Arnett optimistic on future of journalism

Veteran journalist Peter Arnett says Chinese journalism students need to learn more about press freedom because of the state's rigid control of news.

Arnett, born in Riverton and raised in Bluff, now divides his time between teaching journalism at Shantou University in southern China and his home in Los Angeles.

He said his students in China needed his teaching on press freedom more than New Zealanders did.

"I've got 60 to 80 students each semester ... they are better educated than I ever was," he said.

"There's no smoking, no drinking, no fighting."

The Chinese Government was beginning to realise it could no longer control the flow of information, he said.

He was generally optimistic about the future of journalism, and although he said the decline of the printed word was inevitable, he believed newspapers would survive online.

The scandals in Britain over phone hacking at the News of the World, he suggested, would have some impact on the future.

"The media generally is not highly regarded in the public ... if it has any impact media across the world will tighten up their conduct generating information."

Returning to his roots for a potential documentary about his life, yesterday he met Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt.

Arnett said these days he did not keep up with current affairs in New Zealand.

"I am teaching in China about basically American-China relations, which keeps me occupied," he said.

"I have to confess New Zealand falls through the cracks. I would say not a lot changes here."

Since the death of his mother eight years ago, he has not returned to Southland often.

However, he said he was pleased to see Bluff and Invercargill looking good, particularly the Arnett family house, which had been refurbished by its new owner.

Bluff was a thriving international port when he was growing up, but in the 1970s and 80s he could see it – and the wider province – start to decline.

"There was no development at all," he said.

"The sense I have now is that Invercargill is clearly growing."

Arnett was an American TV network and press war correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his reporting from Vietnam and broke stories from conflicts around the world for more than 40 years.

His list of interviews includes Osama bin Laden, whom he met in a hut on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 1997, Saddam Hussein, during the height of the first Gulf War, and Bosnian Serb warlord Ratko Mladic in the midst of the Yugoslav wars.

He began his career in the early 1950s at The Southland Times, before leaving the province aged 21.

On Monday he will speak at the Peter Arnett School of Journalism, at the Southern Institute of Technology.

The Southland Times