The 4th estate under siege in Yap
Just a word to those thinking about a career in a field that in President Donald J. Trump’s Washington, D.C. shorthand these days is described as producing “fake news.” Ignore that self-serving crap, which has blighted the lives of so many professionals who have spent decades figuring out how to report on the communities in which they live and work, because in the final analysis, what they’re doing and what you want to do is worth doing and essential to democratic government.
Just don’t expect to be loved by those who benefit from their activities not being scrutinized in the local media. On the other hand, you may be surprised at how many citizens respect and welcome your honest effort to tell the truth.
Our Pacific Island Times correspondent in Yap State of the Federated States of Micronesia, Joyce McClure, is getting a real taste of how this can work, as a body of traditional chiefs there is attempting to convince the local legislature to declare this resident U.S. citizen persona non grata and, essentially, kick her off island, a la reality TV.
Unfortunately, these not-so-brave defenders of tradition did not have the courage or skill to competently explain to Ms. McClure’s face what she had done that they objected to or to give her an opportunity to explain herself.
And it should be understood that the chiefs have no direct power to bring about Ms. McClure’s exit from Yap. They or whoever is ill-advising them in this effort, are clumsily trying to throw the ball to the Yap State Legislature and then the FSM Congress. Given the relationship between the United States and the FSM, it’s unclear what, if anything these bodies can do outside of passing meaningless and potentially embarrassing resolutions.
I don’t think Ms. McClure has any reason to fear police knocking on her door to escort her to the airport in handcuffs, but the chiefs have disgraced themselves with an obvious appeal to those who might carry out vigilante action. “[She] has treated the local people of Yap State as uneducated fools and deemed irresponsible of how they should run their local government [sic].”
While it is tempting to dismiss the chiefs as unsophisticated and ignorant of the consequences of their actions, the “Pacific Time magazine news website” as they inaccurately describe this publication, believes they owe their constituents a full explanation of what is motivating their effort.
The biggest news stories out of Yap for a long time have involved questions about mainland Chinese involvement in the local government and economy and Ms. McClure has written about these subjects as well as stories promoting island tourism, education and yes, the traditional culture that the chiefs are charged with protecting. We have yet to hear any complaints about Ms. McClure’s work in carrying out the successful 2018 MicroGames.
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Ms. McClure and the principals of Pacific Island Times have been around the block a few times and can handle legitimate criticism, but the chiefly attack on this publication contains some hints of what’s actually driving them and it’s clearly not the best interest of the local people.
“[PIT] has proven to be the first ever fake-news agency in the Pacific Ocean/Island Nations given all of her published articles of Yap State without verifications containing biased strong opinions against Asian ethnicity, government and/or business in general creating confusions amongst local people and fuming [sic] the fire under the minority who are also anti-Asians.”
If you don’t like this publication, the chiefs advise, no problem, your local government will provide you with what you need to know:
“Yap State Government has an official News Website www.yapstategov.org that provides only accurate and factual news feeds on Yap State Government affairs based on due-diligence efforts, something [McClure] lacks vehemently in her reports to the public.”
I—we—think the people of Yap should be alarmed that the chiefs have taken it upon themselves to create a list of prohibited journalism acts in Yap, including a ban on “humor, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, and false information to comment on current events.”
So make a joke about Chinese land acquisition or local government interference aka bribery and put it in print and you could be headed for the local lock up.
I can personally relate to Ms. McClure’s situation. Years ago, within days of being assigned to report out of Saipan, a major scoop fell in my lap. A well known local figure had been indicted in a stateside federal court. As I worked on that story, it occurred to me that this guy was probably related to everyone in our very small office. Great, I thought, I’ll have instant enemies every morning at work or, in 2019 Yap terms, will be persona non grata with my new colleagues.
I turned out to be right about the relations, but wrong about the reaction. After the story ran, one-by-one, my co-workers quizzed me for more details. They weren’t mad at me, but just wanted to know how their relative could afford his multiple pickup trucks and boats.
The $100,000 bribe described in the story did a lot to answer their questions.