Friday, May 30, 2008

Clark critical of 'personality driven' NZ media

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has highlighted a number of faults in the national media while discussing the need for a lively press "with responsibility" in the latest Pacific Journalism Review. Among several points she raises are:

  • Too many youthful journalists with energy but a limited grasp of history, geography, sociology and economics - leaving "a large gap in general knowledge".
  • The lack of resources given by the media to covering international stories of "importance to New Zealand".
  • The need for mainstream media to have a better understanding of cultural diversity.
  • Journalists shouldn't confuse healthy scrutiny with cynicism because that undermines the political process.
  • Personality driven media with journalists making themselves the centre of the story.
  • The role of blogs and the tendency for journalists to make "rushed judgments".

This edition's special section of research papers from the Journalism Education Association of NZ conference at Massey University last December has been edited by my Wellington colleague Dr Grant Hannis. The journal has only just gone out to subscribers but already there has been plenty of positive feedback. Other contributors include Fortune journalist and author Bethany McLean, who exposed Enron over its gigantic scam, and Dom Post editor Tim Pankhurst over how his paper is facing the challenges of digital media. Hannis himself contributes a revealing research paper about freelance journalists. Other articles in the AUT Pacific Media Centre- published journal highlight the Maori Party and the media, bogans in West Auckland and West Papuan coverage plus a state-of-media-health report by Bill Rosenberg. And a host of good reviews are also included.

Friday, May 23, 2008

'Underclass' Pacific migrants paper stirs media issues

New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres, plans a closer examination of the issues raised by Massey University economist Dr Greg Clydesdale’s widely condemned report alleging Pacific migrants are becoming an underclass in New Zealand. De Bres has convened a meeting of Pacific community representatives, academics and government policy analysts to discuss the report, which has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy. Critics have lambasted Clydesdale over the lack of rigour and "racism" of his report. In his defence, Clydesdale has condemned "political correctness bullying" and - disturbingly - made allegations about unethical distortions by some named journalists. He claims in a message circulated to media criticising lack of media resonsibility that "it is obvious that the Dominion Post deliberately sensationalised my paper". For example, he claims he never said Polynesians were "a drain on the economy", as reported in Islands Business and many other media following The Dominion Post. He concludes:
I have had far more respect from Polynesians on this issue than the journalists (and many Kiwi-Polynesians actually supported me). If I was not writing an article on economic grounds, I would welcome more Polynesians and deport half the journalists.
De Bres says the report has caused "significant hurt" to Pacific communities and fuelled the venting of prejudice on the internet and talkback radio. But the right-wing blogs haven't had it all their own way. There has been some searing analysis of Clydesdale's research claims. In a satirical piece at Huia, titled "A little leeching and mooching from the underclass", Karlo Mila commented:
It’s hard work being a drain on the economy of New Zealand. But then someone’s got to do it and why not an ethnic minority? I woke up this morning and pondered on just how to suck the blood of the nation and simultaneously render myself devoid of any innovation – living out the 'lifestyle choice' of the Polynesian underclass I belong to – and the lifestyle that my children will default to (the research says so!!!)

Grumpy Old Geezers blog described the Clydesdale report as "clumsy as a heavy horse", saying:
... if you give a lot of money to a flaky Massey University research project, release the results to a bunch of semi-conscious journalists who are having a slack news night at the Dominion Post, then add a dramatic front-page headline written by a Qantas Award winner for headline-writing, you get something that reinforces racist, xenophobic social stereotypes and helps absolutely nobody.
The consensus from the Pacific community meeting convened by the HRC was that the contribution of Pacific Islanders’ to the New Zealand economy and society has been more positive. The meeting encouraged de Bres to invite submissions on the report to create a "broader, well-informed basis" for discussing the issues.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Farewell Ka Bel - a hero of the working class

"HE HAD wanted to die 'in the streets', says the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "that is, in the act of principled protest, deep in the trenches of a never-ending war against injustice. Instead, progressive Congressman Crispin "Ka Bel" Beltran died after falling off the roof of his modest, mortgaged house, in the act of tending to his family's needs. He was trying to fix the roof before the rains fell." It was a shock when his death came to the many activists, civil society advocates, democrats and journalists in the Philippines, New Zealand and the world who were inspired by his life of integrity.

The Inquirer added:
It may not have been a hero's death, but it was still a virtuous one, with a timeless lesson in personal integrity. It showed an astonished nation that it is possible to remain poor while serving in Congress, despite the trappings, the generous staffing budgets, the access to pork barrel funds. Despite all that, the 75-year-old Beltran remained a member of the working class he represented.

Beltran was detained in 2006 amid a crackdown on progressive politicians, human rights campaigners, unionists, journalists and religious leaders. The congressman was arrested on charges dating back to the era of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the early 1980s and were quashed in 1988. Since then, further trumped up charges of sedition were laid. Beltran had been held under hospital detention for sixteen months but an international campaign succeeded in setting him free.

A statement by the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee said:
The Indonesia Human Rights Committee takes a close interest in the human rights and justice issues in the Asia-Pacific region.
We therefore mourn the loss of Congressman Crispin Beltran “Ka Bel”, a great man and an exemplary leader, with his family, his friends and the Filipino people. His untimely death is a great loss to all freedom-loving citizens. His life is a concrete example of the struggles ordinary people wanting to have a better and decent life.
Ka Bel had a very challenging and colourful life. From the Marcos martial law to Arroyo’s ‘undeclared martial law’ he never stopped fighting for the poor people. He was a true defender of the workers, peasants, urban poor and other marginalised sectors of the toiling masses. He was also a staunch critic of privatisation, deregulation and other destructive policies of globalisation.
His speech in the plenary after he was freed by the Arroyo government sums up well the kind of man he was. He said: "I am innocent of the rebellion charge against me. It's neither a sin nor against the law to speak against graft and corruption and the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians.”
Not only was he involved in national politics but also in international issues. Ka Bel also stood against the United States' war of aggression on Iraq and its war on terror. He was steadfast in his call for respect for national sovereignty and international unity against foreign intervention.
As a parliamentarian, he was incorruptible and stood for his principles. In his three terms in Congress he was awarded the Filipino of the Year and Most Outstanding Congressman honours for four consecutive years from 2002 – 2005. In 2006 was judged part of the Congressional Hall of Fame.
One of his famous quotes was: "If helping the poor is a crime, and fighting for freedom is rebellion, then I plead guilty as charged."
His sister Gerodia Beltran-Mirafuentes said: “He was a politician of the poor. He died a poor man.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pacific j-schools and the sad fate of UPNG

Hard to believe, but the South Pacific has just had its first regional journalism school
workshop - 33 years after the first j-school was established. The University of Papua New Guinea led the way in 1975 - the heady year of independence - with a j-school established with NZ aid by the late Ross Stevens. Sadly, Ross would have turned in his grave if he saw the state of UPNG's j-school today. In his time (1975-77) on the Waigani campus, the teaching was in a creative "dungeon" in the bowels of the Michael Somare library. Today, journalism is housed in the relatively recent Ulli Beier building - in an air conditioned multi-purpose lab - but with no sign of actual journalism. Five e-Macs lacking a printer and a network. Hardly the stuff of a newsroom. Gone is any sign of the history and tradition of what was once the finest journalism school newspaper in the Pacific - Uni Tavur (first Pacific j-paper to win the Ossie award for newspapers in 1995, competing against Australian and NZ publications). That success was during my era at UPNG when I negotiated with the Post-Courier to print the paper every fortnight for 12 editions a year. Thanks OP for your great support in those days!

What is a journalism school without its own press and broadcast programmes? It's hard to imagine that UPNG has 100 j-students plus these days. What do they do? And what is their employment ratio? There are simply not enough jobs. Still, I was pleased to see many of my former students doing so well in the media, people like Titi Gabi, news director at PNGFM Ltd, and Jackie Kapigeno, news editor at The National, and her deputy, Christine Pakakota. Well done team! Good to see Freddy Hernandez still going strong in The National newsroom - check out his letters from Moresby. And a delight to see Jada and team at Wantok.

Now let's not get too nostalgic about PNG. Back to UNESCO and Abel Caine - they deserve a big bouquet for getting this much belated workshop off the ground. And already the second such workshop is in their sights for next August at the PINA convention in Vanuatu. Although some j-schools are more fortunate than others in the region, many of the issues about facilities and resources (including human) are familiar to everybody. And a sharing of issues and a draft plan for the future is encouraging for Pacific j-education. In my book, the only downside of the workshop was the failure of the new polytechnic j-schools to get their act together (apart from Fiji Institute of Technology, which was well-represented by Elia Vesikula) and be represented. Invitations to Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu were wasted. I wonder what possessed AusAID to lash out money on establishing these new schools when the existing j-programmes are so under-resourced as it is. There are simply not enough facilities and human resources to go around all the Pacific schools. The University of the South Pacific with the only regional regional j-programme has the capacity to continue running courses for everybody, providing the industry backs USP to the hilt. Its postgraduate programme is also developing quite nicely. The sheer scale of PNG means both Divine Word (especially) and UPNG have much to offer. But UPNG needs a huge injection of assistance to get it back to anywhere near its former status as the leading j-school in the region (see my book Mekim Nius for the history). Maybe UNESCO could offer a volunteer for a two-year project as well as resources?

Pictured: Top: "Behind bars" - symbolic of post-coup Fiji today. But this is now a sign of the security times in PNG. USP's Shailendra Singh and FIT's Elia Vesikula offer us the caged look at a downtown Moresby jewellery store. Above: Earlier in the day, Vesikula and PINA's Matai Akauola left us in no doubt with Fiji TV's ownership of EmTV when they took over the news readers desk for a laugh! Photos: David Robie

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Asia-Pacific reporting with a fresh angle

Student journalists at AUT University are digging up some good stories these days, especially on diversity topics that barely get a look in with the mainstream Pakeha/Palagi press. A group of them working on the Asia-Pacific Journalism postgrad paper have just turned in the following batch:
Overcoming the ‘dairy owner’ and other gender stereotypes
Migrant women have had to struggle against stereotypes for years. Carly Tawhiao talks to an author whose new book Sari challenges these stereotypes and offers a message for the future.
West Papuans forge alliance to push for independence
Groups seeking independence for West Papua have in the past been divided. Now, reports James Murray, unity is the buzzword and activists have joined forces.
The Jayapura Mama Mamas, a group of women market workers, face eviction from their trading place in the centre of West Papua’s capital city. Carolyn Thomas talks about their lives to Judith Crimmins, who has recently returned from West Papua.
And Dylan Quinnell is on his way back from Jakarta after some remarkable experiences in Indonesia over the past few months. He even speaks passable Bahasa, I'm told. I'll check it out when he gets back. Next stop for him? China. Who said New Zealand j-schools should only be training for NZ media? In these days of globalisation, our graduates go anywhere - wherever the market is ready for their well-developed skills.
Check out Dylan's account of his experiences.
The student journo Asia-Pacific stories (another batch will be online at the Pacific Media Centre on Monday) are also featured under the PMC logo on Scoop World.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Media freedom with 'responsibility' - or chaos in Fiji?

We're always intrigued by the Pacific media hype machine - how the expatriate media cohort manages to present a mostly one-sided view of media freedom issues in Fiji. The story that is fed in Australia and NZ is dominated by the view of the one of the protaganists - the media publishers and their supporters. Rarely do we hear the voice of grassroots journalists, civil society groups and analysts in Fiji who have a different view. The narrow "media freedom" mantra marginalises their view. For example, here is a contrasting view from an experienced and reflective Fiji journalist received by Cafe Pacific:
From a PR perspective, the Evan Hannah affair looks pretty bad on the interim govt - and we'd be right to be condemning the expulsion - but one of the basic rules of journalism is that there are always two sides (sometimes more) to a story: That the IG is not divulging all the reasons for its actions, is a little frustrating for most reporters who are led to conclude that there are no genuine reasons for the expulsion.
But the warning signs have been there all along - I think publishing of the [Dr John] Cameron opinion piece was a push too far over the line . Any journalist who has basic knowledge of subjudice laws knows that one is not supposed to discuss matters before courts in the media.
But even then, its hard to justify expelling the publisher. There are other channels of complaints/courts etc to follow in this for the government. Should the media give more understanding to the government's point of view, that it is tired of calling the media to be more responsible; for the Media Council to advise its members better etc? (This has happened if one looks back over the past few months if not the past year!)
I am trying to take an objective stand on this matter. But my conclusion is that both sides - media and govt - have made mistakes. The question is how far do each test each other's patience.
I feel that the media in Fiji is relatively a lot freer than most nations. That the military has let by and large the media do its work without much interference is a plus considering we've had a military coup not 15 months ago. Should the media continue to push along a line that could lead to sanctioning of the media on more stringent terms than those that are spelt out in the bill of rights of our constitution? I don't think so.
Every right and freedom comes with grave responsibility. If we are to claim those rights/freedoms, then we should also have the maturity to see the consequences of our practising those rights and freedoms; to see whether our actions are in the right/same spirit as that espoused in the constitution; or are we going to serve a certain agenda that
could lead to chaos in the nation?
These are among some very important considerations that the media here has make every day. I don't think they get it right all the time - but we're learning. The thing about learning is that sometimes we have to learn the hard way when we make the same mistakes - the Hannah/Hunter case might be an example, though I might be oversimplifying the matter
as there are many more dynamic factors in the Hunter case.
Both sides can get a little too defensive and jumpy at any little criticism and that's why we are
in such a melee!!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Timor journo protests against UN 'intimidation'

Leading Timorese photojournalist Jose Belo, a stringer for Australia's SBS Dateline and director of Tempo Semanál Weekly, is fed up with the intimidation and harassment from UN authorities in Dili. He doesn't believe it's the brief of UNMIT to heavy journos and try to extract information from them with jail threats and suchlike. In fact, he is so annoyed that he has sent a protest letter to UNMIT with copies to President Jose Ramos Horta, PM Xanana Gusmão, a bunch of parliamentary and judicial heavyweights, journalist colleagues in East Timor and the media freedom groups Committee to Protect Journalists (New York) and Reporters Sans Frontières (Paris). According to his letter, quoted by Pacific Media Watch at the weekend:
On April 18, 2008, I was approached by United Nations police investigators who said they wanted to interview me in relation to stories I have worked on involving the rebel leaders Major Alfredo Reinado and Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha.
They asked me to sign a document agreeing to be a witness in the ongoing investigations into February 11th attack [on President Horta]. I declined to sign the document and was told if I did not appear for an interview at 9.30am on April 22nd 2008, an arrest warrant would be issued.
Jose said the UN investigators wanted to ask him about an exchange of fire involving Reinado at Fatuahi in 2006, which he had filmed for Dateline, and also a phone interview with Salsinha from the previous week, also for Dateline. Reinado was killed in the February attacks against President Horta and Prime Minister Gusmão.
That work is already in the public [domain]. I refer the investigators to those programmes for all the information they need. I did attend the police station at the appointed time, with lawyers - to comply with the Timor-Leste laws and follow the rules of journalism.
My fear was that they wished to seize my phone contacts and my film archives and interrogate me about my sources.
Belo decided to attend the interview but ... it really
upset me because my personal feeling was that it was a kind of pressure or intimidation [on] the press.
And it makes me start to think that East Timor’s media should not be intimidated by UN-endorsed threats of arrest or possible jail for failing to disclose information.
The UN should be a model for human rights. It should not attempt to violate media freedoms.
I was one journalist. The investigation team was many. I should not have to do their jobs for them.

Pictured: A protest banner in Dili against UNMIT on World Media Freedom Day (May 3) - "UN: You can kill a newsman, but you can't kill the news"

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fiji military regime targets expat media again

Fiji's regime has done it again - shot itself in the foot on the eve of World Media Freedom Day! One of the latest statements in a steady barrage of protests by media and community groups in Fiji since Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah was bundled onto a flight out of Nadi to Korea today after being detained overnight, is from Femlink Pacific's coordinator and media commentor Sharon Bhagwan Rolls. She described the regime's move as "sad and shocking - but also a stark reminder of the political reality within which Fiji's media continues to operate". She continued:
What should be the eve of a global commemoration - when we celebrate the contribution of all forms of media to development and the empowerment of communities - we are reminded that we live in the shadow of a power that chooses to control the way in which information and communication is developed and delivered.
We live in a time when all people, but especially rural and remote communities, should be able to freely access a range of information, as well as feel safe and confident to share their viewpoints, in order to actively engage and participate in the the return to parliamentary democracy.
Given the current campaign of the National Council for Building a Better, this action does not augur well to enhance the opportunity for a diverse range of viewpoints to be shared.
It is not the basis from which we will hear from the ordinary people, who are suffering the most (in silence) who have the biggest stake in defining the road to sustainable peace.
This is not freedom.
This does not provide the political platform for peace and stability.
Fiji's current leaders need to be reminded once again "that you cannot shake hands with a clenched fist".

Earlier this afternoon, the Fiji Media Council held an emergency meeting and chairman Daryl Tarte issued a statement saying the council was "shocked and dismayed" by the mockery of the deportation. It added that the latest move against the media had come when the nation's media industry was still trying to come to terms with the expulsion in February of Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter, another Australian expatriate.
Pictured: Evan Hannah (right) being escorted out of his Tamavua home in Suva by officers last night. - Fiji Times Online.

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