Pacific media gather to improve Ocean coverage

The need for more plainspoken communication of scientific research and better relationships between journalists and scientists were among the issues covered at a workshop for improving the Pacific media's coverage of ocean conservation issues last week. 

Journalists and scientists from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Solomon, New Zealand attended the event held in Noumea, Caledonia hosted by the South Pacific Community (S.P.C) with the aim of improving and coordinate coverage of research into protecting and managing oceans.

The workshop, the Ocean Literacy Media Masterclass for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030, was simultaneously a briefing for journalists and an introduction to media training for scientists. 

One of the key speakers was Lisa Williams-Lahari, a freelance journalist and member of the Pacific Media Network, who highlighted various issues journalists deal with in reporting stories on the ocean.

Ms. Williams-Lahari shared with the audience an insight from the Pacific scholar, Epeli Hauofa: “Oceania is vast; Oceania is expanding; Oceania is hospitable and generous; Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still; Oceania is us. 

"We are the sea, we are the ocean.

“The story of Hauofa and the lesson of identity [is] owning what you know and stepping back to let ideas and stories cook with a bit of silence and space and owning your story and telling it, tapping into what resonates for you, and inevitably for your listener." 

Ms. Williams-Lahari said that a decade after she left the S.P.C., she launched TUNAnomics in 2014, which is a learning space for collecting all aspects of reporting on the ocean into one space. 

“It opened up internships, parallel media dialogues in press conference mode in the wings of major meetings [and] counterpart training to allow journalists to share with and teach journalists at national and regional level,” she said.

Ms. Williams-Lahari told the scientists that experts who stand to journalists out are those who are able to speak plainly.

"The challenge of jargon and alphabet soup is an inevitable and probably necessary hangover of needing to slice through complicated code," she said. 

“But it doesn’t have a place in the public conversation; it is not only problematic for broadcasters and readers and all forms of media, but it's horrific when it comes to translation into Pacific language. 

"Industry and project terms are lovely, but they [must do more] with keeping language crisp and clear." 

Researchers should do more than simply adjust their language when dealing with media but also be careful to foster equal working relationships, Ms. Williams-Lahari said.

“It’s a no-brainer, and it’s mentioned here because for many Pacific news hounds, it is a part of their experience with experts.

"This also applies to those who deny or push away interview requests, saying read the report or the release. 

"It just doesn’t grow engagement, and it doesn’t grow public engagement - which can be risky when the next elections come round." 

Ms. Williams-Lahari said experts also needed to recognise that digital communication is the emerging frontier for communicating research about the health of the world's oceans:

“Be prepared for feedback, shares, likes that is both informed and dangerously ignorant; accept and plan for fake news and misinformation, but whatever you do, stay with it.

“Because if you don’t someone else will misrepresent your story and shape how we and generations to come will understand and experience our blue continent."

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