Garry Wiseman: Opening of Media Workshop “Promoting the Right to Adequate Housing in Melanesia”

17 Jun 2013

Staff Journalists, Freelance Journalists, Community Journalists, Bloggers, journalism students,

Representatives from AusAID, from USP, from PACMAS

Representative from the People’s Community Network,

UN colleagues,

Welcome everyone to this 4-day workshop for journalists on the right to adequate housing in Melanesia. As I understand it is the first training of this type for media from across Melanesia, I should probably start by explaining why we and our partners have decided to focus on this topic.

Rapid urbanization and housing is a growing development challenge confronting most countries in the Pacific region, and in particular those of Melanesia. People’s decision to move to cities and towns can have very positive outcomes and provide them with new skills, economic opportunities, or better education, or access to better health care services. However, it can also lead to men, women, children and disabled persons ending up in squalid living conditions, without access to services, exploited in the labour market, fearful of being evicted and becoming homeless.  In such situations their wellbeing and health are at risk.

It is for these reasons that we have chosen to focus on the right to adequate housing as the main theme of this workshop. We want to encourage debate in the broader community on how urbanization and informal settlements can lead to benefits for all and do not cause persons living in settlements to feel stigmatized or victimized and to ensure that their rights are respected.

Through this workshop we hope that you can help in increasing public awareness on housing rights and urbanization in Melanesia; promote an informed public discussion; and encourage rights-based responses from your governments.
The right to adequate housing for the people of Melanesia is not always given the space in the media it might deserve. We realize that journalists face plenty of pressure to write stories on politics, crime, sports and business, which are deemed to be sexier or more newsworthy than people living in squatter settlements in and around Suva, Port Vila, Honiara or Port Moresby.  As a result stories which address people’s rights and, in particular those who are marginalized, are often pushed aside .

It is also true that if there are articles on the squatter settlements – they are often described in the most negative way with crime, child labour, substance abuse, violence, or health problems usually the basis of such stories. The voice of those who live in these settlements is barely heard in such reporting.

The media plays a unique role in empowering those at the margins of society, in giving them a voice, in fostering an informed discussion, in shaping public opinion, in encouraging positive government responses and contributing to government accountability towards the people.  Finding out how you can do this is what you will explore over the coming 4 days.

I’m pleased to see the number of women in this group. This is a reminder that journalists play an important role in helping the broader community understand that different groups are impacted in different ways through development and change.  It is important to bring the situation and distinct challenges of different groups to light in order to encourage solutions that work for everyone.

I’m also recognize the many experienced journalists among you and journalists who have won awards for their outstanding work. Your experience, knowledge, and skills will be of great value for the next generation of journalists that are equally here in the room. And we aim to provide a space this week for you to share your experience with all of us. 

I express my thanks to the People’s Community Network, as representatives of persons living in informal settlements for their participation and support to this workshop, for agreeing to bring in their perspective, and for facilitating the site visits for all of you.

The aim of this workshop is to provide you with the knowledge, skills and means to produce informed reporting on urbanization and informal settlements. The greater the awareness you create as journalists, the bigger the space will be for individuals living in settlements to raise their concerns with a broader audience and bring their experience and their voice into the mainstream media and the policy space.

We also believe that Melanesian countries are uniquely placed to learn from each other. And that is why we are facilitating site visits for you to informal settlements. We’ve also invited the Government of Fiji to present on its initiatives and policies with regards to housing and informal settlements. And we believe the perspective and experience from your government (for Fiji journalists) or from the government of another Pacific Island country (for those coming from abroad) will be extremely valuable when you return and look at a community of informal settlements back home.

I wish you well in the next four days of learning, sharing and reflecting on the rights of people to adequate housing. I hope you will leave inspired, with new insights, and with ideas for solutions that might work in your countries or contexts. Most of all, we hope you will leave motivated to report on the right to adequate housing back home and to keep the topic alive in the public’s conscience.

I take this opportunity to thank the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), the University of the South Pacific Journalism Program, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the People’s Community Network for agreeing to partner with us at the UNDP Pacific Centre in this project. It will be remiss of me if I do not acknowledge the equally important role of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) which is supporting this initiative.

I wish you a very successful 4 days.

Vinaka and thank you.