Media stories on urbanization and housing in the Pacific are not always given the prominence they deserve, yet the role of the media in giving a voice to the people living on the margins of society is crucial in shaping public opinion and catalyzing policy decisions that respect people’s rights.
The Manager of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Pacific Centre Garry Wiseman made these comments at the opening of a workshop aimed at improving the skills of journalists to increase public awareness on housing rights and urbanization in Melanesia.
“Journalists face plenty of pressures and the right to adequate housing is an issue that is often pushed aside by 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,” said Mr Wiseman.
He was speaking to 25 journalists from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu attending the workshop on Promoting Housing Rights in Melanesia that started in Lami today.
The Pacific is one of the fastest urbanising regions in the world, with an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Pacific Islanders now living in informal settlements.
“If urbanization and the pressure on housing does receive mention in the media, it tends to be often in a negative way in which persons living in informal settlements are associated with crime, child labor, substance abuse, violence, or health problems. The voice of those who live in these settlements is barely heard in such reporting,” said Mr Wiseman.
He told the journalists that their role in creating awareness will increase the space for individuals living in settlements to raise their concerns with a broader audience and will bring their experience and their voice into the mainstream media and the policy space.
The workshop is organised as part of a project implemented by the UNDP Pacific Centre in partnership with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Program, with the support of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS). The project aims to enhance the role of media in raising public awareness and facilitating an informed public debate on housing and urbanization as key development challenges in the region.
The workshop ends on Thursday, June 20. Upon return to their home countries, journalists will be encouraged to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills to produce media products on informal settlements and housing rights in their countries.