Sunday, September 9, 2012

Media, democracy and self-censorship in the Pacific

Robert Hackett speaking at a recent seminar at Fairhaven College, WWU on Vimeo.
USP media and democracy video coming soon

RAMPANT SELF-CENSORSHIP in action? It was astonishing to see a Media and Democracy symposium at the University of the South Pacific – which raised the tempo of “quality” journalism debate in post-coup Fiji by quantum leaps – being ignored over substantive issues while the regime’s chief media official was splashed across both daily front pages.

Keynote speaker Professor Robert Hackett, a world-renowned Canadian authority on peace journalism and “alternative” journalism models, was not even reported. Instead, the news was Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns saying “rise to the challenge” and take advantage of the lifting of censorship. But while the local media duly splashed this message, few local journalists actually engaged with the challenging ideas canvased at the conference.

Speaking to some of the young journos on hand, Café Pacific certainly had the impression that they were not experienced enough or well-equipped to cope with fundamental questions challenging the news media. Countries as diverse as Britain, Australia and New Zealand are pre-occupied with rebuilding public trust in the media – and strategies for doing this - in the wake of  the Leveson Inquiry triggered by the “hackgate” scandal that closed Murdoch’s big-selling tabloid News of the World and has led to prosecutions of several journalists and media personalities. 

But the local Fiji journalists seemed immune from this and not familiar with global debates about the future of journalism. A critical conference opening speech by USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Esther Williams savaged the Fiji media (front page in the journalism student newspaper Wansolwara), complaining about reports “riddled with editorial mistakes”, drew defensive retorts from local scribes.

Yet the interesting research and analysis about Fiji and Pacific media presented at the symposium was covered in a very superficial manner, if reported at all. Fiji Television produced an atrocious Close-Up programme about the symposium by Myron Williams - not in the same class of the Geoffrey Smith special report about the Pacific Media Summit run by PINA earlier this year. Even Radio Australia and Radio NZ International (usually reliable) failed their audience on coverage. Readers need to go to Pacific Scoop or Pacific Media Watch for independent and informed and reportage.

The most insightful preliminary article was actually an offshore blog column on Grubsheet by Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis who wasn't actually even there (and should have been invited). While this mainly dealt with behind-the-scenes tensions leading into the conference, it at least raised some of the core philosophical issues facing the future of  regional media. Such issues included what models of journalism might be best suited for Fiji and the Pacific – an unbridled “publish and be damned” Anglo-American approach, or something more subtle but equally robust such as a range of journalism models grouped under the label “deliberative journalism”. “Deliberative” models – as deconstructed by the Pacific Media Centre’s Professor David Robie, are essentially those more suited to citizen empowerment for a better democracy – include those such as public journalism, alternative journalism, critical development journalism, peace journalism and human rights journalism. None of these models are “soft” or core journalism values, but add a wider range of skills as well.

Bob Hackett, co-editor of a recent book called Expanding Peace Journalism – comparative and critical approaches, deserved serious attention by the local media. His speech will eventually be published in Pacific Journalism Review. He spoke about what kind of journalism a democratic society needs, if it wants democratic governance to be stable and sustainable. Depending on which rationale for democracy is key – “protection or development” – there are “different models of democracy, each with different expectations of how journalism should function, what their ethical pronciples and practices should be and what legal framework best supports it”. He considered three models, in particular:

1.    Market liberalism – the “free market” model in Fiji (as it used to be) shared with Australia and NZ: “Democracy is seen not as an end in itself, but as normally the best institutional arrangement to maintain political stability and a liberal political culture characterised by individual rights and choice.” The media serves as a watchdog on government power.
2.    “Public sphere” liberalism – “prioritises the role of the media in facilitating or even constituting a public sphere so that public opinion can be formed”. The independent watchdog role continues, but a higher value is placed on popular participation.
3.    “Radical democracy” and a political economy critique – “radical democrats seek not to just reinvigorate an existing system of representative democracy, or to ensure quality of legal and political rights for everybody. They also prize direct participation by people in making the decisions that affect their lives and approximate equality in wealth and power.” The watchdog media role is endorsed, but greater emphasis is placed on social change and popular mobilisation against social injustices.

During the conference, the excellent new USP documentary on media freedom in the Pacific, made in association with the International Federation of Journalists (and directed by Don Pollock), was also screened. And there were feisty debates about media freedom and journalism education.

Stop press: Current USP head Dr Marc Edge has again misrepresented David Robie in his Fiji media wars blog. What was actually said about Pacific journalism education and standards at the USP symposium is reported here. Edge has also been blasted by the FijiVillage news team over his self-censorship claims.

The local media partially redeemed itself a week later with the Fiji Sun republishing a symposium overview by the Pacific Media Centre team on Pacific Scoop and the Fiji Times running a short (900 word) extract from David Robie's 8400 word paper about "deliberative" journalism and media models. Perhaps they read this blog? But Café Pacific wonders why no local scribes present at the conference produced a reflective overview article.

Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns (speaking) and USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Esther Williams at last week's media and democracy forum. Photo: USP

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All Blacks to Argentina ... pampered (!) and Pampas

RUGBY is hardly unknown on this media and politics blog. Café Pacific occasionally splashes out on an item or two, usually reflecting the Kiwi author's francophile tendencies. So this new advert launched by Renault, sponsors of the national Pumas rugby team of Argentina, caught our eye. Not so much the enticing tourism images (although we recently had a wonderful visit to Argentina), so much as the massive king hits launched by the Argies against both France and New Zealand. Welcome to the Pampas, All Blacks ...
We [Renault] made this ad to welcome the All Blacks. It and is directed to all NZ rugby fans because it is the first time the Pumas are competing in the "Personal Rugby Championship". This is our home and this is the passion, the loyalty to the team and the courage of our Pumas.

Welcome New Zealand to Argentina!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

SA's brutal Marikana mine massacre: Reminder of darkest days of apartheid

A clip of the tragic shooting at the Lonmin Marikana mine in north-eastern South Africa on Thursday. Video: eNCA - South Africa's leading independent news channel

Open letter to SA President Jacob Zuma – By John Minto

Kia ora President Zuma,

Many New Zealanders who demonstrated so strongly against the apartheid system in the 1970s and 1980s have watched with growing alarm at the direction the African National Congress (ANC) leadership has taken South Africa since the first democratic election in 1994.

The events of the last week culminating in the Marikana massacre of 34 striking mineworkers with dozens injured is the inevitable outcome of the ANC choice to follow free-market economic policies which, wherever and whenever they have been employed in human history, have always transferred wealth from the poor to the rich and stripped hope from the majority.

Under the ANC we have seen South Africa change seemlessly from race-based apartheid to economic apartheid.

We didn’t protest here just to see a few black faces at the top table in South Africa. We didn’t turn out in our tens of thousands to face batons and barbed wire so the likes of former anti-apartheid leaders such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Julius Malema could become obscenely rich off the backs of South Africa’s workers – 34 of whom were riddled with police bullets two days ago.

The appalling scenes played out on our TV screens are reminiscent of the darkest days of apartheid such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the murder of black school children in Soweto in June 1976.

Just as we held the apartheid regime responsible for those massacres, we now hold the ANC government responsible for the massacre of striking mineworkers.

You and your government have blood on their hands.

Leadership betrayal
This year is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the ANC – it should be a time of pride and celebration for all the people of South Africa but the betrayal of the struggle by the ANC leadership leaves most of us cold.

As a spokesperson for Abahlahli baseMjondolo, which is struggling for decent housing against violence and intimidation said last month:

“All is slowly sinking as the new government is making sure that we remember the heroes of the struggle but not what the struggle was for”.

At this time of deep sadness for those and injured and their families, and anger at the ineptitude, self-service and corruption running to the core of your government, we stand once more with the poor and oppressed people of South Africa and their struggle for freedom, hope and dignity.

John Minto is a Global Justice and Peace Auckland (GPJA) spokesperson and a tireless campaigner for social justice in South Africa. He is a previous contributor to Café Pacific.

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