Sunday, July 17, 2011

Toxic media brand called Rupert Murdoch in free fall


A TOXIC BRAND. And each day the poison spreads. Michael Wolff, author of the The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, a biography, had some riveting insights during an interview with Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill at the weekend. Wolff noted the supreme irony of the mogul who had built the world’s largest media empire, ruled through fear and “reward or punishment”, was now taking his own medicine.

“Once the power has gone, many of the opponents rise to get rid of the despot,” he said. Wolff believes the fallout from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal will be devastating in the long run for the Murdoch empire.

The NOTW has been accused of hacking into the phones of celebrities, politicians and ordinary citizens - including a 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was abducted and murdered in Britain.

Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of NOTW, Britain’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper until it was sacrificed in an attempt to keep alive Murdoch’s takeover hopes to buy out the British pay TV giant BSkyB, finally resigned as News International head in Britain late last week. She has since been arrested by police for questioning and has been replaced at the helm by New Zealander Tom Mockbridge, formerly chief executive of Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster Sky Italia.

Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton resigned in New York and Murdoch himself has published several apologies in his various British titles in a desperate attempt at damage control.

But the biggest casualty so far has been the resignation of Britain’s top police officer Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, head of London's Metropolitan Police Service, or Scotland Yard, who quit because of the alleged links between the police and the phone-hacking scandal. Stephenson cited the “ intense media scrutiny and the hiring of a former News Corporation tabloid editor to advise police on public relations” as a major reason for his resignation. The editor, Neil Wallis, was arrested in connection with the criminal investigation last week.

Rupert himself, at 80, should retire, and James Murdoch now has no credibility, argues Wolff. Somebody else should take the helm as soon as possible – “as long as his name is not Murdoch”.

Wolff also pointed to the “hypocrisy everywhere” over the saga: “Every week 2.7 million Britons read the salacious detail in the NOTW provided by phone hacking.”

A couple of days after the interview, Wolff reportedly claimed the Murdoch siblings were turning on each other, saying:
[T]he tycoon's daughter, Elisabeth, said her brother James had "f***ed the company".

Last week Elisabeth denied she had said something similar about the ousted News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks. But Wolff insisted on Twitter: "She said, 'James and Rebekah f***ed the company."'

Wolff said Elisabeth made the remark at a book launch for political analyst Philip Gould hosted by her husband, Matthew Freud, and the editor of the Times, James Harding.
Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian – the paper that exposed the phone hacking scandal and brought the empire to its knees, wrote:
Despite the decisiveness of his actions – most obviously closing the NOTW and withdrawing the BSkyB bid – a mute Murdoch no longer seemed to be master of his own fate. In a vacuum, journalists were bound to speculate, as he will have known. So the gossip swirled. And the most potent rumour was that he was about to dispose of News International itself. There was logic to the argument. If the NOTW was closed because it was toxic, then it followed that the whole division was toxic too.

Seen from the perspective of the US-based parent company, News Corporation, the Wapping outpost seemed both irrelevant and dangerous. Why not cut off the gangrenous limb to ensure the poison did not spread to News Corp's heart?
A weekend analysis by Associated Press writers Michael Liedtke and Ryan Nakashima related how the “tables have turned on Murdoch” . They wrote:
To his many enemies, Rupert Murdoch is getting his comeuppance. Murdoch's tabloid newspapers long have reveled in the misdeeds of others with salacious photos and pun-packed headlines. Now, one of the world's most powerful media executives is learning what it's like to be enveloped in his own scandal.

"There is a feeling that Murdoch has been king of the world for too long and it's about time that somebody brought him back to Earth," says Mungo MacCallum, a political journalist and commentator who once worked for a Murdoch-owned newspaper, The Australian.

But no one is calling press conferences to gloat about Murdoch's troubles. Even his bitterest media rivals are keeping quiet.


CNN founder Ted Turner, who once challenged Murdoch to a boxing match in Las Vegas, was unavailable, according to a spokesman.

New York Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman, whose newspaper fights every day for front page dominance with the [Murdoch] Post for New York's tabloid audience also did not return a message seeking comment.


But the British lawmakers who have traditionally supported Murdoch rather than risk being pilloried in the pages of his newspapers no longer seem to be in his corner because their fear of retaliation is fading. He will surely face tough questions Tuesday when he appears before a Parliament committee eager to grill him about the phone hacking and bribery allegations.

"All the powerful allies that used to help him, either publicly or behind the scenes, have faded to the sidelines," says Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters, a liberal group that frequently criticises Fox News for what it says is biased and inaccurate reporting. "He is on his own, and he is in over his head."

Boehlert likens the crisis and widespread antipathy surrounding Murdoch to the unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974 as details of the Watergate cover-up were revealed. Like Nixon then, Murdoch is in "free-fall mode. There is nothing he can do to stop this story," Boehlert says.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gang members kidnap, rape Indian journalist's niece

Indian troops guard the entrance to the AMIC media and globalisation conference in Hyderabad, India. Below: Assaults on the media in India featured on CBS-IBN. Photos: David Robie

BARELY had Café Pacific returned to its more tranquil Waitemata waters after the stimulating AMIC media and globalisation conference in Hyderabad, India, than Reporters Sans Frontières has issued another communique about a shocking development on the subcontinent. RSF reports that it is
... appalled to learn that the niece of a journalist based in Bulandshahr, in the northeastern state of Uttar Pradesh, was kidnapped for three days and raped by gang members, who mistook her for his daughter.

The police have arrested a member of the gang, which had reportedly threatened the journalist over his reporting and wanted to deter him from testifying in a murder case. The journalist, who reports for a TV news channel and edits a monthly called Jungsatta, has been identified only by the name of "Rizwan".

"We express our full support for Rizwan, his niece and his family," Reporters Sans Frontières said. "This barbaric violence must not go unpunished. In his reporting and the evidence he gave to the judicial authorities, he courageously fulfilled his journalistic and civic duties. The Indian authorities must now do their duty by bringing this wretched crime's perpetrators and instigators to justice and by providing the journalist and his family with effective protection."

The press freedom organisation added: "If the authorities take no measures to punish those responsible, other journalists will be afraid to continue covering criminal cases or any story remotely linked to the underworld and organised crime."

Yasin Bhatola, a known member of a Bulandshahr-based gang led by Mehboob Pandey, was arrested in New Delhi on July 1 on information provided by the Bulandshahr police. Police say Bhatola has admitted to being a member of Pandey's gang.

The Times of India quoted deputy police commissioner Arun Kampani as saying: "[Rizwan] was a witness in double murder case (. . .) in which Mehboob Pandey was an accused. Pandey and his associates threatened him with dire consequences if he continued to testify."

The abduction and rape was allegedly carried out by Pandey, Bhatola and three other members of Pandey's gang. Rizwan's family is reportedly now being protected by the Bulandshahr police.
The news of the Uttar Pradesh case has emerged just three weeks after Jyotirmoy Dey, an investigative reporter for the newspaper MidDay who specialised in covering organised crime, was gunned down by three men on 11 June in Mumbai.

This assassination was featured in the last report on Café Pacific.

After initially arresting a single suspect, police arrested seven more suspects on June 27. Mumbai joint police commissioner Himanshu Roy said they were hired by underworld don Chhota Rajan.

Dey was the second journalist to be killed this year in India. The first was Umesh Rajput, a reporter for the newspaper Nai Duniya, who was gunned down by two masked men on a motorcycle in the east-central state of Chhattisgarh on January 23.

Reporters Sans Frontières released a report on February 24 about global organised crime and the fact that it now poses one of the biggest threats to media freedom.

These events, of course, put things in perspective in the South Pacific where media freedom is a catchcry but where the risks are relatively mild in the global stakes apart from the occasional roughing up, such as in Vanuatu, and unsavoury state censorship, as in Fiji. (Incidentally, Café Pacific deplores the appalling non-sentence handed out to minister Harry Iauko for the recent assault on Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones). It only takes a brief trip to India, Pakistan, Philippines - or across the border from Papua New Guinea into Indonesian-ruled West Papua - to get a rude awakening on the realities over media freedom.

Meanwhile, the global credibility of news media has taken a king hit with the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World amid the newspaper's phone hacking and alleged police corruption furore that is shaking the Murdoch media empire to its foundations. Café Pacific regards the collapse to the world's biggest selling Sunday as no real loss - it was a scurrilous rag anyway. But the ramifactions from this scandal for professional and ethical media globally is likely to be dire.

The British government insists that media self-regulation itself has "failed". Many other governments are bound to share that sentiment and use the NOTW debacle as an excuse for harsher media laws.

For those in the Pacific, it is sobering to reflect on the performance of another (then and albeit tiny) Murdoch paper, The Fiji Times, during the Coalition Labour government's one year in office in Fiji after a landslide election win in 1999 and the George Speight coup in May 2000. Allegations of bias and lack of professionalism were rife at the time and much has been written since.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shooting of top Indian investigative journalist shocks nation

WHILE a leading Indian politician was railing against media sensationalism and lack of credibility and a major Asian communications conference was meeting in Hyderabad this week, police in Mumbai were crowing over the arrest of seven alleged assassins of a prominent investigative journalist in a case that has shocked the nation.

Veteran MiDDay crime journalist Jyotirmoy Dey was gunned down in a street not far from his home on the outskirts of Mumbai in a daylight gangland style execution on June 11.

While police displayed the seven hooded suspects in a press conference after their arrest this week and showed off a .32 calibre American-made revolver and 20 rounds of “deadly and accurate” Czech-made extra long cartridges and five empty shells - which they claimed were used in the murder - no motive was revealed.

But the police claimed the journalist had been killed under a supari (contract killing) order by a notorious gangland leader, Chhota Rajan.

Six of the accused had criminal records, including the alleged gunman Satish Kalya, who is already facing three murder cases.

Welcoming the breakthrough by the police who were under tremendous pressure to crack the crime, the national newspaper The Hindu said in an editorial that the assassination had been meticulously planned over 20 days.

Investigations were still under way and the “3000 emails in Dey’s in-box have to be examined for crucial evidence”. The newspaper added:
Having caught the suspects, the police have an even bigger challenge – unravelling the motive behind the brazen killing. Most crime reporters have excellent contacts with the underworld and a network of informers. Dey did not speak to anyone of a threat to his life or demand protection.
News reports said the suspects, while confessing to the murder, claimed they did not know Dey was a prominent journalist.

Dey, 56, had been investigating and writing on the oil mafia in India, underworld links with policemen and other issues. Journalist groups were branding his murder as an assault on the Fourth Estate of democracy. He is the third Indian journalist to have been murdered so far in 2011.

Reporters sans frontières called for a full investigation to be carried out by a federal agency to ensure impartiality by investigators. But the Mumbai High Court has ruled that local police can continue their investigation until a July 6 deadline and to produce a report.

As Indian media splashed reports about the arrest of the suspects, CNN-IBN was reporting on a new clampdown on the media by politicians, including assaults in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Its reports were billed with the speculative headline: “Is the media the new enemy of politicians?”

Ironically, The Hindu reported the leaders of various parties calling on the media not to sensationalise news and to maintain credibility in shaping public opinion.

Speaking at the launch of Jagruti Television news channel in Hyderabad last Sunday, government whip Y. Sivarami Reddy criticised some media for promoting a handful of politicians and the “street rowdy” instead of reporting on people who were “changing society for good”.
Chairman of the state’s Economic Programme, N. Tulasi Reddy said media was the lifeline for survival of democracy. But he warned that as media organisations were increasing in India, their credibility was decreasing. He praised Jagruti channel for striving to promote a society with moral and ethical values instead of pandering to sensationalism.

Meanwhile, a four-day Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) organised annual conference on “the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, new media and the rise of Asia” featured five speakers from the Pacific among the more than 400 participants. The Pacific “delegation” was AMIC board member associate professor Martin Hadlow of Australia’s University of Queensland; Joys Eggins of the University of Goroka in Papua New Guinea; associate professor David Robie, director of New Zealand’s Pacific Media Centre; and Dr Munawwar Naqvi of Unitec in NZ.

Pictured: Top: The Hindu front page on June 28; left to right at AMIC 2011: Associate professor Martin Hadlow, Joys Eggins, associate professor David Robie and Dr Munawwar Naqvi.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Memo to Mara: Inspire Fiji's 'jasmine revolution' and then face a treason trial

Samoan meddling? Fiji military renegades Jone Baledrokadroka (left) and Ratu Tevita Mara (centre) - now travelling on a Tongan passport - have a tête-à-tête with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele in Canberra.

PHILIP RAMA of the Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji has penned his protest against allowing a coup leader tainted with alleged human rights abuses to come to New Zealand. In an open letter, he says:
I am dismayed that John Key’s government is allowing [ex] Lieutenant-Colonel Tevita Mara to visit New Zealand.

Mara was a very senior military officer who was involved in the planning and staging of the coup of 2006. He was a member of the Military Council of Fiji that imposed the oppressive decrees in Fiji.

He was the commander of the largest unit of the army and his soldiers enforced those decrees arresting people who did not comply with the decrees.

Even if he did not torture those arrested, he knew what would happen to them when his soldiers handed them to Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s torturers.

He is guilty of serious crimes against the people of Fiji.

But for his falling-out with Commodore Bainimarama, he would have continued enforcing the oppressive military decrees.

If Mara wants to end the military rule, as he is reported to said, he should go back to Lau and from there inspire the Fijian people to rise up against the military government in a Fijian-style “jasmine revolution”.

And when the revolution succeeds, Mara should be tried for treason along with Bainimarama and the others behind the 2006 coup. NZ should not allow Mara or any other person involved in the 2006 coup to come here.
In an earlier letter in the New Zealand Herald on 18 June 2011, he wrote:
John Key and Murray McCully mistakenly think allowing the likes of Mara to visit here will hasten the collapse of the military regime in Fiji.

If anything, it will strengthen the resolve of Commodore Frank Bainimarama and those around him to maintain their grip on power. That is the only way they can preserve themselves.

And when Mara tells us how bad the situation is in Fiji, what will NZ do that it has not already done.? Nothing will change in Fiji unless the indigenous people act.

They came out in support of the coups staged by Sitiveni Rabuka and George Speight. They stood silently during the ousting of a democratically elected Prime Minister and the removal of people and institutions that criticised Bainimarama.

This is where Mara needs to begin is he wants to overthrow the military government.

He will need to convince Fijians and those in the army that they must respect the values of democracy and democratic institutions, uphold the constitution and the rule of law.

And the army must be subservient to the democratically elected civilian government.

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