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The Independent (NZ): 17 July 2002


A well-known photojournalist and a controversial publisher in the small Pacific nation of Vanuatu are launching a new regional newspaper on August 3.


AS NEWSPAPERS in the South Pacific struggle to remain afloat in the face of political and economic crises, a new independent regional weekly is about to take on all-comers.

Mock-ups of the new Vanuatu-based Pacific Weekly Review reveal a stylish newspaper with wide-ranging political, economic, business and social content and dramatic photojournalism.

Media insiders consider it the bravest venture for Pacific publishing since the establishment of the Times of Papua New Guinea in the 1980s. But they also warn that distribution and advertising in such a far-flung region will present major problems.

The venture is the brainchild of Port Vila publisher Marc Neil-Jones, a Briton, and leading Australian freelance photojournalist Ben Bohane (right), founding editor of the new publication.

Bohane, 32, has contributed to leading publications such as Time, the Sydney Morning Herald and Rolling Stone for more than a decade, covering events and conflicts arising from cultural, religious and land issues in the Pacific.

He made his name with an exclusive interview with Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader Francis Ona at the height of the Bougainville civil war with Papua New Guinea and filed many media exclusives from western Melanesia, East Timor and Cambodia.

But Bohane says this new assignment could turn out to be "as dicey as covering war crisis zones.

"We are under no illusions that it will be tough pulling in the advertising dollars to get this newspaper established and distributed. But with support from buyers and advertisers, we can build an independent voice for the region."

He says the paper won't shy away from sensitive issues or be confined to the "official line". Independence and questioning various establishments are the hallmarks of good journalism, he says.

"I'm always intrigued when certain editors, who have spent their own careers pontificating from the comfort of their desk, like to criticise journalists like myself because we have bothered to show the 'other side' of the story."

Bohane has strong backing from his colleagues for a paper that is expected to gain a circulation of about 10,000, relatively large by Pacific standards. It will offer an online edition and will circulate from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand.

Publisher Marc Neil-Jones has clashed with the scandal-ridden Vanuatu government several times during the 11 years he has been building up the twice-weekly Vanuatu Trading Post.

In January last year he was deported briefly because his paper's reports embarrassed the government with revelations about shady foreign businessmen with whom the cabinet had been negotiating.

A ruling by the Chief Justice allowed him back into Vanuatu.

Bohane has a reputation for tackling the region's tough stories and investigative reporting about the conflicts in Indonesian-ruled West Papua and the Solomon Islands.

Last year, in Fiji for the general election, he interviewed controversial hardline nationalist politician Apisai Tora, who led protest marches by indigenous Fijians that preceded both the 1987 and 2000 coups.

Bohane, a writer, reporter, photographer, cameraman, producer and presenter, says the paper will provide a fresh "voice of the Pacific Islands" with emphasis on the plurality of regional issues and opinions.

Pacific Weekly will try to cover wide-ranging issues affecting the region currently not well understood or covered.

"We believe it is necessary for powers like Australia, the US, the European Union and China to better understand 'the Pacific Way' so that they don't just impose their interests on us." without realising what the Pacific community feels."

He says the Pacific will play a major role in China's efforts to be a world economic leader. Analysts predict a major showdown of interests between China and the United States arising from Chinese economic liberalisation.

Only a handful of Pacific monthly news magazines, with narrow readerships, cover these trends at present, says Bohane.

David Robie is publisher of Cafe Pacific.

Sunday, 28 July 2002
Copyright © 2002 David Robie and Asia-Pacific Network. This document is for educational and research use. Please seek permission for publication.

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