Future of AUT’s Pacific Media Centre Still in the Air

By Justin Wong (he/him)

Contributor

The former office of the Pacific Media Centre on the 10th floor of the WG Building in early 2021.

The Pacific Media Centre's former office at the WG Building after being cleared out in early 2021.


AUT has denied it is side-lining the Pacific Media Centre (PMC) but the university is yet to announce its new leadership following disputes on office spaces and a succession plan.


The multi-disciplinary research unit was founded in 2007 by Professor David Robie, with its focus on Pacific media research and producing stories of marginalised communities in New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.


The centre also housed several outlets that provided journalists covering regional issues and Pasifika researchers a space to publish their work,, such as the academic journal Pacific Journalism Review and the award-winning Pacific Media Watch.


Dr Robie retired last December as the centre’s director but the position was not filled immediately. There have been no updates from the PMC’s website, YouTube and Soundcloud channels since, while Southern Cross, the radio segment the PMC produces on 95bFM’s The Wire, has not had a new episode since last August.


Only one month after his retirement, Dr Robie was told that the PMC’s office on the 10th floor of the WG Building was emptied of its awards, theses, books and To other memorabilia, with people involved with the centre not being notified or consulted of the move.


The Pacific Newsroom reported the contents including a traditional carved Papua New Guinean storyboard presented by then Pacific Island Affairs Minister Winnie Laban to celebrate the centre’s opening in October 2007.


Dr Robie told Debate in April that there’s a gap between what was said by AUT and reality, saying that the office being cleared affirmed the lack of a commitment by the university for the PMC’s future.


He also said a succession plan was drawn up years ago that involved headhunting possible successors before his sabbatical in 2019 so the candidate could familiarise themselves with the role before formally taking over, but AUT did not follow it through.


“This opportunity was wasted by the school and by the time I left, nobody had been prepared for continuity and the very able and talented people still working hard for the centre were not given support.”


“This is unconscionable in my view.”


“The school needs to listen to the vision of the stakeholders and treat them with respect.”


The move was also criticised by journalists and academics, with the Australia Asia Pacific Media Initiative (AAPMI) calling on AUT’s vice-chancellor Derek McCormack in an open letter in February to ensure the PMC would continue to be developed “at a time when Pacific journalism is under existential threat”.


Meanwhile, Dr Camille Nakhid, the chair of the PMC’s advisory board and an associate professor at AUT’s School of Social Sciences and Public Policy, told the Spinoff that she believes the PMC directorship should be advertised externally to “attract a range of qualified candidates”.


Dr Rosser Johnson, the head of AUT’s School of Communications Studies, told Debate at the end of April that the relocation was due to security reasons and the PMC’s new space on the 12th floor of the WG Building has “twice as much office space” for students and affiliate researchers. The new PMC leadership was expected to be announced in April.


“There’s one department who uses specialist gear that is very expensive and we have a very high level of risk around that gear.”


“We had to consider the space that the Pacific Media Centre was in because it can be made secure through two sets of security doors.”


The School also scheduled two faculty and school-wide planning days to talk with people who would be affected.

Dr Robie told Debate in April that there’s a gap between what was said by AUT and reality, saying that the office being cleared affirmed the lack of a commitment by the university for the PMC’s future.

Dr Johnson said the School opted for an expression of interest approach within the department to fill Dr Robie’s position because the original plan does not follow protocol. An external hiring freeze imposed by AUT last year and the part-time nature of the PMC’s directorship meant the School preferred to look internally.


“David [Robie] was asking if it was possible for us to shoulder-tap two or three people to be co-directors but the School is supposed to have a transparent process where everyone who wants to be considered can be considered.”


“If you want to grow and develop a research culture, it makes sense to look internally first.”


Dr Johnson also said he respects the care and commitment Dr Robie has towards the PMC, but insisted the School has no intention to shape the centre’s future direction, as the responsibility falls on the next director.