Following the announcement that the Independent will cease print publication in the coming weeks, I feel it’s important to make a few observations.

This isn’t good news for anyone. Not for the Daily Post, not for the public. It is a sign of the times, perhaps, but not a welcome one. As we’ve seen in the internet sector, in telecommunications and countless other areas, competition is always a good thing. It keeps us agile, it keeps us honest, and it ensures the customer gets the best product at the best price. This is as true in the marketplace for ideas as it is in any other.

In recent issues of the Vanuatu Business Review, we’ve observed that internet uptake is rising at an almost alarming rate. This is almost entirely due to Simon Fletcher’s Interchange submarine cable. Internet prices have dropped—again, due to intense competition in the internet/telecoms sector—and we are approaching the point where network effects will make it unthinkable NOT to have internet all the time.

With change comes risk. No transformation on a scale like this can happen without creating winners and losers. The fact that this economic transformation is happening in the middle of an extended recession caused by natural and man-made disasters only exaggerates the effect.

I was hired to assist with the Daily Post’s transition into digital. We’ve seen the writing on the wall for years now, and we knew that the moment internet became sufficiently widespread, our print business model would have to change. It is changing.

The print newspaper isn’t going away. Revenues are stronger now than they’ve ever been, but in order to remain relevant to people’s lives, we’ve got to reach out through digital channels as well.

Everything we print, we now publish online. People are learning to download our magazine publications and read them at their leisure. Our podcasts of the Nightly News and our Coffee & Controversy talk shows are more popular every day. We have new programming in the pipeline to address that demand.

More people than ever see our news. On important news stories, our online readership is sometimes 10-30 times larger than the public who actually pay for the news.

That’s a good thing. We take our public interest role very seriously, and we do our level best to earn the attention we get.

Vanuatu’s reputation for honest journalism and freedom of expression are built largely on the back of the ground-breaking work that Marc Neil-Jones pioneered in these pages over 5000 issues ago. He was beaten repeatedly, deported, imprisoned and threatened countless times. Our other journalists have faced similar challenges.

A free and fearless media is one of the things that has kept the wheels on the political cart over the years.

Social media is no substitute for this. Yumi Toktok Stret, although it has some salutary moments, is hardly a reliable source for reputable, honest and fair reporting. But just as the Daily Post may make the occasional mistake, Facebook does occasionally get it right.

But it would be the easiest thing in the world for governments or businesses to cow Facebook and other social media users into a much more timid line. One of the reasons we can publish without fear or favour is because the entire company stands behind every word we print. If you sue a reporter, you’re suing the Daily Post. Threaten one of us, you threaten us all.

There is no such solidarity on Facebook. As anyone who attempts to make a controversial point will tell you, being singled out online is a terrible experience.

The bottom line is this: If you see the value of a free and healthy media environment, you need to stand up and support it. Journalism is work. Hard work. And we all have families to support. And for the price of a shell of kava, you can do your part to ensure it keeps happening.

One last thing: In spite of the fact that the Indy’s editor Tony Wilson has cast aspersions at myself and the Daily Post at regular intervals since he arrived on these shores, I’ve seldom succumbed to the temptation to reply.

But to imply, as he has, that our newspaper has the morals of an alley cat is the opposite of truth.

The Daily Post has taken on corrupt politicians and brought them down. The Independent defended them.

The Daily Post has campaigned for the rights of the most vulnerable in society, including women. The Independent seems to see them as a source for lurid headlines and little more.

The Daily Post publisher was brutally attacked by a minister of state and over half a dozen henchmen. The Independent gave the same minister its next front page and allowed him to float the absurd defence that he was protecting the rights of the little guy.

This is the same minister whom the Indy defended when, in a drunken rage, he hospitalised a female storekeeper after she refused to sell him alcohol.

The photo of that famous VT500,000 bribe—the one that set off a chain of events that led to the conviction of more than half of Sato Kilman’s government… that was published in the Daily Post, not the Indy.

It grieves me to say this, but I can only conclude that these latest accusations come from the mind of a man so mired in duplicity and dishonesty that he simply can’t imagine that others might actually mean what they say.

We at the Daily Post are saddened to see the Independent in its current straits, and wish to say to its hard-working staff members that if we can find a place for them within our pages, we will. We are currently hiring at least one full-time professional journalist, and would be honoured to hear from them.

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