Saturday, May 3, 2008

Timor journo protests against UN 'intimidation'

Leading Timorese photojournalist Jose Belo, a stringer for Australia's SBS Dateline and director of Tempo Semanál Weekly, is fed up with the intimidation and harassment from UN authorities in Dili. He doesn't believe it's the brief of UNMIT to heavy journos and try to extract information from them with jail threats and suchlike. In fact, he is so annoyed that he has sent a protest letter to UNMIT with copies to President Jose Ramos Horta, PM Xanana Gusmão, a bunch of parliamentary and judicial heavyweights, journalist colleagues in East Timor and the media freedom groups Committee to Protect Journalists (New York) and Reporters Sans Frontières (Paris). According to his letter, quoted by Pacific Media Watch at the weekend:
On April 18, 2008, I was approached by United Nations police investigators who said they wanted to interview me in relation to stories I have worked on involving the rebel leaders Major Alfredo Reinado and Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha.
They asked me to sign a document agreeing to be a witness in the ongoing investigations into February 11th attack [on President Horta]. I declined to sign the document and was told if I did not appear for an interview at 9.30am on April 22nd 2008, an arrest warrant would be issued.
Jose said the UN investigators wanted to ask him about an exchange of fire involving Reinado at Fatuahi in 2006, which he had filmed for Dateline, and also a phone interview with Salsinha from the previous week, also for Dateline. Reinado was killed in the February attacks against President Horta and Prime Minister Gusmão.
That work is already in the public [domain]. I refer the investigators to those programmes for all the information they need. I did attend the police station at the appointed time, with lawyers - to comply with the Timor-Leste laws and follow the rules of journalism.
My fear was that they wished to seize my phone contacts and my film archives and interrogate me about my sources.
Belo decided to attend the interview but ... it really
upset me because my personal feeling was that it was a kind of pressure or intimidation [on] the press.
And it makes me start to think that East Timor’s media should not be intimidated by UN-endorsed threats of arrest or possible jail for failing to disclose information.
The UN should be a model for human rights. It should not attempt to violate media freedoms.
I was one journalist. The investigation team was many. I should not have to do their jobs for them.

Pictured: A protest banner in Dili against UNMIT on World Media Freedom Day (May 3) - "UN: You can kill a newsman, but you can't kill the news"

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fiji military regime targets expat media again

Fiji's regime has done it again - shot itself in the foot on the eve of World Media Freedom Day! One of the latest statements in a steady barrage of protests by media and community groups in Fiji since Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah was bundled onto a flight out of Nadi to Korea today after being detained overnight, is from Femlink Pacific's coordinator and media commentor Sharon Bhagwan Rolls. She described the regime's move as "sad and shocking - but also a stark reminder of the political reality within which Fiji's media continues to operate". She continued:
What should be the eve of a global commemoration - when we celebrate the contribution of all forms of media to development and the empowerment of communities - we are reminded that we live in the shadow of a power that chooses to control the way in which information and communication is developed and delivered.
We live in a time when all people, but especially rural and remote communities, should be able to freely access a range of information, as well as feel safe and confident to share their viewpoints, in order to actively engage and participate in the the return to parliamentary democracy.
Given the current campaign of the National Council for Building a Better, this action does not augur well to enhance the opportunity for a diverse range of viewpoints to be shared.
It is not the basis from which we will hear from the ordinary people, who are suffering the most (in silence) who have the biggest stake in defining the road to sustainable peace.
This is not freedom.
This does not provide the political platform for peace and stability.
Fiji's current leaders need to be reminded once again "that you cannot shake hands with a clenched fist".

Earlier this afternoon, the Fiji Media Council held an emergency meeting and chairman Daryl Tarte issued a statement saying the council was "shocked and dismayed" by the mockery of the deportation. It added that the latest move against the media had come when the nation's media industry was still trying to come to terms with the expulsion in February of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter, another Australian expatriate.
Pictured: Evan Hannah (right) being escorted out of his Tamavua home in Suva by officers last night. - Fiji Times Online.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tongan poll vindicates pro-democracy group

Tonga's general election has vindicated the pro-democracy movement with a resounding success in spite of clumsy attempts by the authorities to gag political reporting and debate. As Pacific Radio News reports, pro-democracy candidates captured an overwhelming 70 percent of the vote in last Thursday's poll:
Of the five incumbent MPs, four have been re-elected, despite government moves to discredit them. Four are facing sedition charges over the 2006 riot in Nuku'alofa. Despite that, most were returned with increased majorities.
But first-time candidate Sangster Saulala narrowly missed out finishing fourth on Tongatapu but second in several rural polling stations. Saulala is also facing charges in relation to the 2006 riot.
Less than 50 percent of Tonga's registered voters turned out on the day.
Voting in Nuku'alofa was heavy but in the rural booths, voter turnout was reportedly lower.
'Akilisi Pohiva, former broadcaster and publisher of Kele'a, and long the leader of the Democracy Movement, topped the poll - as expected - with 11,290 votes. This was more than 4000 votes clear of the next highest polling candidate 'Isileli Pulu.
Another pro-democracy MP, Clive Edwards, a onetime notorious Police Minister, who jumped the political fence, had the biggest jump of any candidate, says RPN. He polled with thirteen hundred more votes than he did in the last election.
Pohiva doesn't want to see any slowing of change in Tonga - he would like debate continued next month and electoral reforms embedded before the coronation of King George Tupou V in August.
Pictured: Voting in the Tongan poll - Matangi Tonga

Friday, April 18, 2008

Herald cops ruling over 'democracy under attack' editorials

The New Zealand Herald is eating humble pie over its vigorous "democracy under attack" campaign against the passing of the Electoral Finance Act late last year. Today it was forced to run a brief front page item on the front page acknowledging that it had been rapped by the NZ Press Council over two of its editorials that misrepresented the curb on electoral campaign funding (but with fuller coverage of the adjudication inside). A complaint by the Coalition for Open Government against the Herald editorials of 4 December and 20 November 2007 has been upheld. As Victoria University law lecturer and author Steven Price, who brought the campaign on behalf of the coalition, notes on his Media Law Journal:
"The Herald fulminated that the bill would require anyone wanting to spend any of their own money electioneering to register with the Electoral Commission. That seemed to grossly restrict everyone’s political free speech - an impression underscored by the subhead 'Speak now or next year hold your peace'. But it wasn’t true. Only those who want to spend more than $12,000 electioneering (or $1000 in an electorate) need to register. Still, much better for the Herald’s campaign to brush over the fact that this would only affect a small number of wealthy people and organisations.
"Most irritating Herald argument: its mistake didn’t really matter as “it does not undermine our general view of the shortcomings of this bill.” Well, bully for the Herald. But one might have hoped that they would have felt embarrassed to advance this as a justification for failing to publish accurate information and let readers make up their own minds."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tonga - another 'media Zimbabwe'?

Just when Tonga seemed to be making some headway in opening up to media freedoms and lively debate in the transition as an emerging democracy, a major blow has hit the state-run broadcaster with a tough restriction on political broadcasts. Would-be political journalists have had the rug pulled from under them just as the kingdom heads into an election. The Tonga Broadcasting Commission imposed a ban on reporters doing pre-recorded political interviews (without a vetting committee clearance) with the general manager ‘Elenoa ‘Amanaki claiming journalists didn't have the training or experience to do their job. What a scandalously demeaning statement about TBC's one journos. This is a reflection on the TBC rather than the journos. Journos gain experience by being on the job - and that means covering the elections. And what has been happening on the training front if journos are suddenly regarded as not up to the job. Why now? And why the "admission" on the eve of an election? PINA was a bit slow off the mark, in spite of many journos around the region clamouring online for a strong statement, but eventually PNG-based president Joseph Ealedona rapped the kingdom with a blast against censuring or privatising public broadcasters. Among many online critics have been the Tonga Review, which likens Tonga to Zimbabwe: "Tonga and Zimbabwe have something in common - restriction of freedom of speech. The latest government censorship on political campaigns for the upcoming election is similar to what media are experiencing in Zimbabwe. It is also similar to the way China and police states treat media. Freedom of the press is enshrined in our Constitution but it seems that the authorities are clinging on to the old adage that the 'state' knows what’s best for the media, especially state media, to communicate to the public.
"In an age where media freedom, albeit responsible media reporting, is critical for keeping governments honest, Tonga now seems to be heading the other way and dictating how its state broadcaster speaks to the people. This sets a dangerous precedent because the authorities can become brainwashed thinking that they know what is best for the people.
"The TBC is chaired by the Prime Minister and he has instructed officials to go through political programmes and edit any political rhetoric. This has caused controversy amongst the pro-government and pro-democracy movement. Officials have now become the authority over what can and cannot be said to the public.
"The problem is, you have some programmes that are pro-government such as the ones by Kalafi Moala and Viliami ‘Afeaki which is often critical of the Peoples Representatives and they are allowed and sponsored by government to be aired weekly. This is unfair and creates animosity against the state broadcaster."
Tonga Review
adds that the country's political leadership has "destroyed" the Fourth Estate. A bit sweeping - as the comparisons to totalitarian China. But definitely transparency and accountability have suffered a severe setback.

Pictured: PINA's Joseph Ealedona ... call for Tongan media to perform 'without fear or favour'.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Journo killing season begins again in Philippines

A newspaper columnist has been gunned down in Manila suburb - the first journalist to be murdered this year. Journalists have been murdered or assaulted with some alarming frequency that authorities established a special police unit to investigate cases of violence against the media.
Reporters Without Borders has been quick to put out a statement that it is "shocked" by the murder of newspaper journalist Benefredo Acabal in Pasig City on April 7 and calls on the authorities to do everything possible to establish the motives and bring those responsible to justice. Acabal, 34, was a columnist for The Pilipino Newsmen, a Cavite tabloid.
He was shot five times at close range by a man on a motorcycle and was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital. The police officer in charge of the case, Lardy Ignacio, said it was too soon to say if the murder was linked to the victim's work as a journalist. The police are looking into the possibility that it was linked to Acabal's involvement in a trucking business.

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