Saturday, June 21, 2008

The subversion of Fiji's search for political equilibrium

Amid the fog of political polarisation and ethnic characterisation in Fiji, it is refreshing to have some intelligent and thoughtful debate examining beyond the "race" perspective on Fiji, so often favoured by journalists. Ethnic and political identities are not identical, as University of the South Pacific's Professor. Despite this, the two have been molded into inseparable components of communal politics, says sociologist Dr Steven Ratuva, of the University of the South Pacific. Speaking at a public forum on identity and belongingness in Fiji, he was reported by the Fiji Times as saying the contest for state power continued to be based on ethnic and political identification and consciousness.
“While there is a clamor for a political identity at the national level there is also demand for distinctive ethnic diversity. The search for political equilibrium in Fiji’s communal democracy has been constantly subverted by indigenous ethno-nationalism, justified by the ideology of paramountcy of Fijian interests.”
The 2000 coup brought to surface a lot of contradictions of communal democracy. “But the State system has not in itself changed despite the change in ideological and professional focus of the military from being an institution of indigenous rights to one which serves national interest."
The 2006 coup was an attempt to transform the identity of the state in a fundamental way through institutional reform and a proposed charter, he said. And now the debate is on about the legitimacy of this approach.

Another assault on media freedom

Ironically, Fiji Human Rights Commission's Ombudsman Shaista Shameem, under attack from various media quarters over her leaked 41-page report upholding the "right" of the Fiji regime to deport foreign newspaper publishers Evan Hannah and Russell Hunter (both Australian), has a chapter in a media book being published in Fiji tomorrow. In this, she isn't very charitable about journalists and objectivity. "Can we, in reality, expect objectivity from journalists? Human beings , by nature, are not objective... Journalists cannot pretend to be objective. ... The role of the journalist is to scrupulously provide all sides of the story allow people to make up their own minds."
Fair enough, but this is journalism 101 - one of the fairness foundations of journalism that reporters grow up with. It is in the interpretation of fairness where the credibility gap begins. She complains that journos in the Pacific don't know enough about the difference between "coverage" and "cover-up". And she reckons that the "worldview of owners" is too influential. On her checklist for journos is:
  • "There is no such thing as objectivity of perspective; there are only subjectivities, including prejudices, and these must be kept firmly under control to protect journalistic professionalism.
  • "The right to a fair hearing is a requirement in reporting a story..."

In her book, there is far too much "manipulation" by media in the Pacific. But the chapter is generalised with no specific examples of her claims. In her adjudication in the Hunter and Hannah complaint (filed by "Opposition Leader" Mick Beddoes), there is an attack on an alleged "conspiracy" involving the New Zealand government - highlighted today by the Sunday-Star Times.
Meanwhile, media freedom in the region continues to deteriorate with Cook Islands News publisher John Woods becoming the latest journo to face the wrath of bureaucratic or judicial vindictiveness. He has been convicted of contempt in the High Court on Rarotonga over the breach of a suppression order related to a Manihiki land controversy.
Mike Field and others have also reported on the police raid on Fiji Television to block a Close Up current affairs programme featuring Rajendra Chaudhry that irked the regime.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New book explores crucial role for Pacific media in development

A new book on Pacific media is being launched in Suva, Fiji, on Monday to add to the growing literature on Pacific journalism. With a core of University of the South Pacific contributors and journalists and media analysts around the region, Media and Development will be exploring critical issues facing the Pacific - and what journalists can do about it. No doubt this publication will become a core text at the USP and other journalism schools, at least for postgraduate students. Published by the Fijian Institute of Applied Studies and co-edited by USP journalism head Shailendra Singh and economics professor Biman Prasad, the team of 23 contributors - including me - ought to be congratulated on the effort. After the book launching by Fiji Media Council chairman Daryl Tarte at USP, the co-publisher - Pacific Media Centre - will have another launch in Auckland further down the track.
With growing evidence of low economic growth, poverty, mismanagement, corruption and political instability in the Pacific, the co-editors argue that an unfettered flow of information is vital:
The media has a crucial role to play in facilitating quick and better access to information about issues such as health, education, technology, economy and politics to help to maintain the social and political cohensiveness that is so important for development in small and vulnerable countries.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Goro mining struggle now on mission to Canada

Clashes in New Caledonia persist over nickel mining and coral reefs as indigenous Kanaks campaign for customary authorities to have more say in decision-making over resource development, says an environmental campaigner. Marina Kahlemu, former president and now secretary of the Corail Vivant environmental group, says the struggle to save the reef is critical in the face of major mining projects. She talked about her people's struggle on a visit to the Pacific Media Centre this week with Canterbury University internship student journo Yvonne Sargayoos. Marina is on her way to Quebec where the next stage of the campaign to have New Caledonia's coral reef classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site is set. Groups like Corail Vivant and the more militant Rheebu Nuu have been at the forefront of the struggle. AUT film maker Jim Marbrook is working on a doco about the dilemmas of nickel mining and economic development and protecting the fragile environment. From what we've seen of the rushes so far, Jim has a compelling and doco in the making - one that indigenous campaigners protecting a way of life will find inspiring. Photo: Marina Kahlemu ... campaigning to save New Caledonia's reefs. Photo: Jim Marbrook. Video: Jeffery Zweig at a meeting earlier this year planning to halt the pipeline work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New lease of life for Pacific Media Watch

Just 11 years or so after it was founded, Pacific Media Watch has discovered a new lease of life at its new home at AUT University. Always with an eye to journalist freedom in the region - and sometimes a persistent thorn in the side of self-interested media fat cats - the voluntary media monitoring service has been relaunched as a "future proofed" dynamic digital resource. Launching the database along with the latest edition of the research journal Pacific Journalism Review, Office of Pasifika Advancement director Pauline Winter described the new media resource as invaluable for media and journalism schools. The new Pacific Media Centre took over development of the PMW service last year and has established the database as the first project on DSpace, a digital archive set up by the university's Creative Industries Research Institute (CIRI). The revamped service combines more than 5000 news reports on Pacific media freedom, ethics, education and training issues - updated daily - with a major archive of media research reports and documents, and audio and video clips. But the new database is just at the first stage of its new development. Many new improvements will come in the months ahead.
The original PMW news monitoring service was established in 1996 as a journalism partnership between the University of Technology, Sydney, and the University of Papua New Guinea. The University of the South Pacific journalism school has also been a key contributor in recent years.
PMW campaigned in support of Tongan publisher Kalafi Moala, fellow journalist Filokalafi 'Akau'ola and pro-democracy MP 'Akilisi Pohiva who were wrongfully jailed that year for contempt of Parliament.
At the launch, I paid tribute to the researchers and students involved in the centre. But I would especially like to single out Sydney television journalist Peter Cronau for his sustained work on PMW over many years - including setting up the original PMW website and Kiribati journalist Tabs Korauaba who helped work on developing files for the digital archive last year.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Goodbye PNG rainforest - hello ecodisaster!

Papua New Guinea's forests are shrinking faster than the Amazon, says the New Scientist in its latest edition (2659). This report is one of a host sparked in global media this week from a joint new state-of-the-nation's-forests report prepared by a joint University of Papua New Guinea and Australian National University team. The New Scientist summary says:
The lush tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea are not the unspoilt haven that many believed till now. In fact, they are disappearing faster than those in the Amazon.
That's the conclusion of a team led by Phil Shearman of the Remote Sensing Centre at UPNG in Port Moresby, who applied pattern recognition software to recent satellite images, and paired the results with map data from the 1970s to reconstruct the rate of forest loss. The team presented its findings ... at a workshop on climate change, forests and carbon trading in Port Moresby.
Their study found that in 2002, 1.4 per cent of PNG's forests were cleared or degraded, increasing to 1.7 per cent in 2007. If the trend continues, more than half the forest that existed when PNG became independent from Australia in 1975 will be gone by 2021.

The Guardian reported in a bylined piece by David Adam:
The forests of Papua New Guinea are being chopped down so quickly that more than half its trees could be lost by 2021 ... Papua New Guinea has the world's third largest tropical forest, but it was being cleared or degraded at a rate of 362,000 hectares (895,000 acres) a year in 2001, the report said.
Phil Shearman, lead author of the study, said: "Forests are being logged repeatedly and wastefully with little regard for the environmental consequences, and with at least the passive complicity of government authorities."
The researchers compared satellite images taken over three decades from the early 1970s. In 1972 the country had 38m hectares (94m acres), of rainforest covering 82 percent of the country. About 15 percent of that was cleared by 2002.
Shearman said: "For the first time we have evidence of what's happening. The government could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change, as this nation is particularly susceptible to negative effects due to loss of the forest cover."

Pictured: Not far behind the PNG rainforest roads, the rapacious loggers. Source: UPNG report.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Clark critical of 'personality driven' NZ media

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has highlighted a number of faults in the national media while discussing the need for a lively press "with responsibility" in the latest Pacific Journalism Review. Among several points she raises are:

  • Too many youthful journalists with energy but a limited grasp of history, geography, sociology and economics - leaving "a large gap in general knowledge".
  • The lack of resources given by the media to covering international stories of "importance to New Zealand".
  • The need for mainstream media to have a better understanding of cultural diversity.
  • Journalists shouldn't confuse healthy scrutiny with cynicism because that undermines the political process.
  • Personality driven media with journalists making themselves the centre of the story.
  • The role of blogs and the tendency for journalists to make "rushed judgments".

This edition's special section of research papers from the Journalism Education Association of NZ conference at Massey University last December has been edited by my Wellington colleague Dr Grant Hannis. The journal has only just gone out to subscribers but already there has been plenty of positive feedback. Other contributors include Fortune journalist and author Bethany McLean, who exposed Enron over its gigantic scam, and Dom Post editor Tim Pankhurst over how his paper is facing the challenges of digital media. Hannis himself contributes a revealing research paper about freelance journalists. Other articles in the AUT Pacific Media Centre- published journal highlight the Maori Party and the media, bogans in West Auckland and West Papuan coverage plus a state-of-media-health report by Bill Rosenberg. And a host of good reviews are also included.

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