Published on 13th September 2017
A pair of VSA volunteers on short-term assignments joined forces to deliver a workshop with a difference in Solomon Islands, to involve the country’s media in peacebuilding efforts.
Jane Rutledge is a three-time VSA volunteer, having done stints
in South Africa, Vanuatu and, most recently, Solomon Islands.
As a Communications Specialist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Solomon Islands office, her office’s work, under the banner of UN Peace Building Fund (UNPBF), is an initiative by UNDP and UN Women to work alongside government in the peace transition following the withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), tabled for 2017.
Engaging with the media is an important element of that work, and Jane recognised that there was an opportunity to talk through the lasting implications of the violent unrest of 1998-2003. While Solomon Islands are relatively stable now, Jane says “journalists were terribly affected, even traumatised, by it.” During the conflict, the media was often targeted and threatened by armed militia and corrupt officials.
Jane worked with fellow volunteer Jale Moala, who had just completed a three-month assignment as an Editorial Adviser with the Island Sun newspaper. Together, they put together a workshop with participants drawn from across the media spectrum in Solomon Islands, in an effort to ensure maximum coverage and widen the scope of peace journalism in the country.
They were joined by journalist Netani Rika who, with Jale, had covered conflict and peace efforts in Fiji between 1987 and 2006.
Jane says “Rather than support by training, for the first time in a long time, we got journalists together to talk about peacebuilding issues... it enables local journalists to talk about their experiences at home, identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the Solomon Islands media industry and plan a way forward.”
The Sun and its rival paper the Star have a circulation of 10,000 issues between them, so have significant reach, but Jale says they still face barriers – particularly a lack of resources that can limit their ability to investigate stories. Citizens need to be informed, he says – “journalism is so important, especially in developing countries.”
During the workshop, Jane says, “journalists learned from Jale and Netani and each other and were able to design a locally relevant solution to covering issues which have the potential to cause future tensions, or be used as rallying points for self-serving individuals.”
A large focus of the UN Peace Building Fund is on youth and women and their inclusion in decision making. As facilitators, Jane says, they encouraged conversation around these issues.
The impact of the workshop could be seen almost immediately, Jane says, as it was evident “critical thinking was being applied to press releases”, they weren’t just being republished unquestioned. But as a veteran of three assignments, and having seen and run many workshops, Jane had an inkling it would be a success: “I was delighted – we got really senior journalists and editors to come and they stayed for the entire time.”
*VSA volunteers work with people throughout the wider pacific to create lasting, positive change for everyone. Click here to find a volunteer assignment for you.