Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Amnesty blasts the Fiji regime while Indian commentators slam 'biased' media

HOW IRONICAL that in the same week that Amnesty International unveiled its damning report on human rights violations since the Fiji post Easter putsch, a number of Indo-Fijian journalists and commentators sounded off “enough is enough” warnings on alleged biased reporting by the NZ media about Fiji. According to Pacific researcher Apolosi Bose’s report on Fiji (he himself is indigenous Fijian, which is a curious departure from AI policy seeking nationally neutral researchers for any in-country probing):
Security forces in Fiji have become increasingly menacing towards people who oppose the regime, including journalists and human rights defenders. Fiji is now caught in a downward spiral of human rights violations and repression.

Only concerted international pressure can break this cycle.
China was singled out as the most serious culprit for ignoring human rights while propping up the Bainimarama regime with aid. This was just a week after Fiji had been fully suspended from the Commonwealth.

However, while the 48-page Amnesty report, Fiji, Paradise Lost, described a litany of repression and censorship against the media (and a host of other human rights violations against the public at large) and arbitrary arrests of some 20 journalists under the notorious Public Emergency Regulations (PER) since April 10, other journalists and the media were singling out Australia and New Zealand as the main culprits for failed policies over Fiji.

According to an editorial in the upstart - but increasingly impressive - new Auckland-based Indo-Fijian newspaper Indian Weekender, the West’s attitude to Fiji “has changed the region’s geopolitics”. The isolationalist policy driven largely by “belligerent” Australia and New Zealand has created the power and influence vacuum that China is now happily filling. Wrote editor Dev Nadkarni, a longtime resident of Fiji as a former journalism school coordinator:
Fiji is too important to be trivialised with the insensitive approach that New Zealand and Australia have had toward it over the past two and a half years. It has always been the gateway to the South Pacific and will remain so.
Any attempts to shift it to a neighbouring country like Samoa – which Samoa’s leadership has repeatedly sought – is wishful thinking and well nigh impossible for reasons of its inferior infrastructure, costs and sheer logistics, which New Zealand and Australia simply cannot afford.
The Weekender added:
The geopolitics of the Pacific has been in slow ferment for about two decades now with Asian powers like China, Taiwan and Japan playing increasingly important roles in its development. It will now begin to accelerate. And the West’s handling of the Fiji situation since early 2007 has already proved to be the catalyst.
Writing in the same paper, academic and political commentator Subhash Appana attacked the “hostility, speculation and demonisation” of Fiji in the Western media, particularly Australia and New Zealand. He claimed most of the NZ reporting was being done by biased journalists who had either “run foul of the coup regime" or had a “hard done by acquaintance”. Before citing a range of alleged biased reporting examples by Television New Zealand, including by Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver, Appana wrote:
Their takes on Fiji have been … tainted. This article analyses blinkered reporting on Fiji in New Zealand, and attempts to place on the public platter a more dispassionate view on the Pacific’s pariah state.
He was also highly critical of how most reporters in NZ kept playing a race card in their stories.
Continued reference to Indians and how they ‘support’ this coup is not only lazy, it is unprofessional. If the Fiji Indian succumbs to the human weakness of feeling perverse pleasure at the forced education of fence-sitters and coup-supporters, should he be blamed for it? … The media [in NZ] would do well to rethink the need for balance in reporting.
The previous week, the established rival Indian Newslink editor Venkat Raman returned from a seven-day trip to Fiji and published a 24-page “special report”, including a contributed article by self-declared interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Raman was also scathing about biased reporting in the NZ media.

But the strongest comments came from former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh in his characteristic feisty style. In a commentary for Pacific.Scoop railing against a press that “did not understand Fiji democracy”, he claimed:
When journalists from Samoa and Tonga have a field day in either the Pacific Freedom Forum or other media outlets in shedding tears for a Fiji democracy that failed to deliver social justice, there was no Indo-Fijian journalist in sight to rebut the nonsense coming out from Polynesian countries which themselves are bereft of the democracy they want for Fiji.
Pictured: Amnesty International researcher Apolosi Bose. Photo: PMC/Del Abcede

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Telling Pacific stories with a difference

INTERESTING development at Scoop, the largest and most influential independent website in New Zealand ... Scoop Media is tomorrow launching Pacific.Scoop - a new department of the website devoted to telling the "untold" stories of the Pacific with flair and insight. This is a partnership with AUT University's communication studies school, which already produces an award-winning newspaper, radio station and regular television stories. Undoubtedly, the web content will be rather different from what mainstream news sites in New Zealand offer on the Pacific. The new Pacific offering was pushed by Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning and carried on by co-editor and manager Alastair Thompson. Scoop already has a cutting edge with several specialised sections, notably Gordon Campbell's political and current affairs blog and Jeremy Rose's Scoop Review of Books. Pacific.Scoop is being edited by Café Pacific’s David Robie and his team at AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. There will be a strong educational core with student journalists filing from AUT, USP, Papua New Guinea and Samoa and elsewhere. And some development journalism tackling resources issues in the region. The team promises "independent news and comment" on a shoestring. Next March, the university is introducing a new Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism. Watch this space ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bougainville's New Dawn FM comes into the limelight

CONGRATULATIONS to Aloysius Laukai and the team at New Dawn FM in Bougainville. They have become the first Pacific group to win the global Communication and Social Change Award, hosted and sponsored by the University of Queensland. The "brave and pioneering" community radio station was charged with the mission in 2008 of helping rebuild the shattered province after a decade-long civil war with estimates of up to 20,000 people dying in the conflict or related health and poverty issues because of the blockade imposed by Papua New Guinea. An estimated 40,000 people were internal refugees at the height of the war.

UQ’s head of the School of Journalism and Communication, Prof Michael Bromley, says 19 entries were received for the award, which recognises and honours outstanding contributions to the theory and practice of communication and social change. Café Pacific understands at least two other nominations were from the Pacific – femLINK Pacific in Fiji and the Pacific Media Centre in New Zealand. Nominations also came from 11 other countries - Bangladesh, Burundi, Canada, Congo, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and the US.

New Dawn’s chairman and manager Aloysius Laukai was delighted with the station's recognition and he will fly to Brisbane to receive the award next month. The jury for the award included ABC foreign editor Peter Cave, AusAID Deputy Director General Annmaree O'Keeffe and former secretary-general of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Hugh Leonard. They were joined by chair Prof Ken Wiltshire and three other senior Queensland University academics.

The award constitutes a commemorative plaque and a cash prize of $2500. The jury also awarded a special meritorious commendation for Communication and Social Change Award to Indian graphic designer and artist Lakshmi Murthy for her “innovative and ground-breaking use of graphic design to promote communication and social change”. She will receive A$1500 and a plaque.

New Dawn FM was established after early planning in 2000 with the assistance of several Australians who had worked in broadcasting in PNG, including Keith Jackson AM, Phil Charley OAM and Prof Martin Hadlow, now director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at UQ.

The radio was dubbed New Dawn FM to “mark our optimism about the future of Bougainville following a terrible civil war that left countless thousands of people dead, injured or internally displaced”, explains Laukai on the radio website:
We believed the project would contribute to establishing a public sphere of community discourse, enabling discussion and giving a voice to a community dispossessed by civil insurrection and seeking to rebuild a democratic society.

The [planning] talk continued and reached a lunch table in Sydney, Australia, where our board member Carolus Ketsimur met his old Papua New Guinea broadcasting buddies Phil Charley, OAM, and Keith Jackson, AM. They sought the assistance of Martin Hadlow of UQ, himself formerly a radio station manager in PNG and a senior UNESCO executive.

Together we developed a concept that saw UNESCO and the German government provide funds for studio equipment and a transmitter. After a number of false starts, we finally started testing the station in April 2008. Then, at the end of June, our transmitter was destroyed when strong winds damaged the telescopic mast. We paid for another and a standby transmitter and went back on air in November 2008.

We are now on air with a transmitter power of 300w. Since our establishment we have covered the Bougainville presidential byelection and also the celebrations of the inauguration of the second Autonomous Bougainville Government. This was done in Arawa in Central Bougainville and we covered it live for listeners in the north.
Pictured: A pro-peace protest in Bougainville calling for a speeding up of the destruction of guns. Photo: New Dawn FM.

Pilger on the 'change' myth of President Obama

A LINK in case you missed this gem from John Pilger (as Café Pacific did, being on leave in remote parts of the Pacific with non communications at the time) about propaganda, disinformation and the rise of Obama. Pilger was speaking at Socialism 2009 on US independence day last month and filmed by Paul Hubbard in San Francisco. Pilger says that in reality President Obama promises not change, but more of the same (a view long shared by Café Pacific) – and even embarking on a new war in Pakistan. Behind the illusion, says Pilger, Bush and Obama have much in common:
The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist … partly because it is indeed extraordinary to see an African-American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century and race together with gender, and even class, can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked, I believe above all, is the class one serves.

George Bush’s inner circle was perhaps the most multiracial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence… It was also the most reactionary. Obama’s very presence in the White House appears to reaffirm the moral nation. He is a marketing dream… he is a brand that promises something special, something exciting, almost risqué, as if he might be radical, as if he might enact change. He makes people feel good, he is a post-modern man with no political baggage – and all that’s fake.

Monday, August 17, 2009

MoJo slams eco-chic branding of Fiji's 'junta water'

FIJI WATER has come out with a spluttering response to Mother Jones’ investigative story condemning the South Pacific “pure water” company as creating a marketing illusion in the United States that is far from reality. In a nutshell, freelancer Anna Lenzer’s story given splash cover treatment by the magazine proclaims “the spin” as “pure”, “fancied by celebs (including President Obama)”, “every drop is green”. “untouched by man” and “living water” is flawed.

The “facts”, claims MoJo, are that Fiji Water produces “twice the plastic”, puts “lipstick on the junta”, is “diesel-powered”, “hides its profits in tax havens” and “locals drink dirty water”.

Lenzer’s article, "Fiji water: Spin the bottle", proclaims: Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won't sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?

The article has riled executives of Fiji Water, a company that reputedly employs 350 people in a rural part of the Pacific country. Company spokesman Rob Six replied on MoJo’s Fiji Green Blog:
We strongly disagree with the author’s premise that because we are in business in Fiji somehow that legitimises a military dictatorship. We bought Fiji Water in November 2004, when Fiji was governed by a democratically elected government. We cannot and will not speak for the government, but we will not back down from our commitment to the people, development, and communities of Fiji.

We consider Fiji our home and as such, we have dramatically increased our investment and resources over the past five years to play a valuable role in the advancement of Fiji.

It is true that Fiji is a poor country, but we believe that the private sector has a critical role to play to address the under served areas of Fiji’s development, with special attention to economic opportunities, health, education, water and sanitation.
MoJo co-editor Clara Jeffery replied through comments by Lenzer, saying Six didn’t respond to key questions raised in the MoJo article: from the polluting background of Fiji Water’s owners past and present, to the company’s decision to funnel assets through tax havens, to its silence on the alleged human rights abuses of the Fijian government. Lenzer's piece "doesn’t argue that Fiji Water actively props up the regime, but that its silence amounts to acquiescence. In contrast to the progressive image projected by the company in the US":
The regime clearly benefits from the company's global branding campaign characterising Fiji as a "paradise" where there is "no word for stress." Fiji's tourism agencies use Fiji Water as props in their promotional campaigns, and the company itself has publicised pictures of President Obama drinking Fiji Water. This is a point repeatedly made by international observers, including a UN official who in a recent commentary (titled "Why Obama should stop drinking Fiji water”) called for sanctions on Fiji, and singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge.

Yet the most pointed criticism the company has made of the regime was when it opposed a tax as "draconian;" it has never used language like that to refer to the junta's human rights abuses.

It’s worth remembering that there aren’t very many countries ruled by military juntas today, and Americans prefer not to do business with those that are. We don't import Burma Water or Libya Water.
Lenzer herself pointed out:
I did contact Fiji Water before my trip, and [Rob] Six mentioned that the company "takes journalists to Fiji"; I didn't follow up about joining such a junket. Despite news reports showing that Fiji wouldn’t cooperate with journalists who went there independently, I chose to do so and visited the factory on a public tour. I had planned to speak to Fiji Water’s local representatives, and to visit the surrounding villages, afterward. But it was at that point that I was arrested by Fijian police, interrogated about my plans to write about Fiji Water, and threatened with imprisonment and rape.

After that incident, personnel at the US Embassy strongly encouraged me not to visit the villages. I did discuss my trip to the islands with Six after I returned, and had extensive correspondence with him on numerous questions, many of which he has not addressed to this day, including:

- Why won't the company disclose the total amount of money that Fiji Water spends on its charity work? Do its charitable contributions come close to matching the 30 percent corporate tax rate it would be paying had it not been granted a tax holiday in Fiji since 1995?

- Will Fiji Water owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who in the company’s PR materials contrast our tap water supply with the “living water” found in their bottles, disclose the full volume of pesticides that their farming and flower companies use every year? Could limiting those inputs create better water here at home?

- Fiji touts its commitments to lighten its plastic bottle (which is twice as heavy as many competitors’) by 20 percent next year, to offset its carbon emissions by 120 percent, and to restore environmentally sensitive areas in Fiji, but its public statements never acknowledge that these projects are, in many cases, still on the drawing board or in the negotiating stages. Why?
Picture: Fiji Water reportedly became the first bottled water company to publish its carbon footprint in 2007. But is a bottle of Fiji Water truly green? Photo: Inhabit.

Meanwhile, it's good to see a despatch posted at Pacific Media Centre from AUT postgrad journalist Keira Stephenson, who is on internship with the Philippine Star, about Manila communities' daily struggle for water.

Friday, August 14, 2009

More zzzzz over cagey 'open file' SIS spooks

JANE KELSEY’S recent welcome reality check on the so-called SIS “openness” files has sparked renewed concerns over the state of the surveillance society in New Zealand. Earlier in the year, the focus had been on activists getting a fair deal. Now the academics are also up in arms over the Security Intelligence Service’s inept prying into critical thinkers on campus. Calls have been renewed for a commission of inquiry reviewing the activities of the Security Intelligence Service, a move strongly supported by Café Pacific.

Many activists, academics, civil society stirrers and some journalists have applied for copies of their SIS files. But the period of “glasnost” ushered in by new SIS director Dr Warren Tucker, including release of personal information under the Privacy Act, has been shortlived. After a relatively brief stint of “open file” revelations in the media from surveillance subjects – some such as CAFCA (the only organisation to have had a file released), Green MP Keith Locke and human rights activist Maire Leadbeater were featured on Café Pacific – the inevitable chill wind has swept through espionage house. Many people are now receiving “neither confirm nor deny” responses about their SIS file, claiming the release of this information would prejudice national security. It is believed neither-confirm-nor-deny responses apply to still active files. Café Pacific’s publisher David Robie has received one of these letters (dated June 5) from the SIS after an earlier fob off in April, possibly over his close connections with independence movements and radical groups in New Zealand and the Pacific in the 1980s as a journalist.

The Global Peace and Justice Auckland group plans to hold a meeting next week for those who applied for their SIS files to discuss issues around the controversy. GPJA’s Mike Treen and John Minto noted: “As the number of people seeking information has increased so the amount released from each file has decreased. Some people have been refused access altogether while others have been told the SIS will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a file on them.”

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) distributed a media release protesting against academics being spied on for simply doing their jobs. The union’s response followed a public condemnation of the SIS and the Privacy Commission by Jane Kelsey, a law professor of the University of Auckland and a high profile independent critic of free-trade policies, including New Zealand “bullying” of small Pacific nations over PACER-Plus. TEU president Dr Tom Ryan says:
We cannot afford to have a society where the SIS is spying on academics who are simply doing their job. News that a highly-respected University of Auckland professor of law, Jane Kelsey, has been spied on by the SIS because of her professional work is intimidating for all academics.

Our democracy will be weakened if tertiary researchers and teachers are scared off from questioning official policies in their own fields of expertise. But that seems to be exactly the outcome the SIS was aiming for with its long-running campaign against Dr Kelsey.

A chilling aspect of Dr Kelsey’s case is that the SIS appears to have been spying on her simply because of her views on our country’s economic and trade policies rather than any real concern that she might pose a physical or military risk. And much of the spying appears to have occurred in her university workplace.
New Zealand Herald columnist Brian Rudman scoffed at the SIS files furore, adding that in spite of "unmasking a fellow student as a spy" during his Auckland University days, he had never risked writing to Spy Central" when they "first offered to open their filing cabinets to the paranoid, and to anyone else who suspected the spooks might have been trawling for dirt on them over the years". On a more serious note, Kelsey’s own web-based background resource around the “open files” issue observes:
The SIS has a long history of spying on academics. The file of economist Wolfgang Rosenberg dates back 50 years, and includes comments he made in the common room and his applications for academic jobs. Recent files of several other academics focus on lawful activities undertaken in the course of their employment as academics, such as giving lectures, participating in conferences and convening meetings on university campuses. Various Students Association groups and activities have also been monitored.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Burmese peace laureate back under house arrest for elections

BURMESE Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to 18 more months detention for "violating her house arrest" by allowing an uninvited American into her home. The 64-year-old opposition leader has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, and the extension ensures her absence from the political scene when the ruling junta stages elections next year.

According to a report by the Burmese independent Mizzima news service:
Home affairs Minister Lieutenant General Maung Oo, the minister of home affairs, arrived in court and read out an order signed by the head of the military junta, Senior General Than Shwe, dated 10 August.

The order stated that if the court convicted Aung San Suu Kyi, half of the sentence should be commuted. It added that she could be freed after serving the sentence if she showed good behaviour. The order explained that her sentence had been commuted because she is the daughter of General Aung San, the architect of Burma's independence from the British colonial

"The verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi is that she will be taken back to her house and kept under restrictions for 18 months, after which if she shows good behavior she could be freed," her lawyer, Nyan Win, told Mizzima. He said she wiould be kept under restrictions but could write a
request asking for certain rights, including receiving guests. She would also be allowed to watch television and read newspapers.

Similarly, her two live-in political party members, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, who were also sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour, had their terms reduced to an 18-month suspended sentence each and would be sent back along with Aung San Suu Kyi to her home.

John William Yettaw, the American man who swam across a lake to reach Aung San Suu Kyi's house, however, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment with hard labour. The court said that Yettaw's sentence relates to abetting Aung San Suu Kyi in violating the terms of her house arrest and other charges including violation of immigration laws.

In an attempt at transparency, the Burmese military junta allowed diplomats and journalists to be present at the court proceedings in Rangoon's Insein prison, where the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi and her three co-defendants was being held.

A Rangoon-based diplomat told Mizzima that several foreign missions based in Rangoon, along with journalists, were given permission to be inside the court room.
Picture: Filipino protesters holding cutout portraits of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally outside the Burmese Embassy, south of Manila. Photo: Dennis M. Sabangan, EPA.

Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 18 months in detention
Burma locks up Suu Kyi for 18 more months

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