Interesting thoughts from Alfred Sasako regarding the proposed journalism program to be hosted by SICHE! I guess, from an advanced environment like Brisbane, one can be forgiven for misunderstanding the basic premises of developing a nation. Looking from a well developed country's perspective (using the economic measurement of market force versus demand), Sasako is right to point out that the idea of establishing a 'Stand-Alone' journalism program at SICHE is not economically viable, considering the following issues: (a) the size of the media industry in the Solomons (small), (b) the potential for future growth (nil), (c) government commitment to see it through (political will and financial commitment (unsure), (d) marketing it to the NGOs, the private and public sector (unsure) and lastly but not the least, (e) hiring the right expertise to ensure a quality program (unsure).

But from a developing perspective, the situation is quite different. I am talking here about nation building and strengthening the country's capacity to be competent in the governance of its own affairs (including journalism). I guess, this is where I differ from Sasako's view. I agree that a "Stand-Alone" journalism program is not economically viable, but the debate should not stop here. We should think beyond the box in developmental term and design a program that will not only meet the short, medium and long term needs of the media industry (journalism), but also marketable to the NGOs, the private and public sectors (broader appeal to various sectors). I believe the program should be designed to integrate courses such as: business communication, library services, media and journalism role (not only basic writing), graphic and web-design, basic research techniques, new media, public relation, media marketing etc - just to mention a few.

Of course SICHE cannot compete with USP, UPNG and Divine Word University, PNG, journalism programs at undergraduate level. But the idea of starting a basic certificate or diploma in journalism at SICHE shouldn't be narrowly evaluated or seen on the basis of journalism and media (or basic writing skills). No! A SICHE program should be developed to integrate areas, which are highly marketable in the business world, but will benefit journalism in the end. It will ensure the economic viability of the program.

Coming back to the issue of whether or not a basic journalism program has a place in Solomon Islands or SICHE. I could comfortably say yes! I can speak from experience here. I began my career as a cadet journalist in Solomon Islands, through the University of the Hard Knocks (hands-on training). My first formal training in journalism came via a two weeks certificate course in basic journalism, after spending one and half year on the job. The course was delivered by the Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI).

It was the first of its kind (locally offered) during those years. Back then, basic journalism courses were unheard of, except medium level ones often offered on ad hoc basis by UNESCO and Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) for local senior reporters or editors. But thanks to the visionary of George Atkin, the current Press Secretary of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister and former President of MASI - he initiated the training course and conducted by Nicola Baird, a British journalist, who was working then with the Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT).

Our basic training was an eye opening (basic journalism), considering the fact that most of us had no formal training in journalism prior to working in newsrooms. We were simply thrown into the deep end of town and expected (instructed) to write two or three stories per-day, using basic ideas of news writing acquired through briefings from editors. What a difference a short course could make. It benefited journalists like Dorothy Wickham (SI Onenews TV), Arthur Wate (S/Star), Lorol Leson (S/Star), Jennifer Wate (still in the industry), myself and a few others. It subsequently assisted in two of us (Dorothy Wickham and I) obtaining scholarships to further train in New Zealand.

The rest is history, but I strongly believe the proposed journalism program has great potentials to be successful in the future in a number of areas: (1) boost the confidence of new cadets entering the workforce, (2) elevate the standard of reporting, (3) cheaper for the government and private sectors to sponsor students, (4) give aspiring journalists the foundation to pursue further academic studies at higher level, and not forgetting provide employment opportunities (both at SICHE and other sectors). Anyone who thinks otherwise is missing the point.

My only appeal to critics and people like Sasako, with his vast experience in journalism regionally and internationally, is to think beyond the box, wear his thinking cap and stop castigating the efforts of MASI, Fr John Lamani (S/Star publisher), SICHE, the Minister of Education and the Solomons PM. Just to remind you once again, Sasako, Solomon Islands is a developing nation so it isn't a bad idea to start thinking future. This is a starting point and there's long way to go. Or I almost forget- I am sure there are qualified journalist educators and sponsors who are willing to assist in developing the project. Hopefully there is no Wantokism, known internationally as either cronyism or nepotism.

Duran Angiki