Friday, October 10, 2008

Pasifika TV - David pulling a fast one on Goliath?

SO Will 'Ilolahia stole a march on the big boys at Television NZ and TV3 during the Pasifika media fono today. During a panel devoted to the future of a Pasifika TV channel when TVNZ and TV3's own ideas were floated - interesting but not very convincing - maverick broadcaster Will 'Ilolahia rose and spoke from the floor about a Pacific TV channel which he says will be streaming on the internet by November 1. His announcement came like a bombshell at the fono, leaving Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin and TV3 Pasifika consortium's Innes Logan (Spasifik publisher) almost speechless.
"We know there are a lot of PIs around the world who are dying to watch Kiwi films and that kind of stuff," Will explained. When asked why he kept the establishment of the channel secret, 'Ilolahia told the Pacific Media Centre's Dominika White that he had wanted to wait until his organisation had something concrete. "To be honest, I came here to hear about the competitors. That's why I got up and said it," he said. Under the moniker of Kiwi Television, the new channel will be available at: (yet to go live). Check out Will's response.

Full marks to Pacific Islands Media Association's Aaron Taouma and his PIMA team for a lively and stimulating conference at AUT University, the best in years. From the "mainstreaming" session in the morning - which included newcomers like the New Zealand Herald's South Auckland reporter Vaimoana Tapaleao to the doyen of television news producers Tati Urale - to the final "future directions" panel, including heavyweights like Taimi 'o Tonga publisher Kalafi Moala and the National Pacific Radio Trust's Fa'amatuainu Tino Pereira, the fono was a great success. Moala's challenge to PIMA was to step up its regional Pacific role. The "Pac2thefuture" theme was a real winner and so were the lower registration fees - especially for students. It was a buzz to see so many younger faces, and students came from Whitireia and the NZ Broadcasting School in Christchurch as well as the usual AUT crowd. A bonus was the announcement of AUT's new Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism, the first Pasifika media education initiative in almost two decades - since the early success of the old Manukau journalism course.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bye bye Qarase - a bula morning in the Fiji High Court

A BOMB threat cleared the Fiji High Court today, but the end result was a damp squib for the coup critics' camp. Coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama won his ruling in court and it was bye bye Laisenia Qarase. The deposed prime minister's attempt to have the December 2006 coup declared in breach of the 1997 constitution failed. One of Café Pacific's e-scribes was on hand to record some wry impressions:

In offices they listened and watched as Fiji TV carried the court findings live and radio boomed out around the nation. On the streets they listened. On the island of Laisenia Qarase, people were glued to the live radio broadcast.
It was Judgment Day - and a big one too.
Qarase lost his case. The Fijian Constitution still stands and that’s that.
The President has direct powers to rule. He has used them and he has the right to use them until the next election is ready.
He was given a long lead time – at least no date was hinted at for the election. When the time is ready for the elections, it’s ready.
Bainimarama must be laughing all the way to his office today, dancing and firing guns in the air. The kava bowls will be filled over many times.
So goes the judgment. And there was not implied - but direct criticism - voiced against both Australia and New Zealand for their travel bans against the interim government.
As for the judge who read the judgment, it took him around two hours in all with a break for coffee and biscuits. And was it wordy? – Oh yes.
We had references to precedents in England, Scotland,
the Philippines, Colonial India and World Two in Burma.
I heard the name John Locke and 1688. I lost the plot now and again, and returned to it between my cups of coffee. But then the three judges needed breaks too.
At the end of the judgment, the judge apologised to the various legal counsel for small typographical errors, and said he was would send electronic correct copies to them during the afternoon.
He also gave a gentle barbed reply on trees, conservation and paper to a counsel who asked about getting a corrected printed copy of the judgment.

The Fiji interim regime wasted no time in calling for cooperation and support for its election plans and constitutional legal specialist Professor Bill Hodge, of Auckland University, says many governments previously opposed to the regime can now be expected to recognise the government as legitimate.

Meanwhile, University of the South Pacific political scientist Steve Ratuva has done a handy analysis on the real power plays at work in Fiji - something vastly better than has been seen from the local flacks for months.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Public right to know - from Possum to the Pumpkin

MAKE sure you get hold of the latest Pacific Journalism Review, due out next week. With the theme "The Public Right to Know - Reporting Futures", this edition has a host of interesting articles. Among them is Chris Nash's fascinating insights into political blogger Possum Pollytics and the critical impact he had on the reportage of last November's Australian federal election. (Check out his new blog). Too bad we don't seem to have a blogger in his league in New Zealand as we approach our own election on November 8. Tony Maniaty has an article analysing the impact of the evolutionary technologies and breathtaking media change on television war reporting:

The fall of free-to-air ratings continues apace, and, with it, the vast resources needed to deploy large teams into the battlefield to mount comprehensive audience-gripping coverage. This relentless quest for real-time war drama has much to answer for, shifting increasingly precious resources away from more nuanced and informative reportage.

In Maniaty's view, "big" media is struggling to sustain "comprehensive coverage". He reckons the "smaller-scale, independent output of video journalists" is becoming the new trend-setter.

In other content in PJR, Robbie Robertson reviews two new challenging books on the Pacific (and Asia) media, which should have the flacks talking, while Sarah Baker and Jeanie Benson offer a refreshing take on NZ media reporting of Asian crime - "The suitcase, the samurai sword and the Pumpkin". The edition is jointly published with the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vijendra's memory lane and a welcome gong

ONE of the satisfying presentations of the recent FAME awards in Fiji was the long-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award media recognition for Vijendra Kumar, first local editor of The Fiji Times. He held that post for about 16 years from 1975, bridging the mellow Mara years during the height of the placid "Pacific way" era and through Rabuka's two military coups. He finally resigned and headed for Brisbane to join his family.

Kumar wasn't there in Suva to collect his gong, but many spoke warmly of his contribution to Fiji media. A few years ago, he spoke candidly to doctoral candidate Anthony Mason who was working on a thesis examining the Fiji coups and the Australian media. Among his reflections published in Pacific Journalism Review was a scathing assessment of international media covering Fiji:

They had absolutely no idea. Few of them knew very much about Fiji, except that it was a South Sea island where they went for a holiday. Very few of them knew much about the political system or the names of the leaders. So it was a surprise for us, and I think it was a big learning experience for the Australian and New Zealand journalists. The NZ journalists had a little more knowledge about Fiji than the Australians, because NZ had closer contacts. Fiji got a lot of coverage on New Zealand radio and in NZ newspapers even before the [1987 Rabuka] coup. But Australian newspapers never reported anything that happened in Fiji, as far as I remember, unless it was something sensational.
Has anything changed that much? Picture: Mason/Pacific Journalism Review

Michael Field has taken a pathetic cheap shot over at Discombobulated Bubu (and on his own website) while attempting to put a sanitising spin on the recent Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling against him. It seems his own reading skills are rather limited. He claims: "... given that organisations like NZPA, the Fiji media and AUT's David Robie cannot be bothered to read the BSA ruling, and prefer to take the Fiji government assessment of the situation, I will try to at least put some context into it all." In my case, he is totally wrong. He is referring to a Pacific Media Watch monitoring item reporting his own news organisation Fairfax Media's website Stuff account of the adjudication. Had he bothered to check, he would have also found that PMW published the full adjudication on its database (but he knew this anyway as it had been pointed out to him later). This is plain mischief-making and disinformation on his part - wasn't "accuracy" at the very core of the BSA complaint over Field in the first place? My only previous comment on this issue was right here on Café Pacific.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Muckraking honours and short memories

MUCKRAKERS have a long and proud tradition stretching back to Progressive era in the late 19th century United States. The term (from the Man with Muckrake in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress) was coined to describe those investigative journos exposing social ills and terrible conditions such as in slums and prisons, sweatshops, along with issues like child labour and food processing cheats. Some also exposed fraud and abuse in politics and corporations. Bethany McLean's Enron expose was a classic example in contemporary times.

And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.

There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:

The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.

As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):

This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.

A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).

Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Media blood-letting over fairness and the Fiji regime

THE FIJI regime and some of the Suva media have had a field day this week ... castigating Fairfax Media's international journo who covers Pacific issues - Michael Field. The fallout came after the regime's Ministry of (dis)Info gleefully jumped the gun and circulated a media release noting that a complaint against Field had been upheld by NZ's Broadcasting Standards Authority over his views about Fiji expressed in Radio NZ National's Nine to Noon programme on 7 March 2008. The BSA didn't uphold a complaint by Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde against Radio NZ Ltd under principle 4 (balance), but it did uphold the complaint under principle 6 (accuracy). It ruled that four inaccurate statements had been made during Field's discussion of how Fiji was reeling from "all the signs of true military dictatorship". Complaints committee chair Joanne Morris didn't impose any order. She said publication of the ruling would "serve as a reminder to commentators that they must ensure the accuracy of factual statements".

Many of the local media in Fiji were quick to seize on the regime handout about the adjudication. Radio Fiji summed it up by saying "controversial journalist Michael Field has been rebuked by the BSA ..." Fiji Daily Post ran an article by Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, claiming - unfairly - Michael Field "'wings' it when he can" in an article under the headline "The writing on the wall". Even NZPA circulated a piece that largely echoed the Fiji government line that was also run on Field's own media organisation's Stuff website. Kiwiblog highlighted the actual inaccurate statements and sparked a handful of responses, one posting noting that the Fiji regime should be recognised as the "nearest thing there is to a benign military junta". Field himself, according to an email to Pacific Media Watch, regards the reporting "shallow" and the adjudication itself as "interesting". Bruce Hill also gave the issue an airing on Radio Australia's On The Mat.

Meanwhile, in other blood-letting about the Fiji media and politics, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh has been riled by Kamal Iyer's one-sided monologues in the Fiji Times about life under the regime. He has written an alternative view of balance and fairness. Singh also takes a potshot at conflicts of interest in the Fiji media.

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