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Award-winning journalist Barbara Dreaver tells it like it is

Saturday 24 December 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, In Depth

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Award-winning journalist Barbara Dreaver tells it like it is

Saving a life, being arrested and held in jail in pursuit of getting information and the truth out there, has been all part of the job for journalist Barbara Dreaver, the 1News’ Pacific correspondent for TVNZ. Last month Dreaver was named Reporter of the Year 2022 at the New Zealand Television Awards.

Dreaver has over 30 years’ experience in journalism. After completing her journalism studies in New Zealand, in 1990 she moved to Rarotonga, initially as a reporter for Cook Islands News and then as co-owner and editor of Cook Islands Press.

Dreaver in an earlier interview credited Cook Islands for moulding her into the journalist she is today. This is where she learnt how to break stories and also learned respect and how news events aren’t just black and white.

“People put trust in you to tell a story and certainly in a small community like Rarotonga, that trust is really important,” says Dreaver.

Rarotonga was also a steep learning curve, and she gives credit to former Cook Islands News editors Lawrence Bailey and Alex Sword, who she says were great teachers.

“Good journalism aims for three things – to inform, to tell the truth even when people don’t want to hear it, and giving people a voice when they wouldn’t usually have one,” says Dreaver.

As for receiving the TVNZ award, Dreaver says: “It was a surreal moment and I felt incredibly proud that my Pacific stories had won a major mainstream award. It felt like a win for the Pacific.”

“Awards are great but the best thing has been seeing how my stories resulted in policy changes, charges being laid and stopping bad situations happening to more people. That’s what really counts.”

Returning to New Zealand in the late 90s, she worked in a variety of jobs including the NZ Listener, National Business Review and Radio New Zealand.

In 2002, she started at TVNZ and was made Pacific correspondent in 2003, a role she has held since and is well known for, reporting from in and around the Pacific with relentless passion.

Dreaver’s portfolio of work includes revealing the appalling treatment of Pasifika in New Zealand during Covid, the Dawn Raids apology, exposing and shutting down the perpetrators of several scams, and investigating a company that pressured a seriously injured worker to lie to WorkSafe. Then there were exclusive international investigations, and making the world’s first live crosses from Tokelau and Kiribati.

This year, Aotearoa New Zealand’s Minister for Broadcasting and Media, Kris Faafoi, appointed Dreaver to the nine-member Establishment Board to lead the work on creating a new public media entity in New Zealand.

People who inspire her the most are everyday people who have had to overcome or come to terms with great adversity or tragedy, Dreaver says.

“The bravest of people – like terminal cancer patient, 15-year-old Tae Kami, who inspired a nation with her advocacy of other children with cancer before she died.

“Auckland’s Pasifika health and welfare sector who worked tirelessly to save lives during Covid-19, its ordinary people doing extraordinary things…very hard to beat.”

Dreaver has won multiple awards and some of the stories she has covered have brought her to tears.

Particularly challenging for Dreaver throughout her career has been peoples’ grief. Covering the measles outbreak tragedy (2019) in Samoa where more than 80 people, mostly children, died was extremely tough.

“Seeing so many dying and dead children was something I will carry forever, but at the end of the day it’s not about me and I have a job to do. So that’s what gets you through that.”

The Pacific correspondent has persevered through nasty encounters like being been detained in Fiji and Nauru which she says was unpleasant, having a gun pointed at her head, death threats and others.

“But staying calm and focused on what my job and role is, helps,” says Dreaver.

With 20 years under her belt in television media broadcasting, she says the best thing about television reporting is the power of pictures and bringing the Pacific into the public’s homes.

“It’s a powerful opportunity to show New Zealand a slice of the Pacific beyond the region being just a holiday destination. And having the ability to make a difference and challenge in order to enact change where it’s needed is why I do what I do.”

Dreaver has also designed and run a broadcasting training programme across the region through Pasifika TV, which she says has been great as she can pass on knowledge to younger ones.

And doing a job which takes you all over the Pacific and outdoors to wherever a story may be has its memorable experiences, she adds.

For Dreaver one of these moments was in June 2010 when she and cameraman Mike Fitzgerald were on assignment in Bora Bora, Tahiti.

The pair played key roles in saving a Japanese man’s life, using their lifesaving skills on the man when he almost drowned after a snorkelling accident. He eventually came out of a 14-day coma.

Another highlight for Dreaver was the funeral of King Taufa’ahau Tupou of Tonga which was steeped in tradition.

“It was absolutely jaw-dropping and etched in tradition. I knew I was witnessing history being made,” she said.

Exposing a massive US adoption scam in Samoa involving dozens of children who weren’t actually orphans – and as a result the FBI arrested those responsible, was also memorable.

Dreaver has travelled to every Pacific Forum country and appreciates the exquisiteness of each place.

“The beauty of some of the more remote/hard to access places is unparalleled,” she says.

Dreaver offers the following pearls of wisdom for budding journalists: “Be brave, tell the truth and understand that people quite often don’t want to hear it; know what motivates you, learn not to care what people think of you and be thorough in your research.”