For many Pacific Island countries the importance of building roads, seawalls, electricity networks, and water supplies has been magnified by their increased vulnerability to natural disasters and other environmental stress that can damage or destroy the infrastructure they already have. And their limited economic resources force these island governments to rely on external sources of financing and assistance for these essential infrastructure projects.
To keep policymakers and local communities fully informed, news media outlets in the Pacific should be able to report on the broader context of infrastructure financing, alternative options for sustainable development, and the need for grassroots participation to ensure that infrastructure projects. Many journalists in the Pacific, however, lack the background knowledge and reporting skills to fill this valuable role.
To help the region’s journalists improve and expand coverage of infrastructure development and financing, the East-West Center has begun coordinating reporting tours. This is the first time the Center has been able to offer a program solely focused on the unique needs and issues faced by news media in the islands: disaster relief and recovery, regional security, infrastructure development and financing, and fact-checking. Each tour visits several U.S. cities where participants:
- Meet with key players in both the public and private sectors, including experts in financing and implementing infrastructure projects and disaster relief and recovery
- Visit model infrastructure sites
- Attend briefings by government and military officials
- Take part in discussions with U.S. journalists, researchers, and community leaders with expertise in the Pacific region and/or infrastructure development.
In addition, participants receive in-depth training in fact-checking, open-source methodologies, and news literacy tools from renowned journalist training programs such as Poynter, the News Literacy Project, and the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab. The tours end with a capstone event where participants can share highlights and lessons learned with a broader audience of experienced journalists, media, and content experts from the region.
The first tour of 12 journalists took place in September 2019. Participants came from news media organizations in the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The capstone conference, held in Suva, Fiji, was co-sponsored by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Program. More than 75 people attended. The next tour will take place in August 2020 and will again engage 12 journalists with a wrap-up in Port Moresby.
Looking to the future, the East-West Center plans to offer more training opportunities for journalists in the Pacific Islands, specifically in the areas of spotting and combatting disinformation and fact-checking.