Laisa Taga, one of the Pacific’s leading and most senior women in journalis, she had been battling cancer for some time, and after passing away last Friday morning she was farewelled by her many Suva colleagues this Wednesday morning.
Laisa helped grow a Pacific voice towards shaping Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action, which later helped shape the section on Women, media and ICTs area of concern in the revised Pacific Platform for Action of 2004—because ten years before, even as Pacific Women were heading towards Beijing, the issue around media was missing in the regional text. Meanwhile, Laisa was one of those leading the way from within- already mentoring, supporting and ensuring young journalists of the region could lead the way in their industries – if they wanted to.
As the Editor in Chief of the Islands Business International publishing group, she would pen monthly Letters from Suva, her editorials and commentary on regional development and politics providing an edge and insight to the trends for our time.
The following Letter to Laisa, a tribute by Lisa W-Lahari, Pacific communications for the Pacific community, was sent to regional pacific media online network.
A Letter to Laisa: Taga’s legacy to Pacific journalists – tell your story, or have it told for you.
It is August 1994, and in a small conference room at the UN compound in Apia, Samoa, a small group of Pacific women journalists gather at a meeting with a difference. In this room, for the first time, we are the experts and not the novices, and rather than learning about how to use cameras, develop investigative skills, or hear experts a, b and c share the latest catchphrases in development, we are in this room talking about us. Such a novelty. As if we, the media, mattered enough to make ourselves the topic of any conversation. It’s enough to make one nervous, especially when we have been asked to prepare country reports which our bosses might be shocked at if they read– about what it is to be practicing women journalists in our nations.
We’ve been asked what we think about the state of Pacific media, and what we share surprises us. Our stories of less than ideal working conditions, cultural and peer pressures, and the issues around family vs career aspirations resonate. We’ve been there, done that. And as we sit around this roundtable and our shared experiences begin to weave us together, the organisers throw in a question and ask for nominations to represent us to a series of global meetings aimed at developing a platform of action for women in development, with the media as one of those critical areas. For them, this question is part of the process.
For me, it’s an unforgettable, suspended moment, as still and frozen in time as the question itself – who will speak for you in Lisbon, in Toronto, in Beijing? I am still discovering that in newsroom politics, its often a matter of not speaking up and keeping your head down things get crazy, which ensures you can exit a days work without too much fuss. But the stirrings of the last few days, the different tone to this meeting, has started to make me wonder about the things we say when we are silent. I am across the table from a woman who has done lots of listening and some talking over the last few days, and she has cemented her role as a no-nonsense communicator who has come to get to the heart of the issue. Now responding to the question, she gives me that look. It goes with a slight nod and peaked eyebrow. And that’s it. In Laisa Taga fashion, she has just told me -‘get on with it. I have your back’.
For the last twenty years, you’ve had my back boso, and gifted us your amazing work-ethic and a lasting warning: report the Pacific story, or have your news told for you. To look out for each other, and to spot and foster the gifts of those starting out while recognising the experiences of those who’ve led the way. To ensure that all sides, questions, angles, follow ups and talking heads to the trending stories of our time get the shakedown they deserve. To have a healthy tenacity when it comes to chasing up stories months in the making, especially from those who wield power in a disempowering way. To being able to let go when the biggest threats to media independence and regionalism are the divisions within, and not the imagined enemy without. To trusting in a deep and abiding friendship long after the fallout from spectacular debates, disagreements, and sideswipes has faded.
I thank you, big sister, for the lesson in mentoring and the simple power of an affirming nod. For the laughs and conversations, both in the wings of whatever meeting we were at, or in the online one-liners where a quick response on a burning question was all I needed to deal with the emergency of the moment. We didn’t always agree, but throughout a career spanning more than two decades one thing has been constant- you have always had my back.
So when your news came to me, across the Skype chat as we shared health updates and test results, I clothed it in denial. I stored it on the ‘later’ shelf. But it kept demanding to be dealt with. So slowly, painfully, I started to peek at it and open up to the reality of more questions and urgency. You knew I would try to coax a story out of you, and I knew it would be hard. I didn’t stop with the questions or the trying, but I respected your choice to keep this, your final story, untold. You would not want me to apologise for refusing to give up, but I am still sorry. For thinking that I would still have time for a final, meaning-packed goodbye chat. To organise a big send off with the media family, as if you were interested in any of that. One would think, having had months to prepare, weeks of warning, that this news when it came, would not be so shocking. One would think, as Pacific women reporting on the C-word and the cancer that claims so many of our sisters, that we in the media would have the inside track on sorting our tests, knowing our limits, hearing our bodies. But as we both know, boso, Pacific women are limitless in their caring for others– at dangerous cost to their own health.
Enough of the words. You never liked long winded copy. Go well lewa. I hope to honour your memory with the lasting gift you handed me, all those years ago. A simple look that let another media sister know she could go for gold, and count on her experience to guide her journey– and that, if and when she needs me, I have her back.
It is April 2014, and in a small corner of our huge Pacific world, knowing the Fiji media gang, I can just hear all the laughter, stories, memories and tears of your final goodbyes in Suva. From here, I enfold this letter in warm tapa, garland each word in mokosoi, hit send as you speed home to Avaiki. Moce mada my sister, my boso, my mentor, my friend. –ENDS–
‘Pacific communications for the Pacific community’.
Our thanks go to Lisa W-Lahari for her deep felt and eloquent tribute.