King’s Birthday Honours: NZ journalist reflects on work in the Pacific

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Asia Pacific Media editor Dr David Robie
Asia Pacific Media editor Dr David Robie . . . “I guess that’s been my commitment really, helping to tell stories at a grassroots level and also trying to empower other journalists.” Image: Alyson Young/APR

By Alakihihifo Vailala of PMN News

Flipped “back in time” is how New Zealand author, journalist and media educator Dr David Robie describes the crisis in New Caledonia.

Robie has covered the Asia-Pacific region for international media and educated Pacific journalists for more than four decades.

He reported on the indigenous Kanak pro-independence uprising in the 1980s and says it is happening again in the French-colonised territory.

Recognised for their services to the Pacific community in the King's Birthday Honours
Recognised for their services to the Pacific community in the King’s Birthday Honours . . . Reverend Taimoanaifakaofo Kaio (from top left, clockwise:, Frances Mary Latu Oakes (JP), Maituteau Karora, Anapela Polataivao, Dr David Telfer Robie, Leitualaalemalietoa Lynn Lolokini Pavihi, Tupuna Mataki Kaiaruna, Mailigi Hetutū and Bridget Piu Kauraka. Montage: PMN News


Dr David Robie talks to Ma’a Brian Sagala of PMN News in 2021.     Video: PMN/Café Pacific

Robie’s comments follow the rioting and looting in New Caledonia’s capital Nouméa on May 13 that followed protesters against France President Emmanuel Macron’s plan for electoral reform.

At least seven people have died and hundreds injured with damage estimated in the millions of dollars.

“The tragic thing is that we’ve gone back in time,” he told PMN News.

“Things were progressing really well towards independence and then it’s all gone haywire.

“But back in the 1980s, it was a very terrible time. At the end of the 1980s with the accords [Matignon and Nouméa accords], there was so much hope for the Kanak people.”

Robie, who has travelled to Noumēa multiple times, has long advocated for liberation for Kanaky/New Caledonia and was even arrested at gunpoint by French police in January 1987.

He reflected on his work throughout the Pacific, which includes his involvement in the Rainbow Warrior bombing — the subject of his book Eyes of Fire; covering the Sandline crisis with student journalists in Papua New Guinea; and helping his students report the George Speight-led coup of 2000 in Fiji.


Dr David Robie talks to Ma’a Brian Sagala of PMN News in August 2018.  Video: PMN/PMC

“Because I was a freelance journalist, I could actually go and travel to many countries and spend a lot of time there.”

“I guess that’s been my commitment really, helping to tell stories at a grassroots level and also trying to empower other journalists.”

Robie’s commitment has been recognised in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours and he has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He headed the journalism programmes at the University of Papua New Guinea and University of the South Pacific for 10 years, and also founded the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University.

What Robie calls “an incredible surprise”, he says the award also serves as recognition for those who have worked alongside him.

“Right now, we need journalists more than ever. We’re living in a world of absolute chaos of disinformation,” he said.

Robie said trust in the media had declined due to there being “too much opinionated and personality” journalism.

“We’re moving more towards niche journalism, if I might say, mainstream journalism is losing its way and Pacific media actually fit into the niche journalism mode,” he said.

“So I think there will be a growing support and need for Pacific journalism whereas mainstream media’s got a lot more of a battle on its hands.”

Republished from PMN News with permission.

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