Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pacific human rights advocacy as a ‘mindful’ journalist

Pacific Media Centre's Professor David Robie and Tongan publisher, broadcaster and communications adviser
Kalafi Moala at the human rights forum in Nadi, Fiji. Image: Jilda Shem/RRRT

(Note: This commentary is extracted from David Robie's notes as part of a multimedia keynote presentation at the Enhancing a Human Rights-based Approach to News Reporting Forum in Nadi, Fiji, 13-15 April 2016 . The notes were written originally to go with a series of slides and embedded video clips).

SOME of you perhaps may be mystified or puzzled about why I have included the term ‘mindful’ journalism in the title of this presentation. I’ll explain later on as we get into this keynote talk. But for the moment, let’s call it part of a global attempt to reintroduce “ethics” and “compassion” into journalism, and why this is important in a human rights context.

Human rights has taken a battering in recent times across the world, and perhaps in the West nowhere as seriously as in France on two occasions last year and Brussels last month. After the earlier massacre of some 12 people in the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, there was a massive wave of rallies in defiance and in defence of freedom of speech symbolised by the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie – I am Charlie.

Investigators in both Belgium and France worked on the links between the two series of attacks and have made a breakthrough in arresting two key figures alleged to be at the heart of the conspiracy, Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian-Morrocan suspected to be the “man in the hat” responsible for the bomb that didn’t go off at Brussels airport.

It ought to be noted that Charlie’s cartoons were not just anti-Muslim, or rather critical of jihadist extremism, they have been equally offensive about all religious, mocking Christian extremists and the establishment with just as much fervour. Barely had the French nation come to terms over this terrible and senseless massacre in January, which killed the chief cartoonist editor, known as Charb, and most of the cartooning team in one foul swoop, when an even more horrendous event happened 10 months later with a series of simultaneous attacks by masked ISIS gunmen across several locations in Paris, killing 135 people.

In the West, there was a rise of gratuitous insults and hostile anti-Muslim feelings, which was precisely one of the objectives of the ISIS gunmen. ("Islamic State" should be called Daesh – it is not a country). The whole point of terrorism is to strike terror in the hearts of your opponents.

But few stopped to think about the origins of terror, or the traditions of torture and state terrorism in the West that stretch back to the Inquisition in 1234 and the massacre of whole communities, such as the famous rugby playing town Béziers in southern France.  An army of crusaders under orders from then Pope Innocent III attacked the city on 22 July 1209 and slaughtered some 20,000 people, many of them inside churches. They were regarded as Cathar heretics.

Moving on a few centuries to colonial Algeria, France fought a bitter war against the Muslim rebels (1954-1962), reaching fever pitch in the Battle of Algiers when a Second World War resistance hero led brutal and illegal counter-terrorism methods to crush the resistance in the Casbah. The battle for the city was won, but ultimately France lost the independence war.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film Battle of Algiers, widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, was banned in France for five years. Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu is a composite character based on Colonel Jacques Massu, the paratrooper commander. It shows how the West developed illegal torture and terrorist methods against the Algerians. This is at the root of the US “terrorism against terrorism” military methods today.

Shades of this repression were echoed barely 20 years later in the South Pacific with French military suppression of Kanak agitation for independence and with the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. A cartoon by celebrated Le Monde cartoonist Plantu shows up the paranoia, hypocrisy and violation of human rights at the time. More about that later.

Terrorism and violation of human rights today impacts on many communities across the world, including throughout the Middle East.

Is there massive change in the air? The Arab Spring optimism in 2011 led to disillusionment and gross violations of human rights in Egypt, Libya, Syria and in Tunisia where the pro-democracy movement began.

But then back to France where there has been the growing Nuit Debout – “Up all Night” -- movement that launched in Paris on March 31 and then spread across 60 cities in Europe last weekend. Protesters with one rally up to 120,000-strong demonstrated in all-night vigils against austerity, globalisation, increasing inequality, privatisation and the continent’s harsh anti-migrant policies. An uprising against neoliberalism.

Let us step back for the moment and view human rights at a distance from some of the world’s trouble spots. I want to jump across to our own Pacific backyard and take you to Australia and show you a little cameo from the “Climate Angels”. Five of the demonstrators, all women aged in their 50s and 70s, were arrested a few weeks ago over a sit-in protest at a Santos coal seam gas development near Narrabri, northern New South Wales.

June Norman, a feisty 75-year-old, who took part in a protest walk across East Timor in 2013 to the town of Balibo, site of the massacre of five journalists, was forcibly dragged away first. This video was taken by a citizen journalist “bearing witness”.

Right in the heart of the capital of Panama is the office of a law firm that is at the centre of the biggest leak of confidential financial data in the history of journalism: Mossack Fonseca.

The so-called Panama Papers have exposed a global web of 214,000 offshore shell companies, involving heads of state, athletes, financial institutions and criminals.

Around 8 percent of global financial wealth - approximately $7.6 trillion - is held in tax havens such as Panama, according to Gabriel Zucman, the author of The Hidden Wealth of Nations: the Scourgeof Tax Havens.
But just an hour’s drive away from the capital and the steel and glass headquarters of this secret global wealth are the impoverished Embera people, one of seven indigenous tribes in Panama.

The point is that human rights can be violated anywhere in the world, and too often there are no witnesses or visual evidence to tell the true story. On the other hand, social media has dramatically exposed some of the murkier human rights episodes of today.

So now to Human Rights in the Pacific: In the short time that I have available today, I am going to give a sweeping snapshot of some of the issues that I think are important in the region. I have six topic headings:

1.      Asylum seekers, refugees – “outsourcing” by Australia to Nauru and Manus Island, PNG
2.      Gender violence – assaults, rapes, and murder
3.      Coups/conflicts/war, eg. Bougainville, Fiji “coup culture”, Solomon Islands
4.      But the biggest one of all is West Papua
5.      Freedom of speech, expression
6.      So-called “Climate refugees” – a very real situation, and international law is lagging behind

And I’ll talk about strategies for addressing these issues, such as “mindful” or deliberative journalism.

Asylum seekers, the first human rights concern for the Pacific. Phil Robertson, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, recently summed this up rather well in The Guardian, when he argued that Australia, which fancies itself as the “policeman of the Pacific”, has been too often part of the problem these days.
Politicians trapped in the refugee policy dialogue in Canberra frequently fail to recognise that Australia’s boat push-back policies, and offshoring asylum seekers into abusive conditions of detention in Nauru and on Manus Island, are seen as a green-light by Asian governments to do the same: send asylum seekers and refugees back into harm’s way or lock them up in indefinite detention.
For example, during the south-east Asia boat people crisis in May 2015, the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian navies played a cruel game of “human ping-pong” by pushing away boats of starving and sick Rohingya. 

In contrast to the impression that most mainstream media conveys, Australia has the least influx problem and yet the most inhumane way of dealing with it.
With the recent High Court ruling, Australia now faces the return of 267 asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island, where they face possible renewed physical and sexual assault, and life in limbo.

Australia’s international reputation has suffered enough – it’s time to do the right thing by accepting its responsibilities, not only as a party to the UN Refugee Convention but also as a responsible neighbour and member of the international community, and provide this group with fair and timely refugee status determination in Australia
The Australian asylum seekers policy is to cynically “outsource” its problems to Nauru and Manus Island. For two decades, successive Australian governments have adopted policies to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat. A UN Special Rapporteur found in 2015 Australian policies violated the Convention against Torture with “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment.

In the 2014 book Crying Meri, Russian photojournalist Vlad Sokhin documented the treatment of women in Papua New Guinea with a human rights lens. Violence against women and girls, and children generally, is a critical human rights problem across the Pacific. The rape, brutal beating and burning alive of women accused of sorcery is agonising in its brutality.

The compelling photographs in Sokhin’s book have, as Christina Saunders wrote in the foreword, “a rare depth and humanity that resonate deeply and speak immediately to the viewer” and

Photojournalist Ben Bohane, more recently director of communications with the Pacific Institute of Public Policy in Vanuatu, chronicled the Bougainville war and many conflicts in the western Pacific over two decades. He also researched the role of culture in political developments and media representations in the mid-2000s.

Before the West Papuan conflict emerged at the front of Pacific consciousness, the 24-year illegal occupation of Timor-Leste, or East Timor, was a cause célèbre ignored by the region’s media – at least until the massacre of 270 people at the Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991.

East Timor is the scene of the worst human rights violations against journalists in the Pacific, the Balibó massacre, where 5 Australian-based journalists (including 2 Britons and a New Zealander) were murdered in cold blood on 16 October 1975. They were trying to “bear witness” to the impending Indonesian invasion.

Seven weeks later, Roger East, an Australian journalist who travelled to Dili to find out the truth was executed by invading Indonesian soldiers. There has been no justice to this day for any of the six victims of human rights atrocities.

And now we are facing a similar situation with West Papua where Indonesian authorities and security forces carry out crimes and violate human rights with impunity. Although the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) representatives have now been accepted into the Melanesian Spearhead Group as observers, this feat almost became a disaster. The West Papuans now have a platform in the Pacific political arena. A recent new book by civil rights advocate and academic Jason MacLeod outlines the peaceful struggle by West Papuans in a devastating way.

Adrian Stevanon of Maori Television’s Native Affairs investigative programme was the first TV journalist from New Zealand to go to West Papua in 50 years last September. He went with photojournalist and researcher Karen Abplanalp and Radio NZ International’s Johnny Blades followed a couple of months later.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right for everybody worldwide. All people have the right to hold their own opinions, and the right to seek, receive and share information and ideas. For journalists, this right is essential to seeking out the truth. Without this freedom, we cannot interview citizens or seek information from public officials.

The right to freedom of speech is very broad – it covers many freedoms essential to work as journalists, such as:
• Freedom of issuing and distributing newspapers
• Independence of broadcast licensing and regulation
• Prohibition of all censorship
• Freedom of accessing and distributing information


But it ought to be remembered that this universal declaration is for everybody not just a privileged status for media organisations or journalists. Freedoms do not exist in isolation:
All rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible:
1. Freedom of expression linked to right of peaceful assembly and association (A20)
2. Also linked to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion (A18)
3. State treaties – dualist v. monetist systems
4. Regional treaties
5. UN Special Rapporteurs on free expression

Press systems and ethical frameworks are on the agenda in all societies, and we are challenged to accommodate free expression and its close relative press freedom within new technological and cultural contexts. Journalism professor Mark Pearson, of Griffith University, and a until recently a Reporters Without Borders researcher, spoke on “peace journalism” models as applied to the reporting of the South Pacific in his inaugural UNESCO World Press Freedom speech at Auckland in 2013.

He used this to introduce another recent trend in journalism theory to apply basic “principles of mindfulness and compassion” to a media context, a process which he dubbed “mindful journalism”. Since then he has contributed as co-editor to a book called Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist approach. In a simple explanation, he describes first what “Mindful journalism” is not:
• An attempt to convert you into “Buddhism”|
• An attempt to impose yet another code of practice on journalists
• A bid for the new approach to theory and ethics. (It is complementary to deliberative/public/peace/civic/citizen/inclusive journalisms).

He then outlines what Mindful Journalism is:
• A lens (or even theory) offering a set of tools for the analysis of journalism
• A moral framework to underpin ethical decision-making in journalism
• A possible tool of resilience for journalists (work in progress)

In contrast to human rights journalism, mainstream/legacy media “generally sides with official rhetoric and policy”

• Human rights news is usually reported as individual actions
• No reporting of “the system”
• “Predominant war journalism” of West dominates global news flow

A critical role of citizen journalism to keep mainstream media under scrutiny. While the media is watching other sectors in a community, who is watching the media? Especially on human rights issues.

Citizen journalist and independent media networks often played an important role. This happened in securing the release of Taimi ‘o Tonga publisher Kalafi Moala and his two fellow prisoners, jailed for 30 days for contempt of Parliament in 1996 for publishing leaked documents that needed to be in the public domain. This was arguably the most important Pacific media freedom crisis of contemporary times, yet he wasn’t given the mainstream media support that he needed and deserved. Human rights intervention by a civil rights lawyer secured the release of the prisoners early. 

An invaluable resource on journalism and human rights is the Canadian agency, Journalists for Human Rights.

Global and Pacific media freedom organisations have played and continue to play an important role in human rights campaigns for imprisoned and gagged journalists. One of the biggest human rights violations ever to happen in New Zealand – and the Pacific – was the bombing of a peaceful environmental ship, Rainbow Warrior, by French secret agents under orders in Auckland Harbour on 10 July 1985, killing photojournalist Fernando Pereira. This happened parallel to repressive measures against Kanaks seeking independence.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! In the US sums up the Rainbow Warrior saga 20 years later with the revelations that then PresidentMitterrand personally sanctioned the sabotage. 

Investigative journalist Edwy Plenel, publisher of the independent Mediapart website in France, carried out key inquiries into the Rainbow Warrior. One of the two French bombers (out of a 13-strong team), ex-colonel Jean-Luc Kister, publicly admitted his role in the sabotage and apologised 30 years after the bombing.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! gave another overview 10 years after her earlier one about Mitterrand, this time with Rainbow Warrior captain Peter Willcox

Images of “nuclear refugees at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, conjures up images of “climate refugees”…. The 2015 case of 38-year-old i-Kiribati man Ioane Teitoata, who lost his appeal case against New Zealand Immigration to have him and his family defined as “climate refugees”. But the case exposed how flawed the law and New Zealand’s policies were about climate change.

In 1946, the Bikini Atoll islanders were the first nuclear refugees in Pacific – “relocated” for the US nuclear tests. In 1985, Rongelap islanders were evacuation by the Rainbow Warrior and then in 2011 we had the Fukushima nuclear refugees after the Tohuku tsunami.

“Climate refugees” currently have no legal definition or status. However, there needs to be:
A climate refugee is a person displaced by climatically induced environmental disasters. Such disasters result from  incremental and rapid ecological change, resulting in increased droughts, desertification, sea level rise, and the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, fires, mass flooding and tornadoes. All this is causing mass global migration and border conflicts.
In 2000, 2700 Carteret Islanders left their atoll homeland in Papua New Guinea and became an iconic and tragic symbol. In 2013, came the Pacific Islands Forum Majuro Declaration for “climate leadership”, yet two years later a i-Kiribati man, Ioane Teitiota, failed in legal bid for “climate refugee” status.

Last year, we had some 40 students (and about 60 people altogether) involved in a journalism and television “bearing witness” project to prepare oral histories and current affairs items on a Rainbow Warriormicrosite as a public resource.  Students working on this project were thrilled by the experience and won a group award for innovative journalism.

Finally, to wrap up, the problems of war or mainstream journalism are largely blamed for under reporting and/or misrepresentation of political and structural forms of violence – the greater human rights violations. Human Rights Journalism and "bearing witness' complement the four major orientations of the peace journalism model:
Solution rather than victory

Truth rather than propaganda

People rather than elite

Win-win rather than win-lose

Also human rights oriented journalism needs to have a global (and local) perspective instead of selective reporting and ignoring major issues (such as West Papua), any “bias” ought to be in favour of vulnerable voices, be proactive and attachment to victims and survivors, instead of the political elites.

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