Valuing Voices: engaging Fijian youth through the arts

Despite Fiji being a popular tourist destination, almost a third of the population live below the poverty line. 

Freedom of expression, particularly via the media, is not something people living in Fiji feel confident or comfortable addressing. Following four military coups in the last twenty years, and a return to a democratic general election in 2014, the local population are still hesitant about asserting human rights.

More than half the population are aged under 25 yet they have little knowledge of or opportunities to learn about democratic principles, rights, values and processes in their country. 

To help address this, the British Council’s New Zealand operation has designed and successfully bid to deliver a €300K EU funded innovative arts-in-development project - Valuing Voices. 

With a focus on women and children, Valuing Voices will allow community-based arts experts to bring members of communities in Fiji together to solve problems, build relationships, and contribute to a fully self-expressed democracy. The project will also help Fiji get closer to its international commitments to media independence, in particular media freedom.

The project expects to deliver results in the following four areas: 

  • Story-telling

The aim is for journalists, human rights activists and artists to come together and use more innovative and engaging forms of story-telling to raise awareness of sensitive issues. Citizen journalism in Fiji is a developing field; Valuing Voices will up-skill journalists on using social media as a tool for advocacy. The project will show the benefits of working together and give them the skills to address human rights issues through art.

  • Peace Journalism

Peace Journalism is a multi-perspective approach to journalism. It covers multiple perspectives on issues, explores hidden agendas, gives those who have been violated a voice, highlights peace ideas, and distinguishes opinion from fact. Valuing Voices will offer commercial journalists Peace Journalism training to improve the quality of their reporting and bring it in line with professional norms and international best practice.  

  • Policy dialogue forums

The Fijian media continue to refuse to publish opinion articles by anti-government academics and commentators. Policy dialogue forums will bring together socio-political actors involved with issues regarding media freedom, freedom of expression, and the human rights of minority groups. The forums provide a space for people from different ethnic, religious and social divides to collectively explore the underlying causes of ethnic conflict and find solutions to removing prejudice and stereotyping. 

  • Regulation

It is expected that the regulatory environment in Fiji will become more relaxed over time. The hope is that media stories, blogs, social media and artistic works will better reflect the diversity of voices and opinions in the country. The ultimate goal is for the government to recognise, respond and lend its support to more advocacy campaigns on media freedom and human rights.

Valuing Voices will primarily target youth through social media. By sharing content through personal networks, it is believed it will reach wider audiences and allow opinions to be voiced more freely. Youth in particular may develop a deeper sense of ownership in the outcome of the campaign through their creation of new content. 

Overall, the project is an example of how a softer, art-in-development approach can be used to achieve strong social objectives. The approach is perceived to be less threatening to government and more likely to engage civic and political leaders. 

 

February 2016