Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spirited ABC debate - Davis v Fraenkel on Fiji's future

Dr Jon Fraenkel (from left), Professor Brij Lal and Simione Kaitani at a Canberra meeting addressed by fugitive colonel Ratu Tevita Mara in Australia. Photo: Drum Pasifika

By Graham Davis

REGULAR readers of my Grubsheet blog will be aware of the occasional blows we trade with Jon Fraenkel – an academic who specialises in Melanesian affairs at the Australian National University. Well, here’s a chance to hear us go head-to-head on the ABC Radio National programme, National Interest. It’s a spirited debate on whether it’s in Australia’s national interest to maintain its policy of shunning the Bainimarama regime in Fiji to try to force it to hold an early election.

Dr Fraenkel is among the chief advocates of Australia and New Zealand continuing to refuse to engage with Bainimarama until he buckles. Grubsheet – on the other hand – argues that re-engagement is essential to try to influence events in Fiji and help Bainimarama keep his promise to hold elections in 2014. In this, Grubsheet has common cause with the likes of the Lowy Institute, which fears the strategic consequences of allowing Fiji to move ever closer to China, which has dramatically increased its presence in the Pacific.

Jon Fraenkel is part of a strong anti-regime cabal at the ANU, which includes the Indo-Fijian historian, Professor Brij Lal, and Frank Bainimarama’s former land forces commander, Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka. All three are active political players, despite – in the case of Fraenkel and Lal – allowing themselves to be portrayed as independent commentators in the regional media.

Dr Fraenkel is still to come up with any explanation of the circumstances of the photograph that Grubsheet published several weeks ago, showing him and Brij Lal at a Canberra gathering with Simione Kaitani, one of the principal figures of the 2000 George Speight coup. As listeners to the ABC program will hear, Fraenkel has no compunction in trying to smear Grubsheet as a “Bainimarama supporter” or a “supporter of the 2006 coup” when we’ve made it clear all along that our support is not for the dictator himself but his programme for a multiracial Fiji as opposed to the racism of the government he removed.

Yet here is Fraenkel in the company of a man – in Kaitani – who was a senior minister in that government, was at George Speight’s side throughout the events of 2000, has admitted publicly to committing sedition and insists that Fiji must always be led by indigenous Fijians.

We’ll leave listeners to make up their own minds as to who has the stronger argument.

Grubsheet: Heat and light on Fiji

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Global battle for images and ideas - challenging the West's 'news duopoly'

Professor Daya Thussu speaking at AMIC 2011. Middle: PNG's Joys Eggins. Bottom: PMC's Dr David Robie. Top two photos: David Robie; bottom image: Manawwar Naqvi

ONE of the highlights of last month’s AMIC conference in Hyderabad, India, was a presentation about the US/UK news “duopoly” and the distortions and “injustices of information flows”. Presented by professor Daya Thussu of Westminster University, a former editor of Gemini News Service - one of the post-war pioneers of “independent news” - it was a compelling session. Thussu regards the rise of Al Jazeera English as a critical factor in creating a “news contra flow” to challenge the Western prism. “It was important to have the independent perspective on the Libyan civil war provided by Al Jazeera,” he said. “There is a global battle for images and ideas and Al Jazeera is an important counter to the BBC/CNN global news duopoly."

Undoubtedly, foreign policy has been enormously affected by WikiLeaks – “the greatest leaks in history”, he argues. And the information guerrillas are playing an important role too, in spite of the celebrated “Gay girl in Damascus” blog being exposed as a hoax, and blogger Amina Arraf being unmasked as a man - 40-year-old American student activist Tom MacMaster.

The four-day 20th Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference, with more than 400 participants and presenters, was a stimulating event, even if understandably very heavily focused on the host nation India. The “Pacific” contingent may have been tiny (just four from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea), but the team profiled well.

Associate professor Martin Hadlow of the University of Queensland and the Pacific’s representative at the UNESCO World Freedom Day event in New York in May, following his valiant efforts at getting last year’s UNESCO event staged in Brisbane last year, provided a global overview of development communication with a focus on the Pacific. He described how the Pacific, while being relatively underdeveloped in ICTs, had actually stolen a march over many developing countries with an innovative and rapid take up of mobile phones. He also talked about the region’s “heritage media” and radio was “still very much king” in the Pacific. He outlined the success of some new players like New Dawn FM in Bougainville, last year’s winners of a global communication and social change award sponsored by UOQ.

Papua New Guinea’s Joys Eggins, daughter of leading former EM TV journalist John Eggins and now doing her master’s degree at the University of Goroka, spoke about the Komunity Tok Piksa community video project in the Highlands. She outlined its success in producing visual messages on HIV/AIDS with local communities – “the dilemmas of collaboration, consent and ownership”.

Associate professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, outlined contrasting media campus-based media models with case studies of both Wansolwara at the University of the South Pacific that now publishes this newspaper in partnership with the Fiji Sun, and Pacific Scoop, a partnership between AUT University and New Zealand’s largest independent digital news media group Scoop Media Ltd. The paper assessed their “publishing profiles and contrasts their independent brands focused on education, environmental issues – particularly climate change and deforestation – human rights, resource development, social justice, culture and language with mainstream media”.

Unitec’s Munawwar Naqvi’s paper presented a critical perspective on communication with communities within development efforts at the grassroots level in central India. Two models, selective interaction and new involvement, were developed from the data collected from semi-structured interviews of different types of non-governmental development organisations.

Next year’s AMIC conference will be in Malaysia and organisers already have the Malaysian Tourism Board lined up as one of the key sponsors. Café Pacific hopes to be represented.

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.

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