Friday, March 5, 2010

Samoan 'gangs, drugs and guns' too gung-ho for the BSA

SO THE Samoan government has jumped the gun on the Television New Zealand “gangsta paradise” affair. In its eagerness to win a political point or two over the state-owned broadcaster (which incidentally has just supplied a "Pacific TV" gift of broadcast equipment to Samoa) in its long-standing controversial complaint about TVNZ accuracy, fairness and ethics, the government has itself breached the broadcast industry's watchdog embargo. This is a violation of an important part of the adjudication process, which enables both parties to prepare their response to the orders and to consider an appeal. In fact, Café Pacific wonders what part of the "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" label stamped on each page of the draft ruling, the Samoan government officials did not understand. If it was a court, this would be contempt.

According to TVNZ’s corporate affairs manager Megan Richards, an appeal could well be on the cards. She told Pacific Media Watch that TVNZ had complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the embargo breach. TVNZ had expected the adjudication to be released on March 29. Richards said TVNZ was "considering an appeal in this case, which has a number of very unusual aspects. TVNZ stands by the substance of the story and the integrity and professionalism of the journalist concerned" – respected Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver.

The BSA ruled against TVNZ on accuracy and balance grounds in its 25-page adjudication against the news item broadcast on ONE News on April 6 last year and also run on Tagata Pasifika . It has reportedly ordered TVNZ to make a public apology, awarded costs of $5000 to be paid to the Samoan government and $2000 to the Crown. But two other complaints over fairness and the impact on law and order were not upheld by the BSA.

Unsurprisingly, TVNZ is spitting tacks over the adjudication. This ruling signals a growing trend for Pacific governments to use the BSA as a means of waving a big stick against stroppy and independent journalists. Fairfax’s Michael Field faced a similar caning from the BSA following a complaint by the Fiji regime's solicitor-general in September 2008.

Pacific governments 2 - Regional journalists 0.

Radio New Zealand International picked up the Samoan press release but ran five paragraphs of the government’s spin with no follow-up comment or balancing interviews. It did not get comment from TVNZ or mention that the government had broken the embargo:
The Samoan government has welcomed a ruling by the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority, which found that Television New Zealand breached standard broadcasting laws in a news item suggesting the widespread presence of gangs, drugs and gun smuggling in Samoa.

The complaint was lodged by the Samoan government last April year when it claimed that the item tarnished the country’s image and would dissuade tourists from visiting.

In its ruling, the BSA says the report by Barbara Dreaver presented only one perspective and viewers needed information about the gravity of the problem in a wider context and from other perspectives.

TVNZ has been ordered to make a public statement, pay costs to the Samoa government and the Crown.

Samoa’s prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, says he sees the ruling not so much a victory for his government but a victory for responsible and substantive reporting.
But RNZI didn’t mention the prime minister’s further comments:
There have been far too many incidences of unbalanced reporting with
reporters and editors alike bent on producing and publishing half-cooked, sensationalised stories with the sole aim of stirring up controversy.

The ruling by the BSA is an onus for broadcasters and publishers to produce fair, balanced, in-depth and accurate news items.

There are also some very important lessons there for our local editors and budding journalists in how they do their jobs.
The ruling wasn’t to be found on either BSA online or the Samoan government press releases website.

No doubt there will be plenty of clucking in Samoan media circles, but it doesn’t stem the concerns that many of the region's journalists have about the dreadful threats or vindictive witch hunt faced by Dreaver or the hysterically partisan reporting of the issue in some sections of the Samoan press. It would be unfortunate if the BSA has not balanced its ruling with some stern criticism of the culprits in the Samoan media.

Of course, none of these stories below would have much to do with Samoan “gangs, drugs and guns”, would they?

Cops pay social visit to alleged drug lord's house
Drugs and criminal gangs exposed
Bail hearing for Tagaloasa
Filipaina remains in custody
Inquiry report on police boss role submitted

Pictured: RNZI's report of the "ruling"; TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver; and a still from her "gangs, drugs and guns" story. Other background:

Fiji high chief, seven others jailed over Fiji kill plot

IN HIS summing up in the controversial Fiji assassination conspiracy case, High Court judge Justice Paul Madigan put the blame on a ninth man who wasn't in the dock - New Zealand businessman Ballu Khan. Eight other co-conspirators in the alleged plot to assassinate the regime leader, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, were jailed for sentences ranging between three and seven years. But the judge said he was convinced the plot had been orchestrated by Khan, in collaboration with the eight accused. The New Zealand government has since denied any knowledge of the plot, saying it had merely provided consular assistance to Khan.

Madigan made his statement while sentencing the eight accused men in a packed courtroom. According to Fijilive, the judge said Khan’s business interests in Fiji had "waned after the military takeover in December 2006", and that the businessman was eager to "restore his fortunes to their former felicitous state”. Justice Madigan added the idea of weakening the military, “removing” Bainimarama and the President, and ridding the country of Indo-Fijians had both sinister and racial intentions. Fijilive reported that Fiji high chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata - described as a "ringleader" - and seven others had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven years for Takiveikata to three years for the others for plotting to assassinate Bainimarama and two other senior government figures in 2007:
Takiveikata and former Pacific Connex employee Sivaniolo Naulago were both jailed for seven years while former Fiji Intelligence Services director Metuisela Mua was jailed for three and a half years.

Former Counter Revolutionary Warfare soldier Barbado Mills was jailed for six years and six months while CRW fellowman Feoko Gadekibau was given a prison term of five and half years.

Other former CRW men Eparama Waqatakirewa and Pauliasi Namulo were jailed for three years each while fifth CRW figure Kaminieli Vosavere was jailed for four years.

Justice Madigan walked into a packed court room, filled with different nationalities. Members of the media were allowed in first.

The defendants, found guilty earlier this week by a five-member team of assessors, looked relaxed as they awaited the judge’s decision.
They faced a maximum prison term of 14 years for the offence.
Pictured: The accused chief, Ratu Inoke Takiveikata. Photo: Fijilive.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Fiji students’ internet coup – a decade on

IN A couple of months, it will be a decade since the University of the South Pacific student journalism students staged their own internet coup with award-winning coverage of the George Speight “attempted” coup in Fiji on 19 May 2000. While renegade businessman Speight and his journalist offsider, Jo Nata, were eventually scapegoated into prison for treason, the politically acceptable face of the Speight coup, Laisenia Qarase, consolidated his power from caretaker leader to elected prime minister – twice. But, as we know, Qarase was no paragon of democracy and was subsequently ousted by a coup by the military’s Commodore Voreqe Baimimarama in December 2006. Many of the group of students who covered the Speight coup for Pacific Journalism Online and Wansolwara and won a string of awards from the Journalism Education Association in Mooloolaba, Queensland, that year have gone on to bigger and better things. Wansolwara editor Reggie Dutt, for example, is now at Bond University doing a masters degree. But the heady moments of that coup coverage will never be forgotten. The students' story was told in a short video, Frontline Reporters, which has now been posted on the Pacific Media Centre’s YouTube channel for posterity. The university unilaterally closed the student journalists' website and tried to gag the newspaper (actions later condemned by the faculty board of the School of Humanities) but the students continued filing their stories to the University of Technology, Sydney, which set up a special coup website.

An earlier video (1999), Pasifik Niusbeat, tells the story of the early stages of online newsreporting and Radio Pacific at USP. You’ll recognise many young media faces familiar around the region today. Another video, Fri Pres, covers the fight for media freedom across the region in 1996. Produced and presented by David Robie, and reported by Stevenson Liu and Priscilla Raepom, it was broadcast by EMTV in Papua New Guinea and Fiji Television. The astonishing thing about this University of Papua New Guinea programme is that while it was made 16 years ago, it could just as easily have been talking about post-coup Fiji censorship and the rest of the Pacific today.

Pictured, a clip from Fri Pres with then PNG Forestry Minister Tim Nelville talking about a death threat on talkback radio.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two out of three murder charges dropped in Fiji plot case

FIJI'S ASSASSINATION conspiracy case has taken a dramatic turn with the dropping of two of three charges against eight men indicted.

The eight - including a high chief - had been accused of plotting to assassinate the self-appointed Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, and two senior regime ministers in 2007.

Presiding judge Justice Paul Madigan dropped the charges of conspiracy to murder Mahendra Chaudhry and conspiracy to murder the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum because of “ambiguous” evidence.

The eight men now face one remaining count of conspiring to murder Bainimarama.

Fijilive reports:
Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Feoko Gadekibau, Barbedoes Mills, Metuisela Mua, Sivaniolo Naulago, Eperama Waqatairewa, Kaminieli Vosavere and Pauliasi Ramulo are now free on charges that they conspired to murder Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Mahendra Chaudhry.

The first count still stands and that is the [alleged] plan to kill the Army Commander.

First accused Ratu Inoke Takiveikata has opted to give sworn evidence from the witness box as the case on the first count proceeds.

Five local assessors are also presiding over the case, now into its fourth week.
Ironically, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum today also issued a statement calling on the regime to take urgent action over the independence of the judiciary. Reverend Akuila Yabaki, director of the CCF, called on the government to invite the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit Fiji as soon as possible.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Human rights or corruption? Trotting out the real Fiji issues

ALL THE tired old clichés came out in droves in last week’s United Nations monologue on the Fiji regime’s tatty human rights record. Headlines fell over themselves echoing the same refrain:

Fiji human rights to undergo scrutiny
Fiji human rights to face UN scrutiny
Fiji Human rights defence challenged in Geneva … etc … etc …

Yet most of the litany of abuses rattled off by various governments and NGOs before the UN Human Rights Council periodic review were actually perpetrated in the months after Bainimarama’s original coup and yet they were often trotted out as if they were fresh. The breathless media blogs and journalists who continually recycle the same old sins rarely provide background or context – and even rarer is a mention of the systematic human rights and race-based violations by the ousted “democratic” regime of Laisenia Qarase.

Now, according to Fiji’s public broadcaster, the regime is wading through 116 recommendations to see how it can make things better. (Aligned against Australia, NZ, UK and the US - the Anglo-Saxon club - were countries such as China, Mexico, Philippines and Russia, which were prepared to give Fiji a fair go).

Following the saturation coverage of alleged Fiji human rights abuses in media in Downunder media, Café Pacific reckons journalists ought to see the film Balibo to get a sense of real human rights violations in this part of the world – in East Timor, where the Australian and New Zealand governments meekly brushed these Indonesian crimes on their doorstep under the carpet. Much easier to bully Fiji than Indonesia.

According to many seasoned local journalists, much of the Australian and NZ press simply fail to acknowledge the complexity of Fiji’s socio-political context. And nothing is said positively about the regime perhaps having actually achieved something in reducing race-based human rights violations. Says one former leading Fiji editor in an email to Café Pacific:
Fiji is not a homogeneous country. It is a unique country where we have two major races who each comprise about roughly half of the total population. The mix of cultures and religion is also unique.

The two major political parties are aligned along racial lines – that is their power base. They use the political arena to gain mileage and use the media to split the community.

We have seen plenty of the above.

When reporting about Fiji, the media needs a deeper understanding about racial issues in order to avoid being manipulated by politicians.
So the media has to be careful how it goes about reporting race and politics.

People in Western countries view Fiji through Western eyes. But Fijian society and the situation here is very different.

Having said that, censorship is taken advantage of by the government when it allows nothing negative to be reported. This is not doing society any favour either.

It just shows what a powerful tool the media is, and how successive governments in Fiji have tried to bring it under their control.
His comments were borne out by Fiji's Ambassador to the European Union, Peceli Vocea, who blamed Fiji's ills on two decades of "mismanagement, corruption and nepotism" (ie. under "democratic" leadership).

Prominent Fiji issues blogger Croz Walsh, who unlike the tabloid “antis”, tries to bring some rigour to his website with research and analysis, deplored the gullible acceptance by news media of the spate of uncritical, onesided reports on human rights. He says:
Fiji really has been in the news for the last few days, and not one word in its favour. By now the world must think its human rights record is on a par with Burma. All other Fiji news, little that it ever was, has been pushed aside (except for ANU's Jon Fraenkel speaking to Radio NZ International on Voreqe Bainimarama's "resignation" and Fiji's Met Service work for the Cooks) by the avalanche of "human rights" news.

Apparently nothing positive is happening in Fiji, and there's never a word about the massive abuse of power -- and hence abuse of human rights -- by the deposed "democratically elected" government.
I wonder how honest journalists can continue to talk of an independent media when their colleagues continue to report like this? Or how Fiji, even with the most worthy deeds and the most efficient PR, can have one hope in hell of countering what can only be called propaganda?

My paltry efforts in my blog to provide background, information, analysis and helpful comments is outnumbered many thousands to one, and the occasional radio interview seems like a sop to supposed balance.

The real Fiji issue here is not human rights (though some, affecting very few people, have been abused). The real issue is the abuse of "media rights" that have been allowed, if not encouraged, to so distort the situation in Fiji, past and present.

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