Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kenyan media gag law lesson for Fiji

THOSE fretting over Fiji's proposed "media promulgation" law (what happened to its promised unveiling last month?) ought to consider the latest chilling of press freedom in Kenya. President Mwai Kibaki has signed into law a draconian Communications Amendment Act that will curb press freedom. According to a BBC dispatch about the development:
The law gives the Kenyan authorities the power to raid media offices, tap phones and control broadcast content on grounds of national security. Kibaki said he had carefully considered the journalists' concerns but added press freedom must go hand in hand with responsibility. He said the bill was crucial for Kenya's economic development.
In a statement, Kibaki added that regulating the electronic media would promote and "safeguard our culture, moral values and nationhood". The Kenyan Communications Amendment Bill gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content.

Pictured: Kenyan journos protest against the new media law - Daily Nation.

The Fiji Media Council has called for public submissions on the future of the council and its self-regulatory procedures. The deadline is January 16. Café Pacific hopes that this belated, long overdue review will add a constructive and level-headed dimension not too late to have some sobering influence on the regime's planned "catch all" state regulatory framework. One of three people named to conduct the review - Transparency International Fiji chair Suliana Siwatibau - has called for an urgent national feedom of information law in response to a proposed crackdown on state whistleblowers. Write to: Public Submissions, PO Box 11852, Suva, Fiji. Email: mediac@connect.com.fj

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Café Pacific’s New Year honours

A QUICK round-up of some of Café Pacific’s 2008 random media highlights (and lowlights):

Weapons of Mass Delusions Award for media exposes: The disturbing yet highly entertaining book Flat Earth News by Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies. Not much on the Oceania region (New Zealand, for example, rates merely a page – with a section in the distorted news-from-nowhere basket), but the insights into “churnalism” are global and examples are rampant throughout the Pacific media.

Transparency Pacific Award for media freedom: Fiji’s military backed regime wins this category virtually uncontested for deporting the country’s two most influential publishers on “security” pretexts – Evan Hannah of the Fiji Times in May and the Fiji Sun’s Russell Hunter in February. As the FT summed it up in its review of the year:

“Not only were they denied their rights, they were stolen in the night and deported despite court orders issued that they be produced in court.
“In fact, so desperate were the state officials to rid Australian nationals before being directly served the orders that Mr Hannah was deported to South Korea, where he had no links at all; neither family or friends.
“And, on the same day Mr Hunter – who was the first to be meted this unsavoury fate, was deported, the Immigration Act was amended to bar any court appeals against the Immigration Minister’s decision to deport.”

George Orwell Award for media insights: Dr Jim Anthony and the Fiji Human Rights Commission for a so-called Fiji media review ironically dubbed in newspeak “Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji”. It had been widely known in media circles for some time that some sort of overhaul of the Fiji media self-regulatory mechanisms was long overdue. (If for no other reason than to head off the inevitable government clampdown using the law "promulgation"). A sort of updated Thomson Report (1996 - commissioned by the post-Rabuka coups government) has been needed. But the racist invective and malice directed at the media plus the lack of rigorous methodology in the Anthony report made a mockery of this process. The 2007 NZ Press Council review is an example of how such an exercise can be conducted constructively. Hopefully, the recently announced Fiji Media Council review can produce some answers.

Pseudo Events Award for regional j-school publications: Te Waha Nui student newspaper for its Ossie award for best regular publication. This should be something to really celebrate, but as a co-founder of this paper (in 2004 - and I am no longer involved), I cannot truly share the bubbly. Too many flaws for my liking. The recent website revamp isn’t a patch on its newcomer rival NewsWire at Whitireia Journalism School. (An example of this was NewsWire’s vigorous coverage of the NZ general electionTWN started off well and then abandoned coverage two weeks before the actual poll). And recent reflections on gatekeeping at the paper are rather revealing. Incidentally, Pacific uni j-school papers – such as Liklik Diwai, Uni Tavur (deceased) and Wansolwara – have done remarkably well in the Ossies over recent years.

Waigani Ostrich Award for media relations and investigation: Sir Michael Somare’s government for the inept handling of the cash-for-recognition Taiwan affair and stonewalling of the media. The PNG media has an enviable track record for media investigations into corruption and did a fair job in digging over this scandal. But the media-political climate has still had a ticking off from global integrity groups and the industry failed to live up to its achievements with an ugly end-of-year brawl.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fiji's Christmas message - 'it's war'

"IT'S WAR", declared the Fiji Times in its melodramatic Christmas Eve response to the tit-for-tat mutual diplomat expulsions with New Zealand. The new blow to relations between the two countries was an irony given that barely 24 hours earlier the media was welcoming an apparent warming up and the threat against acting NZ High Commissioner Caroline McDonald seemed to have dropped onto the back burner. But fed up with Australia and New Zealand's alleged "bully boy" tactics, the regime gave McDonald her marching orders yesterday and NZ retaliated a couple of hours later by expelling her Fiji counterpart in Wellington, Ponsami Chetty. Both were given a week to leave. Writes Mary Rauto:

Like the case with Michael Green [expelled last year], the interim government gave no reason for the expulsion, especially when the decision came a day after interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum called for reconciliation and better dialogue with Fiji's neighbours — Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum denied that the expulsion had anything to do with the travel ban imposed on members of the interim government, the military and their family members.
In the last few weeks, the interim government has attacked New Zealand for refusing to allow three people –– the children of military officers and interim government appointees –– to enter the country on sports and study leave.
One of the victims was George Nacewa, son of Rupeni Nacewa, the secretary to the President.

The expulsion order on McDonald followed further accusations by the regime of Australian and NZ diplomats meddling in Fiji politics and spying. One of the interesting stories in the lead-up to the twin expulsions, was Vernon Small's account of NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully's staged leak with selected journos. "McCulliavelli's" ploy backfired when TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver was detained last week and sent packing back to New Zealand. Pictured: Fiji Times image taken outside McDonald's home in Suva.

Meanwhile, back to the festive season. Café Pacific wishes readers and followers a Hepi Krismas and fruitful 2009! Check out Pacific Media Centre during the break.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finally a review for the Fiji Media Council - but will it do the job?

HARD on the heels of the Fiji regime's latest PR debacle this week by kicking out one of the finest Pacific journos - TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver (pictured) - a review of the Media Council is finally officially on the table. This is something that has been drastically needed for some time to restore some balance into the Fiji media landscape - and to help blunt the regime's continued assault on media freedom. The $10,000 Ausaid-funded exercise will have a reasonable three-member team on the job. Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman, lawyer and former Fiji Electoral and Boundaries Commissioner Barrie Sweetman and the chairperson of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, Suliana Siwatibau, will begin the four-day review on January 19. But will four days and a limited terms of reference allow them do justice to the task? Hardly. Café Pacific has previously pointed to the 2007 New Zealand Press Council review (first in 30 years) as a good benchmark for such a controversial mission. (A research paper comparing the Fiji and New Zealand self-regulatory media climates is being published in the next edition of Fijian Studies.)

Undoubtedly, this Fiji panel will come up with a far more robust report and recommendations than the discredited Jim Anthony report. But its limited brief is unlikely to satisfy those civil society groups and commentators who are highly critical of the Fiji media, nor is it likely to quell the regime's frustration with what it sees as a one-sided news media industry.

The muted terms for reference for the Fiji media review include looking into:

  • how the Fiji Media Council has carried out its responsibilities as provided for under the constitution
  • the complaints process
  • the relationship with the government
  • its responsibilities to the public
  • the administration of the council and the role and remuneration of the chairman and secretary
  • the funding of the council

Probably the most insightful commentary about what ought to be done with the Fiji Media Council was presented last month by Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster at the University of the South Pacific journalism awards.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why UN bodies are failing over human rights

THE world marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week. Media freedom group Reporters San Frontières issued its own report on December 10, giving a poor mark to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the main UN body concerned with the issues. Says the RSF:

The UN Human Rights Council is doing little better than its predecessor, the now-abolished Commission on Human Rights, which was completely discredited over
the years, especially when it named a Libyan as its president. The council has the failings of all UN bodies, where member-states are both judges and judged.
States with repressive governments are elected to the council and thus tasked with ensuring respect in other countries for rights they themselves are abusing on a daily basis. Until this absurd situation is ended, the United Nations cannot be said to be fulfilling its goal of protecting human rights.
The use of human rights by countries for their own purposes will not end until the UN Security Council and the whole system of world governance is reformed and enlarged. This issue has been highlighted by the present economic and environmental crisis.
If the UN does not manage to end it, the council will
fail in its mission.

Check out the full RSF report.
Human rights in post-coup Fiji - Why might is not right
Pacific media human rights issues
The Witness take on human rights

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