MARSHALLS JOURNALIST GETS BIG CALIFORNIA WELCOME

By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe Online, Sept. 14) - You must decide for yourself whether you think the Compact's provisions are adequate or not," said Giff Johnson, Editor of Marshall Islands only printed newspaper.

Johnson, on a visit to Southern California with his wife and two children, spoke to over 150 Marshallese during special activities given in Johnson's honor at a Costa Mesa park.

Immigration issues were the focus of the question and answer session with Johnson. For Marshallese living in the United States, provisions included in the new Compact of Free Association legislation, now before the U.S. Congress and the RMI Parliament, are troublesome. The Islanders were interested in hearing what news updates Johnson brought with him from the Marshalls.

Editor Johnson, who is also the prime reporter for the independent weekly, and a Marshall Islands' news stringer for the Agence France-Presse (AFP), compiled an analysis of Compact issues in the Aug .29 Journal. The U.S. might try to impose restrictions to the length of non-immigrant residence in the States and Territories, Johnson noted in his article, "Will U.S. Limit Our Freedom to Stay?"

Johnson countered the concerns of the Marshallese migrants with his opinion that enforcing the restrictions would be very difficult.

When questioned about the upcoming November national election, Johnson said he believes this election will be different. He said that its not about one national issue as in 1999, but about individual island/atoll candidates.

Since his early days with the Micronesian Support Committee, Johnson, an American, has been involved in making Marshall Islands' concerns known to the world. After writing articles for a nuclear-free Pacific, he first visited the Marshalls in the mid-1970's to see the problems he was covering first-hand. He met up with Darlene Keju, a Marshallese spokesperson for nuclear-health related issues, in Honolulu, Hawaii. They were married on Wotje Atoll and returned to the Marshalls to live and work. (Darlene died from cancer in 1996.)

He has worked at the Journal since 1984 and was eventually given the entire operation to run by owner Joe Murphy.

When asked, "What was the most important story you have covered?" Giff said that was a hard question to answer. He thought the most memorable was his coverage about a child who had eyesight problems due to lack of proper nutrition. On the Journal's front page, he put a photo of the child, with eyes patched, with the headline, "Is this your child?"

Johnson said the Journal, which is distributed throughout the Marshalls, Hawaii and Stateside, is eventually planning to go online, but things are going slow. At present, Johnson releases Marshall Islands' news to other online services including the Mariana's Variety, Radio New Zealand, and Radio Australia. Over the past few years, Yokwe Online readers also have been treated to Johnson's news coverage of Marshall Islands' sporting events and other local news.

Currently, there are only two Marshallese working in news-related capacity at the newspaper. Johnson believes the Marshallese culture and family ties make it difficult for an Islander to report the news. Journalism is not one of the sought-after jobs for educated young people returning home, he said. They consider news work "dirty" and would rather work in offices, he related.

The editor said he had tried to encourage Marshallese Upward Bound students to consider journalism by telling them about the benefits. "What other job could you go to work in shorts and an aloha shirt, set your own hours, and get to know everybody, and everybody wants to know you?" he asked.

"Mamas and papas, make sure to teach your kids to read and write," said Johnson. "If they know how to write well, when they come home, they will have a job."

September 16, 2003

Yokwe Online: www.yokwe.net 

 

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