Research Topic: Exploring news media's potential for strengthening peace-building and social cohesion in Fiji.

Supervisor: Dr Levi Obijiofor

Associate supervisor: Associate Professor Pradip Thomas

Dr Shailendra Singh was awarded his PhD in 2015 for research into conflict reporting in Fiji and the Pacific.

He said he was drawn to the topic because the relationship between media and violence was under-researched and misunderstood.

“It is sometimes overlooked that 120,000 Pacific Islanders have been killed in various disputes over the past quarter-century, plus another 200,000 when Timor-Leste is included,” Shailendra said.

“In Fiji, political and ethnic tensions between the two major groups, Indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, contributed to four socially and economically debilitating coups between 1987 and 2006.

“Incitement by media is often blamed for causing conflicts; I wanted to empirically explore the alleged media-conflict link in Fiji.”

For his research, Shailendra conducted extensive field research in Fiji.

“It included a content analysis of the print media’s coverage of Fiji 2006 general elections; a survey of the national journalist corps; and a document review to evaluate the legislative environment and the national media ownership structure,” he said.

“Finally, [research included] in-depth interviews of journalists, academics and other relevant parties to give more profound insights into the key issues emanating from the literature.”

 Based on his research, Shailendra concludes that while inflammatory reporting did at times appear contribute to conflict, other significant factors were also implicated.

 “Inflammatory reporting may have been the culprit at one time, as in the lead-up 2000 coup, and is not to be underestimated in a multi-ethnic country like Fiji,” he said.

“But the media-coup link is tenuous – media did not have anything to do with Fiji's 1987 and 2006 coups.

“I found that that the under-reporting socio-economic issues, usually at heart of societal conflict, was a bigger problem than inflammatory reporting.”

Shailendra said the Fijian media sector faces serious political, economic and structural challenges.

These include the increasingly corporatized nature of the media ownership regime since Fiji’s independence in 1970, and the fact that many journalists were inexperienced and under-qualified.

“This is a potential security threat - journalists with poor professional skills can, unintentionally, inflame grievances and promote stereotypes,” Shaildendra said.

“Atrocities in Rwanda, Kenya and former Yugoslavia indicate that incitement through media is a serious issue, and the Fiji Govt is right to be concerned.

“However, the punitive legislation adopted by government does not address structural problems - capacity building through journalist training and education is a more sustainable strategy.”

Shailendra has now returned to Fiji where he is the first local PhD to teach journalism at the University of the South Pacific (USP).

He is also working on a major study of journalists, journalism culture and climate change reporting in 12 USP-member countries.

“I want to strengthen postgraduate research capacity in the region by encouraging other experienced journalists to study and undertake research,” he said.

“Apart from myself, there are few local/regional researchers conducting consistent research into Pacific media.”

Shailendra describes his own doctorate research experiences as a journey of discovery. 

"I am surprised by how much one learns and grows, and accumulates and retains the knowledge," he said.

Shailendra was the recipient of three awards: the UQ International Research Scholarship, UQ Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship, and the USP Staff Development Scholarship.

Before undertaking his PhD, he worked in editorial and correspondent roles at publications such as the award-winning Fiji news and business magazine, The Review; Pacific Businessmagazine;; Daily Post; and Inter Press Service.