FIJI JOURNALIST LAISA TAGA LEADS FROM THE FRONT

admin's picture

SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 6, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---In the early 1970s, a young sprinter named Laisa Taga won three consecutive national secondary schools titles on the athletics track. "I try to be first in everything," says Laisa Taga, sitting in the office of Islands Business International, where she is now editor of its news and business magazines. "I think there is an element of my sprinting days that has permeated my life."

Getting the scoop -- or dishing out the scoop -- has been the central theme of Taga's career, though she claims it was never in her mind to be a journalist. The eldest in a family of five siblings, she planned on following in her father's footsteps and becoming a teacher.

Taga was at the University of the South Pacific in Suva when she began a part-time job with the Fiji Sun, a feisty daily that in those days was locked in a head-to-head circulation battle with The Fiji Times. She fell in love with journalism. She graduated to the fulltime staff as a journalist and teaching was forgotten.

But then she married. The demanding hours of a daily newspaper journalist began to take their toll. Her then husband did not like having a wife who was out chasing stories at night instead of home being a housewife. The pressure led to Taga moving to a Monday to Friday job at the Ministry of Information.

Her talent was obvious and she won a scholarship to study journalism in Australia. Her marriage did not survive her determination to get her degree. She came home with her degree -- and as a solo mother.

Taga was studying in Sydney when she heard the reports that there had been a coup in Fiji, led by an army colonel, Sitiveni Rabuka. One of her assignments was to look at how foreign journalists reported on the coup.

She recalls: "I was talking to people back home so I knew what was going on. But these journalists were writing as though there had been a coup in Africa. In this assignment it came out that any journalist who had a passport at the time of the coup was sent to Fiji. They had no background on Fiji, were staying in a tourist's hotel and getting their information from taxi drivers, who were mainly Indians."

The truth is an important concept for Laisa Taga. Upon returning home from Australia she returned to the Ministry of Information for the post-coup interim government. Rabuka was a minister in this government.

This was not the first time Taga and Rabuka's paths had crossed paths: Rabuka had been her team captain during the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, where both represented Fiji in athletics. Though they had been friends, they "fell out" during her time at the Ministry of Information.

She says: "I had come into it with this perception that they couldn't afford to keep quiet. They had to talk. They had to open up. But I was fighting government. That's how they saw me -- as a fighter."

Taga had been put in charge of developing the news service of a new television service, Fiji's first. Programming was being supplied by Television New Zealand and the nightly news produced by the Ministry of Information.

At one point the former teammates met up during an interview. Rabuka asked Taga why she was writing about everything that was happening in government, and not keeping a lid on certain things.

"He told me to try and tone down my reports. I looked at him and I said, 'Fine, but my work is to cover everything, to tell the people what is happening.' I had to inform the people and educate them at the same time. That's how I saw my job."

Taga was doing things the government didn't feel were. . .appropriate. She spent one-year working with the power of images, at the news helm of the first television station in Fiji. But with the return to elected government approaching, the pressure grew as ministers in the interim government prepared to face the electorate. After airing a report which quoted comments critical of the government's performance, she arrived at work to find she had been reassigned -- away from television.

"I was told to 'go and governmentalize yourself' and was sent back to headquarters," says Taga, laughing. She admits that she was probably too outspoken for government, but did not want to be reassigned and sit in an office.

What was the government's loss was the Daily Post's gain. Taga returned to the private sector as managing editor of the Daily Post, the first woman to edit a daily paper in Fiji.

"I was very happy we got her -- she is one of the best journalists around," says Dan Bolea, founding publisher of the Daily Post. "I knew her ability. She was the first woman editor of a daily in Fiji, and it really required the journalists and the profession time to adjust. There was some resistance -- understandable when a woman becomes a boss of a paper -- our board was very conservative and there was a problem there. But I kept pushing for it -- on ability she beats any journalists hands down."

"When I was offered the job, I said I didn't think I'd be able to be the editor," says Taga, displaying a common sense of modesty found in women in the media in Fiji. "I think when I started at the Post, the other reporters were trying to weigh me out. They had been reporters while I was still in school."

Her contacts within government served her well. Often, when the news team didn't have a headline Taga would pick up the phone and get a front-page story. Taga believes that one of the reasons she persevered in journalism was due to her contacts.

"If you really want to know what's going on in Suva, or in Fiji -- ask Laisa," says Bolea. "Something that is a rumor, Laisa can get to the actual story very fast. She works harder than any man in the newsroom. We used to beat the Fiji Times hands down, every day, always because of her sources. We got the real scoops."

While running the Daily Post, Taga made a concerted effort to address women's issues. She concedes that in a rush to meet deadlines, journalists are often just interested in getting the story out. In Fiji, most reporters are Jacks and Jills of all trades and not specialists. And women editors, once in the power positions, sometimes forget about addressing women's issues.

"I think we've taken a step forward, but it has taken us this long to address women's issues. We have to make the effort because women's issues are national issues," she says.

Taga believes that traditional cultures in Fiji play a part in the lack of women, and women's issues, in the media. Traditionally woman's place has been in the home, cooking the food and caring for the children. Taga says she was fortunate that she could have it all -- a son, now 18 years old, and a career -- because of the support of her family.

"When I started, I was patronized a lot. I had a lot to prove. . .that I was better than men," says Taga. When I was at the ministry I had to work doubly hard because I was a woman with a degree." She says this as a matter of fact, not as a complaint.

Alongside two other journalists, Taga started the training program at the Fiji Journalism Institute and continues to be a regular trainer for the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and the UNESCO/PINA Pactrainer project. Through the efforts of PINA, she went to New Zealand to the New Zealand Broadcasting School on a UNESCO fellowship to study how to teach television journalism --and to one of America's leading journalism schools to see how lecturers there taught journalism.

From the Daily Post, Taga accepted an offer to join the region's biggest magazine publishing company, Islands Business International. She is in charge of its news and business magazines.

In Taga's view, the future for women in the Pacific is bright. "We are taking the cue, setting the pace," says Taga of women in power positions in the Pacific. "I hope there will be a lot more women because I think we have a lot of things to offer. We are willing to share our experiences."

Visit the PINA website at: http://www.pinanius.org 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment