JEANNE MATENGA-PITT: TAKING CHARGE AT RADIO COOK ISLANDS

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By Erin Phelan

SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 18, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---Jeanne Matenga-Pitt has to succeed. Success is not only familiar to her - failure is unacceptable.

The 25-year-old Cook Islands broadcaster has so far achieved both her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree on a lightening-speed trail of learning overseas. She has also worked in engineering for Telecom Cook Islands while working part-time as a broadcaster, and producing an award-winning documentary.

Now Matenga-Pitt is general manager of Radio Cook Islands, one of the pioneering women in radio station general management in the Pacific Islands.

Her task: to turn the former government-owned station into a success despite a declining population and a difficult economic climate.

In Suva for a Training the Trainers in Commercial Radio Programming workshop organized by the UNESCO/PINA Pacific Journalism Development Centre under the AusAID Pacific Media Initiative, she summed up her difficult mandate: "It is my job to reinvent radio so that we have a product that attracts advertisers and is entertaining for the audience. I have to do that."

But what if she can't turn radio around? "I will turn it around," says Matenga-Pitt. "I can't fail. I can't live with failure - it is just like with my schoolwork. I always had to be the best."

Broadcast media in the Cook Islands are a family affair: her husband George Pitt owns the radio and television stations, her sister-in-law Shona Pitt managed the television side until leaving recently to take up the post of chief executive of the Broadcasting Corporation of Niue. There are various other relatives scattered throughout the stations.

However, Matenga-Pitt is quick to issue this reminder: her husband might own the stations, but it is his wife - and his sister - who have been running the show. In fact, in the Cook Islands, women are the majority of news media professionals.

"When you look at the Cook Islands, it is often the men who go out and fish and the women who sell the fish," she says. "The women are the ones doing the business, the sales, the interactions. Men are a bit more shy."

"You look at women in the media in the Cooks, and it is mostly women," she says with a tinge of pride, citing several top-level managers and journalists - a group she clearly belongs to.

Matenga-Pitt says her studies in Australia really changed her viewpoint about voicing her opinion, and questioning authority. Growing up in the Cook Islands, it is common for children to be "spoken to but not really heard."

"When I went to study in Australia, I saw how the other students interacted with teachers, and asked questions," she says. "Before that, I thought and believed everything that the teacher said, without questioning."

Now, she isn't afraid to speak her mind. She thinks women make good managers because they know how to manage the home and coordinate the children, as well as being breadwinners. She says believes women make good journalists because they tend to be more emotionally driven, and that this guides a lot of their work.

Matenga-Pitt said attending the PINA/AusAID workshop hosted by commercial broadcasters Communications Fiji, Limited was a powerful experience. Not only because of the intense training program, which had participants working in teams well into the nights. She roomed with like-minded women managers from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. She says it was refreshing to be around such women, especially because they were not in a position of direct rivalry.

"Sometimes, amongst women, it is like we are in a big competition. You can see this in the workplace, when a new woman comes in and is getting attention because she is pretty and the guys seem to admire her. Women get incredibly jealous, and don't like other women to outdo them."

Matenga-Pitt says she has always been moved by her brains, and never tried to rely on her looks. This inspired some resentment from peers. However, having spent five and a half years studying overseas Matenga-Pitt is accustomed to going after her own ambitions without thinking about what others think of her.

This is evident in her private life as well. She acknowledges that the 23-year age difference between herself and her husband draws some attention from time to time. However, she isn't fazed by such matters. "If it is love, then it is love," she says simply. She met him when he was teaching motivational courses and self-esteem. Now, her husband is her foremost advocate. "I have my husband's support, and that's all the confidence I need."

Matenga-Pitt reaps personal strength through achievement. Turning around Cook Islands radio is one vehicle to do this. She became manager after the first company to try to run the station as a privatized commercial broadcaster failed. The challenges include economic reforms, which have led to thousands of Cook Islanders migrating to New Zealand in search of jobs.

She says: "I want advertisers to flock to the station and have audiences turning it on without thinking about it, " she says with determination. When she was working with Telecom - a male-dominated work environment - Matenga-Pitt says she got along well with men and even admits that it is sometimes easier to work alongside men, rather than women.

But she was often told she "couldn't climb the poles, because I was a woman.

"My place was inside, doing the office work, the papers, making the contacts." In other words, leave the messy stuff for the men. However, this suits Matenga-Pitt fine: "I don't want to climb the poles - I want to design the networks. I'll be the brains, they can provide the labor."

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