GOOD evening and thank you very much for inviting me to join you on this special occasion; to celebrate 18 young women, who tonight graduate from the intensive year-long Emerging Leaders; Forum.
Being the journalist that I am, I thought tonight I’d start by first giving you the bad news; In fact, I’ll start with a question. And the question is this: What’s the greatest danger facing our generation and, indeed, the emerging leaders of our country?
The greatest danger is silence. A dangerous, pregnant silence into which many things fall ; a silence that comes in two forms. The silence of leaders who fail to speak out for whatever reason. And the silence of the people.
Tomorrow will mark the end of the seventh week in which that silence has been so obviously seen, read, and heard across the pages, screens and airwaves of the mainstream media in Fiji.
For tomorrow it will be seven weeks since Good Friday, the day the Public Emergency Regulation 2009 was put in place.
Section 16 of that regulation is specifically aimed at the media, giving the Permanent Secretary for Information wide-ranging and arbitrary powers to decide what the people of Fiji should not be told.
That there is no requirement for the Permanent Secretary to declare why a particular news item should not be made public is particularly frustrating. Indeed, it’s sometimes a deafening silence.
There is no doubt that the media industry is facing a tremendous challenge trying to defend the right of people to freedom of expression. Even as I speak, that challenge continues, as a group of civil servants systematically attempts to erase any trace of disaffection; in the media. They arrive after 6pm and leave somewhere around 10. In between that time, they
shred to pieces our intrinsic right to freedom of expression.
But does the fact that a person, a censor, is able to keep something out of the media make it any less true? No, it doesn’t.
The censors may stop the media from saying there’s a teacher shortage or a blackout at Nabouwalu, but that does not mean that these things are not happening.
The people at Nabouwalu know that they’ve had no electricity for a week now. Students and their parents know that they’ve had no teacher since Term 2 began.
In their own circles, their own communities, these people talk. They complain. And they pass their frustrations on to others. The danger is when these frustrations build up with no vent, or they reach people for whom there seems to be nothing left to gain ; or lose.
It’s of vital importance that the truth be known, that the truth be reported widely and that there be free discussion around matters of community or national interest.
In the words of one of our Fiji Times readers who emailed us immediately after the imposition of censorship:;A free press is even more essential when power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few. Dialogue, criticism and dissent are essential for political and social well-being.
But it takes courage to be able to look real issues in the eye. It takes courage to be able to sustain threats, bullying, intimidation, and even firebombing.
So why do we do the job we do? Why do journalists continue to turn up to work every day? Why continue to report on stories as they always did ; even if it means the stories could be crossed off with a cheap black pen every night?
It’s because we cannot and must not stand silently or idly by. Our duty is to continue to uphold the right to freedom of expression, to gather a variety of views, to provide our people with information with which they can make informed choices…
And that’s where the good news comes in; Across the world, women have over the decades developed very personal knowledge of the challenges that face us today the culture of silence, the lack of a voice. And yet despite these challenges women continue to celebrate small victories every day.
You may not know it, but the core of our news team the reporters who go out every day and seek out the truth are mostly women, and young women at that. We have seen these young women tackle issues that directly affect our readers with tenacity, courage and compassion.
In this century, being a woman should be considered a great advantage. We instinctively know things that men would probably need to train for. Compassion. The need for dialogue. Sharing of stories. And tackling discrimination as we see it. We can see several points of view at once, and every day have to balance out competing calls on our time.
In the words of one prominent female academic
Are women better leaders than men? Not necessarily.
Nor are men necessarily better leaders than women.
But in many ways women bring experiences and capabilities that are unlike men when solving tough problems. And considering our current state, we could stand an infusion of this type of leader.
It was Albert Einstein who said “Insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
Unless a wider set of views, opinions and approaches are taken into account, unless more young women are mentored into leadership, we may find that our future cannot be any different to what has always been.
That’s why tonight, it’s my pleasure to join this celebration, to see these young women complete their year-long leadership training program, and to congratulate them all and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement for their willingness to rise to the challenges that face us.
It’s through programs such as these that the silence will be broken. That a greater variety of voices, and dare I say it, a richer quality of voices, will be heard on community and national issues ; and on issues that go to the heart of what it means to be a woman in our world.
Ladies, young women, emerging leaders, the task ahead is no small one. But it’s one that we can all tackle simply by breaking the silence and doing the job as it should be done.
I wish you courage. I wish you success. I wish for you a clear and powerful voice. Congratulations!