PROFILE – ILIESA TORA
By RENA PETERSON
TOKYO, Japan – October 29, 2019: 11pm (Nuku’alofa Times/APIC): One of the best ways to save a country from an environmental crisis is to pick up a pen and paper.
This is exactly what Iliesa Tora has done.
Since launching his career in journalism nearly three decades ago, Tora has become one of the most experienced journalists in the Pacific.
As of 2015, Tora, a Fiji citizen, is the founder, owner, and consultant editor of the Nukuâ€™alofa Times, an online English newspaper in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Tonga is a series of islands in the South Pacific with 100,000 residents.
“I was very vocal in my opinions column in the newspaper I worked for at home,” Tora, who left Fiji, his country of birth, in 2012 due to the then military government’s monitoring much of the media, said.
“I became an enemy of the government, so I decided to go to a different place to write freely.”
Tora was recently in Japan as a 2019 APIC Japan Journalism Fellowship fellow.
Tora “writes about everything” including natural disasters affecting Fiji and the Pacific. Over time, he began to write more about cyclones and other natural disasters because of their increasing severity. This deepened his awareness of the fragile environment in island countries.
Tonga, like other Pacific Islands, is one of the most threatened areas in the world, because of climate change, natural disasters, and man-made developments that cause environmental problems.
These situations are aggravated by the actions of local businesses and residents, while these communities lack management systems.
The future looks increasingly bleak “if we continue what we are doing, and we do not do anything to reduce any of the negative effects”, Tora said in Tokyo this week during an interview.
“Our future generations will be left with a world that will be much harder to live in,” he added. “We have to sustain our land for the future.”
For example, in Tonga, overseas businesses sell tens of thousands of bottled beverages but fail to implement any program for recycling. This intensifies an already challenging solid waste management problem in Tonga, which has little space for landfills.
In addition to running the Nuku’alofa Times, Tora works as a consultant, serving as a communications officer to the Tongan government’s Environment Department.
In that capacity, he works with the Environment team that promotes awareness through discussions and helps communities look after their environment.
He travels to schools to educate children about challenges to the environment and waste management, hoping that the younger generation will adopt new practices for the future.
Tora identifies plastic waste as one of the biggest environmental threats to the Pacific.
“The right information is not shared (by journalists),” Tora said, who sees imbalances in what is being reported.
Although issues are discussed, there is “a lack of reporting on what is actually being done in different countries to manage the environment.”
Journalists must produce more comprehensive reports to better inform people about reality, he says.
Tora, 52, developed an interest in journalism from a young age.
While reading newspapers as a child, “I knew that one day I will become a journalist”.
True to his dream, after working in a bank and the military after high school, he became a reporter for The Fiji Times newspaper in 1988 at age 20. He also served as Editors for the Fiji Sun and Fiji Daily Post newspapers in Fiji.
Today, as a senior journalist, Tora plays a large role in training journalists to better understand environmental issues and be more nuanced reporters.
In 2018, he and nine other Pacific journalists, founded the Pacific Environment Journalist Network.
He serves as its chairman, and the PEJN holds events and workshops all over the Pacific region. The membership is now over 50 journalists.
“Journalism has given me so much,” he said, “and I am happy that I can give back”.
He wants journalists to be part of the discussion on the environment in the Pacific in order to influence decision makers in government. Not just writers or reporters taken to meetings to report on them.
He believes that as the voice of the people, journalists can “put issues on the table that political leaders cannot see”.
Stronger community engagement is crucial in fighting against the expanding threat of climate change and other environmental problems.
Tora is confident that through learning and stronger awareness, “communities can better work together”.
For Tora, journalists have the power to save the land and people of the Pacific.