On Wednesday it was reported that the Council of Pilung, Yap State’s council of traditional chiefs, had requested that Pacific Island Times’ correspondent, Joyce McClure, be declared persona non grata, a diplomatic term that would effectively restrict her from entering and/or staying in Yap.
The letter from the council of chiefs was presented to the Yap State Legislature and has been widely circulated on social media. The Council presented claims of “disruptive” journalism. Further claims suggested that she, “treated the local people of Yap State as uneducated fools and deemed irresponsible of how they should run their local government”.
We reached out to Ms. McClure to ask her a few questions.
(The following questions were gathered from anonymous individuals and do not necessarily represent the views of TFB)
TFB extends an invitation to the Council of Pilung for a response.
TFB: The Fourth Branch Micronesia
JM: Joyce McClure
TFB: How did you discover that the Council of Pilung (COP) was going after you? What was going through your mind when you found out about the letter?
JM: I was given the heads up by someone who is in the government. When I finally obtained a copy and read it, I was surprised and disturbed, of course. I had no idea what they were talking about. I am truly sorry for anything I may have done to in any way harm or insult anyone and welcome proof of the allegations so I can respond to them. However, there are no specifics, only baseless accusations. The information in the letter is entirely incorrect from the name of the Pacific Island Times to why I was hired by the MicroGames and the job I performed, and the charge of “nonstop bias articles.” It is obvious that whomever wrote the letter has never read what I have written, nor did they do any simple research to determine the facts. They even cut and pasted a list of definitions under the heading, “Yap State Sanctions on Unethical Journalism,” which do not exist.
TFB: Can you respond to the accusations of causing “turmoil” in the State of Yap with your reporting?
JM: No, not without knowing what they’re referring to. I am flattered that they think my writing has that much power. But how do profiles of individuals like the oldest competitor in the MicroGames, or the only competitor from Nauru in the Games; a well-known photographer from Japan who photographed parents and their children during Yap Day a year ago; the opening of an after-school childcare center; grants awarded by the Japanese ambassador for different projects like a new gym at Yap Catholic High School; travel articles about Yap; or the election of a new governor and lt governor cause “turmoil”? These are the common threads of my writing for the Pacific Island Times. I have written approximately five articles about issues related to Chinese development, but they are the exception out of nearly 70 that have been published in the PIT and other media in the region and around the world since November 2017. In fact, my first article for PIT was celebrating the arrival of renewable energy on the island. Hardly turmoil-causing.
TFB: If you are not expelled from Yap, how will you move forward as a journalist?
JM: As an American citizen, according to the Compact of Free Association, I am allowed to live and work in FSM visa-free, just as FSM citizens may live and work in the US without a visa. Only if it were proven in a court of law that I had done something illegal, could I be thrown out. Again, the same holds true for FSM citizens who live and work in the US. And both the FSM and US Constitution contain the right of freedom of speech. I have done nothing illegal. There is no basis for the allegations, and I cannot be tossed out of the country.
As for “moving forward,” first and foremost, I am a senior marketing executive. I am not a full-time journalist. Any income that I have earned has been from contracts that were awarded for work related to marketing and other related services. However, the majority of my work while in Yap has been pro bono. Among the services that I offer are freelance writing services; I give those services free of charge to many organizations to write and distribute press releases, flyers, advertisements and other collateral materials to promote their activities. Approximately 1 ½ years ago, I saw a gap in the lack of news being reported out of Yap and approached the Pacific Island Times about writing for them. I have also had articles and press releases accepted and published by the Marianas Business Journal, PDN, GDN, Saipan Tribune and other regional media. I see no reason to not continue writing articles about Yap. They have been well received by citizens who do not currently live in Yap as well as those who do. It is a service that I feel is needed and helps to promote Yap. And, yes, it can also help keep the government transparent and honest, two things that the recently elected governor and lt. governor ran and won on.
TFB: Please respond to the accusations of writing “fake news”.
JM: This is a phrase that has gained momentum recently. I’m sure everyone reading this knows the origin of that momentum which does not bear repeating. It is now a trite phrase that has come to lack any true meaning or importance. That said, I have never written “fake news” stories. All of the articles that I have written were researched, fact checked thoroughly, sources cited and interviews conducted unless I was asked not to reveal a source in which case I complied like any good journalist must. I often tape record my interviews and public meetings that I attend to insure my quotes and facts are correct. In some cases, I obtain the tapes from the legislature that are in the public domain. I also often ask my interview subjects to read the article in advance of publication to insure that it is correct and I always make corrections accordingly. In some cases, government officials have asked me to write stories and get them published. Those, too, have been factchecked by the officials. However, in one instance recently, when one of those officials accused me of using wrong information, the PIT publisher and I invited him to provide us with corrections that would then be published. Unfortunately, the official chose to wave them off publicly as being “too many” to correct. That was his choice and I and the publisher stood by my report. Where my information is based on rumor, I state it as such, referring at times to the “coconut wireless” to indicate as much.
If the COP would provide me with examples of what they are referring to when they talk about “fake news,” I would gladly respond to each one.
TFB: Can you talk about being a journalist in a country where the 4th branch of government is technically traditional leadership.
JM: The Council of Pilung and the Council of Tamol are noted in the Yap State Code of the Yap State Constitution (Title 5, Article 1) as being responsible for performing “functions which concern tradition and custom.” According to the Code, “In addition to those functions exercised by the Council of Pilung and Council of Tamol by virtue of the Constitution of the State of Yap, the Councils shall exercise the following functions as they may concern tradition and custom: (a) To advise and make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature; (b) To advise and make recommendations to the departments and offices of the Executive branch of the State Government; (c) To resolve problems and assist in matters concerning the municipalities and islands of the State; and (d) To promote and preserve the traditions and customs of the people of the State in a manner consistent with the Constitution of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Constitution of the State of Yap.”
The only time I have been in touch with either one of the Councils was when I stopped by the COT office perhaps two years ago with a friend who was planning to visit Ulithi and needed to find out what was required of her prior to her visit to obtain their approval. I have met various Chiefs now and then and have taken photos of them when they were part of a delegation or attending an event. But other than that, I have had no formal contact with them.
TFB: Final thoughts.
JM: I am saddened by the baseless allegations that are being leveled at me and am truly sorry if I have in any way offended anyone. I hope the COP will be willing to meet with me either privately or in a public forum and show me proof of their charges so I can respond directly, and we can have a dialogue. I am also very sorry that this matter has taken the attention of Governor Falan and Lt. Governor Salalu, the members of the Yap State Legislature and the many fine members of the administration away from the important matters of the State. The sooner it can be cleared up, the better it will be for everyone. Yap is at an important crossroads and should be focused on its future, not on senseless accusations of this type.