Pacific Media Watch

30 June 2019

REGION: Ben Bohane wins $10,000 Bougainville mission grant for Pacific journalism

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Ben Bohane ... "covering Bougainville for many years, including during the civil war period". Image: RNZ

By Michael Andrew
AUCKLAND (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): A Pacific Media Centre collaborator has been awarded the inaugural Sean Dorney Grant for Pacific Journalism at the 2019 Walkley Mid-Year Celebration.

Vanuatu-based Australian photojournalist Ben Bohane was awarded the $10,000 grant out of 22 applicants for his ongoing work in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

He told Pacific Media Watch he was honoured to receive the grant and hoped it would “grow interest and respect for Pacific-based journalists to better inform Australians and the region about what is going on.”

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“For too long this region has been ignored by the Australian media, not to mention global media, but now that it is on the frontline of climate change and geopolitical contest then I expect there to be more interest from now on.”

Bohane has covered the Pacific for 30 years. His work has been both acclaimed and arresting and has featured photos and interviews from all South Pacific conflicts, including West Papua and East Timor.

He has the largest personal photo archive of the South Pacific in the world and two of his portfolios have featured in Pacific Journalism Review.

While travelling and living with tribal groups in the Solomon Islands in the early 1990s, he was able to secure the first pictures of Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader Francis Ona and the only interview and pictures of Guadalcanal warlord Harold Keke.

He said he would use the grant money to cover the upcoming Bougainville referendum on October 17.

Series of stories
“I plan to do a series of print stories, mainly for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which will highlight the background to the referendum and why Bougainville matters to Australia and the region.”

According to Dr Tess Newton Cain, an academic and the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting, who helped establish the grant, Bohane’s extensive coverage of Bougainville stood out among other grant nominees.

“His was one of several proposals that focused on Bougainville,” she said.

“Ben has been covering Bougainville for many years, including during the civil war period,”

“It was in Bougainville that he and Sean Dorney first met,” said Newton Cain.

Grant namesake Sean Dorney is an Australian journalist and foreign correspondent who has covered Papua New Guinea and the Pacific for 40 years.

The grant was sponsored in recognition of his huge contribution and the importance of getting the real stories of the Pacific and of Pacific people in front of Australian audiences, Newton Cain said.

“I hope this grant will go some way to stimulating an interest in the Australian media to tell their audiences more and better stories about the countries in their immediate region.”

Honoured by grant
Bohane said he was honoured to receive the grant in Dorney’s name.

“I can’t think of anyone who has done more to keep Australians and the rest of the Pacific informed about Pacific affairs over the past 40 years.”

“He is one of the great correspondents of our time and a pioneering spirit in the development of journalism in the Pacific, along with David Robie, Mary Louise O’Callaghan and a handful of others.”

Award recipients in other categories in the Walkley Mid-Year celebration included Oliver Gordon who won the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year for his ABC investigation The Black & White Hotel: Inside Australia’s Segregated Hotel Rooms.

Another was Laura Murphy-Oates, who won the Public Service Journalism award for her SBS story exploring historical abuses against Aborigines. 

A dozen other journalists won awards for coverage ranging from the Australian African community to the gender disparity in the Australian theatre.

While many there were many journalists who came away empty handed, Newton Cain said there was other good news which came from the celebrations.

“Next to seeing the grant awarded, the best news I could hear is that an editor has said to one of the unsuccessful applicants ‘that Pacific story you pitched is an important one, we are going to do it anyway’.”

The full list can be found at the 2019 Walkley Mid-Year Celebration website.

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Michael Andrew

Pacific Media Watch contributing editor 2019

Michael Andrew is studying journalism through AUT's Postgraduate Diploma in Communications.