as co-founders of PMI are Daniel Kramer, CEO of Six9Too Productions and Power 103.5FM, and Fred J. Pedro, a long-time broadcaster and talk show host.

They said PMI hoped to promote independent media and transparency in government in the Marshall Islands as well as neighbouring nations.

The purpose of the new non-profit organisation is to:

• Advocate for and engage in media freedom and freedom of expression;

• Promote transparency and accountability in government;

• Support expansion of independent, non-government media; and

• Promote training and other initiatives to increase the number and skills of people working in media and the quality of reporting in the Marshall Islands and regionally.

‘Watershed moment’
Veteran Pacific islands journalist Floyd K. Takeuchi said: “This is a watershed moment in the history of independent journalism in the Western Pacific.

“And what better country to see a media freedom group organized than the Marshall Islands, which for more than half a century has shown how democratic values, chiefly and cultural traditions, and a free press can comfortably coexist.”

PMI has already reached out to Takeuchi and other journalists with extensive experience in the region to collaborate on proposed training for media and outreach dialogues with top-level government authorities in the initial phase of the organisation.

“We want to see more young people take up careers in media in the future,” said Kramer.

“We hope that PMI can help interest young people in media careers through training and other opportunities that our new group plans to offer for journalists here and in the island region.”

Kramer’s Six9Too Productions has established an ongoing record of collaboration among musicians from the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Polynesian countries that have produced hit songs and music videos.

He said PMI hoped to see this type of collaboration among working journalists here and in the region to bolster reporting skills and media freedom in general.

The PMI founders said they were hopeful that countries internationally that supported media freedom, democracy and transparency in government would be supportive of PMI training and other initiatives.

“We want to start tapping opportunities for synergy among working journalists in the Marshall Islands and in other Pacific islands through collaborative training programs and reporting initiatives,” said Johnson.

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