Up close and personal with SPINF-invited journalists in their coverage of the 7th PALM Summit

On May 23, 2015, five people with proud smiles stood on the red carpet, rolled out outside the front entrance of the Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture.

They were experienced journalists invited to Japan to coincide with the 7th conference of the Pacific Island Leaders Meeting, as part of the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund's (SPINF) efforts to promote cooperative ties with Pacific Island nations

IMG_1_1.jpg Inspection of an earthquake-affected community (Iwaki's Usuiso district)

They came from Micronesia (Palau), Melanesia (Fiji and Papua New Guinea) and Polynesia (Tonga and Samoa).

The Pacific Island Leaders Meeting (PALM) has been convened every three years since 1997 to strengthen the cooperative ties between Japan and Pacific Island nations. The latest conference (PALM7) was held in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture.

In the two-day conference, participating countries learned of the experiences of Fukushima, which is on its path of recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. They then agreed to reinforce their partnership in implementing initiatives for emergency management, climate change and human exchange. More specifically, the Japanese government pledged the assistance of more than 55 billion yen over the next three years, incorporating the policy of human exchange on the scale of 4,000 people, in order to promote autonomous development of Pacific Island nations.

IMG_執筆.jpg Journalists hard at work at the Press Working Room

The journalists invited by SPINF worked alongside other journalists from Japan and abroad, writing and issuing articles one after another. Under strict security, journalists had their movements restricted and were even excluded from some of the sessions. Yet, they managed to cover a series of events scheduled by the minute, including the opening ceremony, flower offering and inspection of quake-affected community, banquet, bilateral leaders' talks and briefings by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

IMG_3.jpg Joint media conference by Prime Minister Abe and Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr.

On May 24, Japanese Prime Minister Abe and President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau, who co-chaired the meeting, held a media conference, announcing the adoption of the Fukushima Iwaki Declaration before closing PALM7. After covering the commemorative photo shoot of Prime Minister Abe and the leaders of participating nations at the conference venue, Spa Resort Hawaiians, the journalists rushed to the red carpet, just before it was taken away, for a group shot with their arms around each other's shoulders. The beaming smiles in the photograph illustrate their sense of relief and achievement for successfully completing their mission.

We asked the five journalists from the Pacific Island nations what they thought of the invitation program.

(In the alphabetical order)

Mr. Pesi Fonua/ Editor- in- Chief "Matangi Tonga" the Kingdom of Tonga
Ms. Gorethy Kenneth/ Senior Reporter, Chief of Staff "Post Courier" the Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Mr. Pita Ligaiula/ Senior Journalist "PACNEWS" the Republic of Fiji
Mr. Peter Magbanua/ Reporter "Island Times" the Republic of Palau
Mr. Mataeliga Pio Sioa/ Chief Editor "Newsline Samoa" the Independent State of Samoa

IMG_pesi.jpg Mr. Pesi Fonua / the Kingdom of Tonga
Editor- in- Chief of "Matangi Tonga"

Fresh inspiration from the invitation program
Desire to contribute as a journalist

Pesi Fonua is the editor-in-chief of one of Tonga's major newspapers, Matangi Tonga. It is a trusted English-language newspaper in Tonga, attracting readership from intellectuals. Pesi Fonua has worked in journalism for 36 years since 1979.

I have covered PALM since its first conference in 1997, and seen fresh challenges come up constantly. In recent years, the whole world is sensitive about China's moves, and Pacific Island nations are no exception. China has actively supported the construction of infrastructures (bridges, roads) in Tonga. While Chinese projects are handled entirely by Chinese people, including project leaders and workers, Japanese projects use Japanese people only as project leaders and hire local Tongans as workers. They therefore contribute significantly to the promotion of employment within our country. We welcome the construction of buildings, bridges and roads, but the question is how they are maintained. Age will bring inevitable degradation. Support programs would be meaningless unless this aspect is taken into account.

It was very interesting to inspect the Usuiso district of Iwaki City, which suffered extensive quake damage. It reminded me of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Tonga and Samoa in 2009. The day after the disaster, I was on an airplane and saw my country from the sky. It was all green everywhere. The sight made me feel completely powerless. The Fukushima tour reminded me of that experience.

Journalism is about conveying correct information to people in a timely manner, and providing them with an opportunity to make a right judgment. It is a very challenging work. It has been very inspiring and eye-opening to have taken part in the SPF program this time and gained the opportunity to talk with journalists from other participating nations. As a journalist, I would like to make further contributions to deepening mutual ties between Japan and us island nations.

IMG_2121.jpg Ms. Gorethy Kenneth / Papua New Guinea
Senior Reporter, Chief of Staff, "Post Courier"

Having also covered PALM6 Feeling the deepening sense of trust

Gorethy Kenneth has worked for "Post Courier", the Pacific Island region's most influential daily with the largest circulation, for 15 years, mainly writing for political and social affairs pages. She is the only female journalist out of those invited to Japan this time

Papua New Guinea offers numerous opportunities for female participation on both municipal and national levels. There are also many female politicians. Some of the tribes and regions have matrilineal traditions, with lands and other properties held by women. This creates an environment whereby women can exercise their leadership.

IMG_gorthy.jpg PALM7 opening ceremony

I was from Port Moresby, which experienced a civil war that killed or injured 30,000 people. That is why I have been socially aware since childhood. I could not even go to school for about three years because of the war. I liked writing and reading books, and always wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. I have worked for Post Courier for 15 years now, and know people throughout the world through my work with numerous foreign embassies based in Papua New Guinea.
In 2012, I traveled to Okinawa to cover PALM6 on the invitation from the Japanese Embassy in Port Moresby. There was a country that could not participate in that conference (Fiji). However, this time, seventeen countries have taken part, enabling in-depth debates. The atmosphere this time has been friendlier than at the last conference, indicating a growing sense of trust in Japan among Pacific Island nations.
In 2012, I also visited a quake-affected community in Fukushima and stayed at the Spa Resort Hawaiians. At the time, the scars of the disaster were still visible. Today, the community seems to have recovered by around 80%. I am astonished to see the speed of the reconstruction.

This program has helped me 'connect' with so many people. I met with journalists from countries I do not normally have much association with, and talked about so many different subjects. I would like to make good use of these 'connections' in my future activities.

IMG_2251.jpg Mr. Pita Ligaiula / The Republic of Fiji
Senior Journalist "PACNEWS"

Fiji's transition into democracy Return to PALM participation

Pita Ligaiula has been with a news agency with strong influence on the Pacific Island region for nine years after working as a broadcaster in Fiji. Striving to write articles that guide people's judgment rather than just to make money, he says journalism is his calling.

Under the military regime, Fiji did not participate in the 5th and 6th PALM Summits. Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was delighted when Prime Minister Abe welcomed, at the start of his joint media conference, Fiji's return to the summit following the country's democratic election.
Each of the Pacific Island nations is a small country with common weaknesses such as tsunami, earthquake, drought, food safety and water shortage. It was excellent for these countries to be able to reach consensus about climate change.

IMG_pita.jpgPALM7 Opening Ceremony

All of these countries are sensitive about China's maritime advancement. When Fiji went under military regime (2006 - 2014) and found itself almost isolated, China was the only country that continued extending support in areas including infrastructure development. China has made absolutely no interference into our internal affairs. It is not that we see China any differently. As Prime Minister Bainimarama said, we are friends with all countries, and have no enemies.
Under the military regime, journalistic activities and communications were under serious constraint. Yet, I saw that as merely a process I had to overcome. Everything in life has two sides. We must remember to see both sides and find a good balance.

I have made numerous discoveries, as this was my first time to cover the PALM Summit. I would like to thank SPF for giving me this precious opportunity. Journalists have the power of communication. I hope you will continue running the journalist invitation program for consolidating friendly ties with Pacific Island nations.

IMG_peter.jpg Mr. Peter Magbanua / The Republic of Palau
Reporter "Island Times"

High expectations for climate change initiatives

Peter Magbanua is a journalist originally from the Philippines. During seven years working as a sports writer, his dream is to cover the Olympics. He was then hired by Palau's major newspaper, and came to Japan for the first time in 16 years working as a journalist.

I had known about Japan through movies and news, and there was no gap in that sense when I arrived here. I am very impressed by the well-developed transportation networks, which transport people and goods perfectly on time.

IMG_2167.jpgPALM7 Opening Ceremony

PALM covers a variety of subjects, but there should be more debate on maritime and environmental affairs, which are the lifelines of us Pacific Island nations. We are under direct impact of climate change, which has emerged as an immediate threat. Temperatures have soared to an unbearable level compared to 2007, when I moved to Palau. High tides are now causing frequent floods in some areas. Specific initiatives must be urgently implemented to counter climate change.

The conference presented detailed information and lessons with regard to Japan's efforts to recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake. I was able to cover the details of the country-wide efforts. This has allowed us to learn how we could effectively respond to such a natural disaster in the future. Our visit to a quake-affected community in Iwaki City was a moving experience, having seen the efforts and determination of local people toward reconstruction.

It has been wonderful to participate in this program and to be able to share experiences with journalists from other countries. As a journalist, I would like to write and publish more articles about Japan's contribution to the Pacific Island nations. I would also love to organize workshops and seminars to introduce more about Japan.

IMG_pio.jpg Mr. Mataeliga Pio Sioa / The Independent State of Samoa
Chief Editor "Newsline Samoa"

Addressing common challenges
Importance of perceiving the quality of assistance

Mataeliga Pio Sioa established Newsline Samoa in 1993, and has since been working busily as its owner, reporter and editor. It is Samoa's major newspaper, issued three times a week, attracting a large volume of access from overseas. He appreciates the invitation as a tremendous honor.

IMG_被災地pio.jpg Interviewing a local at the quake-affected community

In the quake-affected Usuiso district, I talked with a 65-year local man. He survived the ordeal, although his house was destroyed in tsunami. When tsunami struck, he was away, visiting his mother, who lives in a different part of town. He believes his mother saved his life. It was a very moving story.
Samoa and Tonga also suffered tsunami in 2009, killing some 150 people in Samoa alone. We also have hurricanes and earthquakes. Both Japan and the Pacific Island nations have a common task of urgently addressing the issue of natural disasters.

We are small countries dotted around the Pacific, incapable of surviving without assistance and financial investments from Japan and other major countries. Yet, we do not want to be a stage for diplomatic games of major powers. The Pacific has rich marine resources. To achieve a win-win situation, it is crucial to examine the quality of assistance.
China has been making notable maritime advancement in recent years, sparking a cautionary response from Japan and Australia. Yet, 18 years on since the launch of PALM, and Japan has a proven friendly tie with the Pacific Island nations.

We are Samoa's second newspaper, and had not had an opportunity for receiving an invitation for this program until now. This has been a tremendous honor to be invited to the SPF program this time. It has been a precious experience to be able to come to Japan for the first time and network with colleagues from other Pacific Island nations through the coverage of the summit meeting.

IMG_2274.jpg End of the PALM Summit, at the front entrance of the Spa Resort Hawaiians

The journalists with curious minds gave energetic coverage of the event. They were all veteran reporters who were already used to early mornings and long standby times through covering a number of other events. Representing their respective countries, they covered the PALM Summit and sat at computers for hours with serious faces to deliver stories, before relaxing with fellow journalists with jokes and cheerful smiles.

This program was aimed at communicating the outcome and future tasks of PALM7 to the Pacific Island nations, so as to strengthen their partnership with Japan. If it led to a sense of familiarity and understanding of Japan, the conference was a major success for both the journalists invited and the people of Pacific Island nations who read their articles. It is hoped that these journalists will continue to make use of the experiences and network of people they could not have gained without this program, to continue actively conveying information to help grow the relationship between Japan and the Pacific Island nations with strength and flexibility.


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