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Two recent book titles highlight importance of journalism in the Pacific

(L) from Little Island Press (R) From Giff Johnson
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BOOK REVIEWS:

Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem & Human Rights in the Pacific by David Robie (Little Island Press) 2014 (5/5 Rusties)

Idyllic No More: Pacific Island Climate, Corruption and Development Dilemmas by Giff Johnson (independent) 2015 (5/5 Rusties) 

Two of the most prominent journalists covering the Pacific and its many issues, both good and bad, are David Robie and Marshall Islands Journal editor Giff Johnson.

Robie’s book, Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face (a title taken from a placard held by an anti-nuclear protester in Port Vila, Vanuatu in 1983) is an utterly fascinating and engaging overview (at over 300 pages) of covering the critical issues facing those living in the Pacific, in Robie’s case, primarily in the South Pacific.

While I don’t know if Robie would consider himself an advocacy journalist, his humanity and sense of justice comes through in his writing. He cares about the many different peoples who populate the many islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean and his many decades of reporting reflect that, as we learn in Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face.

In the opening pages, Robie includes a statement made in the 1983 preamble to the People’s Charter for a Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific in Port Vila, Vanuatu:

We, the people of the Pacific, have been victimized too long by foreign powers … Alien colonial, political and military domination persists as an evil cancer in some of our native territories, such as Tahiti-Polynesia, Kanaky, Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. Our environment continues to be despoiled by foreign powers developing nuclear weapons for a strategy of warfare that has no winners, no liberators and imperils the survival of mankind …

And through the upheavals in Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, primarily in the turbulent 1980’s, Robie covered the many nuclear-free and independent Pacific movements, various coups, environmental issues and civil rights challenges facing folks in many corners of the Pacific. In addition, Robie and other Pacific journalists faced dangers covering events in places ranging from West Papua to Fiji.

And covering the Philippines, where journalists are facing certain death in some cases, RObie offers an insightful 1990 report covering the “Ramboys,” a shadowy clique of military officers who sought political power and used Marcos-era tactics of violence and mayhem to rid the Filipino countryside of folks they considered “communist tools.” It’s an old story, but relevant as we look at a Philippines that has not changed all that much, as murder and violence reigns again on that island nation, which is an American ally.

And of particular interest to me was Robie’s coverage of the bombing of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, New Zealand in 1985. The bombing resulted in the death of a photographer on board.

It was a terrorist bombing conducted by French secret agents hoping to end the environmental group’s anti-nuclear efforts in the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia. Again, the colonialism and imperialism of nations like France (as in the case of the Kanaky on New Caledonia) was still strong when Robie was reporting, and remains so today, more or less.

Toward the end of Robie’s important book, one which all journalists should take time to read and learn from, he promotes the notion of “peace journalism,” which is counter to the more traditional “war journalism.” As Robie notes, peace journalism can highlight peace while offering ways to prevent conflict and a “win-win focus,” while war journalism tends to be “violence oriented” and has a “win-lose focus.”

It's an important point, and with the world increasingly focusing on Pacific-related issues, from Japan and China to Australia and over to the Americas - and every island in between - the 21st century is shaping up to be a Pacific century, as these journalists note. These issues - from crackdowns on the press to military coups and the imperial legacies left behind by the U.S., UK and France, remains an issue that must be further addressed. And it goes without saying that the increased tension between some of the world's strongest militaries is of concern to those in the Pacific region. This is why bold journalism is so critical in the Pacific.

And in Giff Johnson’s shorter, but no less important book, Idyllic No More, covering the various challenges facing the Marshall Islands, these essays – which first appeared on the blog for the Pacific Institute for Public Policy – he writes about the kind and traditional Marshallese people who are facing many uphill battles. This includes the legacy of having served as a testing ground in the 1940’s and 50’s for America’s nuclear arsenal, to health challenges and experiencing an outflow of Marshallese people to places like Springdale, Arkansas, where they come hoping to find work, while essentially being forced to leave their homeland and centuries-old way of life.

These were once idyllic islands. A Pacific paradise. But the rapid changes of the 20th century changed all that, via atomic tests, war, climate change and the introduction of processed foods. It's all taken a toll on the Marshallese population, as Johnson repeatedly notes.

Johnson, based in the capital city of Majuro, who was married to Marshallese activist Darlene Keju, before cancer – likely resulting from her exposure to atomic fallout from U.S. nuclear testing in the 1950’s – took her life at age 45 in 1996, wrote a book about his late wife’s life and legacy, Don’t Ever Whisper, which Red Dirt Report reviewed in 2014.

Johnson also writes about compensation for those affected by the notorious Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb detonation on Bikini Atoll in March 1954. While the U.S. has doled out a certain amount, far more is necessary. And we here at Red Dirt Report heartily agree, even if the U.S. Congress has given up on truly compensating and helping the Marshallese people affected by the fallout on far more than the four atolls that are officially noted as being the only ones affected by the Bravo fallout.

Both David Robie and Giff Johnson deserve attention even beyond the Pacific Ocean region they cover. Their voices are important, as these books are both important and well-worth reading.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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