Sunday, March 16, 2008

Horror from the past - a new twist on My Lai

As Economist picture editor Celina Dunlop writes, the name My Lai has become synonymous with "massacre" and atrocity. Contemporary US military atrocities are compared with what happened in the little Vietnames hamlet four decades ago and are often billed as a "modern-day My Lai". As Dunlop says: "The name is shorthand for slaughter of the defenceless, the benchmark of American wartime atrocity. The murders of 504 men, women, children and babies happened in a northerly province of South Vietnam on 16 March 1968. It proved to be a turning point for public opinion about the Vietnam War."
For me, there is a tragic sense of deja vu also for publication of photographs of that massacre in an Australian weekly newspaper, the Melbourne Sunday Observer - the same week as Life magazine in 1969. At the time I was chief subeditor. The editor, myself and the newspaper were prosecuted for "obscenity" (the case was eventually dropped) for publishing the horrendeous images. Yet for all of us working on that paper during a prevailing newspaper climate supportive of Australian involvement in the US colonial war, it was an "obscenity" that US, Australian and NZ troops were in Vietnam at all.
Dunlop writes about the so-called Peers Inquiry (chaired chaired by Lt Gen William 'Ray' Peers) that interviewed some 400 witnesses and tape-recorded their testimony: "In 1987, [the tapes] were shipped to the US National Archives, as one small portion of a massive group of records of US Army activities in Vietnam. There they remained hidden, never catalogued, never investigated, never uncovered - until last year.
I spent many months trying to track down the tapes.
Again and again, I was told they did not exist, but after much persistence, 48 hours of recordings from the key witnesses were declassified and made available to me."
The Peers findings set the benchmark for future guidelines for the US military in dealing with civilians.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Niu FM in the hot seat over its news credibility

Sadly, Pacific Radio News - which seemed a hot new prospect on the media scene in New Zealand last year, culminating with a commended recognition at the annual NZ Media Peace Awards event for its coverage of the Fiji and Tonga upheavals - is now itself embroiled in a crisis. PR stalwart Vienna Richards is now in charge and the PRN news service was dumped for a week while being "reviewed" - unheard of in the Kiwi media scene (although a RadioLIVE news package filled the gap). Some news staff are unhappy and worried about the future of the station's news credibility and survival. Pacific Radio News was back on air this week, but skipped a few bulletins. Listeners have commented on the drop in standards.
Parent company Niu FM was itself in the news last night with a Barbara Dreaver TVOne report angled on the station's "political appointment". The brother of Richards is William Sio, Labour Party candidate contesting the crucial South Auckland seat of Mangere for this year's general election. Political columnist Chris Trotter said: "The Labour government is funding this station, and they've just moved the news director aside to put in the candidate's sister in an election year. I think they really will have to reverse this decision."
Jason Brown filed a report for Pacific Media Watch, which gave a comprehensive coverage of Niu FM's chief executive Sina Moore's defence - but Sina was hardly convincing.

ALSO, congratulations to Jason and Courtenay Brooking who have won the AUT/PIMA Pasifika Communication Scholarships for this year. Courtenay is starting a three-year Bachelor of Communication Studies and Jason is launching into a Master of Communication Studies degree. Cafe Pacific wishes them both well.
Pictured by AUT student journalist Dominika White at the AUT awards last night are Courtenay and Jason, backed by PIMA chair Aaron Taouma (left), Courtenay's mum and dad, and PIMA deputy chair Chris Lakatani.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fiji Times 'voice of the people'

One of my Fiji journo colleagues has brought to Cafe Pacific's attention a few interesting letters on the Fiji Times Online website. An extract from one, headed Media bias, contrasted the lack of zeal in the investigative stakes when Qarase was in power compared with the Chaudhry expose:
"Yet here we have our deposed Prime Minister (Laisenia Qarase) charged with crimes during his tenure with FHL.
Why does the media not investigate Mr Qarase's case further?
It's been discussed in all sectors in the House of Representatives since early 1990s yet the media has done little to report this to the public.
I challenge the media to show what investigative reporting they have done so far with Mr Qarase's case or other cases such as Fiji Water."
Signed by Robert Rounds, of Lautoka.
An editorial response from the FT: "Mr Qarase's case is before the courts and we cannot report on it at this stage. We welcome information from the public which will help us with our investigations."
A bit more investigative probing at the time would have been helpful!
Another reader took a blast at ther local reporting and wondered why the coverage of the commission against corruption wasn't getting a better run.

Responsible media
"I NOTE the call for more responsibility in the media.
On a visit to Fiji, I must say I was shocked to see the newspapers taking an obvious bias against the interim Government.
Of course this administration has made mistakes (what government hasn't?) but it faces a constant chipping away by the press in particular
Surely the good things to come out of the interim Government such as the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) are worthy enough to note.
Responsibility in the media must include the exercise of discretion when to print and when not to print a story.
Just one week's reading of this long-time journal's output provides irrefutable evidence that your editorial board has never read the book on discretion."
Paul K. Madigan
Hong Kong

National crisis
"YOUR FrontPage headline (FT 12/2) alleges that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji is in a crisis.
We have many crisis in Fiji serious crime, poverty where more than one third of the population are struggling to survive below the poverty line, in schools with 10 per cent of our children not attending classes, lack of confidence in an economy on the decline and many others on the same scale of seriousness.
A difference of views between two national council members, even if expressed very robustly, will not register on the same scale. This is by comparison, a crisis in a tea cup.
The national council, from the outset when it first met on January 16, encourages robust debate.
Its members will not be frightened by a bit of honest emotion over a matter that may, in the end, be easily resolved by a quiet conversation and constructive dialogue.
They keep a sense of proportion in their discussions about what is really important and what is not.
The national council, at the least, deserves a sense of proportion and fair reporting from journalists and the mainstream media.
In the report, the headline and contents of your first paragraph [don't] show any relationship to the rest of the news.
The story was about a certain business deal and had nothing to do with the national council."

John Samy
Head of TASS

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fairness and the Fiji media

"Anonymous" has taken me to task by claiming that my recent quickfire criticisms of the James Anthony report (and the Fiji media) were "typical" in that that "the racist part was overemphasized by [me] and the media elite. What is racist about the term 'white'?"
Actually, I would have been just as critical if such a "detached" report was addressed in such extreme emotive terms relating to any race.
"Should fairness in the media also mean proportionate representation?"
We're under no illusions, there is little fairness in the media in Fiji. There never has been as long as I have been writing about Fiji, and I also lived in Fiji for five years. After 40 years in the news media and having lived and worked in some 15 countries, my experience of the Fiji media is that it is the least fair and balanced of any media that I have encountered. Much of this has to do with the lack of basic training and education compared with many other countries. This is being gradually addressed by the two j-schools at USP and FIT but there is also a constant drain of experienced people. Still there are many outstanding journalists in Fiji.
This leads me to the next criticism from the reader:
"Seems you have turned on a dime, comparing your views on the Fiji Times post-2000 coup. I wonder why the media, including you have not commented on the glass ceiling of the Fiji media."
No, Mr Anonymous, I haven't turned at all. My criticisms stand and many others have echoed that analysis. A far fuller and documented case is made in my 306-page book Mekim Nius: South Pacific media, politics and education, published by the University of the South Pacific in 2004. It is available at Amazon.com. But that isn't the point. In my blog posting, I was addressing some of the flaws of the Anthony report.
"Anonymous" makes a few other points too - read them.

A new book about the state of the media in the Pacific today should be out by May. Co-edited by Evangelia Papoutsaki (formerly of the Divine Word University, and now of Unitec, NZ) and a former Fiji journalist, now media academic, Usha Sundar Harris, South Pacific Islands Communication: Regional Perspectives, Local Issues, it is jointly published by the Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore, University of the South Pacific and AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. More information about this at the PMC.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fiji's 'how to gag the media' report

It is ironic that Jim Anthony's flawed report for the Fiji Human Rights Commission should be dubbed with an Orwellian title "Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji". It is far more like a "How to gag and shackle the media" report. It's the sort of report that gives even military-backed regimes bad reputations. A great pity. A constructive, well-researched and useful - but genuinely independent - examination of the Fiji media is long overdue. A 2007 review of the NZ Press Council is an example of the sort of thing that can be done. But the Anthony report doesn't show any interest in "free media" models that work well - he has been seduced by authoritarian straitjackets. Perhaps he isn't even aware of the M*A*S* work of the late Professor Claude-Jean Bertrand, the pioneer of global media accountability systems. A report as racist, provocative and ill-informed as this - with not even elementary referencing or sourcing - is rather embarrassing.
However, much of the media response in Fiji is also extraordinarily defensive and hypocritical, even bordering on hysterical. Why do they even bother to take such a report seriously? Surely the Anthony report deserved to quietly fade into oblivion - hardly worthy of any serious response. Yet some of the over-the-top reactions have ensured the Anthony report has gained far more international attention than it ever warranted. And certainly the spotlight is on foreign influence in media ownership. But the public deserves more than the defensive bleatings from self-interested media and political voices - where are the independent commentators and analysts for balance? The Fiji Times is one of the few to publish the odd independent reaction, such as from the Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA), which criticised the media for being the 'mouthpiece of the elite' and also for poor journalism standards. We also wonder about the timing of the report's release, given that it was made available hurriedly just three days after the arbitrary deportation of Fiji Times publisher Russell Hunter. Ousted Opposition leader Mick Beddoes described Dr Anthony as "paranoid", saying some of his "accusations and conclusions are not worth the paper they're printed on". A former deputy PM in Mahendra Chaudhry's People's Coalition government deposed by George Speight in 2000, Dr Tupeni Baba, dismissed the report as biased.
Dr Anthony told Radio New Zealand International that media and government relations had broken down, and for years the media had poured venom into Fiji's body politic: "Playing crybaby over this report isn't really going to wash. The media representatives, the media barons, were invited to participate in this report; they chose to boycott the inquiry. In my opinion, that was a fatally flawed decision."
Pictured: Fiji's Interim Minister for Labour and Tourism Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau is interviewed by Dr James Anthony during the media "inquiry". Source: Fiji Human Rights Commission website.
A quick summary of the report's recommendations:
  • Expatriate journalists living in Fiji would be banned from working in the country under recommendations by the country's human rights commission.
  • A media tribunal would be established independent of government control.
  • A Fiji media development authority would be established based on a system in Singapore to monitor media organisations and train journalists.
  • A 7 percent tax on media advertising and license fees would be imposed to fund the tribunal and authority.
  • New sedition laws would be introduced.

Too many whites in media, says academic - audio - Anthony's defence of his report on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Media report calls for training authority
A Fiji Times breakdown of the FHRC media report into handy pdf morsels - and a summary of media reactions
The Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA) response
Report author condemns failure of media to take part
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Fiji media walks the fine line
Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji - The Anthony report (FHRC website)
David Robie on Pacific media freedom under siege

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Timor's top security man apologises over attack on Timor Post staffer

Timor Leste's Secretary of State for Security Francisco Guterres has now apologised for the “unwarranted use of force” against Timor Post reporter Agustinho da Costa on the night of 22 February. He promised that the security forces would ensure that this kind of incident did not recur. Military police seized Da Costa while he was delivering last weekend's edition of the paper to the printery in Dili. The police held him for 11 hours and beat him several times, leaving him with extensive bruising to the face.

Meanwhile, Fretilin MP and former cabinet minister Jose Teixeira has complained to SBS TV over a recent report which he claims is defamatory.
His open letter:
Friday, February 22, 2008,
To: Complaints, SBS Australia
Yesterday your national news bulletin carried a report from a reporter in Timor-Leste, Maria Gabriela Carrascalao (pictured), wherein my character was seriously defamed by both Ms Carrascalao and SBS. The report imputed my involvement with the contemptible and abhorrent criminal attacks on the President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.
Your report and the imputations regarding me in the report are false and misleading. I have denied in a press release of the 20th of February 2008 that would have been accessible denied any involvement with these events. A press conference was also held by the FRETILIN parliamentary group on my behalf making it clear that this was based on nothing more than a political witch hunt of me and FRETILIN.
Facts would also have been available to your reporter yesterday that on February 20, the day after I was the subject of the police action, the prosecutor general himself stated that the police had acted "outside procedures", and that I was not and have never been a person named in a list provided by the prosecutor general to the police for questioning.
After being taken into the Dili Police Headquarters without either a warrant or another lawful reason, and in total disregard of my immunity as a member of the Timor-Leste National Parliament, I was informed by the commander of the National Investigations Division, a joint Timor-Leste Police and UN Police unit, that they did not have any requirement for my presence for questioning. However, given the lateness of the night and after interventions on my part by some of the FRETILIN leadership, I was allowed to and in fact driven to a friend's residence where I stayed for the evening.
The fact that I was taken in 45 minutes before the commencement of the nightly curfew period is significant, as I was informed the following day by many police that many people were picked under similar circumstances to myself who were detained overnight at the police station but released in the morning for want of any basis of evidence whatsoever.
I presented the following morning as agreed with the commander of the National Investigation Division and gave a short statement. However, the police who took my statement did not have any facts to put to me because they had not been involved in bringing me in and other than a general knowledge of being brought in as a witness, knew nothing else. After giving a short statement I was allowed to leave unimpeded and without further requirements from the police.
However, prior to leaving, the senior UN Police officer requested to speak with me and reiterated what had been told to me by the Timorese National Investigation Division Commander, that being that I was not named or known to them on any list provided by the Prosecutor General's Office from whom they took their instructions during the investigation of the events of 11th February 2008.
On the evening of my being subject to police action, a senior FRETILIN leader spoke to the Deputy Commander of the Timor-Leste National Police Operations who informed him that he was aware of the operation against me and ordered it. Though asked, he declined to comment on who gave him orders to order the operation against me. It is known that the prosecutor general's office was not aware or involved with the operation and nor was the National Investigations Division.
The fact is that orders were given and FRETILIN and I are demanding in Parliament to know, as was demanded in the media conference on February 20, exactly who ordered that I be taken in for questioning.
All these facts were readily ascertainable by your Dili reporter had she bothered to seek information or even a comment from myself or other FRETILIN spokespersons, so as to report in a more balanced and truthful manner.
I have consistently denied knowing any of the persons suspected of being involved, including the deceased Reinado or of in any way having any involvement whatsoever with them or any of their activities whatsoever.
It is our firm belief that the police action against me was a politically motivated action with the knowledge of the government, aimed at tarnishing me good name and to undermine the effectiveness of my role as a FRETILIN media spokesperson and liaison officer. FRETILIN has and will continue to insist on an answer as to who gave the orders to the police to take the action they did against me.
I am currently taking legal advice and intended to commence all relevant legal proceedings in whichever jurisdiction may be necessary to seek to remedy the extensive damage that has already been sustained by my previously good name and character as a result of your defamatory report and other reports as well.
In the interim, I hereby demand that you broadcast a retraction taking into account the facts that were already available to your reporter and your network when the story ran last night. This will only go a small way to remedying the damage already sustained by my hitherto good name and character.
Jose Teixeira MP
Dili, Timor Leste

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Media protest over Hunter expulsion from Fiji

Still smarting from last week's embarrassing allegations by the Fiji Sun, Fiji TV and - particularly Netani Rika's Saturday expose in the Fiji Times accusing and naming interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry over his tax affairs, the regime hasn't wasted much time in turning its rage onto the messenger. In this case, Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter (pictured) was on a one-way plane ride from Fiji to Oz today after eight years in the country (plus a previous spell when he was forced out by Chaudhry when he was PM before the Speight coup in 2000). Chaudhry declared he was filing defamation writs against both the Sun and the Fiji Times. Media organisations have vented their outrage at the arbitrary move, claimed to be because Hunter was deemed a 'security risk'. The Fiji Media Council said it was shocked by the seizure then expulsion of Hunter, especially as he still had a further 18 months to run on his work permit. Chairman Daryl Tarte protested in a statement:
The action by the Immigration Department, with the approval of the Minister, was taken without due process being followed, without regard for is fundamental rights, without him having access to legal advice, nor any consideration for the plight of his family. He was taken from his home at 8.30 at night and transported to Nadi airport. Furthermore, the deportation took place despite an order from the High Court in Suva restraining the Director of Immigration from deporting Mr Hunter. The Minister’s justification for the deportation is that he is a prohibited immigrant under the new immigration act that came into force on January 3, 2008. No specific details of what Mr Hunter is supposed to have done were given.
Hunter said on arrival in Australia the Fiji media should carry on undeterred. Asked why he had been declared a 'prohibited immigrant', he said: "In my view, the fact that we revealed Mahendra Chaudhry's tax evasion and secret overseas bank accounts."
Interviewed on Radio NZ International, I warned of a new crackdown on Fiji media, adding: "The regime thinks the media should perform a parrot-like role but there is a long tradition of vigorous and free journalism in Fiji. The current media are upholding that tradition very well."

UNSURPRISINGLY, Dr Jim Anthony, who made headlines last year as the controversial choice to head an "inquiry" into the media organised by the Fiji Human Rights Commission, fired off a salvo to the Fiji Times : "... Good riddance to bad rubbish. All other foreign journalists on work permits in Fiji ought to be put on notice: all their permits will not be renewed. Fiji ought to get its act together and train and promote its own people to report the news fairly, accurately and in a balanced way right across the board ... Australia and New Zealand are not necessarily the only beacons of hope or measures of decency in the world." Among other major flaws, Anthony's media report was astoundingly flimsy about the degree of training and education that does go on in Fiji, ie the long-established University of the South Pacific journalism and diploma degree programmes and also the fledgling FIT course. (Netani Rika's view of the report? "Malicious, full of conjecture and untruths" ).
In an editorial headed WE ARE NO THREAT, the Fiji Times said: "The deportation of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter as a security risk to this nation is deplorable. And his treatment as a human being was reprehensible. Taken from his home under the cover of darkness, he was driven to Nadi without being given time to change or say a word of farewell to his wife Martha and their daughter ... Even convicted fraudster Peter Foster was treated better than Mr Hunter."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fiji court 'intimidation' over criticism of judges rapped by RSF

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned what it describes as the Fiji Appeal Court's harassment of Leone Cabenatabua, editor of the Fiji Sun, and Virisila Buadromo, head of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement (and former journalist), who were summoned and warned by the court on 12 February 2008 because of an article quoting Buadromo in that day's issue criticising the military-led government's appointment of new judges to the court.
"The judges exceeded their prerogatives by trying to intimidate a newspaper editor who just published an activist's views on a violation of the rule of law," the press freedom organisation said.
Questioning the independence of the Fijian judicial system, Buadromo's article described the appointments as illegal and said they were an attempt by the military to legitimise their December 2006 coup. It was the three judges named in the article - Daniel Gounder, Nazhat Shameem and Jocelyn Scutt - who summoned Cabenatabua and Buadromo. No charges have been brought against them.
The Sun's editor-in-chief, Russell Hunter, clarified his newspaper's position in an interview with Radio Australia's Pacific Beat reporter Bruce Hill, whose interview was partially carried by Radio Fiji: "You have to listen to what the Court of Appeal tells you - but at the same time you have to exercise editorial judgement. I guess you'll try and fall in the middle somewhere."
Meanwhile, the decade-old Sydney-based Pacific Media Watch is being reestablished as a digital research repository at AUT University's Pacific Media Centre and will be available soon in its new format as a public domain searchable media resource. In Timor-Leste, the case of a beaten up AFP journalist is being investigated and censorship by the Australian-led military authorities is a growing concern.

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