Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PNG jailbreak media fallout as police detain 3 warders

JACOB POK reports in The National three Correctional Services officers have been charged over the "great escape" of a dozen of Papua New Guinea's toughest criminals, including bank robber William Kapris (pictured). The three warders were taken to Boroko Police Station, charged under sections 138 and 140 of the PNG criminal Code over helping the January 12 escape from the Bomana maximum security prison and locked up for further questioning yesterday. But hopefully this is not another PNG cover-up where the small fry take the rap for doing the bidding of top political masters.

National Capital District metropolitan commander Superintendent Fred Yakasa said police believed the three officers had breached all security procedures of the CS. He added at a media conference: “We believe it is a planned thing, as there was a clear breach of security.

"The officers know very well that they cannot act upon orders from elsewhere unless it’s from the three [legal] authorities ” - deputy Correctional Services Commissioner (Operations), Correctional Services Commissioner, or a National Court judge.

Police are offering a reward of K10,000 for the capture, or information that could lead to the capture of the 12 fugitives.

Meanwhile, Nau FM news director Titi Gabi gives an insight on Pacific Scoop into the continuing fallout for media over the jailbreak - her twin radio stations were threatened for scooping the story and running with it. The PNG Media Council warned other media to be ready for similar threats - such as one to blow up the PNG FM offices:
Our alerts and breaking stories were linked up on both stations, NAU FM and YUMI FM. Full reports ran at midday and the alerts continued. By mid-afternoon, one caller gave us a rather "friendly" warning about the possibility of attacks from the criminals and their mates. This was a female caller.

On Wednesday, a senior woman leader declined to comment and warned us of possible repercussions and to leave the story alone. By then, we had instructed reception to screen all news calls.

On Thursday, at about 7am- 8am, a male called threatened to blow up our office and attack staff and the company vehicle.
I had a meeting with the news team and reminded them gently of the role of the media while also being vigilant.

“We will continue to report what must be reported,” I said.

How sad that they target us as as the media but that is expected in this job. Internal security measures swung into action and my young team was reminded to report “without fear or favour”.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pacific focus for World Press Freedom Day 2010

UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day 2010 is coming to the South Pacific for the first time. It is being hosted at Australia's University of Queensland. The university's School of Journalism and Communication is organising the conference on May 2 and 3. The conference website, launched this week, says:
"Great is Truth, And Mighty Above All Things" is the wording above the main entrance to the Forgan Smith Building at the University of Queensland. These words fit well with the theme of this year's conference, which is "Freedom of Information: the Right to Know".

Access to a free press, the right of journalists to go about their work unhindered and the enjoyment of freedom of expression by the citizenry are all key elements of a democracy. Journalists and media professionals from around the world will come to Brisbane this May to discuss threats to the independence of the media and to celebrate the importance of free and fearless journalism.
The website is rather bare at the moment, apart from a media freedom slide show. But early bird registration is open and a lot of information will go up in the next few days..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bus passenger's graphic pictures of PNG tragedy

FORGET the inane NZ Transport Agency safety advertising campaign on New Zealand television – or anywhere else for that matter. A series of tragic and disturbing photos taken by a young “citizen journalist” at the scene of Papua New Guinea’s reportedly worst bus accident this week is a grim warning. Two 25-seater buses collided head on in the Highlands Highway in the Markham Valley heading towards Lae. They were travelling about 100 kph according to witnesses, and the carnage left at least 43 dead. Samson Nelaho, a resident of Kainantu, missed out on the ill-fated Highlands bus and jumped onto one leaving a few minutes later. He had a digital camera with him and captured several graphic images of the crash scene, some being published by both the Post-Courier and The National. His story and those of survivors such as Gideon Jack (pictured below) have also been featured in both papers. Samson says: "Some were trapped in the crushed buses and we tried to free them but couldn't so we had to leave them."

The shocking accident stressed out the morgue staff at Angau Hospital who were already running short of of space and awaited delivery of two more freezer containers. The morgue’s freezer was already accommodating six bodies from a plane crash and eight prison escapees who had been shot.

Café Pacific
thanks Malum Nalu of The National for alerting us and his help for Pacific Scoop coverage.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kuka killing prompts calls for reining in Timor police

TEMPO SEMANAL has posted a compelling video on the death of popular musician Baldir Cesar do Nascimento "Kuka" Lebre Correia in East Timor, allegedly shot dead by an off-duty local policeman. The killing of this 25-year-old man on December 28 has been a tragedy for the Lebre family and the Timorese people. It has also prompted calls for the disarming of Timorese police and raised questions about the success of the Australian training of Timorese police. The United Nations is investigating the killing. As Keta Haluha notes on Global Voices:
It is bitter irony that Kuka survived the Santa Cruz massacre as a seven-year-old in 1991. During this event 200-300 protesters were gunned down and killed at a funeral procession for another young man, killed by the police of the occupying power - President Suharto's Indonesia. Having survived this ordeal and living to see independence from Indonesia, Kuka fell victim to his own community's police service.
Kuka was highly popular and his shooting has sparked a wave of grief and anger. Halulu also points out:
In a strange twist of fate, Kuka is the nephew of Francisco Guterres, Secretary of State for Security - the politician responsible for the police.

Photo: Kuka, Global Voices.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

KKK cartoon fallout in Oz exposes rightist party

WHILE an Indian cartoonist has defended his controversial lampooning of the Australian police as Ku Klux Klan extremists amid a hostile reaction from Ocker media followers, a Klansman claims his movement has infiltrated a political party.

The cartoonist, Prasad, of Delhi's Mail Today, depicted an Aussie police badge pinned to a character with the notorious pointed white hood of the KKK following a controversy over race-based treatment of Indian students and a murder.

The speech bubble reads: "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime".

It was published as an indictment of homicide investigators in Victoria "being unable to say if the recent killing of 21-year-old Indian student Nitin Garg in a Melbourne park was racially motivated", reports News.com.au. A mixture of grief and anger marked Garg's funeral at the weekend.

The website quoted Prasad as saying: "I was responding to the news about the Australian authorities and police refusing to acknowledge the underlying racism in the attacks against Indian youth."

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that the Ku Klux Klan says it has infiltrated an anti-immigration party preparing to contest seats at the next federal election. The paper reports:
David Palmer, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Australia, said several Klan members had secretly joined Australia First, a far right party that announced yesterday that it had the numbers to register as a political party.

"We aren't interested in actually registering as a party," Mr Palmer said. "Our main idea was we would move in and take back what we consider our Aryan parties.

"[The Klan] is a white pressure group; a white social group for white families. But also a reserve in case the
ethnics get out of hand and they need sorting out."

When he made similar claims about the infiltration of One Nation, the party formerly led by Pauline Hanson, two of his associates were expelled from the party. The NSW director of Australia First, Jim Saleam, vehemently denies his party has been infiltrated by the Klan.
The Australian has condemned the caricature, saying in an editorial this is "no time for crude cartoons":
It is offensive and plain wrong, but the Indian cartoon depicting Victoria Police as akin to the Ku Klux Klan reveals the hysteria on the sub-continent over the safety of Indian nationals in Australia. Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard was right to condemn the cartoon in New Delhi's Mail Today. There is no evidence police are acting in other than a professional manner in attempting to solve crimes involving Indians.

Cartoon: Prasad, Mail Today.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fiji censors, bloggers and the future of free expression

EIGHT days ago, Café Pacific made a New Year honours award to the University of the South Pacific's Wansolwara in the "independent newspaper" category. The academic staff person currently steering this journalism student publication is Shailendra Singh, a former editor of The Review news magazine. Global Integrity, an independent governance watchdog, has just caught up with him and interviewed him on his views over Fiji under the military censorship boot. The interview is reproduced here with the Pacific Scoop, Café Pacific and other links cited:


By Norah Mallaney of Global Integrity

In the South Pacific, I found a case study in modern censorship, as Fiji’s three-year-old military government collides with a once free local press, an emerging blogging culture and an ambivalent international community. Some basic facts are contested, but it is clear that free expression in Fiji is under intense pressure, in a sharp departure from Fijian cultural and political tradition. I talked over email with journalist and media academic Shailendra Singh, based in capital of Suva, about the future of free expression in Fiji.

Despite increasing government control over print media, Shailendra is determined. Journalists get heat from all sides, as even reporting the government’s arguments for media regulation has become controversial. But Shailendra argues for free exchange over partisanship. “It is absurd to fight censorship with censorship” Shailendra told me.

Shailendra worked with Global Integrity as a lead journalist in 2008, writing the Corruption Notebook: Fiji. As a senior lecturer on journalism, Shailendra encourages his fellow journalists and students to pursue stories to the greatest extent possible under the current restrictions. Bainimarama’s government, who seized power in a 2006 coup d’etat, has clamped down on the media. In a 2006 radio address, Bainimarama advised pro-democracy advocates to "shut their mouth," lest the military "shut it for them.” The arrest or deportation of prominent journalists followed.

This has never before been seen in the island nation, with the brief exception of a period during the 1987 coup staged by then military strongman, Sitiveni Rabuka. After the 1987 takeover, the media eventually regained full reporting rights. The future does not seem as certain now and Fijians turn to regional “parachute journalists” or anonymous bloggers for independent yet at times questionably reliable news. “In many cases the blogs are vitriolic and abusive,” Shailendra said. “On the other hand, some credible commentators who can no longer publish their articles in the local dailies have set up blogsites.”

Shailendra worries about the spill-over effect Fiji’s censorship may have on the region and he has spoken out on the need for Australia and New Zealand to put pressure on Pacific island governments that threaten press freedom: “Hopefully, they [AUS and NZ] will soon come to see that their own interests are at risk when basic freedoms are removed, and they will act accordingly instead of remaining aloof.”

“If you are looking for a silver lining,” Shailendra said, “the situation in Fiji has not only offered journalism an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement, but also a chance to focus attention on some very important areas that were overshadowed and neglected due to the heavy emphasis on politics. Local media is running a lot more human-interest stories. There is greater coverage of ordinary people, rural news and development issues.”

You can read our discussion below.

An inner-determination comes through in Shailendra’s responses, reflecting the fact that while open, public dissemination of information may be quelled for now, Fiji’s legacy of an active media will outlast the current crisis.

Norah Mallaney: Your Corruption Notebook: Fiji centered on the feeling of disillusionment among journalists and citizens who might have once hailed the 2006 coup as positive progress. Has this trend continued? Is current political dissent published in newspapers and other media outlets (radio etc)? Or is this more spoken of in private circles?

Shailendra Singh: The Fiji government currently censors the news media. As a result, political dissent is not published. There is no law stopping people from discussing politics in private. But people would naturally be more cautious than they used to be about what they say, and who they say it to. Apart from a brief period after the coups of 1987, Fiji has always had a free media. The country was on a par with Australia and New Zealand when it came to media freedom and freedom of speech. There was, of course, the usual ranting by politicians and occasional threats in Parliament to shut down newspapers, or to bring in new laws to curb “irresponsible” reporting when sex scandals or corruption involving politicians were exposed. But until recently, no such laws were implemented, and journalists, by and large, went about doing their work without fear.

Now, for the first time, the media is under full censorship, which is an alien experience for us. Current censorship is by decree. But government plans to bring in a new media promulgation that will curb some of the freedoms that we took for granted in the past. The government says tighter media regulations are needed to curb abuses by journalists. It blames the media for inciting racial animosities. It says such journalistic transgressions often go unpunished.

These assertions cannot be dismissed out of hand. Media has made mistakes. Some of these mistakes have been costly. But rather than censorship, training for journalists and supporting the setting up of independent media monitoring organisations, or media accountability systems, would be the proper thing to do.

Pio Tikoduadua, the permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, recently said that Fiji’s media would no longer be self-regulatory under the new media decree, which is expected to come in force in 2010. Under the new promulgation, it is expected that a new body will be formed to hear grievances by people who feel they have been unfairly treated by the media. This new body will either replace or work alongside the Fiji Media Council, a self-regulatory body set up by Fiji’s news media industry.

So self-regulation, which is practised by most democracies, could become a thing of the past in Fiji. The government’s argument is that the media cannot be judge and jury of its own conduct. It says the Fiji Media Council has failed to uphold ethics and improve standards. The media argues that excessive laws and punitive measures by government will only shackle the media, which could have grave repercussions in future. For instance, this government is strongly against corruption. Draconian media laws would be counterproductive for government’s anti-corruption drive.

Future governments may not be as well intentioned as the current government, and they may inherit a media law that they can use to shield their corrupt activities.

Norah: Blogs (both Fiji-based and in the broader Pacific region) seem to have taken on an identity as the “critical eyes” of the current government. Who is their intended audience? Considering internet penetrability rates, who is actually reading? How high is their credibility in Fiji and in the broader region?

Shailendra: Blogs have become an outlet for opponents of the present government to vent their frustrations, as they do not have any other avenue to voice their opinions. Blogs offer anonymity, thus safety from arrest and possible prosecution in court. Media consumers in Fiji are used to an outspoken and fairly aggressive media. Currently the media in Fiji has been tamed through a decree that the government introduced to encourage “a greater degree of responsibility” from the media. Journalists that fall foul of the decree face jail as well as stiff fines.

Readers in Fiji know that the media is being censored. They understand that the media is not able to report everything that goes on. There is a vacuum concerning government and political news, so a good number of readers are turning to blogs as an additional, or alternative, source of information.

Many blogs are based on opinion, hearsay or rumour. Ordinarily, such rumours would be investigated and reported by the mainstream news media. But presently this is not the case. So there is a lot of rumour mongering. People who read blogs choose to either trust or distrust the information.

It cannot be claimed that the blogs have taken on an identity as the “critical eyes” of the current government. For one, the bloggers are anonymous so their credibility becomes an issue. Some bloggers clearly have sinister motives. The bloggers are not bound by any journalistic principles, guidelines or ethics. They often publish without checking. In many cases the blogs are vitriolic and abusive. Many commentators and commentaries are racist.

On the other hand, some credible commentators who can no longer publish their articles in the local dailies have set up blogsites. This includes an economist and political commentator, Professor Wadan Narsey, who used to write regular columns in the papers. But the newspapers have stopped running his articles due to censorship. Professor Narsey posts his blogs under his names. His most recent posting was an analysis of the 2010 budget. In this instance the blog is playing the role of “critical eyes” on government as you put it. New technology has enabled Narsey to publish his work in an instant and makes it harder for governments to silence people.

However, internet penetrability is low in Fiji, so it would be mostly the urban educated who have access to and read these blogs.

Norah: How has the shift in media censorship impacted on the lessons, training and student population at the Journalism School at University of the South Pacific?

Shailendra: In terms of media education and research, we have a unique, real life case study of censorship at work to examine and test against textbook theories. We cannot report freely, but we can debate the situation in class presentations and seminars, and write essays and research reports.

Also, we invited the Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum as a speaker recently. Our students had an opportunity to question him. They wrote news reports about what he said. The AG’s comments were widely reported, and they generated a major debate among regional media observers and commentators.

Some people were of the view that the AG should not have been invited as a speaker. Our view is that it is absurd to fight censorship with censorship. We as journalists should be aware that there are two or more sides to an issue. Furthermore, had we not invited the AG and reported his comments, there would have been no discussion or rekindling of interest, awareness and generating continued publicity about Fiji.

If you are looking for a silver lining, the situation in Fiji has not only offered journalism an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement, but also a chance to focus attention on some very important areas that were overshadowed and neglected due to the heavy emphasis on politics. Local media is running a lot more human-interest stories. There is greater coverage of ordinary people, rural news and development issues.

For instance, a recent issue of USP journalism’s training newspaper, Wansolwara, had a front-page report on how gaming centers in Suva were luring young people to play and spend money there. The story led to a police crackdown on 24-hr gaming centers. The article received a high commendation at the 2009 Journalism Education Association of Australia and New Zealand student awards in Perth, Australia, last month (December '09).

Another story on how the legal marriageable age for girls at 16 was leading to their exploitation has resulted in the law being changed in Fiji. We have also focused on the environment with students researching and writing stories on coral reef degradation, shark-fin fishery and climate change impacts.

Norah: In a recent interview you did with Radio Australia, you spoke of the need for greater pressure from Australian and New Zealand aid donors to keep media freedom high in the region.

Shailendra: Australia and NZ are the largest aid donors and regional superpowers. As such they have a lot of influence with Pacific Island countries. The two nations are understandably reluctant to be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of their smaller neighbours. But these two countries should not keep silent, or make token gestures, when fundamental freedoms are threatened.

For instance, the Laisenia Qarase government that was ousted from power in Fiji by the military in 2006 had declared its intention to bring in a new media law, and also to introduce legislation to pardon people behind the 2000 coup. In my view, Australia and New Zealand did not do enough to try and deter the Qarase government from taking these apparently unconstitutional actions.

Some Pacific Island governments often threaten to restrict media freedoms. When they do this, Australia and New Zealand should speak out, not only because it is the morally correct thing to do, but also because their own interests are threatened when regional governments move to place unreasonable curbs on basic human rights. Apart form the massive aid the two countries pour into the region, they have a lot of investments in Pacific Island countries. If the media is muzzled, it will not be able to report on government corruption, and also, how efficiently aid is utilised.

Corruption is rife in some regional countries, and aid is also hijacked and diverted on a regular basis. The media often reports this, and this is why some governments are so keen to silence the media. In the absence of a free media, the corrupt will become even more emboldened, and the scale of the problems will only increase. So Australia and NZ need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to such issues. They need to persuade, sometimes coerce leaders, into institutionalizing transparency and accountability, if for no other reason, than for the sake of their own taxpayers and investments.

Australia and New Zealand are not averse to arm-twisting and riding roughshod over Pacific Island sensitivities when they feel that their interests are directly threatened, or when they are trying to gain an advantage, such as in trade talks. Aid has been used both as a carrot and stick. Examples of this abound.

The recent Julian Moti saga is a case in point. An Australian court dropped child-sex charges against Moti, a former Solomon Islands attorney general, last month (December). The Australian Federal Police (AFP) had resurrected the charges nearly 10 years after they were dismissed by a court in Vanuatu. The Supreme Court in Brisbane found that the prosecution was an abuse of process by police because its payments to the alleged victim's family in Vanuatu, totaling $AUD150, 000, brought the administration of justice into disrepute. The judge ruled against Moti's claim that the case against him was politically motivated as a result of the Australian government's concerns that his role as Solomon Islands attorney general would undermine a peacekeeping mission Australia was heading in the Solomons.

But many respected commentators believe this is precisely the reason the AFP went after Moti with such extraordinary determination. So it is not for nothing that Australia and New Zealand are sometimes referred to as “bullies” by their smaller neighbours. I am guessing that these two countries do not feel that freedom of the media is an important enough issue requiring their diplomatic intervention. Why else would they remain silent when media freedoms are threatened? Hopefully they will soon come to see that their own interests are at risk when basic freedoms are removed, and they will act accordingly instead of remaining aloof.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Shame on NZ's global rugby media coverage

SHAME on the New Zealand media for the poor international rugby union coverage on Europe and the Pacific. It is astonishing that in the build up to the World Rugby Cup on these shores less than two years away that NZ media is so parochial about international rugby. Take the French Top 14 competition for example - probably the best and toughest rugby competition on the global calendar and where many New Zealand and Pacific players ply their trade. On three occasions (when now struggling Stade Français has been involved at the Stade de France in St Denis) crowds have topped 80,000 - easily shading the Super 14. Yet New Zealanders are forced to turn to European-based websites or even in Asia (such as the Bangkok Post in that traditional powerhouse of international rugby of Thailand - Stade were held to a 6-all draw by Montauban at the weekend, incidentally!) to satisfy their cravings. Thailand? (Even Fiji news media carry Top 14 results and other French rugby coverage.) Yesterday's New Zealand Herald's sport section, for example, had a page lead on Barcelona's "stutter" in the Spanish football league, yet not a word on international rugby. Interest in the potential teams that could put paid to NZ's World Cup chances yet again on its home turf is mounting and surely this deserves ongoing coverage. And bula Fiji for reinstating the much-loved cibi - the Flying Fijians' traditional answer to the All Blacks' haka.

Picture: French league leader Castre's NZ loose forward Chris Masoe (second from left) tries to break free in a match against Montauban. Photo: AFP.

Beauxis makes Biarritz pay the penalty
Tuqiri contemplates moving to France
Peter Bills analyses French rugby - The Independent

Croz's blast at 'undemocratic' Dominion Post editorial on Fiji

JUST four days after being included in Café Pacific's New Year honours list for his blogging on Fiji, Croz Walsh has launched an attack on "media abuse of power and influence" by anonymous leader writers, singling out a Dominion Post editorial as an example. He writes:
I've always thought there's something more than a little undemocratic and cowardly that those writing editorials do not reveal their identity, especially in a proudly democratic country like New Zealand.

All we know is that an editorial contains opinions (not always backed by facts or fully researched thoughts) that are usually written by the publisher, the editor or one of the editorial team. I see no good reason why these people, and journalists in general, who so often demand access to private information, hide behind anonymity. Why are so many media sources "usually reliable" or "our correspondent in X." Why does the law permit them to publish anonymous "leaked reports," even of personal emails? Why do we allow them these powers when we, their readers, do not even know who they are?

I'm also unsure why they think we should be interested in their anonymous opinions when we know nothing about their knowledge of the topics they discuss? We would not accept this from a doctor, a lawyer or accountant, so why should it be acceptable from journalists who play with our minds, mould our opinions, and set the boundaries of our democracy?

If the so-called Fourth Estate is entitled to a special, protected, place in our society, searching out hidden truths and using its "freedoms" to keep citizens and voters properly informed, then the media must be far more open, accountable and known.

The latest
Dominion Post editorial, "Dictators must not hold sway in the Pacific", is a case in point. We know nothing of the writer who presumes to advise Prime Minister John Key what to do about our relationship with Fiji other than that he, she or it thinks it wrong for us to ease up on Bainimarama who "took power at the point of a gun and deposed a democratically elected government" and who since then has "tightened his grip on the country." Et cetera. Et hackneyed cetera. Nothing was written on anything even remotely wrong with the old "democracy" and nothing about anything good on the de facto government.

"Whatever else he does [the editorial states]... Mr Key should not accept advice such as that from Auckland academic Dr Hugh Laracy or, presumably, anyone else who thinks the travel ban and other measures have failed." Yet these measures, imposed three years ago, have brought about no change in Bainimarama's position; they are hurting many innocent Fiji citizens, and they've prevented many qualified people applying for civil service positions, even in positions not remotely political. The editorial thinks Mr Key is "right to try to make a new start with the commodore [but] that does not mean forgetting that he is a dictator. The aim must be that dictatorships do not become the 'Pacific way.'"

With this sort of inane, patronising advice, Key could well fall back on Laracy: after all, he is not anonymous; he has studied the Pacific for close to 40 years and, although not enamoured with coups, he does have a plausible alternative to our initially well intended but now obviously failed policy.
I'm sure Professor Laracy will join me in issuing a public challenge to the Dom Post editor(s).

* Come out from behind your masks.

* State your qualifications and Pacific experience.

* Publish balanced statements on Fiji's past and present.

* Provide your readers with sufficient background for them to form their own independent judgments.

* Comment on at least some of the positive actions taken by the Bainimarama government.

* Take the trouble to find out what is really happening in Fiji.

And if you can't -- or won't -- do any of these, at least make an intelligent and realistic suggestion to help John Key formulate a workable policy towards Fiji.

Hugh and I may lose the debate, of course, but we would at least know who you are -- and your readers and John Key may learn something they did not know before.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Café Pacific’s awards to spice up the new decade

CAFÉ PACIFIC’S scribes have been on leave so we are a bit slow off the mark for our New Year honours. Still, better late than never. Here is a brief lineup as 2010 starts cruising:

Newspaper of the year – The Fiji Times: As a crusading daily under the helm of battling Netani Rika, it is hard to go past this Australian-owned publication – the strongest daily newspaper in Fiji in spite of its past political baggage and track record that goes right back to its colonial days in Levuka. While Bainimarama’s regime regularly chokes for breakfast over this Murdoch paper and blames it (along with Fiji Television) for the “need” to impose its promised/threatened new media law, the rest of the region can thank Rika and his team for keeping up the good fight and exposing life under media censorship.

But we should not get carried away with the accolades. The Times still has plenty of flaws in both its coverage and strategy. The region also needs to acknowledge the courage of many other journalists in Fiji and the resolve and commitment of other media in tackling the regime in rather more subtle and intriguing ways. Things need to be kept in perspective globally too, there is a quantum leap between the relatively mild (but inexcusable) press freedom abuses in Fiji and the truly repugnant violence against media in such countries as Burma and even in a democracy such as the Philippines where 30 journalists can be assassinated by private militia in one dreadful killing field obscenity and when Filipino radio talkback broadcasters or reporters, in particular, can be murdered with near impunity for exposing corruption.

Media film – Balibo: The on screen version of the murder of five journalists working for Australian news media – two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander – by Indonesian special forces invading East Timor on 16 October 1975 has revived controversial and painful memories. Not only has the Robert Connolly film reflected on the wounds of the past, and even stirred the wrath of the widow of the lead journalist killed, Greg Shackleton, it has triggered debate about journalistic professionalism in an age when bravado was perhaps more important than the safety concerns dominant today.

In a recent clandestine showing of the film – banned in Indonesia – to journalists in Jakarta the emphasis was on the “journalism” rather than the human rights issues. Warief Djajanto Basorie of the Jakarta Post wrote:
Balibo can be labelled a political film, a war film, a human rights film, or a journalism film.

After the Makassar screening, discussion focused on the journalism. The question asked: As journalists, what can you learn from the film?

In covering a conflict, it tells you to make a choice.
Either you stay or you go, replied one participant.

“I would go,” he said emphatically.

Most of the 31 journalists present agreed. The majority argument was to leave the war zone, prioritising safety and the ability to continue reporting in the future.

At least two participants, however, insisted they would stay for the story because it was “too big a story to miss”.
Basorie claimed the five murdered newsmen were “embedded journalists” – embedded with Fretilin.

Independent newspaper – Wansolwara: The student journalism newspaper published by the University of the South Pacific deserved to win the Ossie Award for regular publications this year for publishing under a state censorship regime. Not only did the courageous students publish a special edition examining the media in Fiji under a military regime, but they also reported global warming, environmental issues and human rights in the region.

, which has not only won the most Ossie awards of any publication in Australia, NZ or the Pacific (10, plus it scooped the pool in 2000 with the online and print coverage of the George Speight coup). For 13 years, the newspaper has been self-funded by the students themselves through advertising revenue. But this year, the students brought off a coup themselves – with a deal to publish their newspaper as a liftout in the daily newspaper Fiji Sun. This immediately lifted their circulation from 2000 to more than 20,000.

Unfortunately the Reader’s Digest judge surprisingly overlooked this newspaper’s achievements and quality and awarded the “best regular publication” prize to AUT University’s Te Waha Nui instead.

Media monitoring agency – Reporters sans frontières (RSF): This award is well-deserved globally for 2009, but RSF needs to beef up its Pacific content, not just concentrate on Fiji and one or two other higher profile issues. In its roundup for the year, RSF highlighted the Ampatuan massacre – largest ever killing of journalists in a single day - and the unprecedented wave of arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers in Iran. The agency’s summary for the year:
76 journalists killed (60 in 2008)
33 journalists kidnapped

573 journalists arrested

1456 physically assaulted

570 media censored

157 journalists fled their countries

1 blogger died in prison

151 bloggers and cyber-dissidents arrested

61 ph
ysically assaulted
60 countries affected by online censorship
Check out the full report.

Incidentally, for those with special concerns on internet freedoms, it is good news that Lucie Morillon has been appointed as the new head of RSF. She established the RSF office in New York five years ago and has long been a champion of online free speech.

The efforts of the new Pacific Freedom Forum, the International Federation of Journalists and the Pacific Media Centre's Pacific Media Watch also deserve praise for their specifically Oceania work.

Independent blog – Croz Walsh’s Fiji: Crosbie Walsh is not actually a journalist. However, as an adjunct professor and retired founding director of the University of the South Pacific’s Development Studies programme, he is an acute observer and commentator about facts and falsehoods about Fiji. Thrust into blogging almost by accident (he became rather frustrated over poor media coverage of the realities in Fiji), he established his own excellent and reliable information and analysis website in a bold attempt to make sense of the complexities of Fiji’s political, social and economic order since the 2006 coup.

In the process, his blog has embarrassed many leading journalists who profess to be “experts” on Fiji by repeatedly exposing the shallowness of their reporting. He has also been a counterfoil for some of the rabid anti-Fiji regime blogs (including several run or contributed to by journalists) and their propaganda and lies. The context and complexities may be frequently missing from mainstream media coverage, but Croz is filling many of the gaps and balancing the misrepresentations. A comment in a recent posting has taken AAP's Tamara McLean to task:
A Tamara McLean article in the NZ Herald/AAP provides readers with a rehash of what was once news, and "fresh" comments from "an Auckland University academic sympathetic to Bainimarama" (Prof Hugh Laracy) countered by three "Pacific specialists (Dr Jon Fraenkel, Jone Baledrokadroka and Prof Brij Lal) at the Australian National University" who are not." The use of "academic" and "specialists" tells readers where Tamara is coming from, but it's neither subtle nor accurate for all four are academics and specialists.
Special freedom of speech award - José Belo: For remaining defiant in the face of threats and a legal onslaught over his exposes of corruption that could have led to imprisonment in East Timor. He was ultimately saved by the collapse of the trumped up “criminal defamation” case against him and Tempo Semanal.

Pictured: A National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) protest against the killing of media workers (Photo: Bayanihan Post) and José Belo of East Timor at work (Photo: Etan).

Papuan human rights group calls for justice over Kelly Kwalik

Abridged translation by TAPOL from Bintang Papua, December 29:

THE LACK of any firm evidence of the involvement of "General" Kelly Kwalik in a series of recent terrorist actions in Timika, West Papua, has led the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Papua to call on the President of Indonesia to take action against members of the security forces.

In a press release issued by Poengky Indarti of Imparsial, Andreas Harsono of Yayasan Pantau, Muridan Widjojo of LIPI, Amiruddin Ar Rahab of Activists Concerned about Papua, Markus Haluk of AMPTPI, Miryam Nainggolan of PPRP and Suryadi Radjab of PBHI, they called on the President of Indonesia to instruct the Chief of Police of Indonesia, the Commander of the Armed Forces, the Attorney General and the Minister for Law and Human Rights to take firm action against all those members of the security forces who pereptrate acts of violence in Papua.

The network also called on the Chairman of the Constitutional Court to take firm action against those who continue to try and sentence Papuans for giving expression to their basic rights. The government should also repeal Government Regulation No 77, 2007 [banning the use of symbols] which is in violation of Law 21, 2001 on Special Autonomy for Papua.

They also questioned allegations of the involvement of Kelly Kwalik which had resulted in his murder on the grounds that he had offered resistance to the police when they raided the place where he was staying, because this was in violation of the law and human rights which the police are required to uphold.

The network also said that the case has been further complicated by police allegations that Kelly Kwalik was responsible for a series of incidents in the vicinity of PT Freeport between July and October 2009, although such allegations had been rejected by Police Commissioner FX Bagus Ekodanto. who was the chief of police at the time.

The district police chief said at the time that the OPM was not responsible for the acts of violence in the vicinity of Freeport, and that there was no clear evidence implicating Kelly Kwalik.

The members of the network were deeply concerned that all this has led to fears among Papuans that acts of state violence could victimise anyone in Papua, who could be branded with the stigma of separatism and the OPM.

These allegations also represented a violation of the Papuan people's right to freedom of expression: they included the dispersal of people taking part in peaceful actions, the banning of books, the arrest, detention and incrimination of Papuans, including the murder of Papuans in the name of the OPM stigma. Such things must stop, they said. These actions not only violate the rule of law and human rights but also perpetuate the culture of violence and enhanced the authoritarian nature of the security forces, which was comparable to what happened during the
New Order of Suharto.

Such developments were taking Papua further and further away from an atmosphere of peace and the desire of Papuan people to make Papua a Land of Peace.

Pictured: Australian journalist Mark Davis, then working with ABC Four Corners, pictured with Kelly Kwalik in an interview. Photo: Pacific Journalism Review, v6 2000.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hepi Krismas - and political fallout from the Moti affair

AS Café Pacific has been on "vacation" - a rare event - over these past few weeks, many significant happenings have passed without comment from this blog. Issues such as the unravelling of the Indonesian "case" over the Balibo Five murders in the wake of new pressures from the film Balibo, developments over the embryonic Fiji media decree and the views of the detractors and the more critically reflective and the killing of OPM leader Kelly Kwalik in West Papua have passed without a murmur by Café Pacific.

However, a delightful Christmas present has come Julian Moti's way with the throwing out in a Brisbane court of those trumped up charges against the former Solomon Islands Attorney-General. Many in the Pacific were deeply concerned about how once again Australian diplomatic and "legal" bullying was being used to impose a political outcome on a compliant state in the region. This issue was often seen to have more to do with regime change in the Solomon Islands than any genuine pursuit of justice. (See past Café Pacific items on Motigate.) A backgrounder just posted on the World Socialist Website:

Political lessons of the Julian Moti affair
23 December 2009

By Patrick O’Connor and Linda Levin

Last week’s Queensland Supreme Court decision to throw out the prosecution of former Solomon Islands’ Attorney General Julian Moti on trumped up child sex charges is a major blow to the Australian government, its federal police and public prosecutors. The vicious five-year vendetta has cast light on Canberra’s filthy neo-colonial operations in the South Pacific, as well as the complicity of the entire political and media establishment—ranged across the official political spectrum, from the openly right wing to the ex-radical “left”.

The charges originated in an attempted blackmail against Moti, a constitutional lawyer and Australian citizen, in Vanuatu in 1997-98. They were dismissed by a Vanuatu magistrate as “unjust and oppressive”, a decision the prosecutors chose not to appeal. The allegations were
resuscitated in 2004, not by the alleged “victim” but by Patrick Cole, the Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands. They became the means through which the Australian government sought to remove Moti from the Pacific, and permanently destroy his personal reputation and professional standing, for the sole reason that he was perceived as a
threat to Australia’s economic and strategic interests.

Not accidentally, Moti’s victimisation coincided with a shift in Canberra’s foreign policy in the Pacific. Washington utilised the September 11 terror attacks as the pretext for invading Afghanistan and Iraq—thus pursuing a long-held ambition to reorganise the Middle East under conditions where its post-World War II domination was being challenged by rivals, particularly in Europe and Asia. In similar manner, the Australian ruling elite sought to revive its neo-colonial operations in the South Pacific—a region long regarded as Canberra’s
“sphere of influence”—to shore up its position in the face of mounting rivalries.

Within months of the US-led attack on Iraq, the Australian government dispatched troops and police to the Solomon Islands in July 2003. Involved was the effective takeover by Australian military and civilian officials of the impoverished country’s state apparatus, including its
finance department and central bank, judiciary, police, prisons, public service, and other central institutions. The so-called Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was conceived as a model for potential interventions into other Pacific states, most notably the resource-rich former Australian colony of Papua New Guinea. Moti was a well-known opponent of this agenda. A prominent lawyer, he had worked in several Pacific countries, and had connections with Melanesian nationalist politicians, whose aim was to promote small agricultural producers rather than international investors and who were not averse to cultivating ties with Asian powers as a counterbalance to Canberra’s role in the region.

In late 2004 Moti was touted as a possible Solomons’ attorney-general, and in 2006 the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare appointed him to that position. The case in the Queensland Supreme Court from mid-September until earlier this month saw the disclosure of damning classified memos, emails, and other internal Australian Federal Police, Australian High Commission, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade documents that provided a rare glimpse into Canberra’s modus operandi throughout the South Pacific. While the witch hunt began much earlier, by 2006 senior Australian politicians, police chiefs, and diplomatic officials were publicly slandering Moti and demanding his expulsion from the Solomons. Meanwhile, other officials and police were working behind the scenes to ensure his return to Australia. The
operation culminated in Moti’s unlawful deportation from the Solomons in December 2007, following the ousting of the Sogavare government after a protracted regime change campaign by Canberra.

Justice Debra Mullins’ decision to award Moti’s permanent stay application, while at the same time whitewashing the Australian government’s role, was highly political. By choosing the most limited and narrowly focussed grounds on which to throw the charges out, the court’s judgment amounted to political damage control. The judge’s argument was entirely spurious; it centred on the assertion that there was no political motivation behind the case and that Moti’s expulsion
from the Solomons was a decision made by that country’s “sovereign” government alone, independent of any Australian pressure. The evidence established the contrary, namely that the 2007 deportation was instigated and facilitated by Canberra with the assistance of its newly
installed satrap in Honiara.

The judge made no attempt to answer the obvious question: why, if there were no political motivation, did Australian police and authorities act as they did? While ruling that the unprecedented witness payments made by the AFP, totalling around $150,000, represented an “affront to the public conscience” and thus deciding to stay the prosecution on that basis, she failed to address the reason behind the payments to the witnesses, without whom the prosecution case would have had no chance of succeeding. To even raise these issues would begin to lift the lid on the role of Australian imperialism in the Solomons, something regarded in official circles as politically taboo.

Throughout the sordid saga, the media functioned as the fifth wheel of the government’s vendetta, sensationalising every lurid sexual assault allegation and then effectively censoring the Supreme Court hearings. As the damning evidence mounted and the Australian government’s operations began to come to light, an effective media boycott was imposed. Few Australians had any idea the case was even underway.

The handful of critical voices after Moti’s arrest in late 2006 quickly fell silent once the Labor Party took office in November 2007. Consistent with Labor’s unconditional support for the former Howard government’s stance, the new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd consummated the operation, overseeing Moti’s unlawful return and arrest in Australia and authorising his prosecution.

The entire Labor fraternity fell into line. As the case unfolded, lawyers and civil libertarians kept their mouths firmly shut. South Pacific experts in the academic world similarly lent support to the anti-Moti campaign.

The most revealing response came from the so-called “lefts”. Since Labor’s election, not one of the various petty-bourgeois protest organisations, or any of their publications, has uttered a single word on the Moti frame-up or its collapse. While these outfits will, from time to time, denounce the crimes of US imperialism, Britain, Israel, etc., when it comes to the imperialist depredations of their “own” bourgeoisie it is quite another matter. This is especially so under
Labor. After all, the entire ex-radical fraternity worked to get the Rudd government elected on the basis that it was a “lesser evil” to the coalition. The reaction of these groups to the Moti case is yet another expression of their class hostility to the fight for the political independence of the working class from Labor and its nationalist, pro-imperialist agenda.

The role played from the outset by the World Socialist Web Site in the detailed exposure of the Moti witch hunt flowed from our internationalist principles and perspective. Developing an understanding of the role of Australian imperialism throughout the Asia-Pacific region is a vital precondition for the development of a mass revolutionary socialist movement of the Australian working class, and for unifying the working class and oppressed masses throughout the
region—and the world—in a common struggle against imperialism. The bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the region’s resources, wealth, and labour power has been underway for more than a century, even before the federated nation-state of Australia was founded in 1901.

The Moti affair constitutes a devastating exposure of the machinations of successive Liberal and Labor governments in the Solomons, and of the entire RAMSI operation. Despite the best efforts of the Australian political and media establishment, the collapse of the prosecution’s case stands as a damning indictment of Australian neo-colonialism. It is yet another sign that, amid growing hostility in the Pacific towards Australia’s military-police operations, the humanitarian pretexts for the post-2001 turn to militarism and repression are beginning to unravel.

Pictured: Julian Moti when Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands. Photo: Solomon Times.

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