Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hostile world media debate draws packed house

A REAL irony in these cynical times about the global “journalism crisis” and the inability of many journalists and ginger groups to seriously tackle the shackling of the media by corporate conglomerates, that AUT University experienced a packed house this week to debate safety for war correspondents. Some 200 people turned up to see the film Balibo and discuss media safety.
It may have been a mere sprinkling of journalists themselves, but the audience was made up of a horde of aspiring journalists, civil society advocates concerned about the state of the Fourth Estate and media educators and social scientists whose job is to be reflective about the media. All were treated to an inspiring evening of debate and insight into the state of the profession and the challenges of an increasingly hostile world for journalists.

Keynote speaker Tony Maniaty, author of Shooting Balibo: Blood and Memory in East Timor, spoke of the growing trend to what he calls the “outsourcing of danger” – a growing reliance on freelancers and independents to do the dangerous work. Reflecting on the East Timor experience, he also notes how easy it is nowadays for younger reporters today to sidestep the years of grind and experience taken to become a war reporter in the past.
Today, my students can - and some do - circumvent all that rigmarole by walking around the corner, buying a laptop and HD camera and a cheap air ticket to Kabul, and two days later be filming – alone, unsupported - on the frontline. And in this increasingly prevalent scenario are two more challenges facing us. One, we need to inject compulsory safety training modules into our media courses; and two, we need to address more carefully the vexed issue of freelancers, and what I call ‘the outsourcing of danger’. If networks are not prepared to send staff reporters into hot zones, do they have any right to send others there – for far lower pay, without training or insurance or training, without safety gear?
Maniaty, an ABC television reporter in 1975 and now senior lecturer in international journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, was a survivor back then. After reporting on the Indonesian incursions at the border town of Balibo in October that year, he withdrew before the impending invasion. On his retreat, he warned Channel 7 reporter Greg Shackleton and two of his four colleagues from two networks that pressed on to Balibo – and to their deaths. They were murdered at the hands of notorious Indonesian Kopassus commandos intent on stopping the truth about the invasion "softening up" getting to the global media.

The complicity of Australian governments in the cover-up of their murders and the long silence of New Zealand governments about this episode is shameful. Another journalist, Australian Roger East, went to Dili to set up the East Timor News Agency (ETNA) and investigate the killings of the Balibo Five. He in turn was murdered, executed by Indonesian troops in cold blood on Dili’s wharf the day after the December 7 invasion and his body dumped into the sea.

Seminar host Dr David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, spoke of the questions confronting journalists:
Are we making progress in issues of the duty of care by the news media organisations for their journalists assigned to war zones and to cover dangerous events? How well do journalists know and understand International Humanitarian Law and their rights and responsibilities? With other countries adopting a news media safety code, including Australia, should New Zealand be doing the same?

The deaths of two journalists, both of them foreigners – a Japanese and an Italian – in the civil disturbances in Thailand, are a reminder of the huge dangers f
acing media workers when reporting in a conflict zone.
Chris Cramer, New York-based global multimedia editor of Reuters News, who had been keynote speaker at the Reporting Wars conferences a year ago in Sydney and Wellington, sent an impassioned message to the seminar and noted how committed his own organisation was to safety of journalists and news workers (see video). It is something of a role model. Cramer is also currently president and a founding member of the International News Safety Institute.

Independent New Zealand journalist Jon Stephenson opened the panel debate by suggesting that since last year’s Reporting Wars conferences there had been no real progress made towards addressing journalist safety in New Zealand.
I regret to say this, but our profession has become something of a bad joke. Despite the slogans on the billboards around Auckland it is most definitely not ‘all about the story’… it’s all about the bottom line.
Other speakers on the panel, chaired by PMC advisory board member Dr Camille Nakhid, were TV3’s Mike McRoberts, just back from covering the crushing of the “red shirts” populist insurrection in Bangkok, TVNZ’s Sunday presenter Cameron Bennett, and Kelisiana Thynne, who gave a legal perspective, adding previous Reporting Wars seminars had been more successful than other panellists suggested, having raised considerable awareness of the role international humanitarian law can play in journalism.

Jean-Luc Metzker, head of the Regional Delegation of the International Commission of the Red Cross based in Suva, launched the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review which is themed on the issue of war reporting and published a number of papers from last year’s conferences and additional research about the safety of journalists.

The response to the seminar and film screening was phenomenal. The largest previous response on a media topic at AUT was when 150 came to hear The Independent's Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk in 2008.

It shows this issue of war reporting and safety for journalists amid the growing complexities of today's world, where you can have urban war across the street in some countries and media workers are constantly at risk, is a crucial challenge for the profession. New Zealand media managements haven't been treating the issues seriously enough - and this is at their peril.

Pictured: Top: TVNZ's Cameron Bennett. Lower Top: Tony Maniaty. Middle: Pacific Journalism Review. Lower middle: Kelisiana Thynne of the International Committee of the Red Cross and panel chair Dr Camille Nakhid of the Pacific Media Centre advisory board. Above: TV3's Mike McRoberts, independent journalist Jon Stephenson and PMC director Dr David Robie. Photos: Del Abcede/PMC

The film screening and seminar were jointly hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New Zealand Red Cross, AUT University and AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ben Bohane's retrospective on Pacific war reporting

BEN BOHANE is travelling from Vanuatu to Brisbane tomorrow for an exhibition launch of his photo collective with a retrospective of his best war reportage over the years. He is without peer in South Pacific photojournalism, but his remarkable career actually began with a five-year stint in South-East Asia covering warfare in Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia.

According to his profile on Degree South:
[Bohane] got the first interview with opium warlord General Khun Sa in 1991 and in 1992 he was reportedly the first foreign traveller to go overland from Kabul to Moscow in 80 years.

In 1994, Ben returned to Australia and began covering the much under-reported Pacific region.

He has spent the past 12 years specialising in “Conflict and Kastom” throughout Melanesia and black Australia. While covering every major conflict in the South Pacific – Bougainville, East Timor, Fiji, New Caledonia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, Maluku, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and West Papua - he traveled and lived with a variety of tribal and rebel groups and was thereby able to secure the first pictures of BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army) leader Francis Ona in Bougainville and the only interview and pictures of Guadalcanal warlord Harold Keke before he surrendered to Australian troops.

He has perhaps the largest contemporary photo archive of the South Pacific in the world. His photographs are collected by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and the Australian War Memorial.
Pacific Journalism Review published a photoessay by Ben Bohane in September 2006 (v12 n2) to mark his "Black Islands: Spirit and war in Melanesia" exhibition in Sydney's Australian Centre for Photography. His work has also appeared in Geo, Time, Newsweek, The Guardian, Rolling Stone and other publications. He also regularly makes documentaries for the ABC and SBS in Australia and other networks.

Bohane has just returned from an assignment for SBS Dateline reporting on the controversial huge Exxon LNG project in the Southern Highlands. Militant landowners claim this will turn into "another Bougainville", where a 10-year civil war was fought over the massive environmental and social destruction wrought by the Panguna copper mine.

Photo: Ben Bohane

Friday, May 14, 2010

Audio flashback to Rabuka's first Fiji coup

AN EXCERPT from a documentary about the original Fiji coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka on 14 May 1987. It was made by University of the South Pacific journalism students a decade later. In 1997, Patrick Craddock, a former Radio New Zealand producer, was
working at USP in Suva with François Turmel, a former
BBC journalist who established the the Fiji-based regional journalism training programme with French support. As part of an exercise in documentary making, the students collected audio interviews with people who had
experienced the 1987 coup in Suva.

Interviewees included Sam Thompson, news editor of FM96 radio who broke the story about the coup; a radio journalist at Radio Fiji; Dr Tupeni Baba, a politician in the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government of Dr Timoci Bavadra; the police chief appointed by Rabuka, students, staff of USP and people attending an NGO workshop.

At the time, none of the participants wanted to be identified by name with this documentary and no names were included in the production details. The documentary was seen as an exercise for USP journalism students and was never broadcast. Most audio interviews were done on location. The programme is now a small part of the history of the period.

Producer: Patrick Craddock, USP Media Centre.

Picture: Sitiveni Rabuka on 14 May 1987. Photo: Fiji Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fiji coups: 'Out of the barrel of a gun'

Flashback to the original Sitiveni Rabuka coup – 14 May 1987:

“OUR chiefs,” said Taniela Veitata, now an Opposition MP, “are really the guardians of the peace in Fiji.” A day after he and his Taukei colleagues had been plotting the next stage in the plan to depose Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra, Veitata was laying down the law in Parliament about racism.

“Peace is quite distinct, Mr Speaker, from the political philosophy of Mao Zedong where he said that political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. In Fiji, there is no gun. But our chiefs are there; we respect them …”

Seven minutes later, at the stroke of ten o’clock, ten soldiers wearing gasmasks burst into the chamber.

“Sit down everybody, sit down,” barked the squad leader, a captain disguised by a balaclava and brandishing a 9mm pistol. “This is a takeover. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a military takeover. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. You are requested to stay cool, stay down and listen to what we are going to tell you.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, dressed in a suit and a sulu stood up in the public gallery. He strode towards the Speaker – his uncle, Militoni Leweniqila.

“Please stay calm, ladies and gentlemen,” Rabuka said. “Mr Prime Minister, please lead your team down the right,” the colonel said. “Policemen, keep the passage clear. Stay down, remain calm. Mr Prime Minister, sir, will you lead your team now.”

Outside in the corridor, Ratu Finau Mara, son of the former Prime Minister [Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara], stood making sure the passage was clear. A back-up team of about 12 soldiers in full combat gear and armed with M16 assault rifles waited there. Moments earlier, Finau Mara had been making room in the passage for the soldiers to enter Parliament.

Shocked, Bavadra, his cabinet ministers and MPs were led outside at gunpoint to two waiting military trucks and ordered to get in.

Education Minister Dr Tupeni Baba, noticing uncertainty on the face of a soldier near him, made a gesture of resistance. “We’re not going on the trucks,” he said.

Dou raici koyo, sa lako yani oqori,” snapped the captain. “Watch out for that one heading your way.”

Rabuka grabbed a loaded M16 from a nearby soldier and cocked it at Baba’s head. Baba, the most outspoken of any of the indigenous Fijian ministers, moved but still protested defiantly.

[Excerpt from David Robie’s Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific (Zed Books, London, 1989), pp. 218-219.]

Flashback to the George Speight attempted coup – 19 May 2000

At precisely 10.50am, [Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tupeni Baba] was stopped in mid-sentence as three men, two holding guns and one walking calmly towards the Speaker's chair, entered among screams.

That is when our complaints about being stuck in Parliament just about stopped - guns? We looked at each other, realised our good fortune and started counting the gunmen.

[Speaker Dr Apenisa] Kurisaqila was demanding to know: "What is this? What is this?'

In a more composed manner with his books in hand, Dr Kurisaqila said: "This is an illegal takeover!'

Within seconds all seven doors were shut by gunmen and [a group of Fiji Institute of Technology students in the public gallery] were told to leave.

In the press gallery, we were told to stop recording things, stop writing and just remain seated; the door to our room was locked from outside.

In the meantime, George Speight was telling Dr Kurisaqila to sit down. He turned to Opposition members and told them to leave the chambers. All left except Opposition Leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Sam Speight (George's father), Jim Ah Koy and Ofa Duncan.

Speight's repeated request for the lot to leave was backed with a gunshot at this point; Dr Kurisaqila and these Opposition members refused to budge…

[Excerpt from Matelita Ragogo's article "The day of the parliamentary gunmen". She was one of three journalists reporting in the parliamentary press gallery on the morning when Speight’s gunmen walked in. From the University of the South Pacific journalism students’ coup archive.]

And Fiji, 14 May 2010… what of the so-called "coup culture" set in motion by Rabuka? The man who led the country's first two coups last month publicly apologised for his actions and has been on a personal journey of seeking forgiveness from its victims. He told the Fiji Sun:
“On this personal journey I am trying to go to all the victims of 1987 to apologise for what I did,” he said. He began in 1997 with Queen Elizabeth II when he was then Prime Minister. After carrying out the coup, Rabuka severed
ties with the British monarchy and declared Fiji a Republic.

“I also tried to return my OBE (Order of the British Empire) medal but Queen Elizabeth told me to keep it because I earned it before I carried out my 1987 actions,” he said.

Rabuka has also apologised to the family of Dr Bavadra; Defence Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau, son of the former Governor-General and the Fiji's first President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau; and to former junior officers.

But in the end, too little too late. Rabuka unleashed a damaging culture that has devastated Fiji for more than two decades, crippling the economy and political and social institutions. A legacy of ruin.

Pictures: Top: A Rabuka coup soldier in 1987. Photo: Matthew McKee (from Robie's Blood on their Banner). Above: A Speight gunman in 2000. Photo: Joe Yaya/USP coup archive).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The unapproved Fiji military dictionary (Part 2)

COUP: A Fiji custom first started in 1987 where the celebrants promise a better future. It is held about every five years

Example: The banker said to the coup leader please take this F$200 million and say nothing about it, as the bank does not want it back.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Guns paid for by the taxpayers of Australia and New Zealand and given to the coup leaders who say prayers and promise to protect babies, old people and the poor.

Example: We say prayers so that they will leave us alone to enjoy our poverty and ill-health in our own hovels.

China: A generous donor who is yet to show us their weapon of mass destruction.

Example: We are communists, and one day you will share all your wealth with us.

Fiji Sevens:
Formerly the personal property of Waisale Serevi; a game that provides supporters temporary amnesia when they contemplate Fiji’s future.

Example: I used my weekly pay to go to the match and Traps Bar afterwards. I then went home and beat my wife. I was angry because she asked for money when she knew I had already spent it.

Newspaper publisher: One who is damned to live somewhere else after publishing the news (see Dante’s Inferno for more examples).

Example: He was sent back to Australia although he wanted to live in Suva.

People’s Charter: The eleven pillars or commandments given to Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama with the help of the Catholic Church.

Example: Moses broke the tablets given to him by God ... The modern way is to shoot holes through them and win the heart and minds of the population.
Attorney-General: A person who has the ability to wear all the colours of the rainbow and use all the letters of the alphabet in any one day and smile and smile and smile.

Example: I do not talk out of the side of my mouth, because that would be too obvious to anyone who was looking and listening to me. My totem is a tsunami, and I invite all my critics to come to the beach and see it when it arrives.

Contributed by Patrick Craddock. Cartoon: Malcolm Evans and Pacific Journalism Review.

Fiji military dictionary (Part 1)

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