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How I Got That Story

The Village Explainer
How I Got That Story
By Dan McGarry • Issue #43 • View online
The Village Explainer is a semi-regular newsletter containing analysis and insight focusing on under-reported aspects of Pacific societies, politics and economics.

...because our local is your global
...because our local is your global
I never meant to be a journalist. A writer sure. A photographer, definitely. But a newshound? No. I took the job somewhat reluctantly when Marc Neil Jones announced he was retiring.
Marc is one of the most fearless and intrepid people I’ve ever met. He started Vanuatu’s national newspaper as a buy-and-sell rag, the Trading Post. He added a bit of gossip to the front page just to sell copies and drive up ad rates. Before long, he began running real news because no one else dared to, and within a few of years of that, the Vanuatu Daily Post was born.
I started writing a weekly column for his paper back in 2008 or 2009. It started out as frippery, light-hearted takes on life in the islands. For my sins—and yours—it didn’t stay that way.
I remember getting warned off after I wrote an angry column naming and shaming cabinet ministers for their attitude of impunity. Marc had just been beaten within an inch of his life by Harry Iauko and his henchmen, and people needed to know he didn’t stand alone.
Iauko was Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities at the time. He was fined the equivalent of about $150 for being present when the crime was committed, a slight understatement of the facts.
That attack wasn’t the first against Marc, but it was destined to be the last. I spoke to him a day or so later, and it was clear to me he’d feared for his life. He would never admit the price it exacted from him, though.
“I’m getting too old for this,” is all he said, smiling ruefully.
It proved to be true. Marc’s health was never great, but before much longer, his diabetes became much harder to manage. He announced his coming retirement, and I realised that someone had to step up. Someone who’d been around, who wasn’t entrenched in the local dramas, someone who had the trust of influential people.
Ever had that moment when you realise you’re the only person in the room when the call for volunteers comes?
So for my sins—and yours—I threw my hat in the ring, and was hired to run editorial for the newspaper and radio station.
Cyclone Pam had just devastated half the country. The worst drought in decades was upon us. Literally half the government MPs were in the dock on bribery charges. Our airport was about to be condemned as unsafe.
It was, in other words, just another day at the office.
I’m not going to re-hash the ups and downs of the years that followed. I’ve compiled a brief pastiche of the tumult here:
#FollowLocalJournalists
#FollowLocalJournalists
What I will say is that I learned something about myself. I realised that I love the thrill of the chase. I love the moment when I can see exactly how we’re going to crack a story wide open. I love getting the facts straight, and literally writhe in anguish when I don’t.
I didn’t sign up for the pain it caused though. I didn’t enjoy the threats, the weight of officialdom landing on my shoulders. The way they kicked me out of my job, and tried to separate me from my family and the land that I love.
I didn’t enjoy the loss of income and opportunity, the distrust and the ridicule. The animosity and bitter recrimination merely for telling the truth.
I seldom say it out loud, because nobody should go through what my family has gone through. But I’d do it again.
Because press freedom matters. The truth matters. And I don’t have it in me to say less.
Today is World Press Freedom Day. I urge you to take a moment, follow a local journalist, trust them, and listen to what they tell you. These people put everything on the line so that the truth can be a boring, everyday thing that we see in the paper, in our newsfeeds or on the evening broadcast.
Trust me, you don’t want to be in a place where the truth costs you everything.
That’s our job.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Dan McGarry

The Village Explainer is a semi-regular newsletter containing analysis and insight focusing on under-reported aspects of Pacific societies, politics and economics.

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Dan McGarry - Port Vila, Vanuatu