REMARKS: SG Puna speech at USP WPFD event, May 3, 2024

Remarks and Speeches
03 May 2024

SG Puna joins a guest lineup for USP Journalism's World Press Freedom Day event on Friday 3 May, welcoming the watchdog role of Pacific media to support high level commitments to good governance and transparency such as the Teieniwa Vision supporting Unity Against Corruption in the Blue Pacific.

To our hosts this evening, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of  USP Professor Jito Vanualailai
Head of School for Journalism, Dr Shailendra Singh and your team, 
Excellency, EU Ambassador to the Pacific Barbra Plinkert
Permanent Secretary of the Fiji Ministry of Climate Change, Dr Sivendra Michael
Editors and CSO representatives, other distinguished guests and personalities here tonight. 

Students of the journalism school and friends-- in fact all who are here tonight, in case I missed you.

Bula vinaka, Kia Orana, and warm Pacific greetings to you all. 

As I reflected on the state of World Press Freedom, watching the death tolls of journalists in Gaza and the threats to journalists around the world and here in our Pacific, it was clear to me that the challenges confronting the climate crisis and the news profession seem to share a common urgency. Those speaking of climate justice and those championing media freedom are often seen as the disruptors when you look at the popular narratives of our time. 

But the importance of truth and facts has never been more urgent. We live in an age where misinformation, disinformation, and the blurring of what is news and what is not have a dangerous impact on what is real, what matters, and who we can believe and trust.

It is, therefore, no surprise that we've reached a point in 2024 where the intersection between a free press and the environmental crisis has become the focus of World Press Freedom Day. It’s my view that its a moment that is long overdue.

It's no secret. Our devastating impact on the state of this planet is driving us all to the brink, and the most vulnerable nations, who've had the least to do with causing this crisis, are on the climate front line. Journalism that spreads the truth and urgency of what is happening—and what needs to happen—must be supported and respected.

A press for the planet is a press that informs and educates. And, of course, for our Blue Continent, it must be a press of inclusive and diverse voices. A Pacific Press reporting from the impact level, from our islands and seas, speaking to what is seen and speaking to what we know. And we know that a 1 point 5, net zero future is one we MUST continue to strive for. There is no bigger story. There is no other agenda than that of survival. If you are serious about being a Press for the Planet, then the 1.5 climate story is literally, the story of our lives.

Friends - our Forum leaders recognise the crucial role of a free press. In the Forum's early years, they noted the need to communicate and inform their people about the outcomes and decisions of their annual meetings. Every year, special consideration is made for media attending our Forum meetings, with one of the critical program highlights being the release publicly, of the Leader's communique in a post-retreat press conference led by the troika of the past, present and upcoming Forum Chairs.

It is a recognition of responsibility, of  accountability, and of transparency. 
It is a moment where the leadership decisions, directions, and regional mandate for our Blue Pacific continent are delivered back to the people that we serve.

As Secretary General of the Forum and former Oceans Commissioner, I have seen firsthand that when we have our journalists in the room as we take our climate, environment, and ocean priorities to the world, we have more traction and voice and impact. Long may that continue.

And as a former Prime Minister of my nation, the Cook Islands, I was amongst three leaders who attended a Pacific High-Level event in Kiribati in late January, 2020, just before the world closed its borders to COVID-19. 
Joining forces with the Samoa Prime Minister and the Kiribati President, our host, and ministers, we launched the Teieniwa Vision supporting Pacific Unity Against Corruption.

It takes political will to enforce the criminalisation of corruption and prompt, impartial investigation, and prosecution. 
It takes integrity, courage, and ethics. 
These are values of solid journalism, so it should be no surprise that ensuring the Teieniwa Vision stays on track is a job that requires governments and watchdogsnlike you, the media,  to play their part.

A secure and prosperous resilient Blue Pacific continent in 2050 and beyond will always need a press that is just as resilient and robust.
And, of course, it is my  sincere hope that in 2050, we will have achieved the 1.5 net zero future that will ensure our stories of the code red for climate in 2024 become the stories of a code blue for peace and prosperity beyond 2050.

Back in the present, this week in Turin, the G7 Ministerial has vowed to keep the global goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C within reach. 
It' is still possible. It is still doable. But only if we ensure the state of our democracies – and our media – share the same vision that we wish for our people -- to be strong, secure, and free.

To all our journalists here tonight, and to the journalism students, I wish you all the very best, and thank you for your attention.

Vinaka, Meitaki ma'ata, I thank you.--ENDS