Thursday, December 29, 2011

Oscar Temaru: A New Year message for survival of a free Pacific press

The struggle for justice for Tahiti journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud - "JPK".

LATELY Café Pacific has devoted a lot of attention to the media blackout on the genocide and corporate resources rape of West Papua. This struggle has been on the margins of media consciousness in the region. This open letter by Jason Brown to Tahitian Territorial President Oscar Temaru spotlights an equally marginalised media issue that will hopefully win more exposure in the media in 2012 as our vaka crosses further into the second decade of the millennium. Reasons to keep Māohi media alive and strong:

An open letter to the President of French Polynesia, Oscar Manutahi Temaru

Kia orana M. President,

Fourteen years ago today [15 December 2011], a journalist named JPK disappeared from the island of Tahiti.

To this day, top secret documents remain on file, linked with this journalist, but denied to investigatory judges by a national security commission.

Similar documents also link JPK with a separate investigation into Clearstream, the world's largest bank, a bank for banks. At no time since the era of nuclear testing have people in French Polynesia come closer to the raw power of the French state, a savage mafia "melieu" involving intelligence services, judiciary and diplomacy.

Disappearance of Jean-Pascal Couraud on 15 December 1997 saw the loss of an opportunity to expose hidden back-channels of global finance.

A "secret, and secondary, banking system" as it was described next door in the Cook Islands, by a former prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Henry, during the 1995 Letters of Guarantee scandal. No one believed him then. Few believed JPK later.

A third person met with disbelief is Denis Robert, a man who exposed Clearstream as rotten to the core, reporting on "false assets" of some USD $1.5 trillion.

In famous year
That was in 2001, a year now famous not for that expose, but for the New York start of a so-called War On Terror.

Over the years, at the same time as children, women and men were dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, Clearstream bank kept its legal department busy, filing more than 30 different defamation claims against Denis Robert, serving him with more 600 writs alleging malicious wrongdoing.

Robert kept busy too, writing and releasing The Black Box, and, when that was also pulled from shelves by nervous publishers, retreating to the sanctuary of the arts, writing text for a graphic novel titled The Affair of Affairs.

All three books are of enormous significance to Tahiti because the resulting court cases were only cleared this year, a full decade after the first book of Robert was published. Significant because your Supreme Court stared down the world's biggest bank, telling Clearstream that regardless of the veracity of claims contained in the Robert books, all that concerned the court was whether he had, as an investigative journalist, acted with ethics and according to generally accepted practice.

They found that he had. All 30+ defamation cases, and 600 writs, dismissed. As Robert said, it was:

" A victory for journalism. "

But the victory was much, much bigger than just journalism, and here lays the true significance for Tahiti Nui.

Victory for democracy
Bigger by far is the victory for democracy, and its reinforcement of recognition for the functions and role of the Fourth Estate. This year also sees the 50th anniversary for the mostly well-regarded Colombia Journalism Review. Their anniversary slogan:

" Strong Press . Strong Democracy ."

This slogan might seem a bit ... rich ... coming from a nation that gave us the Global Financial Crisis, for which your country is paying dearly. That hosts secret finance centres so vast Time magazine reports the United States as the most corrupt country in the entire world. A country seeking extradition of Julian Assange, with presidential candidates publicly calling for prosecution or assassination of the Wikileaks founder. Perhaps a more accurate anniversary slogan for CJR might be:

"Weak Press. Weak Democracy."

Therein lies the point of this open letter. I am writing this as an open letter, not to show off a la Anglais. But to report having failed since 1998 to open up links between Tahiti news media workers and their colleagues across the independent Pacific. I did try to present a few proposals, that get occasional official and private interest, but still, after six years, no progress. I am writing an open letter because I did try and be diplomatic and make suggestions to people close with you, and other leaders ... but failed.

And now this, these [Tahitian media] closures.

As leader of French Polynesia, M. President, your party has clearly and transparently stated aspirations towards self-governance, perhaps on the Cook Islands model, but more likely full independence.

Cutting costs
Anyone can understand your administration wanting to cut costs and would, if in your position, understand also the frustration of dealing with a biased press, even losing patience. Just as has happened among governments in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, with news media.

Yet, your administration is stripping itself of an institution that the Supreme Court of France has just recently confirmed as of strategic importance, rightfully beyond the powers of even the biggest multinational threat.

Murdoch may rightfully have his troubles with politicians globally, but it does not mean that BBC News should be in danger of shutting down. Nor is the PBS in the US facing closure. In Australia, the government slammed the door in Murdoch's face, hard, awarding the contract for Australia's world service, the ABN, back to their own state broadcaster, ABC, "permanently."

So seeing Murdoch named and shamed, and the News of the World forced to close its doors ... it might seem like a good idea for French Polynesia too - let's close down Tahiti Nui Television and Agence Tahiti Presse as well! Especially the latter, for its historic bias against Tavini Huiraatira, remember? Back in the bad old days of Systeme Flosse?

Those days are over now, M. President.

I remember my disbelief when it was reported that 20,000 people protested through the streets of Pape'ete, possibly the biggest per capita demonstration across all of our islands. I remember Walter Zweiffel, from ever trustworthy RNZI, showing me shots on his digital, including a shot taken afterwards, among the detrius, of a discarded banner, hand penned, reading :

" La justice française = 4 parpaing ''

French Justice = 4 concrete blocks.

Mafia-style hit
A mafia-style hit. Just like in the movie theatres. Common knowledge that amazing day in French Polynesia was news that JPK had not killed himself, but been killed by local GIP thugs acting under orders from some other thugs, from France, recently "retired" from the DGSE.

A nexus of DGSE heritage centres on Corsica, well known as the birthplace of the French mafia. Just like was shown in the well known movie, The French Connection, and its depiction of the grimy streets of a fave Corsican hang-out since the Second World War, Marseille.

But, wait, of course there is more, is there not M. President?

Corse is, also, home island for a curiously large number of judges and prosecutors on the colonial circuit, courtesy of the world renown Systeme Chirac. Not so much a confetti empire, as a spaghetti melieu. The kind of prosecutor who rings the commissioner of police and tells them to "close the file on JPK. Accept no more evidence."

I remember the delerium of the night of "Taui", when the people of Tahiti Nui confirmed you as their leader, not long after that huge, huge protest. To walk away, now, from that kind of journalist heritage risks insulting that memory. Of Jean-Pascal Couraud, and all his colleagues who worked alongside him, fighting word-for-word with the entire panalopy of the French state, sometimes, literally, hand-to-hand.

Reporters like Reimuna Tufariua, for example.

JPK lost a fight, 14 years ago today, a professional battle turned deadly personal, but, like Reimana knew before, he, too, lost his battle, there was still a news war to be waged, media freedom campaigns to be won. Yet your own municipality broadcaster Te Reo Tefana is a sad shadow of its former self, stripped of resources, long lost as a global influencer.

Dislike for journalists
Among our mutual friends and associates, M. President, your personal dislike for journalists is well known, viewing the task akin to feeding vultures, or so I hear. Thus, you risk falling victim to that most effete of French colonialisms, intellectual snobbery.

Factoid from the US : Four out of five "new" media sites online, like Facebook pages and Twitter profiles, point to "old" media sites like those provided, mostly free, by newspapers, radio and television. No doubt similar ratios apply in French Polynesia.

Fact is, like it or not, mainstream mass media remain the main source of current affairs and governance information among ordinary French Polynesians, as they do, everywhere.

In working towards a newly independent nation, Te Ao Maohi Ou, your presidency must urgently reconsider its reasons for closing down two pillars of your country's Fourth Estate. Days like this I remember the old cliche, "Don't get into Journalism if you want to stay Friends with anyone", but as a journalist I must ask this question, it's my job, sorry about it.

My question to you as President is this:

" If you do not trust the Fourth Estate, and do not trust your own people to run state broadcasting as an integral and fundamental part of an independent democracy, then why should your people trust you ?"

Fear not, M. President, you are far from alone in the world facing this kind of question. In our already independent parts of the Pacific, all of us, politicians, press, pundits, an "arm-chair critic" like me, all of us, one big glorious mess, debating and grappling daily with issues surrounding news media, democracy, and all that stuff about freedoms and human rights.

State broadcasting cuts
I've seen the results of state broadcasting shut down in our own homeland of Avaiki, the Cook Islands. And Samoa. Cutbacks in Papua New Guinea.

An alleged tourism success story, the Cook Islands is slowly polluting itself out of the market, an already unimpressive affair relying heavily on penny-pinching Kiwis and pissed-up Kangaroos. News media based in Rarotonga went from being the most trusted institution in the country in 1998 to least trusted by 2008, thanks to the machinations of former bikie fraudster turned preacher man, George Pitt.

A political hit-man now working his magic in Samoa, his actual homeland, Pitt used multiple conflicts of interest in his favour, and to win repeatedly against competitors.He got an exclusive 10-year broadcasting licence, signed, coincidentially enough, by an acting broadcasting minister, a close mate, while the real minister was out of the country. The Pitt family still run papers, TV and a radio station, but Pitt split from his young wife, and moved to Samoa.

In his absence, PMG has thankfully eased up on a daily diet of slimy innuendo and outright lies.

Samoa sacked its state journalists, and now enjoys less scrutiny around all sorts of legislative misgovernance. Like the land title registration act, one that stripped thousands of matai landowners of all their rights, unilaterally reasssigning those rights to a much smaller group of head matai, by no other mandate or consultation than parliamentary fiat.

Papua New Guinea is paying the price for its ignorance, after spending years listening to Australia rave on about free markets, and forcing the state broadcaster, NBC, to adopt corporate policies, effecting not quite closure, but certainly endless cutbacks to their ability to expose corruption surrounding the resource curse of mineral wealth. A logging company owns one of the two main daily newspapers, while the other is part of the global Murdoch empire, both well known as proponents for extractive industries, and kind of soft on environmental issues.

Australia only woke up in recent years to the wisdom of leaving news media to those kind of players. Around 2005, aid agency AusAID started pouring millions into PNG state broadcasting, to start repairing decades of neglect. Decades of desperation, however, draw their ethical expense.

Funding scandal
The current PNG Media Council is mired in a not-so secret scandal, joining widespread concern, across an island region with a news media in seriously failing health, along with metropolitan partners in New Zealand and Australia.

There is of course a complete media blackout in West Papua, our furtherest Melanesian cousin, mired for decades now in a dystopian genocide.

I've seen cutbacks to state broadcasters right across all our Pacific Islands, on official advice from neo-liberal fundamentalists in New Zealand and Australia, still today pushing a regional trade agenda, that, if passed will strip all our independent islands of social, political and economic autonomy, forever, in favour of transnationals.

It is of no coincidence, Sir, that the first official post held by Roger Douglas, of Rogernomics fame, was as acting Broadcasting Minister in 1972. Cue 1984, and radical changes were made by an allegedly Labour government that remain to this day, including to the state broadcaster, TVNZ, a corporate poodle required to dance for profit, whoever is government of the day.

Today, it's allegedly a National Party government, and they're so hot right now on the TPPA. Possibly means "French" Polynesia going independent, just in time to swap one form of serfdom for another.

Instead of French domination ... try English. Maybe call it Colonialism 2.0 ... an offer you can't refuse !

So yes, cut back on state broadcasting and help starve the people of the very thing they need most to survive endless machinations of the multinationals - independent, investigative information. I strongly suggest considering an alternative.

Watchdogs, not lapdogs
Watchdogs, not lapdogs, of the Press. Attack dogs of the Fourth Estate, if need be. Ever alert.

M. President, you and your people are nuclear veterans.

Survivors, victims of an era of mutually assured destruction, a time of superpowers, and presidential admonishments against the influence, sought or unsought, of the military industrial complex.

In an original draft of that famous speech, M. President, Eisenhower considered adding mainstream news to that mix, referring to a military-industrial-media complex, but went with the shorter version instead.

I remember as a teen feeling disgust, reading the slogan for the 24/7 nuclear air cover that America operated, around the clock, for decades, under the Strategic Air Command.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

Still sounds so macho, so corny.

So imperialistic.

Bitter truth
As an adult, sadly, I now know the bitter truth of that slogan, and how it applies across all facets of any putative democracy. In aspiring to greater freedoms, Tavini must accept greater responsibility with guardians of those freedoms, starting, not ending, with the Fourth Estate.

We see erosion of those freedoms under the English system, with a toxic media empire under Murdoch, and, indeed, with French journalism, going hand-in-hand with arms dealing.

A desire by Eisenhower to warn against a military-industrial-media complex seems as relevant today as it did then, if not more so. In an allegedly post-nuclear era among independent states, separate and vastly unequal, the only institution that can effectively and efficiently offer that kind of vigil, for all the people, M. President, is a strong, proud and free, homegrown press.

It is your inalienable right right now, M. President, as a French citizen, to demand fair treatment from any news source. It also within your current authority, and power, M. President to empower and promote free, fair and independent information. To help, nay insist, indigenous professionals and practitioners of local news enshrine their own codes of conduct and ethics, and demand local media accountability systems as the only condition, the only quid pro quo.

I've heard arguments about the state keeping hands off the media, that funding news media may even be unconstitutional. This is colonialistic nonsense put about by vested interests. In fact, the constitution of France not only endorses freedoms of the Press, it calls for its plurality. In closing down TNTV and ATN, M. President, you risk offending the spirit if not the letter of that constitutional guarantee.

Don't make the same mistakes we've already made in the independent Pacific. Learn from ours. That's how mistakes are supposed to work.

Don't help people trying to tear down Māohi journalism, help us build up an independent "industry" whose only job is to warn you and your people against all threats, local or foreign.

JPK may be gone. But, as his brother once said, in a funny kind of way, JPK is still doing his job today. Help his colleagues keep doing theirs.

Jason Brown
Avaiki Nius

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