Monday, August 23, 2010

Opening eyes to a Fiji 'free press' blindside

AN ITEM that popped up today on Croz Walsh's Fiji blog taking the mickey out of a "profound shame" article by a former Fiji Times editor-in-chief, Rory Gibson, in the Brisbane Courier-Mail. It ran under this heading:

Don't give me that nonsense about the media freedom in the Mickey Mouse press

Q. What does the Fiji Times, the Townsville Bulletin, the Australian and the Courier-Mail have in common?

A. They are all owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd and they've all employed Rory Gibson as editor, editor-in-chief, chief subeditor or senior journalist at some time or other.

Rory has the reputation of writing humourous articles. If you're a kookaburra, you'll really laugh at his latest effort, Australian tourists turn a blind eye as Fiji's best people persecuted in the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

He writes that "it should be a source of profound shame to our country that Australians are going on holidays to Fiji in record numbers".

Why? Because they are gifting "dollars to the coffers of a nation that is run by a military dictatorship little better than any apartheid regime operating in South Africa's dark ages".

Forget that most of the dollars stay in Oz and that thousands of ordinary Fijians live on what's left. Just think back to Soweto, S. Africa, 1976. Police open fire on 10,000 protesters. Fiji today: No guns fired. Apartheid South Africa: All ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela imprisoned, many for life. Fiji: Short-term arrests but no political prisoners; former Prime Ministers drinking coffee in Downtown Suva.

And who is the cause of the shame in Fiji? "We can all laugh," he writes unblushingly, "that our Melanesian neighbours are ruled by a bloke with a name that sounds like an '80s girl band, and assuage our consciences by believing Commodore Bainimarama's claptrap about restoring fairness to Fiji's racist electoral system." Girl band? Claptrap? Restoring? It wasn't a racist electoral system?

And what are the effects?

"This Pacific tragedy isn't about whether the Fiji Times is being edited under the baleful glare of one of Bainimarama's gun-toting thugs [Oh, No?], or that an expat gets his marching orders.[Definitely not!] It's about people like Imrana Jalal and her husband Ratu Sakiusa Tuisolia."

And the rest of his long story is about these "best people" and a court case in which Jalal was acquitted.

His conclusion? "Going on holiday there while this sort of abuse is happening would be like sitting in a cafe sipping a coffee while a mugger attacked a pregnant woman on the footpath next to you, and you ignored it."

So, that's all for the moment from Rory Gibson, former editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, defender of media freedom. One wonders what his journalist colleagues think about this.

Rory Gibson's article

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Pacific's new PacMA - a vision for media freedom

A FLURRY of messages. First the announcement of yet another Pacific media freedom group - PacMA, born in Samoa. Plus backpatting messages from supporters around the region. And then a riposte from the incumbent media "freedom" body, PINA, in Suva, claiming it has the strongest membership it has had for five years - 21. One wit from the Solomon Islands wrote:
First we started the PFF which was to be the watchdog which PINA wasn't, has it achieved that? And now we are starting the Pacific Media Association. What's next? PPA, PFP, PMF, PIFA, we have a problem in Fiji and, as crude as this may sound, whatever we do outside of Fiji cannot bring international attention to the plight of Fiji media. It is the Fijian media itself, on the ground in Fiji, who have to take Pacific journalism to the next level - that is put their lives on the line, if they are to get international recognition.
But this time there is optimism that this new body will have some serious clout - and actually use it. Over at the Pacific Media Centre in Auckland, PacMA's deputy chair Kalafi Moala has outlined the vision of the new body. Café Pacific republishes it here:

By Kalafi Moala

In the days immediately following the announcement of the launch of the Pacific Media Association (PacMA), the question has often been raised about why Samoa was chosen as the place to register this new organisation.

Last week on August 10, several media owners and journalists from the Pacific region met in Apia to form the new association. A new constitution was formulated and registration of an incorporated society was sought with the government of Samoa.

In addition to a new code of ethics for the organisation and its members, a set of bylaws is being currently written to guide the conduct of the affairs of the organisation.

Headed by probably the Pacific region’s most successful and experienced media owner and journalist, Samoa’s Sano Savea Malifa, the men and women that make up the organisation promise to be the embodiment of PacMA’s mission to promote and defend values of media freedom, ethics and good governance, and provide training for all media in the Pacific region.

Malifa plays a major role in the selection of Samoa as the founding ground for PacMA.

But it is more than that. Samoa hosts some of the most effective media operations in the region – be it print, broadcasting, or on-line. And these operations are not flash-in-the-pan overnight sensations.

They have paid the price in years of covering the hard yards. In the case of Malifa and his print media enterprise, he has suffered in previous years many obstacles, including countless lawsuits, physical attacks, the burning down of his press plant, and other disheartening inconveniences.

Samoa, however, has gone through its own quiet reform in so many facets of its political, economic, and social life. The result has been an environment conducive to the development of media freedom and journalistic professionalism.

The National University of Samoa is running a journalism school, and who knows what other educational development in media is ahead at this growing institution?

Free media environment
The government of Samoa has not only given the island nation comparable political and social stability, but has been largely responsible for creating a free media environment.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has himself been a staunch supporter of media freedom. Despite having been at times scrutinised by the local media, he has been a mature and responsible leader in his response.

On the evening that marked the launch of PacMA, Tuilaepa, despite a busy schedule, and another function he needed to attend, “dropped in” and congratulated the founders of PacMA, encouraged the members in its stand for media freedom, and gave a speech that welcomed the organisation.

He was especially thrilled that the new organisation was founded and will be operating out of Samoa.

It was hard to think of too many other island nations in the Pacific that can match the welcome, the hospitality, and the media freedom environment that Samoa offers.

What makes PacMA a unique media association is that it is to be primarily driven by media owners, the journalists and media practitioners who work in the industry. Too often organisations end up being run by bureaucrats whose ties to the actual professional services provided for people are no longer there.

It is time a media association is run primarily by people who are engaged in media as part of their everyday occupation.

Another major facet of the PacMA ethos that is fundamental to its formation and ongoing practice is that of independence from the aid infrastructure in the region that often results in “funding traps” in which service organisations become entangled and unable to fulfil their mission.

Obviously, there is no organisation that can survive without funding. But PacMA has chosen to be self-funded, and allow Pacific generosity to be a sustainable provider. There will be specific projects, however, from time to time, for which the organization will seek funding assistance.

The consensus at the founding meeting was: “We will not let funding dictate our vision and mission agendas.”

So be it. PacMA wants to be independent of what has become a very dangerous trend in NGO and regional organisational operations, which is a total dependence on donor funding agencies.

PacMA has its work cut out, not only in reestablishing the traditional media association roles and responsibilities in the region, but also how to wisely facilitate the new realities of emerging new media, gender driven media initiatives, and the future of our industry rooted in the growing youth media practitioners that need all the encouragement and help they can get.

Kalafi Moala, publisher and chief executive of the Nuku'alofa-based Taimi Media Network, is deputy chair of PacMA and himself a key campaigner for media freedom Pacific-style. Photo: Kalafi Malifa - Josie Latu/PMC/File.

Note: PacMA has been renamed the Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Running out of patience with the Murdoch media camp

REPUBLISHED from the Fiji Sun. Food for thought, especially when the Sun was singled out by The Australian. News Ltd's own title, The Fiji Times, also gave "saturation coverage" to the charges. It carried a half page photo. FT is hardly a pro-government newspaper. "Callick is being rather selective," as a prominent media watcher from Fiji has indicated to Café Pacific:

The viewpoint on Fiji The Australian won't print

A riposte to two articles by Pacific correspondent Rowan Callick in The Australian newspaper, like the Fiji Times owned by Australia's News Limited. They were submitted to the newspaper [by an academic with specialist knowledge on Fiji] but not acknowledged or printed, he says.

Reading Pacific correspondent Rowan Callick's two articles on Fiji (Weekend Australian, 24/5/ July), one readily understands why Frank Bainimarama has run out of patience with the Australian media and Murdoch press in particular.

I confine myself mainly to Callick's piece in "The Nation" section.

First: the fact three former Fiji PMs have "been penalised" since Bainimarama took control in 2006 is not evidence of itself of judicial malpractice.

In his other article, in the "Focus" section, Callick refers to a general history of poor leadership in the Pacific.

In which case, is it not at least possible that three former PM's of Fiji do have possibly valid allegations to answer for?

Second: Callick says Chaudhry's recent court appearance got "saturation coverage from the regime's propaganda outlets".


For most here, including myself, it came somewhat unexpectedly.

For though it was the front page story in the pro-Bainimarama Sun newspaper, it was reported without frills.

(Editor's note: Mr Chaudhry denied all the charges against him and is contesting them in court).

Third: Callick quotes (Australian) Foreign Affairs Minister Steven Smith's spokesperson as saying Chaudhry's arrest was "of concern".

That it had "obvious political implications". That Foreign Affairs would "be watching this case closely". News? More to the point there's no allowance here for the possibility that Chaudhry might just have something to answer for.

Nothing but the bleeding obvious, either, in Foreign Affairs saying the case held out "political implications".

Not allowing for the fact, perhaps, just perhaps, however remote, that these very serious allegations may have already had "political implications" for governance and the rule-of-law in Fiji.

Fourth: Callick cites Amnesty International for the government's dismissal of judges and magistrates. Fair enough. Such removal is of concern. But so too is how sections of the judiciary, during former P.M. Qarase's tenure, succumbed to political pressures. Most notably, by releasing early from goal, men sentenced for conspiring with George Speight (and others unnamed or involved in politics) in the 2000 coup.

No mention was made of either of those in the police in 2000, along with mutinous army units, who made the coup possible. Nor any reference to those others in the military who later almost succeeded in assassinating Bainimarama for what his clean-up might reveal.

One must acknowledge that Bainimarama breached the rule of law in December 2006. To hold however, as Callick does, that Bainimarama's "authorities have no respect for the rule of law" today is, to say the least, simplistic. It overlooks the Qarase government's own disregard for the rule of law and the threat to social order certain of his policies favouring the indigenous presented.

The military takeover of any elected government always falls somewhere between "unfortunate" and "disastrous". But when elections are based not on the principle of one-person-one-vote, but on communal grounds, and one of those communities - itaukei or ethnic Fijian - has superior numbers who are then promised favoured treatment, and are incited to bully, burn, and expel Indians and their property then, I suggest, the usurpation of "democracy" ranks at the 'unfortunate' end of the spectrum.

Fifth: Callick says the Fiji government has stopped Rabuka's pension to shut him up.

He doesn't mention that it revoked that decision and that Rabuka has been publicly contrite and supportive of Bainimarama.

Sixth: We are told Chaudhry describes Bainimarama as "autocratic and dictatorial".

There's no mention of the fact that some people in Fiji (rightly or wrongly) condemn Chaudhry for his own arrogant and insensitive, some would say self-serving, leadership.

First as a unionist parliamentarian and then as Prime Minister: the kind of behaviour unhelpful to the creation of civil society.

Callick also forgets that Fiji's universally esteemed first Prime Minister, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, sometimes spoke of the need for "benign dictatorship" in Fiji in the post-independence years. It was deemed compatible with traditional authority and useful to the creation of his own brand of multiculturalism. I don't recall any foreign powers objecting then.

As best I can judge, and it is impossible to be sure, right now most Fijians (the government, by the way, recently declared an end to ethnic labels: all its citizens are "Fijians") regard Bainimarama not as a malign dictator, the kind Canberra and Wellington would have us see. Rather they see him as the right man in the right place, a harbinger of hope.

Seventh: Callick is right to say Bainimarama's recent "Engaging Fiji" meeting, in Fiji, with the Melanesian Spearhead Group - Plus, was a "public relations coup". But it wasn't seen as "tumultuous" here.

Furthermore, it was arguably a victory not just for Bainimarama personally, or even the MSG but also for that rather - forgotten concept - "the Pacific Way", minus of course Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands which are desperately dependent on New Zealand.

Like Bainimarama's Fiji, the "Pacific Way" is imperfect but until politicos, foreign affairs journalists, diplomats, and policy advisors get their heads into the history and lived-reality of culture in the South Pacific, folk in Australia and NZ will go on being subject to the myopia and entrenched views their professions seem to involve.

Lastly, Australia and NZ's call for quick elections is dangerous folly.

They would bring a return of the political and economic opportunists, impelled to stir up ethnic fears via the bogey and lies of problematic "race".

The result would be social mayhem on a greater scale than has yet been seen.

Exodus and claims to asylum would follow. It is a scenario that the two Tasman neighbours seem intent on ignoring. Exactly why is another matter.

The duty of any state, Michael White wrote recently in The Guardian Weekly (18 June 2010), is first to protect its people from hostile foreign powers, and second to ensure internal social order: the sort of stability, harmony, and peace-of-mind most in Fiji are presently grateful for.

Dr Christopher Griffin describes himself as a student of Fiji society for 35 years. He originally taught sociology at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, and till recently social anthropology at Edith Cowan University in Australia, where he is today an Honorary Senior Fellow.

The viewpoint on Fiji the Australian won't print

Friday, August 6, 2010

West Papuans condemn PNG 'betrayal' after Forum failure

By Ben Bohane in Port Vila

West Papuan leaders are warning of a "total intifada" in their Indonesian-ruled homeland, saying the failure of the Pacific Islands Forum to discuss their independence may mean the end of its diplomatic attempts to resolve their plight peacefully.

They are disappointed that Vanuatu, as the new chair, did not address the matter as promised but they have also singled out Papua New Guinea for "betraying" them with its insistence on Indonesian sovereignty.

"We feel betrayed by Papua New Guinea and its grand thief - not chief - Sir Michael Somare," said Dr John Ondawame, a spokesman for the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation.

"Pacific leaders continue to be bribed by Indonesia, diplomacy is failing and it will be very difficult for our political leaders to contain our OPM [guerilla] forces after these ongoing diplomatic failures. We are close to declaring a total intifada in Papua."

Vanuatu is the only nation to have backed the West Papuans. Last month its Parliament passed a bill declaring that Vanuatu would take the issue to both the International Court of Justice and the United Nations General Assembly later this year.

Last year, West Papua was close to gaining observer status with the sub-regional Melanesian Spearhead Group, which groups Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

It was blocked by Somare, the PNG Prime Minister, whose lone dissenting voice scuttled the deal, since the vote had to be unanimous.

Papuan leaders also warned the forum leaders to be wary of Indonesian influence, claiming Indonesia is playing "a double game" as it also had its ambassador to Fiji attend that country's rival "Engaging Fiji" meeting.

Observers say Indonesia is concerned that Vanuatu chairs both the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum, given its support for West Papua.

Indonesian support for Frank Bainimarama's rival forum in Fiji might be a way of undermining the forum if it continues to push the West Papuan issue.

Indonesia has sent a delegation to the forum in Port Vila and West Papuan leaders say Indonesia's intelligence agency is also sending a senior official to speak to the Vanuatu government. - 6959 The Sydney Morning Herald/Pacific Media Watch

Images (from top): Papuan campaigners - export beer from 'betrayer' PNG, Dr John Ondowame and poster on OPMblog. Ondowame photo credit: Melanesia News.

Ben Bohane's retrospective on Pacific war reporting

The killing of Yawan Wayeni - Al Jazeera reporting

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Killing of Papuan journalist puts focus on Indonesian human rights

THE NAKED and handcuffed body of a murdered Papuan journalist has incensed human rights activists and media freedom activists alike. The discovery of the body dumped in a river comes just days after the Obama administration has been widely condemned over the decision to resume engagement with Indonesia’s notorious Kopassus special forces. Kopassus has a bloody record throughout the republic, but especially in the former repressed "colony" of East Timor and in the annexed territory of West Papua.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has been among those groups at the forefront of protest against the Indonesian red-berets: "Slipping back into bed with Kopassus is a betrayal of the brutal unit's many victims in Timor-Leste, West Papua and throughout Indonesia. It will lead to more people to suffer abuses," says John M. Miller, national coordinator of the US-based ETAN.

"Working with Kopassus, which remain unrepentant about its long history of terrorising civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor)."

In an abridged translation by the Indonesian human rights movement Tapol of an article published by the Jayapura newspaper Bintang Papua, the Indonesian government has been urged to pass a law to protect journalists and civil rights activists.

Missing stringer
A Pacific Media Watch despatch has summarised the Bintang Papua article about the tortured Merauke environmental TV journalist who had been reportedly investigating alleged military corruption. He had been a stringer for the national television broadcaster Anteve and had been missing for two days:
The death of Ardiansyah Matra'is , known to his friends as Ardhi, 31 years old, whose badly wounded body was discovered on the banks of Maro River, is deeply disturbing and is seen as a threat to other media workers and civil society activists.

The Regional Representative Council - DPD - and the Anti-Corruption Institute, has called on the Indonesian government to immediately adopt a law guaranteeing protection for activists and media workers and called on the security forces to investigate this case, to find out who was behind this murder of the Merauke TV journalist.

Saly Maskat, speaking on behalf of the institute, said that democracy in Papua was now dead because there was no guarantee of safety for journalists who were seeking the truth.

It is ironic that shortly before his death, Ardhi and several of his colleagues had received SMS death threats.

The government has for too long delayed adopting a law providing protection for activists and media workers. Only recently, an ICW activist was beaten up by unknown persons while carrying out an investigation into several cases involving government officials.

Saly said that colleagues have frequently been threatened by unknown persons while investigating cases concerning Papuan officials similar to the cases in Merauke.

Such incidents, which have also occurred in Bali, have had a serious impact on our activities, he said, as well as on our organisation.

People feel constrained about continuing with their activities in the media if there are no legally guaranteed safeguards from the government.

He also called on the police to thoroughly investigate these incidents and find out who was behind the ghastly murder of the journalist. "This is essential to provide journalists with a sense of security in the pursuit of their journalistic activities."

The chairman of the Papua branch of the journalists organisation, PWI, has also called for the murder of the journalist in Papua to be thoroughly investigated.
West Papuan activists welcome a statement from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General, Tuiloma Nerom Slade, highlighting a forum theme to “protect the most vulnerable communities within the Pacific”.

A media release from West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) spokesperson Rex Rumakiek said it was the sincere hope of the West Papuan people - "who continue to suffer under Indonesian rule - that the forum will not keep ignoring the genocide and will actively address the truely vulnerable communities in West Papua".

The WPNCL and other NGO groups claim more than 100,000 people have died during the past 40 years of Indonesian colonial rule.

Pictured: Papuans in tribal dress protest for independence outside the US Embassy in Jakarta in 2007. Photo: Irwin Fedriansyah
, agencies

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fijilive left off 'legal' media list, news editor quizzed

FIJI police have picked up the news editor of the Fiji web news pioneering agency Fijilive, Richard Naidu, for questioning – and then released him.

State-owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation News reported that he was questioned over a story that was published by the online news agency on Thursday.

Criminal Investigations Department (CID) director Adi Sen was quoted as saying the police questioned Naidu overnight and released him at about 11am Saturday.

Naidu was reportedly questioned over a story alleging the suspension of the Police Commissioner Commodore Esala Teleni, a story the police say was incorrect.

The questioning happened on the same day that the regime announced the news organisations that have been registered under the new Media Decree – minus Fijilive. Related, or did Fijilive simply fail to meet the deadline?

Fijilive was offline all weekend but resumed publication again on Monday, August 2, without explanation. The regime denied any responsibility for the Fijilive "whiteout".

The media groups named by Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, as reported by the FBC News, include:

Active Media, ALSA Ltd as Mai Life Magazine, Bula Namaste, Communications Fiji Ltd, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation, Fiji Sun, Fiji Times, Fiji TV, Half Times Publications, Islands Business, Mai TV and Sporting Pulse.

The membership of the new Media Industry Development Authority, also announced by Sayed-Khaiyum, is intriguing. It includes several strong civil society advocates for a more “responsible” news media and several literary figures.

One thing they can be counted on is to be committed to working towards a higher quality media for Fiji.

It also includes the manager of a Suva-based regional news organisation widely accused of failing to defend Pacific media freedoms by staying in Fiji and "kowtowing" to the regime.

Highly respected author and academic Professor Subramani is now the chairman of authority, replacing Satendra Nandan who withdrew over health issues.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) manager Matai Akauola is also a member of the authority, as well as the Solicitor General Christopher Pryde.

The other three members are: Aselika Uluilakeba, representing the interests of the children; Peni Moore representing women’s interests; and Jimaima Schultz, representing consumer interests.

Pictured: Fijilive's Richard Naidu. Photo: FBC

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wanted: Fiji Times censored footage

CAFÉ PACIFIC has received this appeal for censored Fiji Times footage from Vanja Alispahic, a researcher for a forthcoming documentary about the censorship of journalists worldwide. Killing The Messenger: The Deadly Cost of News is a feature length film taking a hard look at the price of news in the world. Any takers?:

We pay every week with the life of a reporter, a cameraman and a support worker and the world barely notices. The abuses of civil liberties and denial of human rights for journalists varies dramatically from country to country. Everyone in the world is impacted each time a reporter is imprisoned or a blogger is censored.

We are beginning principal filming and we are hoping that you can aid us in tracking down ima
ges and/or footage of the Fiji Times on the instances that the newspaper was forced to replace its articles with blank spaces as in the image attached. Printed or high quality digital copies, if available, would help us immensely.

As countries restrict news, they restrict information that is important to all. This film aims to address the dangers faced by journalists today and why these dangers exist, as well as raise public consciousness about the deadly cost of news in today's society.

We hope you can aid us in the completion of this film. We will be honored to give you due credit in our film for your participation.

If you need more information regarding the documentary please let me know. You can also visit our website for more information on all of our documentary projects.

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