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The Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) says Pacific media bosses need to learn from the ‘inhumane’ culling of newsroom jobs in the Solomon Islands, where letters citing ‘Covid19 retrenchments’ have been used to send journalists home without any notice.
Amongst the COVID19 sackings, one of the longest serving senior editors in the Pacific- Ofani Eremae, was told on 02 July to go to the HR office -- away from his newsroom building-- where he was served a letter of termination.
The letter blamed the cash flow situation caused by the coronavirus state of emergency for the decision, and thanked Eremae for his service. It did not offer any information on termination payments or transition and handover notes. Returning to the news office to pack his desk and belongings, he was stopped from entering. His items had been cleared while he was on his way to receive his letter, and were waiting in a box outside the building.
“Every day, journalists go out into the field to serve the public interest and the content needs of their publishers and boards of directors. In this case, a long time senior editor, the newsroom boss, was a few steps away from the office of the publisher. He was denied the humane right to a discussion by face or phone, sent to another building on some pretext and served a letter in a fashion reserved for those who are suspected of theft or similar breach of trust with their employer,” says PFF Chair Bernadette Carreon from Palau.
“It’s distressing and inhumane for any of our colleagues to face a job loss in this way, let alone for Ofani as a well-respected Pacific news leader and Melanesia co-chair for the PFF. Without even the chance to hand over news duties and say a few farewell words to his news family-- it’s a deplorable and entirely avoidable way for any one to leave a job they love.”
PFF understands Eremae has been the most senior media official released in a swathe of COVID19 newsroom retrenchments across the Solomon Star and its competitor, the Island Sun.
From American Samoa, PFF Polynesia Chair Monica Miller expressed sympathies to those who’ve been let go due to the impact of the pandemic on news production costs everywhere.
“We understand the difficulties facing independent media outlets. The Solomon Star is one of the oldest independent news businesses in the Pacific, and the Lamani family must continue the legacy of the founding editor...but in this case, we hope a fair and just mediation is still possible,” she says.
She says the Solomon Islands government should review any subsidies paid to media businesses -- such as the Island Sun, who have gone on to retrench staff-- given the financial support was aimed at avoiding that scenario.
“Perhaps the newspapers could have applied the same principle their broadcasting colleagues did, asking people to take leave and go off-payroll until their jobs became viable again,” says Miller.
“So many journalists are not in this job for the money. They go out into the field inspired to share our Pacific stories, with faith that their bosses have their back. It’s so sad when that level of workplace rights and professional trust falls away,” she says.
The management of Solomon Star had yet to respond to questions from PFF submitted last week.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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