Thursday, April 12, 2012

After Hackersgate, Britain's biggest media cover-up

QUOTE from blogger Guido Fawkes aka Paul Staines: Operation Motorman uncovered industrial scale criminality and hundreds of suspects' names. Currently in Britain the newspapers are neither naming nor shaming because the criminal enterprises are the newspapers themselves, who understandably do not wish to report their own crimes. Their silence is a matter of self-preservation.

QUOTE: In the wake of the News of the World scandal last year David Cameron appointed Lord Justice Leveson to
inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other newspaper organisations and, as appropriate, other organisations within the media, and by those responsible for holding personal data.
QUOTE: Leveson has the evidence required to initiate criminal actions and civil actions by thousands of victims of crimes committed by newspaper journalists. Guido challenged Leveson to his face to publish the evidence, thus allowing the victims of industrial scale illegal invasions of privacy to get justice. Leveson claimed it was difficult nine years on. Guido understands that there have been two applications to Leveson to release the Operation Motorman files. The applications, heard in private, were refused.

Remember, the Australian subsidiary News Limited owned The Fiji Times until last year - the very paper at the heart of Fiji's George Speight putsch coverage controversy in 2000. It was forced to divest ownership to local Motibhai Group under the terms of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010.

Journalist with links to sleuth named on net

Associated Press report in the New Zealand Herald:

The names of three dozen British journalists allegedly involved with a shady private investigator have been leaked to the internet, posing another potential embarrassment for the British media.

Paul Staines, who blogs under the name Guido Fawkes, published what he said were more than 1000 recorded transactions between staffers at Rupert Murdoch's British papers and freelance detective Steve Whittamore, who was convicted of trading in illegally obtained information.

In a blog post, Staines said he wanted to expose the "industrial scale criminality" perpetrated by Britain's press, accusing newspaper companies of refusing to name names because they "do not wish to report their own crimes".

Whittamore worked with hundreds of reporters, bending or breaking the law to keep his clients supplied with unlisted numbers, vehicle registration records and other confidential information. Whittamore was convicted in 2005, but did not go to prison and none of the journalists who were named in his files were ever punished.

Interest in Whittamore and his associates has been revived by Britain's phone hacking scandal, which erupted last year after it emerged that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid routinely hacked into the phones of celebrities and others in the news and bribed officials to win scoops.

Several British media organisations - including The Guardian, The Independent and ITV News - have run stories based on the documents recovered from Whittamore's office, but so far no one has identified the journalists involved.

Staines did so yesterday, publishing a spreadsheet naming 35 journalists from Murdoch's News International.

The Guido Fawkes blog only published a small subset of the more than 300 reporters named in Whittamore's files, but it includes several people at the heart of the hacking scandal.

Among them: former Murdoch protege Rebekah Brooks (under her maiden name); former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck (whose name is misspelt in the file); and the scandal's first whistleblower, Sean Hoare, who has since died.

A spokesman for Brooks did not immediately return a call and an email seeking comment. Thurlbeck declined comment, as did News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop.

The Information Commissioner's Office - which investigated Whittamore - declined to authenticate the spreadsheet, but in a statement his organisation said authorities had been mulling whether to release the information before it appeared online.

But even if wrongdoing could now be proven, the limitation period attached to Britain's Data Protection Act means that prosecution of the journalists is not likely.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Peacemaker Moala helps bury the hatchet over PINA tensions

The picture of the conference ... PINA manager Matai Akauola and Taimi Media Network publisher Kalafi Moala having a quiet word about the future. Photo: David Robie

WHETHER it was the 21st birthday (as celebrated by the cake at a gala dinner) or 40th anniversary (as flagged by a former president in the opening speech notes), last week’s Fiji milestones for the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) were notable achievements.

There was a convivial and relaxed atmosphere at the Pacific Harbour venue – in marked contrast to the tense last Pacific Media Summit in Port Vila two years ago.

And an optimistic mood about the future.

Instead of beating itself up over unresolved differences such as The Great Fiji Divide or the Tired Old Vanuatu Feud, PINA seems to be picking up the pieces and moving on.

A more inclusive atmosphere characterised this summit and the boycott threats fell flat.

The peacemaker was veteran Tongan publisher and media freedom campaigner Kalafi Moala, the only journalist to actually put his campaigning credentials on the line and be jailed for trumped up contempt of Parliament charges by his kingdom.

Moala has perhaps mellowed these days, but believes strongly that it is up to Pacific media “elders” to bury their differences and build on their common goals.

‘Go forward’ plea
As deputy chair of the rival Apia-based Pacific Islands Media Association (PasiMA), one of the key organisations to call for a last-minute boycott of the PINA summit, Moala made an impassioned plea – in his private capacity as publisher of the Taimi Media Network – to “go forward” in unity and diversity.

He advocated a need for a variety of organisations in the Pacific responding to specific briefs while perhaps one day being part of the PINA family “umbrella”.

In his speech during a panel discussion about “fragmentation” of Pacific media groups, he acknowledged PINA had always been a "quarrelsome family”.

He recalled how the PINA executive had in fact been split when he was jailed in 1996 and while several board members had actually supported his imprisonment, then president Monica Miller had backed him.

In Apia in 2003, when PINA and the former Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association (PIBA) were being merged, there had again been bitter in-fighting – “and the Bainimarama coup hadn’t even happened yet”.

Many delegates, particularly from Polynesia, wanted the PINA secretariat to move from Fiji to Samoa. Some PINA cynics saw this as a Polynesian and Melanesian split.

Hurtful snub
Moala said a delegation of 10 New Zealand-based Pacific Islanders had attended the PINA conference in Apia that year and were snubbed when they tried to become associate members.

“We were very hurt by that – after all we are all Pacific Islanders.”

There were also tensions in 2005 and again in Port Vila in 2009. “We never missed a chance to have a great quarrel about something,” Moala said.

In contrast, this year’s PINA summit “has been the best ever”.

Moala pointed out that any fragmentation that happened in Port Vila was not because of Fiji “but because of the issues that had been brewing for some time”.

He had expected the conference in Fiji to be the worst in view of the “troubled waters”.

Need to heal
“We need to heal and move forward. As long as we remain focused on Fiji alone, we’ll be blocked and there will be no going further.

PINA manager and training coordinator Matai Akauola noted how the summit had attracted several key outspoken critics of PINA and its refusal to move the secretariat from its “compromised” location - as seen by critics - in the capital of the Fiji military-backed regime.

Samoan government newspaper Savali editor and PM’s press adviser Tupuola Terry Tavita (pictured above being interviewed by Radio Djiido's Magalie Tingal for a USP documentary on media freedom), for example, has been running a series of bitter attacks on the Fiji regime leader, Voreqe Bainimarama.

But he was also caught up in the spirit of conciliation. Tupuola proposed Apia as the venue for the next PINA Pacific summit for 2014.

Although the Samoan offer still has to meet a new template of host conference conditions – to avoid this year’s Cook Islands debacle – it was a popular prospect as the venue.

“This will be a very significant year, especially if we have the conference just after the Fiji elections – if they happen,” Tupuola said.

“This will set our future directions.”

New executive
Neither Moala and Tupuola were elected to the incoming PINA executive – their organisations are apparently not financial members – but they were significant players in critical discussions in a conference that dodged sensitive issues.

Moses Stevens of Vanuatu was reelected as president for a further two years and Auckland-based Niue Star publisher, Michael “Original” Jackson, was voted in as vice-president.

Two new Fiji industry board members elected were Anish Chand of Fiji Television and Fiji Sun’s Cabenatabua.

The weeklong summit concluded with resolutions that included:
  • A five-year training plan for PINA;
  • Development of a health policy to include psychological counselling as well as better coverage of non-communicable diseases (NCDs),
  • A research project on the worker conditions of media practitioners in the region;
  • Audio/video content in PINA’s Pacnews service along with pictures;
  • Training to include investigative journalism as well as technical skills;
  • Journalism students being represented on the PINA board; and
  • New media and journalism education groups being included as well as the industry categories on the PINA board.
Donor dependence
Pioneering Solomon Star publisher Father John Lamani warned Pacific media to reduce dependence on donors and to make more use of local experts for training.

He described donor “red tape” as a new form of media control in the Pacific and this was a threat to press freedom in the region.

“We all know some of these donors often impose very strict guidelines on how we should use the resources they give.”

Fiji-born investigative journalist Graham Davis urged journalists in a panel addressing media credibility and public trust to “get it right. Shame those who don’t”.

“There’s an old saying in Fiji when someone behaves inappropriately – ‘oilei. No shame.’

“No one has to explain the dictionary meaning of shame – the painful feeling arising from being conscious that something dishonourable has happened,” he said.

“I think we need to rediscover the power of shame when it comes to violations of basic journalistic practice … to feel shame ourselves when they’re breached and to collectively shame others who do the breaching.

“Shame could and should have prevented the Fiji Times, during the [former elected PM Laisenia] Qarase years, from running a story calling for Indians in Fiji to be ‘thinned out’. It was a humiliating slap in the face for more than one third of the country – and offended a large proportion of Fiji Times reader of all races, many of whom haven’t forgotten.”

Culture of silence
Of course, while the Fiji Sun published the comment by Davis, the Fiji Times didn’t report a word. A culture of silence.

Fiji Sun publishing manager Leone Cabenatabua castigated anonymous Fiji blogs for “disinformation”, especially Coup 4.5, which has been widely cited by New Zealand media as a “credible” source.

But he praised the “analytical pieces for us to ponder on” published in the independent blogs of professors David Robie (Café Pacific) and Croz Walsh (Fiji).

Former PINA president Johnson Honimae lamented that public trust had declined in some Pacific countries, but added that in spite of the challenge facing the media, he believed the industry was doing a “fair job”.

Access to hard-hitting programmes, such as Hard Talk on BBC World was uncompromising and probing and investigative journalism such as on the ABC’s Four Corners, had led to higher expectations by the Pacific Islands public for the local media to lift its game.

“When such investigative journalism is not dished out, our readers or viewers start to lose trust in us," Honimae told a panel on corruption.

He called for more Pacific countries to take the Cook Islands lead and introduce freedom of information legislation. The Fiji Sun took up his plea in an editorial.

Reporting corruption
“Many of the corrupt or illegal activities happening in the Pacific region continue to flourish because they are not reported,” said the Sun.

“Or when they are reported by the news media, vital information cannot be obtained.

“However, in saying that, we stress that this is not some special right for news media alone. It is a right for all people, including the news media.

“In this age of the fight against corruption and for better governance, it is also the right thing to do.”

Fiji regime head Bainimarama silenced his critics in the opening speech when he highlighted some embarrassing media home truths, challenging Pacific news groups to invest more in their journalists. There had never been a great investment, he scolded.

“But there needs to be one. Our journalists need to be well-informed. This is both the responsibility of the individual and organisations to ensure this.”

Bainimarama reminded publishers and owners many journalists were underpaid for their efforts and at times they were just “used, abused, untrained and unappreciated”.

“To have a media who [are] respected, whose analysis and opinion matter, reporters need to be nurtured,” Bainimarama said.

Election challenges
Pointing out that Fiji journalists faced a challenging time leading up to the 2014 elections, Bainimarama added: “Journalists and editors in this room in many ways represent the frontline of sharing what’s going on.”

But a spiral of silence enveloped many Fiji journalists and there was a pronounced reluctance by many local journalists, especially younger ones, to speak out on issues. The most outspoken were student journalists from the University of the South Pacific.

Fiji as an issue – or media freedom generally – rarely surfaced. The most sustained discussion about Fiji came when Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley described how his newspaper had often been accused of being “anti-government of pro-government”.

He insisted the Fiji Times was neither – merely “carrying out its role as a newspaper”.

Wesley picked up on the regime’s call for all media to be “pro-Fiji” to define this from a Fiji Times perspective as ensuring that all voices, regardless of race or religion, are heard.

He also highlighted the challenges being faced by the company, especially the brain drain, since the Murdoch Australian-based News Ltd had sold the paper to the Motibhai Group in Fiji to comply with the Media Decree 10 per cent ceiling on foreign ownership.

But when Graham Davis (pictured above with his Fiji Times "fan club") asked Wesley to compare the editorial stance of the Fiji Times between the Murdoch and post-Murdoch eras, he clammed up and refused to comment.

The culture of silence rolls on.

Article and pictures by David Robie. This was the first PINA convention that Robie, a critic of PINA in the 1980s-90s, was actually invited to and to give a presentation. He was on the host organising committee in 1999 (Suva) and 1995 (Port Moresby).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Fiji disinformation blogs

Opinion by Dr Crosbie Walsh

THERE are indications of panic in the anti-blog newsrooms. Despite their efforts to liken the Fiji dictatorship to the military dictatorship in Burma, there have been no protest marches or public immolestations. Ordinary Fijians seem to be going about their daily lives in normal ways.

From the perspective of the anti-blogs, things are moving too smoothly. The Constitution reform process has been generally well received. The media is publishing commments hostile to the "illegal" government by former politicians Qarase, Chaudhry and Beddoes , and even Rabuka has put his two-cents' worth in. The Methodist Church hierachy and the CCF have aired views critrical of government on the demise of the Great Council of Chiefs.

The pathway to the "illegal" elections is now more clearly illuminated. There seems little doubt that the United States - and Australia and NZ behind the scenes - have accepted the announced steps leading up to the 2014 election. And even the economy seems to be picking up.

What does this mean for the anti-blogs? They could change tack and try to steer events closer to how they wish. They could even change to genuine support, subject to certain conditions. But these strategies would not put the SDL back in power or ensure itaukei paramountcy, whatever that now means.

Nor would there be the perks, appointments and scholarships like there were in the good old days. So, as their chances of success diminish by the day, their best option is to take their disinformation to a new level.

"Disinformation (a direct translation of Russian дезинформация dezinformatsiya)", and I quote from Wikipedia,"is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. For this reason, it is synonymous with and sometimes called black propaganda. It is an act of deception and false statements to convince someone of untruth. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.

"Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole (a limited hangout)."

Disinformation, of course, is not new to Coup4.5. Their stories from insider, leaked and "usually reliable sources" have long provided gossipy fodder for their more gullible readers. Remember the protest marches that never eventuated?: The military about to rebel ... The links to Al Queda and the Muslim takeover ... Bainimarama so ill he could not walk unsupported ... Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum's "arrest"... Bainimarama portrayed as Khaiyum's puppet (and unintelligent, untrustworthy, corrupt, incompetent and a liar, as FijiToday repeated only yesterday.)

The blog's latest posting (22/3/12) claims "on excellent authority that a trio [of the Chief Justice and lawyer sisters Nazhat and Shaista Shameem] has already drafted a guiding Constitution and held a secret meeting on New Years Day at the Macau Hotel in Nadi" to discuss the consultation process, the Civic Education Programme, and the composition of the Constituent Assembly. They also had learned "on excellent authority that as suspected, Yash Ghai was chosen by Bainimarama and Khaiyum to head their illegal consultation process because of his profile."

What's so hushhush and sinister about all this? A secret meeting in Nadi when they could have met more secretly in Suva — although, apparently, it took Coup4.5 from New Year's Day to find out? Three lawyers meeting to consider legal guidelines? Thoughts on who could make up the Constituent Assembly? The choice of an internationally respected lawyer to chair the Commission that would hear submissions prior to the meeting of the Assembly?

Does Coup4.5 seriously and honestly think the Constitution Process could happen without forward planning, that participants and agendas would miraculously fall into place, and a lot should be drawn for chairman? There is no story here. Perhaps that's why it took Coup4.5 from January 1 to tell it.

The day before (21/3/12) they published an equally incredulous, but far more embellished, story. This time it was a "leaked report" of a meeting of the Military Council to provide an "exit strategy for Frank Bainimarama cloaked in a new Constitution and the 2014 election." The meeting apparently considered a "paper titled Fiji's Road Map To Political Election 2014 (sent to Coupfourpointfive the day before the consultation process was announced more than two weeks ago on March 9)." But why it was not reported then they do not say.

However, we are told subsequent events (the abolition of the GCC, changes in the Provincial Councils, etc) make the report "too convincing to ignore." The meeting also discussed how Bainimarama could be "out maneuvered" [sic]! Huh! Exit strategy and outmanoeuvred? Submitting the report and the minutes of their meeting to paper would seem to be dangerous given their part of their plot to outmanoeuvre the Prime Minister. The paper (that may be read in full on the Coup4.5 site) really lets the cat out of the blog so I would expect the immediate dismissal of plotters Captain Natuva, Colonel Saumatua and Colonel Aziz on the grounds of disloyalty.

The paper listed seven strategies. Strategy 1 called for an immediate election, and a “People Constitution Forum" spearheaded by the 20 government departments. If this does not happen, Coup4.5's disinformation is exposed.

Strategy 2 called for the PM "to publicly announce this month he will stand for election" and form a new political party. His campaign will be led by "highly professional and political experts." All government departments will be "militarised" and soldiers will be his "campaign runners." Provincial Councils and civil servants will "follow orders." It's no secret the PM may stand for elections but if his election campaign is not as Coup4.5 describes, its disinformation is further exposed.

Stategy 3 would see no old political party stand for election, and a qualification test for all candidates. This is also possible. It has been talked about for some time, and no one would be surprised if the Constitution Assembly ruled along these lines.

I'll leave readers to read the rest, most of which I find unsurprising. Most "accusations" have been announced or anticipated already. It is only their interpretation that makes them seem sinister. But, as we now all know, "A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole."

Expect much more of the same as time rolls on.

Retired professor emeritus Crosbie Walsh was founding director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific and publishes a Fiji analysis blog.

Coup 4.5

'The King and I' - a tribute to the late Tupou V of Tonga

WITH THANKS to Alex Perrottet of Pacific Media Watch:
The death of King George Tupou V was unexpected for all – especially for family and close friends.

Neil Underhill is an Honorary Correspondent for the British government to King Tupou V. He is also a close personal friend.

Born in Fiji, he has lived most of his life there and frequently travels to Tonga to see the King. He strongly disagrees with those who describe “HM” as eccentric and instead remembers him as a man of “impeccable dignity”.

Monday, March 19, 2012

When violence threatens - Grubsheet under attack

Fiji Sun March 14 front page.

By Graham Davis

GRUBSHEET'S burgeoning number of opinion pieces on Fiji are largely designed to counter what we regard as the continuing failure of the mainstream regional media to come to grips with the reality of events there. They’re especially aimed at an Australian audience, to highlight what we regard as the folly of Canberra having turned its back on Fiji since Frank Bainimarama’s coup five years ago.

A lot of these pieces are picked up by the mainstream media – The Australian and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, for instance – or disseminated to a wider regional and global audience through the Pacific Scoop service of the Auckland University of Technology and Pacific Islands Report from the East-West Centre in Hawaii. Some are written as news stories but most are shamelessly opinionated, strong expressions of our own views based not only on on a life-long association with Fiji but having reported political events there for the mainstream media since before the first coup in 1987.

The problem arises when these articles are picked up and republished in Fiji, a country where the separation of news and opinion in the mainstream media doesn’t have a strong tradition. And so it was last week, when the Fiji Sun published a Grubsheet opinion posting on its front page that would have looked very much like news to local eyes. It provoked a wave of outrage, not least from the subject of that article – Laisenia Qarase, the man Frank Bainimarama deposed in his 2006 coup.

As readers can see for themselves in our own comments section, Qarase has gone on the attack against Grubsheet, accusing us of distortion, disregarding the facts and attempting to “crucify” him and his party – the SDL. He’s particularly aggrieved that we’ve accused him of pursuing racist policies in government. As readers can also note for themselves, we stand by that accusation.

But we can also sympathise with Qarase that an article on a humble Australian blog site can so dramatically become part of the domestic political debate in Fiji. If any proof were needed of the power of the internet to amplify the smallest voice, then this is it.

Qarase is not only entitled to defend himself but Grubsheet is delighted that he can now do so fully in the Fiji media for the first time in a long time. The Bainimarama government has lifted censorship and a full-blown debate has erupted about the impending discussions on a new constitution and the unilateral abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs. This is how it should be. It’s also Grubsheet’s view that if Laisenia Qarase intends to stand in the promised elections in 2014, his record in government is also a legitimate subject for debate.

Against all evidence to the contrary, he’s now running the line that the SDL has always been a "multiracial party", didn’t disadvantage other citizens in government and that he’s never believed in indigenous paramountcy. Every village pig in Fiji has suddenly sprouted wings and set off over a moonlit lagoon. But again, Qarase is entitled to put his case. And we’re entitled to put ours.

What is not acceptable are the threats to Grubsheet’s personal safety by Qarase’s supporters. These have come via the main anti-government blog site, Coup 4.5, which has been in our sights before for publishing blatantly racist content against the Indo-Fijian minority. These are “journalists” based abroad who not only routinely censor comments they don’t agree with but now facilitate threats of violence against people they don’t agree with. Here’s the first instance, when Coup 4.5 reported Laisenia Qarase’s first press release in response to the original Grubsheet article ...

Read the attacks and response on the Grubsheet blog.

For Laisenia Qarase, the real enemy isn’t Grubsheet. The real enemy is the cancer of intimidation and racism in his own ranks.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Papua's Freeport miners tell their struggle stories

A clip from the documentary Alkinemokiye.

Ika Krismantari

THE VOICES of local workers in the world’s largest gold and copper mine controlled by the US-based mining giant Freeport McMoRan in West Papua can be heard loud and clear in a new documentary that chronicles the biggest strike in the company’s history.

Alkinemokiye is the latest feature documentary from filmmaker Dandhy Dwi Laksono. It captures the fight of 8000 workers for increased wages in what is believed to be the longest and most widely joined strike since the mining company began operations in Indonesia in 1967.
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