Friday, December 31, 2010

Café Pacific's New Year Honours list 2010

NEWSPAPER of the Year – The Fiji Times: This is the second year running it has won the Café Pacific newspaper prize. Although The Fiji Times went off the boil under Netani Rika’s leadership and headed for a disastrous demise with it uncomprising but unrealistic stance when dealing with a military regime, the newspaper wins the award again - this time for its change of ownership, change of tactics and a realistic overhaul of its strategic direction. Under the naïve management in the last stages of the News Ltd era, the 141-year-old newspaper was heading for closure under the 10 percent local ownership ultimatum under the regime’s Media Industry Development Decree. This fate would have sealed the end of any credible fightback for an independent media in Fiji.

However, under the new ownership of the Motibhai group (“Mac” Motibhai Patel was a Fiji Times director for about four decades) and with the recall of a previous outstanding Australian publisher, Dallas Swinstead, to the hotseat, the paper now has the chance to fight another day. Neogotiation rather than confrontation seems to be the new approach under editor Fred Wesley. Time will tell whether this succeeds.

But paradoxically The Fiji Times also blots its copy book with the Most Toadying Story of the Year – a front page story on Fiji Water that ran as a sort of advertising wrap around given the marketing image displayed. When the US-based company Fiji Water announced its closure this was a petulant response to a massive tax clampdown on the company, many breathed an “about time” sigh – they regarded the company as having exploiting Fiji for years. While some in the media fraternity expected the regime to cave in – as it had done on a previous attempt to boost the state tax returns - this time it was the company that surrendered with a reversal of its close down edict and a vow of business as usual. The Fiji Times needed to have published a more exhaustive inquiry into the economics of Fiji Water and also ought to have a higher level of scrutiny of other foreign-owned companies operating in the country. This is revelatory about the level of business journalism on the paper at the moment.

Media film – There Once Was an Island: Te Henua e Noho: Strictly speaking, this isn’t a media film at all, but a powerful and heart-rending documentary about the realities of climate change in the Pacific, a film that every journalist working on environmental issues should watch. It is extremely educational about the power relationships between politicians in far-away Pacific capitals and their incompetent functionaries and island communities struggling for survival on remote islands with the political odds stacked against them. Filmmaker Briar March lived with the community on the Polynesian atoll of Takuu (also known as the Mortlock islands) as they wrestled with their life-and-death decisions over a move to the Bougainville autonomous region mainland some 250 km to the south-west.

This film had its premier in the New Zealand International Film Festival in July and was also screened at the Oceans, Islands and Skies creativity and climate change conference at the University of the South Pacific in September. Sadly, not one local Fiji journalist took the trouble of seeing it, let alone write about it. It has already won four awards in 2010 and was the runner-up as the best political film for the AOF Festival 2010.

Media monitoring agency – Reporters sans frontières (RSF): Again, this award is well-deserved globally for 2010, but the agency is also now boosting its Asia-Pacific coverage with several new nations now being included in its Pacific section of the annual media freedom survey. Its coverage of East Timor and Papua New Guinea is particularly welcome. According to RSF's 2010 end-of-year report:

57 journalists killed (25 percent fewer than in 2009)
51 journalists kidnapped
535 journalists arrested
1374 physically attacked or threatened
504 media censored
127 journalists fled their country
152 bloggers and netizens arrested
52 physically attacked
62 countries affected by internet censorship
Check out the full report.

Independent new website - Taimi Media Network Online: This new website is a hybrid offering from both the feisty independent newspaper Taimi ‘o Tonga and the government-owned Tonga Chronicle and TMN-Television 2. Congratulations Kalafi Moala and his team. This could not be better timed as the momentous post-election changes are settling down in Tonga. Scrutiny is needed now more than ever.

Also, a special mention of the Pacific Media Centre’s new revamped regional website: – unlike some of the regional media websites, this is genuinely independent and carries no vested interests baggage.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hepi Krismas dear readers

PORT MORESBY resident and local wit Alan Robson passed on this "Coconut Krismas" image, thanks to the the PNG branch of the Malaysian logging giant and newspaper publisher Rimbunan Hijau. So on that note, Café Pacific is sharing the image and wishing all its readers all the best for the Festive Season.

Pacific journalists face tough struggle tackling corruption

AMONG the many persuasive and compelling presentations by Pacific journalists at the Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology (MIJT) conference in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this month, was the series on investigating corruption. Kim Bowden of the Pacific Media Centre reports:

Pacific-based journalists struggle to adequately play watchdog in countries rife with public and private sector corruption, according to Fiji media stalwart Shailendra Singh.

Despite highlighting a few standout cases of well-executed investigative journalism in Fiji, Singh called for more Fourth-Estate style journalism in the country during his presentation at the MIJT conference held at AUT University.

The experienced editor and media academic said one of the key reasons investigative journalism needed to be encouraged was because good governance was a major problem in the Pacific.

He referred to “daunting figures” from the 2006 Australian Treasury Department report which said Pacific countries had squandered $US75 million since independence through poor governance.

Singh, head of the University of the South Pacific journalism programme, said there was “no shortage of material” for investigative journalists to work in the region - official corruption and abuses were widespread and there was an “ample supply of dubious politicians and businessmen”.

Fiji “does not have a strong history or culture of investigative journalism but there are some outstanding cases where research and in-depth reporting resulted in major exposes,” he said.

“A lack of training, depth and experience in newsrooms” prevented journalists from undertaking more comprehensive research.

Heavy workload
In addition, he said, “promotion and pay rise is often based on the number of stories reporters produce in a day” and journalists are encouraged to focus “on daily news rather than chase stories that might not yield anything”.

In a similar vein, Patrick Matbob, a lecturer in journalism at Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea and also in attendance at the conference, said investigative journalism was not strong in his country.

Media organisations in PNG had traditionally not encouraged a culture of strong investigative journalism due to a lack of resources, he said in his paper at the conference.

“The PNG mainstream media have always been chronically understaffed and reporters have been too busy providing daily news coverage.”

According to Matbob, the woeful state of some government agencies also limits the progress of investigative journalism in PNG as well as any potential positive effects.

He said inefficiencies within state organisations prevented journalists from easily obtaining the information and data they needed when investigating stories.

In addition, these organisations often did not “follow-up and take action after the media have revealed some illegal activity or wrong doing”, and no meaningful change occurs as a result of the little investigative work that is carried out, he said.

Punitive media law
Singh said government regulations discouraged Fijian journalists from digging deeper.

Recently decreed punitive media laws, introduced by the Banimarama government, were, he said, detrimental to investigative journalism.

“They prescribe hefty fines and jail terms for journalists who publish material that is ‘against public interest or order, or national interest’.

“Government and media can have conflicting views about what is in the national interest,” Singh said.

“Authorities have been given new search and confiscation powers. New disclosure provisions compel reporters to reveal confidential sources or face fines of up to F$10,000, or jail terms of up to two years, or both.”

However, Singh believes new media technology could be used to overcome censorship barriers.

In Fiji, access to the internet was improving and a blogging culture was emerging, he said.

New era
Matbob talked of a new era of investigative journalism in Papua New Guinea, aided by the internet and taking place outside of mainstream media.

The advancement of new media, he said, had shifted the definition of who could be a successful investigative journalist and had provided a fresh method to hold powers to account.

Internet-savvy young people, who were “well-educated and concerned about the future of their country”, were increasingly taking on the role of “citizen journalism” and, by self-publishing on the web, were forcing public officials to be more accountable.

“The new media’s ability to disseminate information instantaneously was having some impact on public opinion and causing PNG leaders to be wary of their behaviour and actions,” he said.

The United States Embassy in Fiji funded both Singh and Matbob’s participation in the conference.

Another speaker, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh, delivered a research paper about the “coup culture” in Fiji and how it had impacted on investigative journalism in the country.

He called for a stronger commitment to investigative journalism in the country and better training of journalists throughout the Pacific.

Picture: UNDP

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How 'peace journalism' surfaced in the Pacific

SUDDENLY “peace journalism” has emerged as the flavour of the month in Fiji – and has even had a debut in New Zealand as an idea. A panel of local Fiji journalists at last week's University of the South Pacific seminar admitted they knew little about the approach. And, to be frank, were a little distrustful , as many journalists often are when confronted with a new concept and their natural skepticism pushes aside rational argument.

One journalist admitted she had asked around her newsroom (Fiji’s largest) about what peace journalism was. The answer: “Journalism about peace” - a rather unhelpful contribution from a colleague. In spite of the visit of the celebrated author and media theorist about peace journalism Professor Jake Lynch, director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies , to Suva late last month (and considerable publicity), there was little idea that the notion is about community “empowerment” and actually plain good contextual journalism. The sort of journalism that helps find solutions, rather than adds to a community’s problems.

Speaking on Radio Australia with Geraldine Coutts, Professor Lynch said:

Traditionally, the Citizens Constitutional Forum and numerous other advocacy groups would do what they call hard-hitting advocacy. And they would take a stance which was very directly critical of the government for example. Now that's one way of ventilating [civil rights and social] issues, and it would fit with expectations among journalists of the kind of role they might play given that Fiji's media probably inherited a lot of its assumptions from the British system.

But it's certainly not the only way to ventilate those issues. And what I've been encouraging them to do i
s to think how they can arrange for the kind of testimony and perspectives of people at the grassroots, people who are dealing with these issues in everyday life to be more widely known and more widely appreciated, and thereby contribute to a national conversation in Fiji about the issues on their own merits.

It doesn't necessarily have to be fed through the filter perhaps familiar to audiences in Australia, where so many issues are wrapped around a
claim by the opposition and a counter claim by the government, that kind of thing.

Barely a week later, at the inaugural Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference organised at AUT University by the Pacific Media Centre, the first-ever “peace journalism” seminar was staged in New Zealand – convened by a doctoral candidate from Pakistan, Rukhsana Aslam (pictured) and Dr Heather Devere of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University. Aslam, who has contributed a chapter on peace journalism education to a new book Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution, was well supported by Shailendra Singh of USP, One Television’s Koroi Hawkins in the Solomon Islands, and Taimi Media Network chief executive Kalafi Moala among others.

A few days later, Moala was in Suva along with Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie and senior journalism lecturer Dr Levi Obijiofor from the University of Queensland. Both Obijiofor, who spoke about a case study in the Niger Delta involving indigenous peoples and multilateral oil companies, and Robie have papers on peace journalism appearing in the forthcoming Journal of Pacific Studies. Moala gave an impassioned address about post-election realities in Tonga and how “democracy” was not necessarily a panacea and Pacific journos should not blindly follow Western news values. Robie’s message included, after an analysis of many conflicts in the Pacific region and the role played by media:
Peace journalism or conflict-sensitive journalism education and training ought to provide a context for journalists to ensure that both sides are included in any reports. The reporting would also include people who condemn the violence and offer solutions. Blame would not be levelled at any ethnicity, nor would combatants be repeatedly identified by their ethnicity. But the reporting would constantly seek to explain the deeper underlying causes of the conflict. This approach to journalism surely could offer some hope for conflict resolution in the Pacific and a peaceful future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farewell Comrade Max Watts (1928-2010)

Max Watts. Photo: Vivienne Porzolt

By Peter Boyle in Sydney

MAX WATTS, a well-known personality on the left in Australia, particularly in Sydney, died on November 23.

Max was a left-wing freelance journalist, an occasional contributor to Green Left Weekly and its discussion e-list, and a solidarity activist with many national liberation struggles, including in Palestine, Kanaky, West Papua and Bougainville.

In the 1960s, he was a central activist in Europe working with soldier resistance to the Vietnam War within the US armed forces. Resistance inside the army (RITA) was one of his great political passions.

Max was an extravagant personality and some people may have found him difficult at times, but he was someone always firmly on the left and on the side of all struggles against oppression and exploitation. You could count on that, and he will be remembered by many comrades in the broad left movement.

Max shook his head at the persistent tendency of the left to be over-factionalised and divisive, but he was quick to work alongside those who took up serious struggle. An eagerness to understand and show solidarity with new forces in motion in any country was one of his characteristics.

Max passed away in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital from kidney and heart failure. He was with close friends Rosie, Lydia, Vivienne and Barbara at the time and passed peacefully.

I managed to say goodbye to him in hospital a few days before he died. He was quite feisty then — though somewhat confused and disoriented, probably due to medication.

After about an hour, my attempts to get him to stay in his bed earned me the following last words: “Boyle, your visiting time is up!” It was classic Max.

Max will be formally farewelled in Sydney on December 1 at 11.30am at Camellia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, Plassey Road, North Ryde. Phone (+614) 11 366 295 for more details.

Friends of Max have set up a Facebook group. To leave messages, photos or other material, go to and search for “Remembering Max Watts”.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Asia-Pacific editor advocates paradigm shift to 'peace journalism' training - and JEAA 2010

Nepali Times editor and author Kunda Dixit surveys some of the photos for his exhibition at the Investigative Journalism conference in Auckland next weekend. Photo: David Robie/PMC

KUNDA DIXIT believes there needs to be a paradigm shift in journalism training from war correspondent to peace correspondent. The Nepali Times editor and investigative journalist is keynote speaker for the Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference at AUT University next weekend and his Frames of War photojournalism exhibition is also being shown. Don't miss out - register today!

The power of a war-and-peace picture – all 179 of them

By Courtney Wilson

Images of Nepal’s civil war going on show in New Zealand next weekend illustrate the aftermath of war in a way words cannot.

Kunda Dixit, Nepali Times editor and coordinator of the Frames of War exhibit, which will be opened at AUT University on December 4, says a picture does not tell a thousand words – it shows them.

“Because of Nepal’s low literacy rate, the picture is the only way to communicate,” he says.

“At many exhibition venues we saw young school girls reading aloud the captions of the photographs to their illiterate grandparents.”

The Frames of War exhibition contains pictures of the Nepali people during and after the 10-year-long People’s War, which ended in 2006. Dixit and his team – including noted Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and war photographer Shyam Tekwani – looked at more than 3000 images and chose 179 for their exhibition and their book trilogy called The People War.

The exhibition and books do not have pictures of actual battles, partly because most of them took place at night. Dixit believes war journalism is not supposed to be about pictures of battles, it should be about how war affects ordinary people.

The collaboration attempts to make up for the gap in media coverage of the Nepal war by taking the role of a “peace correspondent”, trying to focus on the human cost, the effect on civilians, the women and children.

Most affected
“In all modern wars, they are the ones who are affected the most,” says Dixit.

Dixit thinks there needs to be a paradigm shift in journalism training from war correspondent to peace correspondent.

“Reporters who go to war are almost celebrities. They cover the war as a series of battles, they count the body bags and chronicle the carnage,” says Dixit.

“War correspondents focus on the battle plans, the strategy of the warring sides, and the hardwares of killing.

“A peace correspondent tries to look at the human cost so that the politicians who lead people to war understand the pain they have unleashed, or covering stories that help in the reconciliation process rather than polarising society.”

Dixit suggests studying the roots of violence to discover the definition of peace and that journalists should be taught non-violence through leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Violence is not just war; there is violence in our speech, violence against nature, violence in the home. You don’t have to be physically violent to be violent. Peace is not automatic, one has to fight for it, struggle to nurture it.

Bias for justice
“Media should be communicating these ideas. Media should have a bias for justice and peace, while adhering to the universal values and rule of journalism and keeping our credibility intact.”

The image Dixit finds the most powerful in the exhibit is of a young woman hugging the body of her policeman husband surrounded by the bodies of his colleagues.

“There are many that are so dramatic that they still make me emotional to look at them,” says Dixit.

“It showed the cost and waste of the war, the effect on civilians even when combatants were killed.”

When Frames of War was first shown to the Nepali people, the war had only been over for a little more than a year. Dixit felt the images may incite anger or renew old pain but instead witnessed a lack of revenge.

“Even among the combatants there wasn’t much residual feeling of “enmity”.

“This was remarkably different from other war zones I have covered, and I think it will help in the reconciliation process in Nepal.”

Dixit is the 2010 Asian Journalism Fellow, sponsored by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and is a keynote speaker at the Pacific Media Centre’s first Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology Conference which will be held at AUT University on December 4-5.

The Frames of War exhibition, showing some 45 images out of the original selection, will open to the public at 6pm on December 4 at WT005 on the ground floor of the AUT Tower Building, Auckland City campus. It will run for a week.

Courtney Wilson is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist on internship with the Pacific Media Centre.

Journalism education highlights
HIGHLIGHTS at the dynamic JEAA conference at the University of Technology, Sydney, conference this week included ABC managing director Mark Scott speaking on the changing nature of news, tweeting the news and what the future holds for journalism. It was a digital optimist's view.

Another optimistic view came from Sophie Black from Crikey in a following industry plenary. While many of the industry training heavyweights gave "boring" overviews out-of-touch with the critical challenges facing global journalism, Black said having an online presence was essential for journalism graduates.

One of the Reportage team covering the conference, Anokhee Shah, reports:

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, and Ginny Dougary were audio-linked from the UK to JEAA2010 for 90 minutes of wit, humour and insight into where journalism practice is heading.

The quality of our output as journalists has declined largely as a result of commercialisation- the interaction between journalism and commerce- and the impact of the internet on the relationship between journalists and the public sphere, says Davies.

Advertisers are moving away from mass-media but the problem with the mass-media on the internet is that people won’t pay to read general news if they can get the story for free.

But the public will pay for information that they do not have access to otherwise [Read on].

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

War reporting, scams, global warming probes among top investigative journalism case studies

Photographer Amrit Gurung presents a copy of the book A People War featuring many of the “peace” photographs in Kunda Dixit’s photojournalism exhibition of the decade-long civil war in Nepal to Hemanta who was portrayed in the same spot on the cover.

Pacific Media Centre

KEY Asia-Pacific, Australian and New Zealand investigative journalists and researchers will gather at AUT University next month for a media “conversation” that will feature diverse issues such as war reporting, scams and global warming probes.

They will also consider the future of independent journalism and map out a strategy for more robust inquiry.

The two-day conference at AUT University on 4/5 December 2010, organised by the Pacific Media Centre, will host an investigative “masterclass” for young journalists, New Zealand’s first seminar on peace journalism, and screen groundbreaking documentaries or multimedia presentations on mining and Kanak independence in New Caledonia, Māori land rights in the Far North, and climate change.

Five leading Pacific Islands investigative journalists are also participating in the conference.

“This is a niche conference and one that features a range of innovative speakers and challenging investigation case studies,” says conference chair Associate Professor David Robie, director of the PMC.

“But there is also a very practical and achievable goal. We hope a group may emerge from this conference to provide more space and support for investigative and probing journalism in New Zealand and the Pacific.”

Television New Zealand Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver is the latest keynote speaker to join the Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference. She has broken many stories around the region and investigated many key issues.

She joins Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times and an Asia-Pacific investigative journalist; New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager; and Professor Wendy Bacon, director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and who runs a global environmental investigative journalism programme.

Other Pacific participants include Koroi Hawkins, chief of staff of Television One Solomon Islands; Patrick Matbob of Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea; Kalafi Moala, publisher of the Taimi Media Network (Tonga); and Shailendra Singh, of the University of the South Pacific.

The PMC is also hosting a masterclass in investigative journalism for student journalists and younger journalists facilitated by a team of international investigative journalists, including Dixit, Bacon and Dr Kayt Davies; and a specialist peace journalism seminar, organised by Dr Heather Devere of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and Rukhsana Aslam, a peace journalism educator from Pakistan.

Freelance war correspondent Jon Stephenson and strategic analyst Dr Paul Buchanan will give insightful papers on New Zealand and the so-called war on terror and embedded journalism.

Exhibitions of photojournalism by a collective facilitated by Kunda Dixit covering the decade-long Maoist civil war in Nepal - "Frames of War" - and Ngapuhi social issues photographer John Miller (featuring the little-known Ngatihine land rights struggle) plus workshops about challenging documentaries by Jim Marbrook and Selwyn Manning are part of the programme.

A seminar about the making of the award-winning film about global warming There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Noho is also featured.

A new Pasifika media portal will be launched at the conference – it will go “live” then and replace the current PMC website:

Don't miss this rare opportunity. Registration for the conference is now open.

More information on the conference website (and registration details):
The Pacific Media Watch database is at:
  • Registration for two days: $150
  • Masterclass registration only: $50
  • Contact: Conference organiser Andrea Steward 0273382700

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The age of the publisher

SOME words of wisdom from a Reuters editor well worth sharing:"The old one-way relationship between editor and audience has no place in the world any more. There’s huge learning to be had from the audience."

Changing journalism; changing Reuters
By David Schlesinger

Think back a century and news needs and news methods were completely different.

Just think that the first airmail flight between Britain and Hong Kong did not land until 1936. And yet today at my home in London I get a rich and vibrant stream of news, photographs, stories and gossip from Asia into my home via Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader and then all the more long-established methods of journalism. It is a cornucopia.

But the problem with any over-flowing horn is that it is really only scarcity that creates the awareness of value.

And in fact, the profession of journalism is losing both value and respect.

The latest Gallup poll showed a record-high 57 percent of Americans saying they had little or no trust in the mass media to do what the media has always proclaimed to be its primary mission – to report fully, accurately and fairly.

Instead people look to the friends – their community – for information, for validation, for argument and for illumination.

What is great about 2010 is that technology has created a completely new concept of community. And it has given that community new powers to inform and connect.

Facebook status updates become a newsfeed created by people I know and even often like.

A Twitter feed is a news service of facts, opinions and referrals from an ever-vigilant army of people with similar interests and proclivities.

They alert me to news and articles that are almost guaranteed to fit my interests because we are a group that has formed around each other.

And it is a self-correcting group, where each of us has the ability to fire, replace and refine the membership at will.

No reader selected me to be editor-in-chief of Reuters – I was selected by the corporation to lead the news service in its interest.

Conversely, no corporation selected the people whom I follow on Twitter, no board set my blogroll, no executive committee befriended my Facebook pals. I did those things.

What technology has done is it has upended the power equation to give control to the end consumer.

The beauty of that is obvious – control is always satisfying.

Hermetically sealed
The danger is that without care it becomes an information universe that is too hermetically sealed.

The days of the all-powerful paternalistic editor may be dead, but what can’t replace them is the era of people only having their preconceived ideas reinforced.

What’s needed is a new model, one that combines push and pull.

What’s needed is a publishing model that embraces both the professionalism of the journalist and the power of the community.

The great press critic A. J. Liebling wrote that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. Today’s technology means that the means of production and the means of distribution actually belong to anyone with access to an internet onramp.

If you ask the public, “What will you pay for?” The answer is certainly a yes for tools (ipad, iphone, blackberry, android). The answer is certainly a yes for broadband and access.

But what about the content? And what about those who create that content?

Far too often the answer is “no”.

Ideal ratio
I know even when I last lived in Hong Kong 15 years ago this was an issue the FCC itself had to wrestle with – what was the ideal ratio of full-time correspondent members to journalist members to associate members to corporate members.

I guess from seeing the special promotional offer the club has been running for new correspondent and journalist members that this is still an issue, both because there are fewer people who fit the bill, and also because those who do can’t necessarily PAY the bill.

I’m lucky to be leading a journalistic organization 3000 professionals strong – that’s an extraordinary figure at a time when other organisations have been shedding staff.

By comparison, in 1987, the year I joined Reuters in Hong Kong and the year I first became a member of this club, I was one of 1581 journalists in the company.

We’ve survived and thrived by changing.

We aren’t the agency we once were; tomorrow we will be even more different from today.

My job is to ensure that survival and to ensure that the journalistic tradition of yesterday melds with the social media ethos.

Let’s start by thinking back two years.

Confused bankers
The photographs of distraught, confused and angry bankers leaving their offices jobless helped symbolise the seismic shifts in the financial system 24 months ago.

During the same period, thousands of journalists lost their livelihood too as the profession and craft changed almost beyond recognition.

If we have learned anything from these past two years, it has been that pure facts are not enough.

Pure facts don’t tell enough of the story; pure facts won’t earn their way.

The arguments about whether the factual seeds of the financial crisis had been adequately reported are ultimately meaningless. The facts were there. But they weren’t put together in a way that was compelling enough or powerful enough to change the course of events.

We’ve been drowning in facts, and that deluge continues to threaten.

How different from October 1851 when Julius Reuter set up his pigeon and telegraph shop, sending out facts to a world starved for them.

Today, it’s context, connectedness and community that matter.

That’s why the traditional agency or “wire” pouring out a never-ending stream of “more” can’t be the answer.

Reader service
That’s why we must be a service to our customers and to our readers.

That’s why this is the age of the publisher.

Journalists who understand this will survive. Those that don’t will become irrelevant.

A publishing ethos is not defined by the number of stories we deliver. It is defined by our ability to keep our clients tuned in and returning. We will do that with a heightened knowledge of what they need, and with focused breaking news and insight that is fast, relevant, actionable and engaging. Deploying all our multimedia assets allows us to tell stories compellingly via packages of interlinked news and information. And we will enable clients to connect to each other, and to us.

I’m as excited about content that gets created in a chatroom by journalists and readers interacting together as I am about a good story being pushed out. Sometimes I’m even more excited because the intelligent interaction between people who all know something about a topic can create a much smarter product than any one writer struggling at the computer alone.

Is it journalism?

Sometimes it is pure journalism. Sometimes it’s commentary. Sometimes it’s just a sharing of ideas or the annotating of a graphic.

But whatever you call it, it is an intelligent service between the journalist and the customer and that’s something we should be aiming for.

Insight, transparency
Why? Because like the “pure” journalism of old, it helps makes sense of the world.

Why? Because it is news, data, content and information that is actionable because it adds insight to transparency.

It’s the community that interacts with information and in that interaction creates yet more and better content.

It’s the context and analysis around the news that helps people make better decisions, helps them do their jobs better, and gives them an edge in making sense out of the confusion around us.

It is also the humility to know that the old one-way relationship between editor and audience has no place in the world any more.

There’s huge learning to be had from the audience.

Some of it comes from listening to its expertise. Some of it comes from watching its behavior. Much of it comes from enabling the conversation you get when you combine facts, data, journalism, analysis and fact-based opinion in a really smart way.

The rules of today’s journalistic world are these:
  • Knowing the story is not enough.
  • Telling the story is only the beginning.
  • The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.
  • The more you try to be paternalistic and authoritative, the less people will believe you.
  • The more you cede control to your audience, the more people will respect you
  • The more you embrace new technology as a platform, the more your ideas will compete.
  • The more you abandon the faceless and characterless, the more you can set the agenda
  • The more you look beyond the story for connections, the more value you will have.
  • And if you have value and no one else does, you will get paid.
Simple? No.

But it is exciting and transforming.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Samoan side to Campbell Live - Tuilaepa's 'Kiwi nemesis'

HOW IRONICAL: While a four-day International Federation of Journalists-organised training workshop for media freedom monitors was under way in Apia last week, an intrepid “investigative” journalist from New Zealand was feuding with the Samoan prime minister.

TV3’s John Campbell was staking out a local restaurant in an ill-fated attempt to corner the prime minister for a response to his controversial “missing aid millions"story on Campbell Live on September 29. When his lame door-stopping attempt failed – “we don’t do door-stopping in Samoa,” insisted one senior local journalist at the IFJ Pacific workshop – Campbell didn’t hesitate in branding Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi a “coward” for canning a promised interview at the last moment. The New Zealand Herald followed up with the same insult. (Actually, this isn’t the way Tuilaepa sees it. According to local media reports, the PM’s version of events is that the interview was lined up for November 4 and Tuilaepa wants to take Campbell and his crew on a tour of the inland aid areas where considerable progress has been made. He also wants Samoan TV journalists in on the act.)

Campbell told the country’s only daily newspaper, the feisty opposition publication Samoa Observer:
We had a formal agreement [with the PM, reportedly arranged through an Auckland legal go-between]. This is a man who has slagged us off for the past month. He slagged us off on Samoan TV, on TVNZ and on Australian radio – and Australia hasn’t even seen the story. When it comes to the crunch, he is too much of a coward to do an interview – he pulled out at the last moment.
In an Observer editorial, editor-in-chief Savea Sano Malifa branded Campbell Tuilaepa’s Kiwi nemesis”, explaining the TV journalist’s assignment in Samoa. He described the “real mission” as one to find out about how the millions of dollars donated in aid had helped improve the lives of tsunami victims since Campbell Live had reported on the disaster on 29 September 2009. Some 143 people died in the tsunami and 4000 were left homeless.
What [Campbell Live] saw shocked and distressed. Aleipata was torn apart, people had been killed, others were swept away by the wave and were never found, stories of survival were sad and heart-rending.

Back home when they returned, they told their story on the screen across New Zealand and people went silent.

Soon afterwards, New Zealanders started giving. Moved by
Campbell Live's story they donated generously towards helping Aleipata's tsunami victims.

However, when John Campbell visited on the tsunami's first anniversary he was disappointed. Aleipata's broken homes along the coastal villages were still there. Some homes had neither running water nor electricity. Village after village, sadness and depression reigned.

And so this time, the images and story
Campbell Live put on the screen across New Zealand were hardly flattering. Instead, they might have inspired disappointment and even revulsion.

He even suggested that "up to $US45 million in aid had been misappropriated, while many tsunami victims are left without water or electricity".
However, this was a very different story from Pacific Scoop's Alex Perrottet who recently did a compelling series on aid and development in Samoa. Tuilaepa retaliated by branding the Campbell Live report as "stupid and uninformed" in a Radio Australia Pacific Beat item. He told interviewer Geraldine Coutts the claims were "all ridiculous and based on the report by this amateur reporter, Mr Campbell, who came here and spent all his time talking to the Observer newspaper - and then, in his own words, spent much time on the coast. People have moved inland, and therefore he could not have seen what has taken place." Talamua also carried a story describing the Campbell report as "sensational" based on very few interviews and information.

For many of the Pacific journalists who watched and discussed the Campbell Live report during an ethics and democracy workshop at the conference, the item was stunning for its crassness, cultural arrogance and ignorance and lack of evidence underpinning the sweeping allegations. No doubt there is a story there, but Campbell Live hasn’t yet exposed it.

A follow-up story inevitably featured the door-stopping incident on Campbell Live last night. And again, the question was posed – “Where has the tsunami relief money gone?” – and yet again failed to offer any real answers. Once again, not much balance and fairness in sight. The story said:
In New Zealand, the government would be compelled to answer it – and would do the same as a matter of course.

But the Samoan government was outraged by it and embarked on a sustained campaign against Campbell Live’s story – including making a formal Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) complaint.”

Yes, there are new roads and electricity is back in the region. The Samoan government says it has spent 68.74 million tala so far, but many tsunami victims feel deserted by their government and wonder why so little of the money has made its way back to them.

Documents obtained by Campbell Live suggest many millions more dollars have been received than have been spent around the coastline.
Nevertheless Café Pacific reckons the “investigation’ will need a lot more hard facts and evidence to get anywhere.

Last word - from a blogger who, while acknowledging the money trail is worth following, dismissed the original report as a “shocking abuse of his viewers”.

Describing Campbell’s visit to a typical fale, offered by the journalist as "evidence" of the misuse of aid – including an extraordinary “houses without walls” comment, the blogger, Pervach, wrote the situation was portrayed out of context:
[Campbell] knows that most of his viewers in their cosy western houses in New Zealand will compare this shack to what is normal in New Zealand. Now, I have been to Samoa – I have seen normal Samoan villages, where people live in fales.

There are no toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, windows made of glass [and] water pipes. We are talking about Samoa here – a Third World country. It is normal in Samoa to have none of these things.

In Samoa, if you have these things, you are rich.

Friday, October 22, 2010

McCully and NZ media's moral failure over West Papua

PACIFIC SCOOP led the way in reporting and backgrounding a horrendous video exposing - yet again - Indonesian human rights atrocities against West Papuans. Here, Scoop's duty editor Rory MacKinnon analyses in his column Deadline the week's events in an indictment of Foreign Minister Murray McCully's inept response, lack of media coverage and a pattern of failure by the New Zealand governnent over human rights in East Timor and West Papua.

With all the Hobbit-chat of late you could be forgiven for thinking it was a slow newsweek – but here at the Scoop offices it was nothing of the sort. On Monday, the independent West Papua Media network released video it had received of Indonesian soldiers torturing two Papuan men: punching and kicking them, running a bayonet over one’s throat and burning the other’s penis with a charred stick. [WARNING: link features real and graphic violence]

Within hours the horrific footage made the headlines of Al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald, while Amnesty International and other NGOs demanded an independent investigation by Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, coverage here in the Shire was practically non-existent, other than here at Pacific Scoop and the equally tiny newsroom at Radio New Zealand International. Even MFAT didn’t bother to brief our foreign minister Murray McCully on the video – despite his going on a two-day trip to Indonesia the very next day.

It might not have been evident in my reporting, but I could sympathise with McCully’s situation. Imagine the midnight phone call; the gut-churning realisation that the complex system of memos and digests and reminders that diplomacy depends on has utterly failed you; knowing that the ‘Friendship Council’ you launched just hours ago will come across to many as a cruel joke and the knowledge that tomorrow morning you will have to walk back into the meeting room and make a very lonely choice about New Zealand’s foreign policy.

But McCully’s choice was a poor and predictable one, and that’s where my sympathy ends. McCully allowed his counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa to feed him the usual canned response: the Indonesian government took such incidents “very seriously”, their military had already begun an internal investigation and so on and so on.

But as any MFAT official worth his salt would know, the promise of an in internal investigation means absolutely nothing in the context of human rights abuse in Indonesia. Christ, we don’t even trust internal investigations here. But the notion of an Indonesian internal investigation is especially laughable, because we’ve played this game so many times before.

Consider the case of the Balibo Five, a group of journalists killed during the 1975 invasion of East Timor – a group which incidentally included a Kiwi cameraman, Gary Cunningham, and a sixth Australian reporter, Roger East, who was killed two months later while investigating their deaths. In the 35 years since the Indonesian government has refused point-blank to mount any kind of inquiry, even refusing to cooperate with a 1997 Australian coroner’s inquest which implicated Indonesian special forces commander Yunus Yosfiah in the shootings.

Yet despite the court’s findings and pressure directly from the UN, the Serious Crimes Unit in Dili refused to press charges, making extradition impossible. [It should also be noted that despite literally decades of petitions from Cunningham’s own family, no New Zealand government has ever demanded Yosfiah’s arrest either.] Today Yusfiah is the most highly-decorated member of Indonesia’s army, a former Minister of Information and a senior politician, while the foreign journalists he murdered lie in a mass grave in Jakarta. If there was no justice for them, what hope is there for two unmourned villagers in the backblocks of West Papua?

Consider also the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991, when Indonesian soldiers gunned down a Timorese funeral procession for a young man killed by militia. 271 killed, 278 wounded and a further 270 ‘disappeared’ – and again a New Zealander died in the crosshairs; this time the 21-year-old Kamal Bamadhaj. The response from both the New Zealand and Indonesian governments is farcically familiar, as summarised in human rights activist Maire Leadbeater’s secret history Negligent Neighbour: New Zealand’s Complicity in the Invasion and Occupation of Timor-Leste.

[Lack of New Zealand response over both East Timor is also extensively analysed in David Robie's Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific (Zed Books, 1989) and in an article about the Dili massacre in NZ Monthly Review]

It was clear that a cover-up was under way. The Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs sent a preliminary response to the New Zealand Embassy that referred to Kamal’s “accidental death” and insinuated that he should not have been taking part in the demonstration. The official inquiry would conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation but would also look into Kamal’s ‘activities in Dili during his stay there as well as the nature of his presence among the demonstrators in the incident leading to his death.

Publicly, New Zealand diplomats stressed that they were vigorously pressing for a full explanation of Kamal’s death but the cabled reports suggest the diplomats were resigned to being fobbed off.

The Indonesian government did indeed mount an internal investigation, forming a “Council of Military Honour” and court-martialling nine soldiers and one policeman in 1992. But as Timor-Leste’s president Xanana Gusmao noted, none of those convicted had ordered the shooting, buried the bodies or participated in the attempted cover-up, and neither the report from the National Commission of Inquiry nor the Council of Military Honour’s report have ever been released in full. This was a massacre of literally hundreds of people, caught on camera by foreign journalists. Again, what hope is there for the two men in Monday’s footage?

Yet there is hope: McCully and his prime minister can publicly insist on a genuinely independent investigation. They can join calls in the Pacific Islands Forum for a fact-finding mission into human rights violations in West Papua. They can withdraw their joint training exercises with Indonesian law enforcement until the law is actually enforced in the region.

There are all sorts of things they can do to give Monday’s victims and the people of West Papua hope. But trusting the butchers in Indonesia’s military to sort it out among themselves is not one of them.

Rory MacKinnon is Scoop’s duty editor and political reporter. He also writes about journalism and social issues at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two views on Rika and the ANU

Crosbie Walsh: Netani Rika off to not so ivory tower

During the Vietnam war, anthropologists in northern Thailand and Laos were unsuspectingly passing on information about the Hill Tribes that helped the US war effort. Over a longer time period, banks of audio equipment in laboratories at the East-West Center in Hawaii helped students learn hundreds of languages, many spoken by people in politically unstable areas of interest to American Intelligence. Further back, prestigious colleges at Oxford and Cambridge offered scholarships and training for Britain's Third World Elite, and Harvard produced a worldwide generation of right-thinking economists and businessmen, who we now see got it all wrong.

Further south, in Australia, the National University (ANU) has programmes, scholarships, workshops and conferences to inform and support its government's policies and "win the hearts and minds" of overseas scholars from countries in which Australia has a special interest. Fiji has moved up this list in recent years. It is largely thanks to ANU that we have heard the opinions of ANU academics, Jonathon Fraenkel and Brij Lal, both vociferous opponents of the Bainimarama government. It was ANU that gave former Fiji Land Force commander Jone Baledrokadroka a scholarship to research the military. And it is ANU that has just given former Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika a scholarship to write up his memoirs.

The Australian reports that Rika will "spend time in Canberra writing his account of the almost four years he has spent contesting military government control of the media." Intrigueingly, Rika said: "We were always willing to print both sides of the story. But the censors allowed only one side. In such cases, the paper spiked the stories altogether to spare readers being misled."

I have little doubt he truly believes this but an independent, objective content analysis of the paper from 2006 on (and before for that matter) would, in my opinion, show most definitely that if both sides were printed, they were never printed equally. I stand by my crude assessment of a 3.5:1 ratio of opposition to government. Content analysis is a research method where qualitative data are measured and quantified, in this case by categorising the frequency, placement, coverage, extent and "bias" of newspaper headings and articles.

Professor Crosbie Walsh is the retired former director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific. His blog is Fiji: The Way Was, Is and Can Be

Scott MacWilliam: 'Fish and chips' wrapping paper

Regarding Netani Rika's move from Fiji to ANU. It is of course pure mythology that universities are or have been ivory towers, if that means unconnected with countries' political economies. This is especially the case where universities see themselves central to the formulation and implementation of government policies, as most do. However, universities are also often complex and diverse institutions: it is not often the case that a homogeneous or monolithic "line" appears over a whole institution.

One part of a university may take one direction, and in the case of the military regime and Australian policy toward Fiji become almost blinkered in pursuing that line, while other academics and parts of the institution take other positions on the same question. Especially where students are post-graduates with considerable employment experience and may even be on leave from important jobs in their home countries, it is unlikely that they will be too greatly influenced by academics who try to sell 'a correct line' against the students' own experiences and views.

As a senior ni-Vanuatu public servant, enrolled in a class in another part of the ANU than that where Netani Rika is to be lodged, said just last year: "I will always be grateful to AusAID, the Australian government and people for the education I am receiving at ANU. However I am also a Melanesian and my loyalties lie back home. We don't agree with Australia and New Zealand on Fiji and the support I have received from AusAID does not change that."

Who knows - Rika's views may even become better informed by contact with a more diverse range of views as are held by other South Pacific people at ANU, of whom there are quite a few who don't agree with Australian policy either. If not, he is unlikely to influence anyone other than those who already concur with him.

As for the "old" Fiji Times from the late 1990s, including when Rika was working there, it was largely just "fish and chips" wrapping paper.

Dr Scott MacWilliam lectures on development policy in the Crawford School of Economics and Government in ANU and was formerly at the University of the South Pacific.

Pictured: Netani Rika (centre) with forner colleagues at the Fiji Times. Photo: FT.

Check out the views on Pacific Scoop of former New Zealand diplomat Gerald McGhie, who is now an independent commentator and who says essentially that Australia and New Zealand should keep a low profile on Fiji and leave it to other Pacific countries to resolve the impasse - their way.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fiji without The Fiji Times is unthinkable

AS A riposte to the armchair media freedom critics from afar in Australia and New Zealand, safely beyond the regime's attention and the tentacles of the media decree, new Fiji Times editor Fred Wesley has penned this editorial. The editorial, headlined BREATH OF FRESH AIR, was published yesterday.
It is time to share with our readers where we are and where we plan to go.

Today we stand poised in an ocean of moments, reaching out for the reigns of change so that we may take hold of our own destiny.

Rich in history, we look forward with positive minds, eager to shrug off unwanted perceptions.

For some time now, we have been tagged as a newspaper hell-bent on being a pain in the b
ack of the State. It was an unwanted tag, one that brimmed with negative vibes.

To be seen as anti-government or pro-government are charges that do us no favour as a responsible media organisation.

We would rather be seen as a newspaper that takes no side; simply a newspaper of integrity.

Integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness. Further, it is the opposite of hypocrisy.

We are not a newspaper hell-bent on hurting a government. Our passion is to ensure our readers know we have a sense of fairness about us.

Our charter is to strive for accuracy and balance with the intention to do justice to every story we print and picture we use. We are not anti-government and we are not pro-government.

We are very, very pro-Fiji and living proof of this is our 141-year record as recorders of history in this nation. In short, we are
The Fiji Times, neutral and striving to ensure any perception that paints us otherwise is easily washed off.

We will endeavour to make sure our readers see in us a newspaper that is easy to read, has entertaining and educational infor
mation and pictures, plus believability and authority.

For the past few months this newspaper has worked under a cloud with the possibility that the unthinkable could happen - Fiji without
The Fiji Times. We are now proudly owned in Fiji and our good people are once again doing their best with heads held high.

Together we can do good for this country and we hope to live up to the image that has etched indelible marks
on the minds of hundreds of thousands of readers over the past 141 years of our existence.

We are about people, values, honesty, commitment, perseverance and unity which is to say 'One People, One Nation'.

There comes a time when change is inevitable. It is a breath of fresh air and we are open to new ideas that will ensure we have a place in the lives of every citizen in our beautiful country.

Sleep assured we are firmly committed to helping our country move forward.
Today is the beginning of a new path for The Fiji Times. Today begins the work to be rid of any unwanted perceptions.

Today is about ensuring the slogan "Fiji without
The Fiji Times is unthinkable" is carved deeply in the hearts and minds of all our readers.

Today, we give you a newspaper that is fair, just, balanced and honest.

Today we give you a newspaper that holds true to the ideals of good journalism.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back to the future at the Fiji Times – and it just might work

THE DOOMSDAY brigade is quickly at it again with its tenacious state gagging scenario at the Fiji Times. Media voices trot out the same tired old media freedom clichés about the fate of the ex-News Ltd newspaper that did so much to dig its own grave. Café Pacific prefers to keep an open mind and see what Motibhai’s new publisher, Dallas Swinstead, can produce. Give him time. A breath of fresh air and a strategic rethink of how to go about being an effective newspaper faced with the reality of a military-backed authoritarian regime. A real challenge.

Murdoch's previous News Ltd managers at the FT failed to get to grips with reality in Fiji. The combination of ownership by a Fiji company headed by astute businessman "Mac" Patel, who had long experience at the newspaper as a director, and a trusted publisher, who already had a track record as an innovative chief executive at the helm for four years – albeit during more relaxed times – could yet turn out to be a winner.

And if the Fiji Times succeeds in negotiating the media decree minefield and staying afloat with its long-lost integrity restored, then chalk that up as a media freedom success. If the newspaper learns from its past divisive mistakes, then even better. This outcome is vastly preferable to the News Ltd debacle that brought the newspaper to the brink of closure. Netani Rika and Margaret Wise are synonymous with that partisan era of questionable ethics. Rika "sacrificed" his job for the good of the company. But the rot had actually set in long before the George Speight attempted coup in May 2000.

The International Federation of Journalists voiced concern for the future of “critical and independent media” in Fiji, with secretary-general Aidan White saying: “The regime-imposed pressures on the Fiji Times risk silencing anyone who dares to stand up to defend independent media for the people of Fiji.” The Pacific Freedom Forum is concerned about “increasing confusion” as spin and silence reigns with a new Fiji clampdown. The regime friendly rival Fiji Sun reported the Fiji Times newsroom in a turmoil. Veteran columnist Seona Smiles says the resignation of Rika and the uncertainty over deputy editor Sophie Foster is a “great loss” to the newspaper.
For people to have to leave a job that they are both competent at, for political reasons, is always difficult. And both Netani Rika and Sophie Foster remained very staunch and true to journalistic ethics, throughout the recent period of political crisis.

However, in spite of all the hype and spin by both the regime and some media freedom opportunists, when a new broom is brought into a newspaper with change of ownership, it is normal for a change of editor and top editorial management. Café Pacific publisher David Robie flagged an editorial reshuffle in an interview with Radio NZ International’s Mediawatch programme last Sunday. Pacific Media Watch's Alex Perrottet reported the interview, quoting Dr Robie as saying that the Fiji Times was “going back to the future”:

As the dust settles, they may well look at another editor who would probably be more in tune with what Dallas Swinstead is going to try and do …

He is likely to take a more diplomatic approach to the regime than his immediate predecessors.
But I certainly don’t think he is going to be kowtowing to the regime. He has made some quite strong comments since he has been appointed.

But whether Fred Wesley is the right choice as acting editor-in-chief is another matter. Swinstead himself confirmed that he would be trying to “rebuild the relationship” with the regime in an interview with Fiji Broadcasting Corporation news director Stan Simpson:
Yes, we are changing direction. Having watched News Ltd perish in this country, there’s no sense in committing suicide – even with a local-owned replacement. There is no doubt that The Fiji Times cannot be antagonistic to the government. What on earth does it prove? But we will ask questions in a fair and balanced way because we will be helping to bring the people to the government.
Picture: How the old Fiji Times looked in 1974 - before Dallas Swinstead revamped the paper during his first stint as publisher for four years, 1976-1980. Photo: Fiji Times

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pacific 'dictatorship of the publishitariat'?

Crosbie Walsh plays Devil's Advocate with the media

SPEAKING at the 2010 Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) conference in Auckland on Friday, the keynote speaker, well known and respected Tongan media publisher and media freedom activist 'Eakalafi Moala said: "Press freedom in the Pacific Islands is under constant threat" while "New Zealand journalists ... took freedom of the press for granted."

He said threats to Pacific media freedom were due not only to "government blocking" (he was especially critical of Fiji's Media Decree, where, incidentally, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported his speech!) but also to "the social and cultural fabric of the local community" that accepted government actions less critically than in Western countries. "Media freedom," he said, "operated more easily within a Western-educated social structure and conduct.”

Taken at face value, most would agree. But I wonder. Is it as straightforward as this? In an ideal world, would press freedom always prevail? Or, to play devil's advocate, should it ever prevail? What, exactly, is media freedom? Can a case be made that restrictions should be placed on the media in some situations? What are those situations? 'Eakalafi talked of cultural constraints in the Pacific but are there no cultural or other constraints in Western societies?

How free, really, is the New Zealand media? Does it truly provide access to information the people need to know? Who decides what we will read and hear and how it is presented? Who decides the news? I'm reluctant to write about Fiji again in this context, but when did the NZ media last report a contrary view on the situation there? How have they helped to explain what is happening, and why? How do they decide who to interview? Do they ever verify their stories?

One can also ask what is meant by information when so much of what we see is sensationalism and trivia. What real balance exists in their coverage? Even media people ask what's happened to investigative journalism. We've never before had so much access to information, but we've also never has access to so much wrong or useless information. Sometimes I ask, do I know more about any matter of consequence because of the media, or am I merely more misinformed? And then I ask myself about the supposed role of the media in a democracy and what it actually does.

Who really is this freedom for? I am not an advertiser or a shareholder in the media. I don't vote for their boards or sit on their appointment committees. I have no say whatsoever in what they choose to publish or not to publish. I am not part of the media or any other establishment. I cannot vote them out with a letter to the editor or an appeal to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

When it comes down to the hard questions, we should ask how significantly different are the NZ and Pacific media? Different masters, different circumstances and different stories, but I suspect that whoever pays the piper still calls the tune. My only freedom is the choice to switch off the TV and radio and not read the newspapers. Sometimes, not always of course, I wonder how they dare claim a special, elevated place -- the Fourth Estate -- in a democracy when their power is more akin to a "dictatorship of the publishitariat."

Freedom of the media, by the media, for the media? An overstatement, perhaps. But by how much?

Retired University of the South Pacific professor of development studies Dr Crosbie Walsh publishes a blog - Fiji: The way it was, is and can be

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