Journalist Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson has been reporting since she was 19-years-old and started her career as a reporter for the Samoa Observer. At 25, she was appointed editor of Newsline Samoa.
She has gone on to work for The Guardian, AP, AFP, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, CNN, the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New Zealand Herald, the ABC and more. She is a specialist on environment, gender and human rights issues, and as studied the Pacific media’s coverage of climate change. She continues to advocate for better working conditions for Samoan journalists.
We caught up with Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson to find our what’s making news in Samoa, what’s on the horizon for 2021 and how COVID-19 is affecting her work.
How much of a disruption has COVID-19 been to your work?
Samoa closed its borders in March 2020, even to citizens. I was attending a journalism fellowship at the time, off island when they decided to close, so I am still stuck away from Samoa as a result. It has been very disruptive. However, Samoans and Pacific islanders are very active on social media and my sources are accessible by various channels, so despite the inconvenience, I am still able to effectively report on the COVID crisis in Samoa and the Pacific.
All important official briefings are live on Facebook or via YouTube. Failing that, a colleague is always able to record and send snippets as needed. This is when the strength of the Samoan media community comes into play.
You are a regular contributor for The Guardian’s Pacific Project. What impact do you think the project has made in Samoa and the Pacific?
The Guardian‘s Pacific Project has elevated Pacific island issues in a meaningful and inclusive way to global audiences. It has enabled us, Pacific journalists, to tell the stories of our people and it gives global audiences an insight into domestic issues with a global significance. Many of the important stories we cover have not been considered by international news media because we are small in size and, in the grander scheme of world politics, island politics seem quaint and unimportant. The Pacific Project has changed that by taking seriously the issues that islands face and giving it the column inches it deserves.
I have been working in the Pacific media for 19 years and this is the first time I have seen an initiative that not only considers the needs of local journalists, it takes their views into consideration and, more importantly, compensates Pacific journalists with international rates.
How important is it that Pacific journalists have a platform to share Pacific stories?
Extremely important. Prior to this project, I wouldn’t have dared to pitch the story of the Niuen elections to an international news service. Pacific islands are covered by Asia Pacific or South-East Asia desks based out of New Delhi, Singapore or Bangkok and, as such, island issues were difficult to justify against the likes of the latest political happenings in the Phillipines, Thailand or Indonesia.
The Guardian Pacific Project has empowered Pacific journalists to share significant local and island stories with global audiences. For islands with fairly small media industries and limited opportunities for career advancements, this platform provides a much needed boost for Pacific journalism.
I have been quite impressed with the way The Guardian has empowered Pacific journalists to tell the stories of Pacific islands, in a respectful and culturally accurate way.
For far too long we had to contend with stringing for New Zealand or Australia-based correspondents from international news agencies. We never received the byline or acknowledgement post production. So this is a welcome shift in the way we report.
What are some of the key stories you’ve covered for The Guardian over the past year?
In late 2019, I covered the measles epidemic which was a very significant story for Samoa as it led to the deaths of over 80 babies and infection of thousands of children.
Earlier this year, I covered a COVID-19 story about a group of Samoans citizens who were turned away from their own country after landing, in violation of international human rights law.
More recently, I covered the Niuen elections, which led to a change of government for the small island nation. This made the front page of The Guardian website.
I also continue to write on Samoan politics.
Earlier this year, you reported on the challenges facing reporters trying to get into Samoa’s parliament (which was funded by Australia). What sort of interference do journalists face from local authorities?
Samoan journalists can report freely on many issues. However, retaliation, threats and continued attempts to interfere with the news process do exist. In a survey conducted in 2019 by UNESCO and the Journalists Association of Samoa, it found that over 70 per cent of journalists have been threatened in one way or another while doing their job. But this is the norm, and Samoan journalists view intimidation and threats as part of the job. Journalists reported that most of the threats came from religious leaders or Politicians.
There continues to be a difficult working relationship between law enforcement officers and journalists in covering Parliament or public events, with Police officers ignoring or disregarding journalism privileges and the role of news media in such events.
What can Australian journalists do to better understand and report on Samoa and the Pacific?
Australian journalists can be better informed about issues of the Pacific. They can be more considerate of the issues faced by the Pacific diaspora in Australia. To more accurately report on Samoa and the Pacific, Australian media should utilise local talent to better inform their reporting. I think it’s also key that Pacific issues are also covered by Indigenous Australian journalists, as they would have a much better understanding of context.
Looking ahead to 2021, what do you think will be the key issues for Samoa and the region over the next 12 months?
For Samoa the 2021 elections will be a key story, given the rise in dissent among Samoans in villages and nationally as a result of the continued rule of HRPP.
For the Pacific islands, the appointment of the new Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General will be a make or break for the regional body and will shake up Pacific politics in a major way.
We will also be seeing continued coverage of the climate crisis across our islands, as it becomes more urgent for communities and economies to adapt to both extreme and slow onset climatic events.
How the Pacific islands will deal with the loss of revenue resulting from COVID-19 will also continue to be a significant story.