Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fiji's 'media cartel' on the mat

What a contrast between the open debate at "OurMedia" summit in New Zealand and the Fiji media. Fiji Media Council Daryl Tarte and his "media cartel", as Laminar Flow likes to brand them, have bunkered down in the face of the Human Rights Commission's inquiry into "media freedom and independence". The commission claimed the media wouldn't take part, a claim then denied by the media quartet - Communications Fiji, Fiji Sun, Fiji Television and the Fiji Times. Not convincing for many among the public. So it remains to be seen how investigator Dr James Anthony, of Hawaii, a onetime political adviser to the first Labour PM, Dr Timoci Bavadra, will get on. It isn't surprising that the local media is so defensive about how it operates. It has always been on the back foot when it comes to discussing media's role in society. And journalists themselves don't have the avenues for "making a noise", as media critic Judy McGregor suggested at OurMedia summit - as they would in New Zealand or many other countries. The first lesson is that freedom of the press is actually on behalf of citizens, not a corporate or business right. But that often isn't the reality. A. J. Liebling summed this up rather well. He once said: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Many quote him as saying media freedom is "limited" to press owners. However, freedom of the press also means freedom to put the media itself under an uncomfortable spotlight! I remember too well the hamfisted attempts by industry personalities to gag me when I critiqued media coverage in the aftermath of George Speight's 2000 coup. Over time those public record criticisms have been shown to be an accurate account (read the published paper in early 2001). But the real question is: Will an "inquiry" by a commission that has shown itself to be so partisan in support of the regime carry any weight?

Fiji media inquiry hots up - PMW feedback

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fiji election and corruption

So Voreqe "Frank" Bainamarama has finally bowed to EU pressure and the regime has set a date for the post-coup elections in Fiji for 13 March 2009. According to Laminar Flow, it marks an interesting change from the so-called clean-up campaign "from investigations into corruption to actual prosecution". Frank has up-staged both Canberra and Wellington after Helen Clark's bluster about the regime's PM facing being "treated something like a leper" at the forthcoming Pacific Islands Forum summit in Tonga. Updates on the corruption and freedom of speech issues still trickle out from Fiji, and the Fiji Independent Commision Against Corruption (FICAC) has engaged Kiwi lawyer Paul Johnson to add a bit of zip to the prosecution cases. (Check out Scott McWilliam's paper on corruption and governance for some earlier background).

On Fiji matters, NZ photojourno Bruce Connew has produced an inspiring book, STOPOVER, on Fiji's indentured labour, George Speight's coup and the story of Indo-Fijian post-coup migration. Superbly designed by his wife, Catherine Griffiths, it's a must read. An exhibition of this work is scheduled for PATAKA, Porirua, Wellington, New Zealand, from August 26, 2007.

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.

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