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Celebration in Port Vila … the Vanuatu Daily Post’s 5000th edition since it was launched 26 years ago.

From the Vanuatu Daily Post’s celebration special edition today.

Marc Neil-Jones’ newspaper Vanuatu Daily Post celebrates an historic milestone today. We need to remember how it came about.

Marc Neil-Jones … fearless dedication to truth. Image: Vanuatu Daily Post

“I have been lucky,” said Marc Neil-Jones in his valedictory speech when he retired at the end of 2015. “I came to Vanuatu only four years after cyclone Uma had destroyed the place. I came here in 1989 with $8000 and one of those small early Macintosh computers and the first Apple laser printer.”

Out of that Mac came an institution that has effectively defined Vanuatu’s region-leading reputation for media freedom.

Since he arrived in Vanuatu from Papua New Guinea 26 years ago, Marc’s swashbuckling approach to life and his fearless dedication to the truth—to say nothing of his apparently immortal mullet—have created a legend almost bigger than a man can be.

We celebrate his life and his achievements today.

If you run a Google search for “Marc Neil-Jones” the very first image to appear is of a rather punch-drunk man with a bloody nose and a split lip. Marc has gone—literally and metaphorically—toe-to-toe with countless powerful figures in his time. And although his health has suffered of late, he has emerged the victor in every confrontation.

He has been deported, imprisoned, beaten… and threatened with lawsuits so often that he reacts to each new lawyer’s letter with nothing more than a quiet smile, like someone hearing news of an old friend.

Some claim that he has drunk kava with more prime ministers than any other man. In his time away from the office his raillery and joie-de-vivre left many young women breathless and, often enough, scandalised.

Passion and intensity
But he brought that same passion and intensity to his work. Without his unique mix of affability and panache, it’s doubtful that the media in Vanuatu would have evolved as it has.

Marc’s legacy runs deeper than many people appreciate.

Back in 1993, Marc Neil-Jones persuaded then-Prime Minister Maxime Carlot Korman to allow him to open a proper newspaper, the first of its kind in Vanuatu. Until then, only a government rag existed, and its coverage of politics and current events was… staid, to say the least.

It was Marc’s taste for scandal and imbroglio that led him into the newspaper business, but it was his deeply-held sense of decency and desire for fairness that created the newspaper you’re reading today.

In over two decades of partnership with local businessman Gene Wong, Marc’s brainchild has moved from strength to strength. Even in the wake of cyclone Pam’s devastation and the subsequent economic downturn, the Daily Post and Buzz FM remain profitable.

The 5000th edition of the Vanuatu Daily Post.

It is impossible to measure the social wealth that this man has helped create. Without a newspaper of record, one could argue that Vanuatu’s path over the years would have been a different one.

At the height of tension during the 2015 criminal bribery trials, a Solomon Islands policeman turned to a ni-Vanuatu colleague and said: “Mate, if this were Honiara, half the town would be on fire by now.”

But this is Port Vila, not Honiara; and not to put too fine a point on it, if people here have learned to love ethics, fairness and the rule of law, they learned most of it in the pages of the Daily Post.

Marc Neil-Jones has faced increasing health challenges in recent years, and at the end of 2015, he formally announced his retirement. He is a pioneer, a champion of media freedom and a member of a truly elite—and far too small—club of fearless defenders of the truth in the Pacific islands.

This article was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post and has been republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

Congratulatory message from the Pacific Media Centre’s Professor David Robie broadcast on 96BuzzFM today.