Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fiji blog cops a blast over 'treason' law makeover misrepresentation

BLOG COUPFOURPOINTFIVE has had its credibility challenged over a report claiming any "Negativity against regime treated as treason". The shallow item was attributed in the first paragraph to "sources". Former University of the South Pacific development studies academic Crosbie Walsh, whose own Fiji blog is increasingly looked to for informed and accurate analysis, has condemned the website, run by journalists, for misrepresentation. The original "treason" blog posting has now had a hasty title change to "New Criminal decree brings worry". (But the blog also later partially made amends by adding a rather more informative posting about the "sedition and incitement" clauses as well as treason.) Read on...

Negativity is Treason: Blog Misunderstands or Deliberately Distorts New Crime Decrees

By Crosbie Walsh

The story posted by the anti-government blogger Coupfourpointfive under the heading "Any Negativity Against Regime Treated as Treason" is factually incorrect and, one must assume, deliberately misleading. I consider this the most blatantly biased, damaging -- but most easily refutable -- release so far by Coup4.5. Their general credibility is now in serious doubt.

If the mainstream print and radio media report this blog story without first checking the facts against Fiji's old and new laws, they are a party to the blogger's action, whether intended or not. Sloppy journalism becomes a weapon in politically delicate situations.

Coup 4.5 reports that "one part of the decree limits what the Fiji media can report on a criminal case". The inference is that this is a new provision, limiting freedom of the press. This is not so.

The provision of the Criminal Procedure Decree prohibits reporting on criminal cases "until the conclusion of the trial" (section 201). It applies only to offences to be tried before the High Court such as rape and murder. And the provision is identical to section 236 of the repealed Criminal Procedure Code that has been Fiji law since about 1948.

The blog then states: "Under subsection 65 Part 2 individuals and NGO's criticising Frank Bainimarama's regime are deemed to have committed treason and this is punishable by life imprisonment."

In fact, section 65 of the new Decree is section 65 of the old Penal Code, which defined a seditious (sic!) intention as an intention, inter alia, to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Fiji. Section 66 of the old Penal Code created the offence inter alia of "printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, or reproducing any seditious publication" which offence was punishable with two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $200 on a first offence and three years on a subsequent conviction.

So the offence in the decree is not new and arguably blogsites which promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between classes of the population have already been guilty of the old section 66! Only the name and the penalty has changed. The offence is now called "inciting communal antagonism" and the maximum penalty is now 10 years imprisonment. The offence is not called treason.

Treason is a separate offence under section 64 and it re-enacts the old common law definition of treason - as used in the trials of Timoci Silatolu and George Speight [pictured above]. It includes acts of killing the President or the Prime Minister or causing them harm and also includes levying war against Fiji. In fact, the new definition adds nothing to the common law definition of treason, nor does it dilute it.

Last year's Abrogation of the 1997 Constitution made it necessary to replace laws existing under the Constitution. For the most part, the decrees that replace them replicate, clarify and update the old laws. No new "draconian" sections have been added.

Readers wishing to read the new Crime Decree and Criminal Procedure Decree may click on these links to Mediafire, and download them from there.

The Media Decree is still being drafted.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PNG pipeline clash story - tribal feud or Exxon whitewash?

A READER has picked up on the remarkably contradictory reports by local Papua New Guinean news media linking a bloody feud between Southern Highlands tribes with tension over profit-sharing about the $15 billion gasfield and international media coverage - reported far from the conflict area, and downsizing the development conflict issue. He noted the contrast between one story from the front page of the Post-Courier, blaming the royalties tensions over the liquefied natural gasfield and pipeline, and a Radio Australia item, saying it was "lonstanding tribal dispute". (This RA report was also filed by a PNG journalist while other news agencies later carried even stronger ExxonMobil denials of profit-sharing problems):
...two stories on the same topic. And they remain two very different stories.
The lack of coverage in the next few days didn't make the situation any clearer. Café Pacific believes that the influence of the Exxon publicity machine had a lot to do with the international wire service "playdown" stories, conveniently cashing in on the hasty police statements. Take your pick:

Version # 1: Post-Courier, 25 January 2010
11 KILLED IN SHOOTING RELATED TO PNG GAS PROJECT
Raid said to be caused by tension from benefits agreement


By Mohammad Bashir

Eleven people were gunned down in an early morning raid on Pawale village in the PDL4 area of the PNG LNG project in Southern Highlands.

As a result, the government and developers have been given 48 hours to step in and restore order.


In a gang style attack, four groups of young men from the neighbouring Imawe Bogasi clan armed with high powered guns reportedly staged the raid, killing 11 young men and injuring many villagers.


Hundreds of women and children who fled are unaccounted for after 270 houses and other properties were destroyed.


Southern Highlands provincial police commander, Superintendent Jimmy Onopia last night confirmed the fighting but he could not provide details of the deaths and destruction to properties.


Pawale village in Simberigi,
Erave district in the Southern Highlands Province was a home to the Toroko, Haukerake and Ase Tipupurupeke clans.

The raid was believed to be in retaliation for the killing of an Imawe Bogasi clansman before the December Licensed Based Benefit Sharing Agreement (LBBSA) forum.

Spokesman for the Tipurupeke clan, Steven Paglipari, confirmed the killings yesterday, saying the situation on the ground was tense.


During the LBBSA, Pawale villagers of PDL4, who were the principal landowners, did not take part in the forum because of threats and intimidation.


Pawale council president Max Apua said the Bogasis refused K5000 and 14 pigs given two weeks ago as "bel kol" at a mediation ceremony chaired by Erave's first judge Justice Nemo Yalo.

Justice Yalo appealed to the warring clans to put their differences aside.


Moloko Tiburua Peke, ILG chairman Apiko Pelipe and Mr Apua called on the government and the developers to step in immediately and address the situation.

Speaking on behalf of the six clans of Pawale, Mr Apua said they would not hesitate to take the law into their own hands if the Government and the oil and LNG developers failed.

An updated version of the above story was carried by Pacific Scoop.

Version #2: Radio Australia, 25 January 2010
TRIBAL DISPUTE CLAIMS 11 LIVES IN PNG HIGHLANDS
Eleven people have been reportedly gunned-down in the Papua New Guinea highlands over a longstanding tribal dispute.

Police in the Southern Highlands say they lack the resources and manpower to go and stop it, or prevent more casualties.

The province houses gas fields that will form PNG's Liquefied Natural Gas project, and the project's lead developer, Exxon Mobil says they are monitoring the situation very closely.


But PNG's Southern Highlands Police Commander, Jimmy Onopia, says the fight is between two tribal groups in the Erave district over the death of a villager from one of the waring tribes.


Presenter: Firmin Nanol

Speaker: Jimmy Onopia, PNG's South
ern Highlands Police Commander

Audio:
www.abc.net.au/ra/pacbeat/stories/m1840092.asx
Some other items:

Deadly PNG clash not linked to LNG project: police (AFP)
Exxon Says PNG violence tribal, not related to its LNG venture (Bloomberg)
ExxonMobil denies links to PNG deaths (Sydney Morning Herald)
ExxonMobil says clash in PNG had no link to LNG project (Radio NZ International)
PNG LNG 'not linked to clash' (Upstream Online)

Meanwhile, the mystery woman who posed as a human rights lawyer in the daring "great escape" when 12 hardened criminals broke out of Bomana prison earlier this month, has been described by police as "a beauty" (identikit picture). And warders were so gob-smacked that they were "distracted" from their usual jail screening protocols.

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:

WE ARE GLOBAL: FROM FIJI, A JOURNALIST'S STAND ON CENSORS, BLOGGERS AND THE FUTURE OF FREE EXPRESSION

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.

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