Friday, January 30, 2009

Maire tackles the SIS for breakfast

PACIFIC peace campaigner Maire Leadbeater, author of the groundbreaking book Negligent Neighbour about New Zealand's shameful role over the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, was featured on TVNZ's chatty Breakfast show today. But behind all the light-hearted banter about a bygone era of paranoia, there are still sinister overtones for both NZ and the Asia-Pacific region. Maire was spied on by NZ's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) since the age of 10.
In a relatively new era of "transparency", security files have been handed over on request to a group of "activists and agitators". The move, as The Press noted in an editorial, recalls "a whiff of the musty battles of the cold war". After her Breakfast cameo, when she waved her hefty spook file that must have cost the taxpayers pointless zillions, Maire told Café Pacific:

While it's good that the SIS issue is being debated, the issue is more serious than just about the bad old cold war - "reds under the bed" - days. My file, in common with others, illustrates some quite intensive spying - "sources" planted in meetings, stake outs of conferences and so on.
But there is good reason to believe this undemocratic, wasteful activity is still continuing for some groups and individuals. It's possible that with the establishment of the new police Special Intelligence Branch the respective roles of police and SIS have changed a little.

Looking further afield in the Asia-Pacific region, she says:

Anti-communism is still strong in Indonesia, where the spreading of ideas and writing about Marxism-Leninism has been banned since 1967. The dictator Suharto rose to power by dint of a pogrom that wiped out at least half a million people deemed to be communists. Books are still banned if if they are deemed to be supportive of the PKI - the former Indonesian Communist Party - or if they give a "wrong" analysis of the events of 1 October 1965 and the murder of six army generals which triggered the bloodbath.
Indonesia's Criminal Code contains broad articles giving the authorities license to charge people that they consider to be subversive. For one human rights lawyer in West Papua that meant detention for 15 months and a trial for nothing more than forwarding a text message which alleged that the Indonesian Government was planning to cause harm to West Papuans. Fortunately he has just been acquitted. Those who dare to raise the banned
Morning Star flag or even depict its design on a bag or clothing run the real risk of going to jail.
West Papuans say that in the towns are villagers "intel" are always lurking and listening.
West Papuans say to us "please use your liberty to protect ours". So I guess that is one good reason why we also need to be vigilant about our own freedoms and right to meet and discuss ideas without being spied on!

Pictured: Maire Leadbeater with the Café Pacific publisher at a recent Auckland rally in support of the suffering people of Gaza. Photo: Del Abcede.

CAFCA's secretary Murray Horton - another leading activist who obtained his organisation's SIS files (and then fired off a personal request while a Press reporter was at his office to interview him) - believes New Zealand's security service has behaved in some respects much the same way as communist police states.

in other fallout from the SIS papers issue, Helen Sutch, daughter of the late leading public intellectual and civil servant Dr Bill Sutch who was at the heart of NZ's most controversial "spy" case, has condemned The Press in a letter of peddling an "urban myth" about her father. Dr Sutch was wrongly accused by the SIS in 1974 of trying to pass off NZ government information to the Soviet Union. In the high profile case that followed, he was acquitted. Helen Sutch wrote:

The Press continues to besmirch Bill Sutch
I am disappointed that The Press continues to purvey an urban myth regarding Dr W.B. Sutch. This myth, that ''the SIS caught William Ball Sutch passing material to the Soviet Union'' (editorial, Jan 29), was shown at his trial in 1975 to be false, and no evidence has emerged
since then to undermine that finding.
While editorials contain opinion, they should not misrepresent it as based on fact when it is not. Instead, please take note of the following easily verifiable facts:
  • Dr Sutch was acquitted. The SIS did not ''catch him passing material to the Soviet Union''. The transcript of Dr Sutch's trial, which has always been a public document, shows this clearly.
  • The subsequent enquiry by the then Ombudsman, Sir Guy Powles, found that the SIS had broken the law and that Dr Sutch had not.
  • Disquiet at the arbitrary and oppressive nature of the Official Secrets Act, under which Dr Sutch had been charged, and to which Sir Guy and others drew attention, led to its repeal
  • and replacement by the Official Information Act.
If The Press had been interested in the real historical significance of the release of SIS files, it could have highlighted two important developments in the years since 1975.
First is the movement away from a secret, closed bureaucratic world towards a more transparent society in which the presumption under the OIA is that all information should be
publicly available unless strong arguments to the contrary can be made.
The second development relates to the recognition that the SIS needed to be made more accountable.
Greater governance safeguards are now in place aimed at preventing the abuses of power that New Zealand has suffered in the past.
While Wolfgang Rosenberg, to whom your editorial also casually referred, may have kept his job, his career may well have been damaged, and there are many others, such as the distinguished lawyer Dick Collins, who were prevented from following their chosen careers at all.
Helen Sutch

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Provocative expulsion another chapter in Fiji media witchhunt

“PROVOCATIVE”, says the Paris-based media freedom group Reporters sans Frontières. The regime is “targeting us”, says the Fiji Times chief editor Netani Rika. “Fight on”, says expelled publisher Rex Gardner. He believes that if the Fiji media keep campaigning for freedom of information, the media will survive. His final message to his embattled Suva paper was:
I'm being kicked out of the country. I don't write what goes in the papers. Until the people who put pen to paper are being harassed as much as I am, I don't think there'll be a problem.
My freedom doesn't exist anymore but I think media freedom will exist if the newspapers push hard enough and continue to fight for their right and the public's right to freedom of information.
The onus is on the media to report sensibly and carefully and truthfully and cover all the facts and keep pushing for the public's right to know because that's the most important thing. Media freedom is one thing but it's the public's right to know that's so very, very important.

And the Fiji Times itself said “Time to get real”, pointing out the inconsistencies in the government claims against Gardner. Although the Fiji Times admitted guilt in the contempt of court case over a published letter to the editor (purportedly from Australia) that attacked the coup legality judgment and the judiciary, Gardner was pointedly not convicted by the judge:
Justice Thomas Hickie was abundantly clear in his ruling on the matter. Let us once again state for the record that Gardner was not convicted by the court. Instead, he was discharged conditionally and had signed all applicable documents pertaining to the course on Thursday, less than two hours after the case ended. We know the work permit has not expired and that the court did not find Gardner guilty. This means that the excuses given by [Commodore Voreqe] Bainimarama and [Immigration Director Viliame]Naupoto for the deportation are not the real reasons for Gardner's removal.

In fact, Gardner’s work permit was due to expire next month and he would have been leaving the country anyway. But as RSF said, this was a provocation aimed at the Pacific Islands Forum, and may well have hardened the PIF resolve against the Fiji regime. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, did his best to stave off a bad outcome for Fiji, even issuing a copy of his statement during the special forum appealing for no “isolationist” penalty being imposed on Fiji.
But at the other end of the PIF scale, Australia and New Zealand were pushing for their hypocritical hardline ultimatum. Finally, Fiji was given until May 1 to announce elections by the end of this year or face expulsion and other sanctions.

A recent Café Pacific posting has been cited at length by Global Voices writer John Liebhardt with a reasonably balanced account of the bloggers debate on the “harsh” court response to the contemptuous letter. For the record, Café Pacific hasn’t softened its earlier criticisms of the media “climate of contempt”. But in the final analysis, media freedom must be defended at all costs if "democracy" is to be restored.
Improvements in the Fiji media cannot be achieved by systematic witchhunts against targeted news organisations. If the current regime and previous Fiji governments had spent even a fraction of their legal bills on sustained and committed media training and education in the country, then substantial progress would be made.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fiji floods - more on aftermath reporting

JAMES MURRAY has been busy with his new blog Views on the News with an ethical take on the media. Half of his pieces so far have been on the Pacific. Good, given the relative under exposure elsewhere in the NZ media. His latest comment has been another bite at the issue of disaster coverage after my comments in one of his recent postings. I had called for more in-depth coverage of the region and less of an obsession with crises, coups and disasters. In other words, a lot more focus on the "why" - backgrounding of stories and the followups. This time, James has talked to one of his colleagues at TV3, Michael Morrah, recently back from covering the Fiji floods. James quotes Michael as saying that covering the floods opened up the door to other stories:
Poor infrastructure – especially roads, governance and health care are a few examples. Unfortunately, because of the lack of resources in many New Zealand newsrooms, and potentially the lack of appetite by viewers and readers, other local newsworthy events don’t get the airtime they deserve in New Zealand.

Exactly my point. It is the stories that follow that also need good coverage. While Michael says disaster stories can act as stepping stones to further reportage, he acknowledges a major problem - the reluctance of media organisations to put the necessary financial resources into followups and backgrounders. And this is a serious hurdle for any improvement. The available newsroom resources are threadbare compared with dollars thrown at international sport coverage, for example - providing Kiwi teams and participants are to the fore. Yet according to a national survey in the latest Listener (issue 3586) only 30 percent of New Zealanders have a strong interest in sport.

James offers a tragic story by Michael about Aquila Drisco who lost his daughter in the floods as an example of Michael's reporting. Incidentally, presenter of the story is Rebecca Singh - herself a daughter of Fiji and to my mind the best newsreader to come out of Fiji TV and arguably the current best in NZ. No doubt with her track record, it has been a boost for TV3 coverage of Fiji issues having her on the team.

Meanwhile, Fiji's regime plans to spend close to F$2.6 million on food rations to be distributed to door-to-door for 103,257 people - almost an eighth of the country's population - in the ravaged Western Division. The government announced the food ration for 30 days would include 45kg rice, 50 kg flour, 25kg dhal, packet of milk, 50kg sugar, oil, 48 tins of fish. The floods aftermath was Fiji's interim PM Voreqe Bainimarama's excuse for the postponement of the Pacific Islands Forum special summit in Port Moresby on the road back to democracy until February 10. ReliefWeb estimates infrastructure damage from the floods to be almost $55 million.

Views on the News - James Murray
Michael Morrah story on the Fiji floods
NZ Listener
Fiji floods situation report - ReliefWeb
PNG decision to delay forum throws Pacific leaders' plans into chaos

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Found guilty, but Fiji Times will fight on for free speech

WHILE the media fraternity was aghast at the assault on media freedom with the High Court verdict holding The Fiji Times in contempt over a letter to the editor, the newspaper itself was rather philosophical. But it made it very clear it intends to challenge the ruling on free speech issues. Its editorial "The law must take its course" today said:

We accept our guilt and will endeavour never to appear before the courts again. This newspaper will be the first to accept that the judiciary must exist in any real democracy. It will also defend the rights of our people to an independent judicial system. We must point out, however, that we do not necessarily agree with all of the judgment, and we do not agree with the penalties imposed on us by the judgment. There are avenues open to this newspaper to appeal and we will pursue these vigorously, as is our right.
Photo: Fiji Times picture of lawyer Richard Naidu (left) and acting publisher Rex Gardner outside court.

The bad news is that the penalties are extraordinarily harsh for what some might regard as fairly mild criticism of the judiciary in Fiji (published on the FT website on 22 October 2008 and condemning a judgment finding the Bainimarama coup in 206 not illegal). But Justice Thomas Hickie, an Australian, regarded the comments as "scandalous". These are indeed Orwellian times in the Pacific nation. The good news is that the punishment wasn't as bad as the military-backed regime had wanted - ie. a $1 million fine and actual jail terms for the paper's editor-in-chief and acting publisher. In fact, the paper was fined F$100,000. The court also imposed a three-month jail sentence suspended for two years on editor-in-chief Netani Rika and a conditional discharge for acting publisher Rex Gardner on good behaviour for 12 months. The newspaper has also been ordered to pay a $50,000 good behaviour bond for two years.

International Federation of Journalists led the charge of media outrage. Sydney-based Asia-Pacific director Jacqueline Park said: "The court's decision has serious implications for Fiji's media and the right to free expression in an environment where freedom of the press has been sorely tested over the past year." The IFJ is worried about this verdict as a backdrop to the regime's planned new media law, which some are predicting to be draconian. But some local journalists on the ground also regard it as a "wake up call" over ethics, morality, responsibility and the subjudice laws when they say material published by Fiji papers has frequently breached the boundaries. Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Radio Australia - putting his own spin on the judgment - that "standards have [been] completely thrown out the window". The AG ticked off many journalists from Australia and NZ for seemingly "dropping their standards" while in Fiji and condemned "trial by media". He added that he thought it would be a judgment widely cited in Commonwealth jurisdictions.

Ironically, a three-member Fiji Media Council independent review team has been meeting in Suva this week looking at media accountability and freedom issues. The Media Council itself declined to comment on the court ruling. The next question is what will happen to the Fiji Daily Post - more of the same? A verdict is expected in April.

Meanwhile, announcing a new blog devoted to Fiji affairs, Professor Croz Walsh says:

NZ media coverage of the Fiji situation has been so unbalanced that most New Zealanders see no difference between the Fiji and Zimbabwe situations. A friend told me yesterday: "That Bainimarama. he's just another Mugabe." Fiji media is more balanced but even then the ratio of negative to positive views is about 3:1. Today's court news from Fiji is sure to further demonstrate the need for a blog to offer some sort of balance.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Assault on Vanuatu publisher shocks Pacific journos

PACIFIC journalists are angry over the cowardly weekend assault on Vanuatu publisher Marc Neil-Jones - allegedly by prison officers incensed over an embarrassing news story. They are also disturbed over the implications for the safety of the region's media practitioners when faced with such an brutal attack by employees of a state agency. According to Radio NZ International, Marc suffered a broken nose, a black eye and kicks to the body in the attack on Saturday at his Vanuatu Daily Post's newspaper office in Port Vila. He was alone in his office at the time. The newspaper ran a picture of his injuries today. The radio said he had filed an official complaint, accusing police officers from the capital's Correctional Service Centre of the malicious attack on him. He was reported as saying that the officers objected to his newspaper's coverage of the burning down of the French jail correctional centre. The Daily Post on Friday ran a picture of the jail gates being left wide open with no security guards. A Daily Post story by Len Garae reported:

A truck pulled up with angry officers allegedly under the influence of alcohol working with Correctional Services at the prison. They stormed into the office and accused Neil- Jones of causing the dismissal of Joshua Bong as Acting Director of Correctional Services and demanding to know who was going to look after the prisoners now. A shaken Neil-Jones advised police:
“One of them was well built, strong and with a belly wearing shorts and a singlet punched me in the eye and nose and hit me four or five times.

“I was kicked a number of times when I was on the ground. The two others with him threatened to kill me because I hadn’t got their side of the story on the problems with the prison. One threatened me with a knife and said he would cut my neck and another threatened to shoot me with a gun. They said they were going to take me to the prison to look after the prisoners. It was not a pleasant experience."

Marc Neil-Jones, 51, is a Vanuatu citizen and an insulin dependent diabetic. He has been a strong campaigner for media freedom and has been assaulted on previous occasions. The Daily Post said he had suffered from high blood pressure since being illegally thrown in the prison by police after he had demanded the suspension of a police officer for assaulting his sports journalist in a rugby game between police and USP a few years ago.
After being freed, Marc wrote about human rights violations against prisoners. In 2000, he was deported by then Prime Minister Barak Sope for publishing "state secrets"- including "the news that eventually got Sope convicted in court".
Commander South Superintendent John Taleo says police are "investigating". Pictures: Vanuatu Daily Post

Pacific Beat audio: Vanuatu alleges bashing by prison guards

Pacific Media Watch condemned the "cowardly" assault, Media Asosiesen Blong Vanuatu (MAV) deplored it while also criticising "biased reporting" and the Pacific Freedom Forum denounced the "outrage". But not all media groups in Vanuatu are so supportive. A response to PMW blamed the "trial by media" style of Daily Post reporting as a source of some problems in Vanuatu. DP editor Kiery Manassah penned this "caught in the crossroads" commentary about the affair. Marc later called for a review of Australian and NZ aid to Vanuatu - especially NZ which is funding a revamp of Vanautu Correctional Services and "should be worried about how its money is spent" if officers are abusing their power.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rakon protest symbolises the Gaza bloodshed

PROTESTS in New Zealand over the massacre in Gaza kept up the pressure in the hours before Israel unilaterally declared a ceasefire. In Auckland, red paint bombs - signifying the Gaza bloodshed - and shoes were hurled at Rakon Industries, a company alleged to manufacture crystal oscillators for bombs used by the Israeli military. Nearly 1200 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on December 27. Thirteen Israelis have died. Rakon protest photos by Del Abcede.

Incidentally, Gaza was among the topics in James Murray's new blog this week at TV3 - Views on the news. He isn't too keen on the lame name, but he plans to stir up the ethical minefields. All power to you, James.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Kalafi Moala book examines 'Black Thursday'

PUBLISHER and free media champion Kalafi Moala has an absorbing new book on socio-politics, culture and the media in Tonga heading for the public arena. And when it does, expect a few fireworks. Among the wide-ranging topics that he tackles with In Search of the Friendly Islands, are the flaws - as he sees them - of the current leadership of the pro-democracy movement. He also pulls no punches in his verdict on the "Black Thursday" riot in Nuku'alofa during November 2006, which left deaths, a trail of destruction and bitter political controversy in its wake. Moala won the PIMA Pacific Media Freedom Award in 2002 and 2003. This new book is a sequel to his The Kingdom Strikes Back (2002) about his struggle for media freedom.
Meanwhile, he has had a spot of bother with his Kiwi branch of the Taimi 'o Tonga publishing operation. Last weekend's Sunday Star-Times reported the closure of its local publishing company, the Lali Media Group - liquidated because of an unpaid tax bill. Moala blames it on a management communications problem. As he is now based back in Nuku'alofa after his stint publishing in exile in Auckland, he had less of a close oversight of the Auckland operation than in the past. But the newspaper, now run by Tonga-based Taimi Media Network, is still going from strength to strength. Another registered company, Taimi Ltd, is now the New Zealand branch. Picture: TNews

Oz, NZ boost aid to flood ravaged Fiji - and then?

GOOD to see the political correctness over Fiji's military regime in Australia and New Zealand has given way to humanitarian principles - at least for the moment. Canberra has upped its aid to A$3 million and Wellington to NZ$600,000. Bula vinaka! According to ABC News, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says $1 million will be spent on emergency food, water and sanitation, including $150,000 that has already gone to the Red Cross. The rest is an immediate contribution for recovery and reconstruction. ABC says Smith rejected suggestions Australia had not done enough soon enough, and said he stood ready to do more.
Auckland-based columnist Ranjit Singh, a frequent critic of New Zealand government policies and hypocrisy over post-coup Fiji, praised Wellington for "having a heart" and directing aid through the Fiji Red Cross. He added in his Fiji Times piece "Will disaster heal rift?":
Congratulations to the National Government for rising above petty-points-scoring and thinking of the suffering of poor people of Fiji, despite its difference with Bainimarama's regime. I hope this feeling will snowball to an extent where, in addition to increased disaster aid, the cooler and moderate heads will get together to engage Fiji in fruitful dialogues that will redeem New Zealand as a caring elder brother and not be branded and perceived as a heartless bigger and richer bully.

And a word of praise from Café Pacific for the efforts of Rotary. Felicity Anderson, in a media "labour of love", has dished out some "photographic evidence to show practical aid is getting through NOW". Pictured is the delivery of emergency boxes. Another $180,000 worth of aid was being despatched today in a deal with NZAID and Air Pacific.

For those keen on donating to help Fiji through Rotary in New Zealand, cheques can be made payable to Rotary NZWCS Ltd Project Account and posted to RNZWCS Ltd, PO Box 20309, Christchurch 8543, or e-banking donations can be made to Westpac Bank A/C 03 1702 0192208 01.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to take off the blinkers about Fiji

CROZ WALSH fired Café Pacific a copy of his letter in the latest Listener. He takes a potshot or two at Kiwi politicians, diplomats and journalists who "wittingly or unwittingly continue to misrepresent the Fiji situation". Like Croz, I am no defender of this military regime, but many in New Zealand (and Oz) need to take off their blinkers and not be so naive about Fiji post-coup realities. The indiscriminate application of NZ's travel ban is a farce and does little to contribute to a return to democracy. Fairly fundamental changes are needed in Fiji (including the electoral system requiring all MPs to gain cross-cultural support), and trying to bulldoze Fiji down a path towards the so-called BB (before Bainimarama) "democracy" - such as the regime presided over by Laisenia Qarase - is futile and would be disastrous. Croz Walsh, a respected former leading University of the South Pacific academic and now adjunct professor, writes:

I’m not an avid supporter of the Fiji 2006 military takeover or the far-from-democratic regime it displaced. I’m even less a supporter of New Zealand politicians, diplomats and journalists who wittingly or unwittingly continue to misrepresent the Fiji situation. My credentials? Fifty years of study, research and writing; 16 years of work and residence in the Pacific, eight of them in Fiji.

The current diplomatic crisis should cause us to ask what our Government still hopes to achieve, two years after the military takeover, by the indiscriminate application of its travel ban? The young goalkeeper whose fiancé was the daughter an army officer was not closely linked to the regime. Neither is the daughter of the former Permanent Secretary of Health, or the son of the Permanent Secretary to the President. No one questions the President’s legitimacy and his secretary is a career public servant appointed in 2004, two years before the military takeover.

The Fiji Interim Government was not asking that the travel ban be removed, as the New Zealand public has been informed; only that it not be applied indiscriminately. Our High Commissioner was expelled for more than the travel bans: Wellington allowed her to engage freely with the regime opponents but not in any meaningful way with the Interim Government. Similar reasons explain TV reporter Barbara Dreaver’s expulsion. Her Fiji interviews have been very one-sided. And TV’s continuing use of two-year-old film footage of armed soldiers patrolling Suva’s streets is a little more than innocently deceptive.

It is the responsibility of the media to be informed and fair-minded. They should report that the Interim Government intends to end widespread corruption, check extreme Fijian nationalism and religious fundamentalism, counter laws and practices which discriminate against non-Fijians, check alleged election irregularities, and devise an election system which guarantees these undemocratic practices will not be repeated. And we should be told what its opponents say about these claims. It is reported that the Interim Government has taken no steps towards parliamentary elections. This is not true. We should be informed of these steps, and left to decide for ourselves whether they are genuine or not.

More of the same will not help resolve the Fiji crisis. Fiji is a deeply fractured society with “goodies” and “baddies” in each of its many camps. Its leaders must resolve the situation in the Pacific way, by dialogue and, hopefully, consensus. We can assist this process by adopting a critical but even-handed manner, and demonstrate that we do indeed have some idea of Pacific ways, or we can continue to demonstrate what some see as arrogance and others as an abysmal ignorance of Pacific mores.

I would urge the new government to discard our former PM’s ideological blinkers, and take a new look at what we can do to assist Fiji along the path towards a more inclusive democracy.

Crosbie Walsh
Adjunct Professor
University of the South Pacific

We do indeed need a fairer and more balanced media coverage of Fiji - and far more rigorous criticism of the NZ Government's handling of policies.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Auckland protest against Israeli genocide in Gaza

RANDOM images from the international protest against the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip in Auckland, New Zealand, on Saturday. Speakers included Green MP and foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke. Photos: David Robie and Del Abcede

>>> Popular Café Pacific Posts