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.Basorie claimed the five murdered newsmen were “embedded journalists” – embedded with Fretilin.
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”.
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.
Wansolwara, 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)Check out the full report.
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 physically assaulted
60 countries affected by online censorship
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).
- One dangerous place for reporters
- Ampatuan massacre map and timeline
- How should we respond to Balibo?
- Wansolwara's hot press deal
- Wars and disputed elections: The most dangerous stories for journalists
- Croz Walsh on Fiji snippets and the media
- Bainimarama winner in Fiji's darkest hour
- Croz Walsh's PIPSA paper on Fiji blogs
- Criminal defamation case dropped against Tempo Semanal
- Cafe Pacific's New Year awards at PMC