Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Kuki Airani broadcast journalist to front ABC Australia’s ‘The Pacific’

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

There is not a lot that Cook Islander and communication specialist Johnson Raela hasn’t achieved in the media space in New Zealand and the Pacific.

In his early days he was a radio host with Flava FM, then a television presenter with popular youth show ‘What Now,’ as well as Operation Hero. He also fronted for Polyfest shows and worked as a reporter and director for Tagata Pasifika. He also spent time in communications for High Performance sport NZ and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

So it was a surprise to hear that at one point, Johnson thought his career in broadcasting was coming to an end. Reflecting on the last year, he says he was weighing up his options and even considered a return to study for his PhD.

“I said to myself in November 2022 and I was back home in the Cook Islands, I said, ‘you know what, I love broadcasting.’ Broadcasting has always been my passion and there’s always been this underlying kind of fire for me … I hadn’t felt like I’d done everything that I wanted to,” he says.

Johnson says he gave himself six months from January 2023 to figure out what he wanted to do but then, Australia’s ABC came knocking. 

The Australian broadcaster was looking to staff their new show ‘The Pacific’, a regional weekly news programme which takes a deep dive into Pacific Islands issues, especially in Melanesia.

For the second season, he’ll be presenting alongside another familiar face to Pacific audiences in New Zealand, former Tagata Pasifika reporter Alice Lolohea.

Johnson says he is blessed to be in this new role.  

“It’s always a privilege to be able to tell our stories, but with privilege comes trust and we have to remember that our people trust with their heart and with their soul and we can never take that trust for granted. It’s a privilege to be able to tell these stories and have this voice.”

Reflecting on his journey, moving from New Zealand to Melbourne earlier this year, Johnson paid tribute to those who have paved the way.

“I think the groundwork that has been done in New Zealand has prepared me for this role in Australia … Pacific trail blazers in New Zealand you could watch, such as Stephen Stehlin, Lisa Taouma, John Utanga and Sandra Kailahi have allowed people like myself and the next wave of Pacific journalists to navigate through this space.”

Johnson’s opportunity came when he was invited to travel across to Australia to work on the first season of The Pacific.

“For me it was the excitement of being able to expand and broaden my skill set and to the wider Pacific region…but I was probably ready for a challenge and I thought yeah, why not, let’s do it. I was ready for a new change. I left New Zealand and landed here in Melbourne on a Sunday and started on the Monday,” says Johnson.

And despite leaving New Zealand, Johnson says change is a good thing.

“I have always been a big fan of change, change doesn’t scare me, change excites me. There’s people that like routine, I love routine too but I don’t mind adapting my routine in a different environment,” he says.

“I lived all around New Zealand and so I love this type of excitement that just …. I feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Johnson (middle) on set of ABC The Pacific earlier in the year.

As Johnson and the team of four prepare to go live on prime time television this Thursday, he says they are excited for audiences to get a taste of what is happening in the Pacific space.

“You know what, I think it’s been a long time coming to be able to tell the diaspora stories here in Australia and it’s huge,” he says.

“You know, Queensland has the biggest Pacific population followed by Sydney and then Melbourne but then obviously there is a huge Pacific community in Western Australia and Perth and also the Northern Territory too. So there are stories to tell and there have always been stories to tell, it’s just that it’s taken a long time to be able to have this type of platform.”

Another area that Johnson is excited about is working with his media colleagues from across the Pacific. He says it was one of the things that drew him to the job.

“We have international correspondents on the ground in the region who are from those places. I call it our little superpower.”

ABC Pacific correspondents. (back left) Fijian Journalist Lice Movono, (front left) Solomon Islands’ Chrisnrita Aumanu-Leong and (right) Tonga’s Marian Kupu.

ABC Pacific correspondents include Fijian journalists Lice Movono, Solomon Islands’ Chrisnrita Aumanu-Leong and in the Kingdom of Tonga, Marian Kupu. Johnson says having these Pacific women journalists on the ground is gold.

“They know their community best and they have the insight that no fly in-fly out journalists from other parts of the world will ever be able to have. So I think that is so beneficial not only for our show but you see our women on the networks all across the ABC.

“It’s funny, you wake up one morning and you’ll see this brown beautiful Pacific woman on the news on the breakfast show and then you see them again somewhere on midday news.  Then you see them in the evening programs and you see them across social media and I sit there and watch and I’m like, ‘yeah you know I think Chrisnrita said it.’ It’s a great time to be a Pacific journalist.”

And Johnson says they are all learning from each other.

“You see the skills that they have and quite often I’m like, ‘yeah International correspondents take note’, this is how you do a Pacific cross. Well, this is how you do a cross in general.”

Johnson is also singing the praise of his new co-host Alice Lolohea who he worked alongside Antonia Utanga on the successful Te Maeva Nui 90 minute special featured on Tagata Pasifika, a Cook Islands extravaganza, and the Araura Enua online series, celebrating Kuki ‘Airani song and dance, back in 2021.

He says when they were looking to hire Pacific journalists, Johnson says Alice was the perfect choice.

“You just look at the way that Alice’s career has evolved over time. I’ve always known she’s a special talent and I’m privileged and I’m honoured that we are able to work together again.

“I think she is also somebody to look at how she’s developed her skills, because she doesn’t just have the research skills, she’s a camera operator and she’s an editor as well.

“I think my advice to young journalists is to see how you can broaden your skills. It’s not just to have that one skill set. You have to possess a whole range of skills, and that quite often goes from writing, editing, the shooting and recording and the technical skills as well.

As the countdown begins to their first show this Thursday, Johnson says this opportunity is a dream come true.

“I’m hoping first off to provide a service for our communities to represent our people well.  I’ve got my nephews and nieces growing up here in Australia and if they are able to see our Pacific people on screen, whether that be on television or whether that be via social media, that journalism in Australia is a viable career option for our people.

“I’d love to see more of our Pacific broadcasters and journalists elevated as well in their storytelling journey. It’s a part of our DNA and who we are.”

The Pacific returns to ABC Australia for a second season this Thursday August 3rd. To watch check out ABC Pacific Facebook.



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