Sunday, August 12, 2007

Journalism does matter - and the scribes are defending it!

Top marks to Brent Edwards, Simon Collins and the EPMU union team for the excellent "journalism matters" conference at the weekend. Simon described it as: "There has been nothing like it in my 31 years as a journalist." A solid action plan came out of the talkfest on Sunday with a few challenges ahead - check them out. Top marks also to Mike Kilpatrick and his Te Waha Nui team from AUT (six student journos drove from Auckland to Wellington for the weekend to cover the event). As was expected, especially after Chris Trotter's gloomy preview, the mainstream media barely noticed the summit, apart from a short NZ Herald piece, Audrey Young's blog and some random radio spots.

My own reflections were jotted down on the first day, Chris Warren's speech was inspiring and Jeremy Rose had some good stuff on Sunday. So watch for some feisty coverage in TWN this Friday. Unsurprisingly, I liked Judy McGregor's swipe at the nation's newsrooms for their "pitifully low" Maori, Pacific Island and Asian numbers - "this has been a structural, systemic problem for decades". She handed bouquets to Fairfax for its new internship diversity ratio and suggested that only Waiariki and AUT University media schools would pass an audit for diversity of selection. I'll offer a plug here for AUT - it has had a Pasifika diversity scholarship in place for several years now in partnership with PIMA - and last year the first scholarship BCS graduate was snapped up by Radio NZ, a masters graduate joined Niu FM and another masters graduate started his own Tongan-language newspaper. Plus there is also AUT's Pacific Media Centre initiative promoting independent journalism research. Cook Islands scribe Jason Brown rapped the journalists' "closed door" democracy with a criticism of the use of Chatham House Rules.

"Politics threaten media progress"
In the Christchurch Press, anti-union columnist Karl du Fresne launched into an attack on the politics of the conference. He singled out for special criticism "self-proclaimed socialist" Martin Hirst (for supporting journalists as agents of social change) and keynote speaker Equal Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor for being a "trenchant critic of the industry that once employed her". Pictured: Conference convenor Brent Edwards, Radio NZ's political editor and EPMU media council chair. Photo: Jimmy Joe/EPMU.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Regime change in Timor ... and the rioting starts

So the inevitable has happened. Australian-backed regime change has entered its final act. Resistance hero Xanana Gusmao, but a divisive figure when still president of Timor-Leste during last year's clashes, has finally been named prime minister of a coalition government, ousting the Fretilin government that had led the country into independence. Gusmao refused Fretilin's proposal for a "government of national unity" headed by an independent PM. So the stage was set for bitter responses from the internal refugee camps and disaffected youth to President Jose Ramos Horta's announcement on Monday that Gusmao would lead the next government, a coalition of major parties, after five weeks of negotiations following the recent parliamentary elections. Sporadic rioting has begun.
Fretilin - which won the most votes in the election but which fell short of the majority needed to rule - has denounced the decision, declaring the new government is illegal. It has boycotted Parliament since last week. Fretilin has declared it will not cooperate with a government that is "unconstitutional". (Pictured: Election street graffiti - Asia Pacific Network).

Friday, August 3, 2007

PNG's 'secret' Moti report stirs threats

After early reports in The Australian revealing embarrassing choice bits in the "secret" PNG Defence Force report on the Moti affair, the newspaper followed up with publishing the entire document online. PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare (right), who ought to face charges, says the report, did his damnedest to keep the report out of the media before last month's election. And he has also threatened local media. But now that he looks a fair bet to remain PM after the post-election horse trading, it will be interesting to see how his stance shifts over the next few weeks. According to Michael McKenna in The Australian, Somare had threatened local media with contempt of court over their calls for the official release of the PNG Defence Force Inquiry report that recommends he faces charges over last year’s escape of Australian fugitive Julian Moti (above left) to the Solomon Islands: "Somare's lawyers issued a press release following the leaking of the damning report to The Australian .... The warning was issued on Thursday night as he lobbied independent MPs to form a coalition government with his National Alliance party. Details of the report were first revealed by The Australian on Monday, and were followed by a series of extensive reports. It recommends Sir Michael, as well as several of his top advisers and military officers, face charges or criminal investigation for their alleged role in the escape of Mr Moti, wanted by Australian police on charges of child sex abuse, aboard a PNG military plane to the Solomons on October 10." The problem for the Australians is that many Melanesians in PNG and the Solomon Islands have no sympathy for the Canberra "big stick" and are fed up with the patronising political meddling.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

When racism and fascism converge

Mohamed Haneef has become the cause celebre for many who have warned about the consequences of racist and open-book anti-terrorism legislation on the erosion of civil liberties for us all. Creeping fascism in Oz. But many sections of the media are also appalling. The New Zealand Herald's front page story at the weekend headlined " 'Terror' doctor goes free" is a case in point - after the trumped up "terror" case had already collapsed. Six quick questions from the outraged on the Haneef campaign page at TwoCircles:

1. Is it a crime to buy and travel on one-way air tickets?
2. Are all relatives of a terrorist considered terrorists?
3. Dr. Haneef's SIM card was not involved in any terror activity.
4. Why was his wife's visa to Australia canceled?
5. When Dr. Haneef's visa was cancelled, why was he not deported?
6. Why was Dr. Asif Ali, friend of Dr. Haneef, harassed and why is he not allowed to say what happened to him when he was under detention?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More on the Fiji quagmire

Deposed Fiji PM Laisenia Qarase's chickens seem to be coming home to roost! Stuck in Fiji MUD had these unproven allegations the other day:
Radio NZ article reports on a case heard in Lautoka High Court, which dismissed an application to have the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption declared illegal. This particular case also represents a significant boost to the mandate of the clean-up campaign, undertaken by the Interim Fiji Government, which found massive irregularities in Native Institutions. These discrepancies, could find the deposed Prime Minister of Fiji, Laisenia Qarase culpable for abuse of office. Earlier, Qarase had denied abusing his position to enrich himself or cordoning corrupt practices under his watch. Qarase counter accused the Corruption Unit of selectivity, by steering the investigations clear of the Fiji President, who was also appointed as President of Native Lands Trust Board, while Qarase chaired the board. Qarase's accusations, actually acknowledges that, the crime(s) took place. It was during this time, approval of several questionable projects involving Pacific Connex and the illegal de-registering of native land without consent or approval of the native land owning units occurred. Other case that may involve Qarase includes the projects at Natadola and Yaqara; both locations of proposed major development projects, without the ownership and approval of the landowners. These projects placed NLTB and Fijian institutions under scrutiny following complaints, involving coercion, misrepresentation and transactions under false pretences.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Death of our civil rights

Anybody who saw the UK film Death of a President in the Auckland International Film Festival this week wouldn't have been surprised by the harrowing consequences of the so-called "war on terror" on civil rights and our fundamental freedoms as we lurch closer to the totalitarian systems we are supposedly being defended against. Gabriel Range's restrospective docudrama (based on the fictitious assassination of George W. Bush in Chicago in October 2007) is a brilliant - and controversial - portayal of the abyss we have been plunged into. Our fundamental concept of innocent until proven guilty is suspended when it comes to Muslim suspects. In that context and in the light of the Kafkaesque detention of Mohamed Haneef in Oz, note this ABC news item yesterday - and now Dr Haneef, as reported in the NZ Herald, has been freed with no case to answer! And the Oz authorities get away with the outrageous arrest without so much as an apology:
ListMail: ABC News
Saturday July 21, 2007
(For more news visit ABC News Online at

*Haneef predicament 'every Muslim's fear'*
A Muslim civil rights advocate says the handling of the case of the
Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef has confirmed the Muslim community's
worst fears.
Haneef is facing charges of recklessly providing support to a terrorist
organisation involved in the recent UK attempted car bombings.
In Brisbane last Saturday, the court was told that Haneef's SIM card
was found in the car that was driven into Glasgow airport.
But the ABC has been told by sources in the UK and Australia that the
SIM card was first seized by police eight hours later, when his cousin
Sabeel Ahmed was arrested in Liverpool.
Dr Waleed Kadous from the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy
Network says the fears felt by Muslims date back to the introduction of
the counter-terrorism legislation last year.
Dr Kadous says the Haneef case has left many thinking "there but for
the grace of God go I".
"[It was] every Muslim's fear that this could happen to him," he said.
"They can imagine being in the same situation as Haneef was in, that
they left a SIM card with a relative before leaving country and then
something happens a year later.
"They can imagine borrowing money from someone and paying the loan
back, these are not unusual things."

Greg Ansley in the NZ Herald wrote about the red faces over the collapse of "evidence" against Haneef.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Timor media survives with blood, sweat and tears

Things are tough in East Timor - courage is the name of the game. The risks are great and the pay meagre. And there are few institutional checks and balances - no media councils, the journalist unions (two of them are struggling) and the threats and assaults many. In spite of this, the Timorese journos and media did a tremendous job during the recent presidential and parliamentary elections - better in many respects than what is done by the NZ and Oz media! The NZ media mission last month did a great job there monitoring the media's role. (I was part of that effort - I'm pictured by Walter Zweifel in a workshop with a couple of Dili journos). The report came up with a host of ideas and recommendations for strengthening the media in future. Scoop picked up on the report - but it seems to have dipped below the horizon in most media, apart from Clive Lind in the Dominion Post and Judy McGregor, mission leader, in an interview with Colin Peacock on Timor's fledgling media in RNZ's MediaWatch.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fighting for our media

Campaign running at OurMedia:
"New Zealand's media faces a crisis. Newsrooms are being cut, journalists' wages and conditions are under attack and commercial pressures are seeing news quality sacrificed to improve corporate profits. This isn't good enough - a well resourced news media is vital to the functioning of good communities and a healthy democracy. Without quality journalism, good technical support and decent media resourcing New Zealanders will not get quality and reliable news and that means the crucial decisions we make in our lives as citizens risk being uninformed decisions. Help stop the decline of our media and our democracy by joining our campaign to take our media back."
Registration has opened for the Journalism Matters Summit (August 11-12) - run by journos for journos. Programme under comments.

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