Peter Batchelor: Opening of the Public Discussion on Informal Settlements and Rights-Based Journalism

28 Nov 2013

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Public Discussion on Informal Settlements and Rights-Based Journalism
Opening Remarks, Peter Batchelor, Manager, UNDP Pacific Centre

  • Representatives from the Ministry of Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment (Dept of Housing)
  • Representatives from the People’s Community Network and from informal settlements,
  • Journalists, editors, and media owners,
  • UN colleagues, development partners,

On behalf of UNDP, and our other partners (UN HaBITAT, UNOHCHR, USP and PACMAS) let me welcome you to this public discussion on informal settlements and the role of the media.

The Pacific is one of the fastest urbanizing regions in the world. In some Pacific Island countries, urban areas are growing at rates of up to 10 percent a year.

Such rapid urbanization changes the way communities and society as a whole live together and brings with it a range of development challenges.

Such rapid urbanization has also led to the establishment of numerous informal settlements in the Pacific, where people live in make-shift houses and shelters that are erected outside applicable regulations and often on land to which those who live on it have no legal claim.

Informal settlements are no longer an exception in the Pacific but have become a permanent phenomenon in many urban centers.
In some urban centers, up to 50% of the population lives in informal housing arrangements, and have done so for several generations.

In some cases, the expansion of informal settlements has been accelerated by soaring housing prices that have pushed people out of the formal housing market and left them with no other option than moving into informal housing arrangements.

The public too often tends to view informal settlements and the people who live in them as problematic.

Alongside such a perception is a prevailing assumption that all Pacific Islanders have access to secure land tenure and therefore a place to call home.

Accordingly, the plight of individuals in urban and peri-urban settlements, in particular the most vulnerable, are underreported, or are portrayed by the media in a negative light. For example, much media reporting on informal settlements focuses on crime or substance abuse that are supposedly rife in informal settlements.

The danger of such assumptions is that the challenges people in informal settlements face, and the solutions that might work for them are ignored by the public and by policy-makers; instead, negative assumptions tend to prevail and dominate the public discourse about urbanization and settlements.

That is the reason why we have engaged in this initiative. We are supporting journalists across Melanesia under this initiative.

We have provided them with knowledge and small funds to contribute to an informed public discussion on urbanization and informal settlements, and to report on the issue from a human rights perspective. What do we mean by that?

The media has an immensely important role to play in making sure the reality of people in informal settlements is better understood and not ignored.

Media can play a crucial role in empowering those who live on the margins of society by giving them a voice, by respecting their dignity, and by highlighting the challenges they experience and that need to be addressed.

The media can act as a conduit for the vulnerable of society to express themselves and interact with the public, a space from which they are often excluded.

That is the reason why we have engaged in this initiative, jointly with our partners from UN-Habitat, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, USP, and with the support of PACMAS, the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme.

Today’s discussion is part of a larger regional initiative that aims to increase public awareness on informal settlements in Melanesia through rights-based journalism.

With this initiative

  • we aim to increase public awareness and informed discussions about urbanization and informal settlements;
  • we aim to give people who live in informal settlements a voice and a space in the public sphere, and
  • we aim to highlight the important role of the media in bringing development challenges into the public domain.

We are particularly delighted to see strong representation from people living in informal settlements here with us tonight and we look forward to hearing their views, their experiences, and their expectations with regards to media coverage of their communities.

Also, we are very pleased to have here tonight, two of the journalists that we supported to produce dedicated media coverage on urbanization and informal settlements. They are here to share their experiences of how they produced the media content on informal settlements and what they have learnt in that process.

We want to encourage a lively public discussion on urbanization and informal settlements that does not stigmatize persons living in settlements, but rather ensures that their rights are respected.
You see tonight on the walls of this auditorium a selection of articles that have been published as a result of this initiative.

You also see an exhibition of photographs from informal settlements in Papua New Guinea by the photographer Vlad Sokhin. These photos are a powerful example of the important role journalists can play in portraying people's dignity, pride, and resilience.

Thank you for coming tonight and I wish you a successful discussion.

Vinaka Vakalevu