The Te Uluga Talafau monthly newspaper would provide up-to-date information on council decisions, village matters, as well as inspirational stories from Tokelauans living overseas.
Tokelau’S small population of around 1500 people is spread across three coral atolls with a combined land area of only 10 square kilometres.
The newspaper’s editor, Joe Tuia, said publication was created due to concerns that Tokelauans did not understand the decisions being made by chiefs and local authorities.
“The question coming from the Taupulega (council of elders) was how can we communicate issues, the cost of climate change and other stuff, so that the people in the village are informed about it,” he said.
Traditionally leaders would go back to their villages to tell community members face-to-face what decisions had been made, but Tuia said times have changed.
“Ten or 15 years ago that process slowly started to deteriorate because people don’t have the time to do that,” he said.
Considering Tokelau’s limited resources, it’s no surprise that getting the newspaper up and running took some time.
“At the moment we have the editor who is the main person for our newspaper, with the help of everyone else around,” said the newspaper’s general manager, Asi Halaleva-Pasilio, adding that they were still training a team of journalists.
Thousands of the Tokelauans live overseas, mostly in Australia and New Zealand, and Halaleva-Pasilio encouraged them to also buy the Te Uluga Talafau newspaper.
She said the newspaper’s first edition had a feature story on an accomplished Tokelauan army officer from Townsville, in Australia.
“We have those small stories that may inspire our children, and show our people that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Halaleva-Pasilio said.
Journalism in a small Pacific community like Tokelau – where everyone knows everyone – poses unique challenges.
Reporters have been known to self-censor their work for fear of causing tension or insulting the community.
“On our atoll Nukunonu, there’s less than about 700 people, so everyone knows everyone – but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Tuia said.
Produced at the headquarters of the Taupulega of Nukunou – Tokelau’s largest atoll – the newspaper would also struggle to be entirely independent, as the governing council will be heavily involved in crafting each edition.
But Tuia was hopeful that as the newspaper develops, local journalists will find their own voice and that hard-hitting articles would follow.