SAMANTHA MAGICK, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS FIJI NEWS DIRECTOR, NOW WITH

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GREENPEACE AND FOREVER ACTIVIST

By Erin Phelan

Suva (PINA Nius Online, 25 February 2000) - Samantha Magick cradles her baby daughter, Samira, in her arms while talking about her past career as a journalist in Fiji and her current position as Communications Director for Greenpeace Pacific.

"I'm doing this because I've got a child who is going to be around long after me, hopefully, and I would like her not to have to deal with the (environmental) issues we face now," says the former journalist, forever the activist.

But she also admits that after eight years with Communications Fiji Limited (CFL), where she finished her term as News Director for three radio stations and Website Editor, she had reached a plateau.

"There were people there who could take over for me. I wanted new challenges and, to be honest, I got sick of not being able to say what I wanted to say.

"William (Parkinson, Managing Director of CFL) has a policy of not editorializing, of always being fair and objective even when the issue is not fair."

Magick came to Communications Fiji Limited with a very different background than typical Fiji Islands cadet reporters. Though born in Fiji, she was raised in Sydney and Perth, Australia. She attended journalism school in Australia where she majored in broadcasting. Immediately after graduation, nine years ago, she began with CFL.

William Parkinson had warned her of the realities. That the pay wasn't great and the hours were demanding. This didn't deter her.

"Samantha 'grew up' in our news room starting as a journalist and then rapidly rising through the ranks to become news editor," says Parkinson.

"Her strengths are her commitment to her job and her craft. This, combined with her willingness to take charge and tackle pretty much any challenge."

One of her first challenges was facing a very different social and political culture than that she was accustomed to. When she first arrived there was still no television in Fiji and Magick had spent a lot of time with her peers discussing the impact television had on other media.

"Also, I came from a strong feminist perspective. When I came back if I would talk about what I believed in, or say 'we should do this a certain way,' I was tolerated. I wasn't discouraged but I was told 'you can do that, after you've done this.' I couldn't cover issues I wanted to cover."

Having been on the management side of the media, with approximately 30 different reporters working under her over the course of her time at CFL, she has strong opinions about why news isn't analytical.

"There isn't enough support for younger journalists. They get into the job and are just told to go and do it. The responsibility should be more with the managers. A lot are coming straight out of school and don't have the knowledge base in politics, history. Some are told, 'okay, you've been at work for three months now, go cover the courts. You can handle that, can't you?' And, of course, they aren't going to say no."

Magick says she believes superficial reporting persists in the Fiji media today. There isn't a great deal of depth in reporting issues because reporters don't do the research, or don't have specific interests. And female journalists aren't necessarily interested in women's issues because it isn't a career booster.

She was repeatedly frustrated with her own news staff, who would rarely attend workshops, lectures or conferences unless they were forced to do so.

"Real journalists never stop working. I would ask them to go, just for an hour, for them to develop their interests. But they never did," says Magick, who admits she misses journalism from time to time.

She left in August of 1998, describing the departure similar to leaving home for the first time. "I thought 'This was my first journalism job, and I am leaving,' but you quickly realize that things go on just fine after you're gone. I really missed it during the elections. I love radio. I love the immediacy of radio, though the pace can be a double-edged sword."

One of Magick's job requirements now is to lobby the government and to "distribute propaganda" to media in the Pacific. She animatedly discusses how different the work with Greenpeace Pacific is, vis-a-vis Greenpeace in other parts of the world, saying they strive to work on much more of a community level.

According to Magick, environmental issues are popular right now, but still don't get adequate coverage. They are about on par with women's issues as non-priorities in the media, for various reasons.

"In my experience, women who want to get ahead in journalism have to be a good business, economic or political reporter. Women's issues aren't a part of this - even though we know they are."

She cites a recent women's conference that received minimal coverage in the Fiji media. At 29-years old, she was one of the youngest women attending the conference and noticed the generation gap. "There was a whole generation missing, university students and high school girls who should have been there, been involved. I don't know why younger women aren't interested in issues pertaining to them."

Magick also believes a fundamental problem is that many organizations don't know how to attract media to an event. This was an area she focused upon as one of the co-authors of "There Are No Women's Issues," a report compiled by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA).

"I think the attitude towards doing the report was what was most disturbing. Initially, all these women were fired up and in the end only one came through with their media monitoring and directories." Magick believes the reason for this is that the report rendered obvious conclusions. She feels the donor money could have been better spent coming up with a thorough woman's media directory, or training programs for women's groups in how to deal with the media.

As the interview draws to a close, baby Samira starts making noises, indicating she is ready to play. Magick confesses that she wanted to have a boy, a slightly surprising comment from the feminist. But she explains: "So many boys here in Fiji have such horrible ideas about women and families, how boys get an education before girls, and girls are in charge of the household. I wanted to bring up a boy who was different."

But can't she raise Samira as a feminist? "Oh, she's got no chance of not being a feminist."

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