Monday, February 28, 2011

No 'sun' for Pacific climate film, but Strangers scores an Oscar

PACIFIC hopes were high. The compelling climate change documentary Sun Come Up was shortlisted for the Oscars. Astonishingly, an environmental film about Papua New Guinea was in the running for a short subject documentary award.

Several commentators were tipping Sun Come Up for final honours. But no. It was pipped by another deeply moving film, Strangers No More, a delightful Israeli documentary telling the tale of the children and their survival stories from 48 countries. The youngsters take their lessons and share their experiences at Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv.

This is an inspiring parable of peace.

The films opens with these lines:
For most children, getting to school is as simple as going around the block. But for others it’s a dangerous journey across hostile borders.

Once child: “I [saw] my father killed in front of me.”

Another schoolboy: “They shoot people and kill them”.

A schoolgirl: “I just had to find a safe place.”

Disappointing as it may be for Sun Come Up’s filmmakers, Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger, and supporters to miss out at the final hurdle, one correspondent of Pacific Scoop summed up the views of many by saying:

Heads up to the media for taking climate change issues to this level…the Oscars…this is amazing! It’s also a brilliant way to get climate change out there to a totally different set of audience….new mindset…probably a new approach to tackling the issue will spring up….and more empathy rather than sympathy derived from this.
I actually have a lot of optimism in Hollywood stars doing something about it compared to politicians who have been doing nothing more than talking about it all these years….we’re so totally over their senseless negotiations!
The truth is that Sun Come Up had really tough competition this year with three other strong environmental and social justice films also in the frame. Shortlisted were: Gasland (this takes a critical look at the natural gas extraction industry, which has been blamed for polluting local water supplies; Waste Land, which exposes the life of catadores, or scavengers, in the world’s largest garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro; and The Warriors of Qiugang, which tells the story of poor villagers challenging “runaway pollution” by three local industrial sites.

Also spare a thought for another inspiring climate change documentary from New Zealand, Briar March's There Was Once an Island (about the plight of Takuu atoll in Papua New Guinea). This wasn’t nominated, but it ought to have been.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Post-quake life in the Christchurch suburbs

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) organiser, activist and writer Murray Horton pens his personal impressions of life in the suburbs after the 22 February 2011 earthquake brought death and devastation to New Zealand’s second-largest city. Authorities have confirmed 147 people dead with 50 unaccounted for. This is an edited extract from an email to friends and fellow activists received by Café Pacific. Murray, his wife, Becky, and a nameless stray cat live in the inner suburb of Addington.

By Murray Horton

BECKY and I are alive and well. We're living (camping, more accurately) in our house. It has no structural damage, unlike so many others. But it has sustained more interior damage than was the case with the September 4 quake. For example, we have evacuated nearly everything out of our lounge in case the chimney decides to part company with the wall, as it has now got more noticeable cracks where it joins the wall and the fireplace surround itself is coming loose.

Unlike September, this one sent things flying in all directions and knocked everything off the walls, smashing a number of things; including the office’s Chairman Mao clock (is nothing sacred?). Surrounding streets had cracking, slumping, ground rising, liquefaction and flooding (I witnessed water and silt start pouring from the ground as a huge aftershock struck as I was walking across our little neighbourhood reserve) but we have never had that in our street or on our land.

We were without power from Tuesday until Saturday, so had no internet access, nor did we get to see any of the TV coverage. Having no power was a blessing in disguise. One of the first huge aftershocks on Tuesday swung several of our light fittings so violently they hit the ceiling and smashed, showering the floor with broken glass and leaving naked wires dangling from the ceiling. Believe it or not, I was able to get not one but two separate electricians to come to the house and render them safe before the power came back on. These weren’t mates, just regular sparkies I found in the phone book.

Water on ... but just a dribble
Water started to come back on Friday but it is only a feeble dribble (better than no dribble, however). It will be a while before we can have a shower or wash clothes. We never lost the phone (good old analogue landlines … our cordless phones, answerphone et al, went dead).

Because we use bottled gas for cooking, we never went hungry. We dug a toilet in the backyard, even rigged it up for shelter and privacy. And from Tuesday to Saturday we slept under the dining room table. Now we’ve moved back into our bedroom – as Becky said to me today, if we die, we die. Of course, things are far from back to normal – we have low flying helicopters passing over us from dawn until dusk (we’re not far from Hagley Park and Christchurch Hospital); soldiers and police from several countries are manning the CBD roadblocks and curfew just walking distance from our home.

To all of those friends who brought us water, let us use their houses for computer, internet, mobile phone charging, showers and toilets, Becky and I are eternally grateful. To all of you who rang and texted from around the country and around the world, many thanks for going to the trouble of getting hold of us (which was not easy).

I’ll just tell you one of my quake stories. I was in the Canterbury Television Building [a building that collapsed with an estimated 100 people inside] at 10.15 that morning for an interview about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the US/NZ Partnership Forum taking place in Christchurch that day, and the opposition to the TPPA being organised by the New Zealand Not For Sale Campaign. It was the first time I’d set foot in that building since 2008. We (me, the young reporter and the cameraman) did the interview in a first floor meeting room, then we sat around afterwards and chatted. I probably left the building between 10.45am and 11am. The young guy (Rhys Brookbanks), who had only just started at CTV, is among those believed killed in that building’s collapse. I was one of the last to see him alive, as it turns out.

I don’t know what happened to the Zimbabwean cameraman. From there I went to Kiwibank in the Bus Exchange Building in Colombo Street to do the CAFCA banking (because there was supposed to be a CAFCA meeting that night, in Lyttelton). I was at work, in front of this computer, when it all kicked off.

You don’t need me to tell you that this was an event of indescribable violence (and I only experienced what happened at our place, which was bad enough, but very mild compared to the catastrophe that happened in so many other parts of town). Tuesday night was just one continuous earthquake as wave after wave of aftershocks slammed into the house, some of them with the force of runaway trains. In between times the ground just continuously rumbled and shook. Neither of us got any sleep and I doubt that anybody else in Christchurch that night did as well.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the city. Our little street has been significantly depopulated. Everyone knows people who have left. One of our closest friends and colleagues is among them. Those staying put are under great stress in many cases.

Both CAFCA and ABC (Anti-Bases Campaign) are scheduled to meet this week (all committee members have sustained house damage ranging from moderate to serious to uninhabitable). I have every intention of getting out the next Watchdog but there are plenty of others involved in that process who may have more pressing priorities. So it might well be a smaller than usual

The Roger Award is on schedule (the event to name the winner is in Auckland, April 4). I have every intention of undertaking my North Island speaking tour in April (the first time I got access to electricity, at a friend’s house, I went back to work writing my speech). And I’m going to speak in Dunedin in May.

Murray Horton

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA)
Aotearoa/New Zealand

Pictures: Searching for survivors, CTV.CN; Murray Horton at the Pacific Media Centre in 2009.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mediawatch special probes NZ quake coverage

BEHIND the stories of catastrophe ...

Radio New Zealand's Mediawatch
has broadcast a gripping 44min special programme this weekend featuring news coverage of the Canterbury earthquake on February 22 - the second in Christchurch in five months.

The efforts were extraordinary - just like the survivors' tales of courage and compassion the journalists were telling.

The reporters, writers and editors who presented the pictures on the country's television screens, the interviews on radio and the words on the newspaper pages and websites told their own behind-the-scenes stories.

In spite of one editorial staff member being killed and four injured in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake, the Christchurch Press produced a special edition the nexr day and published right through the catastrophe - and still distributed the paper as well.

Editor Andrew Holden said there was no power, no television, no way to recharge cellphones and old media - radio with batteries and newspapers - kept local people informed.

"A bit of paper in your hand is very comforting at a time like this," he said.

Canterbury Television, the 20-year-old regional TV station, was devastated when the building collapsed with an estimated 100 media people, language school staff and students and visitors being trapped under the rubble.

Christchurch writer Trevor Agnew talked about the important and creative contribution of CTV to the region.

"It's terrible to be talking about the programme in the past tense but CTV, as we know it, has finished," he said. He hoped the programme would be redeveloped.

The Mediawatch programme was produced and presented by Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose.

Image: Realtimer

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A tale of two cities – Tripoli and NZ's quake town

captured the contrasting mood between two cities with poignancy, but almost accidentally. After three days of heavy black borders to mourn the loss of some 147 dead and a further 50 missing, the newspaper and other media across NZ told stories of courage, drama and devastation in the Christchurch earthquake.

A world away, and tucked deep on p. 17 in today’s Herald, the Libyan crisis raged on in Tripoli: “A city in the shadow of death.”

More than half the front broadsheet page of the Herald was devoted to the death of five-month-old Baxtor Gowland, a child of the last quake. Pictured clad in a scarlet Father Christmas outfit and cottonwool beard, Baxtor was born just two weeks after the 4 September 2010 quake. And now, tragically, he is a victim.

The inside front page told of “one street’s misery”, showing a fullpage graphic of Santa Maria Ave in the seaside suburb of Redcliffs: Reported Andrew Koubaridis:
In the minutes after Tuesday's devastating earthquake, the people of Santa Maria Ave, Redcliffs, gathered at the top of the street and hugged and cried.

Still in shock from the violent shaking, they scrambled from their shattered homes and sought comfort from one another - many will never be able to live in their homes again.

One side of the street has several homes cracked beyond repair. Others have been almost split in half and are now in danger of falling down on to a street below.
Another story reported how an Australian female urologist used tradesman’s tools – a hacksaw and a multipurpose knife – to amputate both legs of a quake victim lying trapped under a beam in a collapsed building. She saved the 52-year-old’s life.

Columnist Noelle McCarthy cited “the great poet of collapse, William Yeats, who wrote: “All is changed, changed utterly.” While noting that there is a scale to measure earthquakes, she asked how do you quantify their toll?:
In the aftermath of disaster, where to start? We start with each other. We take care of each other, we acknowledge this loss.
On Pacific Scoop, former Fiji Times editor Jale Moala, now a subeditor with the Christchurch Press, described the city as being “like a war zone” and a shock to Fiji migrants just used to cyclones and hurricanes.

Local Radio Apna and Suva’s were condemned by authorities for quoting an unnamed doctor saying eight Fiji Islanders had died in the earthquake. The authorities insisted this was false.

Meanwhile, from Tripoli in Libya, The Independent’s Robert Fisk reports in the Herald on gunfire, fear and rumour in the capital:
Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli's international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi's rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families. Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front.

Among them were Gaddafi's fellow Arabs, thousands of them Egyptians, some of whom had been living at the airport for two days without food or sanitation. The place stank of faeces and urine and fear. Yet a 45-minute visit into the city for a new airline ticket to another destination is the only chance to see Gaddafi's capital if you are a "dog" of the international press.

There was little sign of opposition to the Great Leader. Squads of young men with Kalashnikov rifles stood on the side roads next to barricades of upturned chairs and wooden doors. But these were pro-Gaddafi vigilantes – a faint echo of the armed Egyptian "neighbourhood guard" I saw in Cairo a month ago – and had pinned photographs of their leader's infamous Green Book to their checkpoint signs.

There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania.

But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populace.

Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya's capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish.

But this is an illusion.
Turkey is mounting the biggest evacuation operation in its history, with more than 25,000 Turks living in Libya fleeing. Twenty one other governments have asked Ankara for help getting their nationals out. A US-chartered 600-passenger ferry is leaving Tripoli for Malta and Israel has allowed 300 Palestinians from Libya to enter the occupied territories.

Petrol and food prices have trebled; towns outside Tripoli have been ripped apart by bitter fighting between Gaddafi supporters and opposition groups.

Loyalist forces patrol the capital’s streets, tanks guard the outskirts and the state radio station is heavily guarded.

This war zone is rapidly exploding.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fiji honeymooners and headline grabbers

CROZ WALSH has picked up yet another example of media hypocrisy and bias relating to post-coup Fiji. This time an Australian Associated Press report about "honeymooners flocking to Fiji in spite of instability". And who should be the sole expert voice sought for comment? None other than "South Pacific specialist" Professor Brij Lal, a Canberra-based Fiji academic. Indeed, as a social historian yes. But couldn't the news agency also locate an economist or tourism industry specialist for balanced comment? The bias of the news item carried by Television New Zealand's website is quite marked. Read on for Croz Walsh's spin on this item:
Fiji has been picked as the best place in the world to honeymoon, after Hawaii and French Polynesia. They are apparently flocking to Fiji and overall tourist numbers are up. TVNZ reports that "this is despite the presence of a military regime which has been in power since a 2006 coup." Similar negative comment follows.

Then TVNZ ask "South Pacific specialist Professor Brij Lal" what he thought. Prof Lal is an historian who is yet to say one complimentary word about the Baininamara government. He lives in Australia. He has no specialist knowledge of tourism. And this shows. He said Fiji was a popular destination worldwide, thanks [among other things] to marketing of the bottle brand Fiji Water and Oprah Winfrey's visit. What utter .....! Fiji has been a popular tourist destination from Australia and NZ well before there was a Fiji Water brand or an Oprah Winfrey show.

This is not the first time NZTV and RNZI have sought inappropriate (but politically correct) information from Australian sources. Tourism is taught and researched in Fiji and almost all NZ universities. Why did our media not ask an expert in Fiji or New Zealand, rather than a person resident overseas with no tourism expertise? Someone with fewer negative vibes on Fiji?

One suspects these journalists have an address book of preferred sources. [Sorry, Brij. This is not a personal attack. Surely you'd agree there are more appropriate sources than you on this issue.] - Professor Crosbie Walsh on his Fiji: The way it was, is and can be blog
Picture: Fiji

Friday, February 11, 2011

That outrageous pick-and-flick Trinh-duc inspired try

FRANCOIS TRINH-DUC'S moment of genius with a flick pass under his legs to Imanol Harinoroquy. The outrageously exciting try contributed to France's 34-21 victory over Scotland in the Six Nations tourney last weekend. One of those distinctly French gems in rugby that have been missing for a while.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fiji blogs and The Fiji Times

AN OPEN letter from outgoing Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead explains why he left the country's leading newspaper after rescuing it for the Motibhai Group following the buyout of News Ltd last year. The Australian-based Murdoch subsidiary was forced to divest 90 percent of its interest to local ownership under the terms of the controversial Fiji Media Industry Development Decree in September. But News Ltd elected to sell up completely:

People keep telling me I’m getting the occasional mention on blogs (which I don’t read). Anyway, it would be a good idea to share with anyone who is interested why I left The Fiji Times.

1. Motibhai, the new local owners of the paper, could not organise insurance nor medical evacuation for me, a requirement of our contract.

2. This became an issue for both them and I and they agreed to pay out the remainder of the work permit, four or five weeks.

3. I am tremendously proud, in fact exhilarated, by what I achieved with the full-blooded co-operation of some 160 The Fiji Times employees, as they embraced the job of resuscitating the newspaper the government intended to close.

4. The newspaper published its editorial charter on October 9 in which we stated that we supported the Prime Minister’s dreams of One Nation One People. We made it clear we would not be kissing arses but nor would we be instinctively kicking them. Like every decent paper in the world we have kept that promise.

5. The government continues to subsidise the opposition newspaper, the Fiji Sun with about 3000 pages of advertising a year. In return it publishes verbatim, mostly, all government releases. It is a shameless, even dangerous, publication.

6. Depending on what happens in Fiji in the weeks ahead, I may, or may not, fill in the details of that journey other than to take this opportunity to thank those dozens of the business, academic, legal, diplomatic and public servicemen and women who shared frank and revealing conversations with me about the way Fiji works.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In Egypt, the 'lamestream media' shows its courage and value

By Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post

THE TURMOIL in Egypt has been a lesson in the fragility of a right we so often take for granted: to speak.

It also has been a reminder to those who deride the "lamestream media" as the enemy, traitors and worse that many members of that maligned tribe are also very brave.

A list of journalists who have been assaulted, beaten, harassed and arrested in Egypt since demonstrations began would consume the balance of this column. They include attacks on CNN's Anderson Cooper, as well as reporters and photographers from The Post, Fox News, the New York Times, and numerous other publications and broadcast organisations from around the world.

The attacks have been well organised and strategic, suggesting something more than an organic eruption from the street. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), founded in 1981 to protect press freedom and journalists, has added its voice to those asserting that the attacks were arranged by Hosni Mubarak's government.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, reported Wednesday that:
The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions. The government has resorted to blanket censorship, intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs. The situation is frightening not only because our colleagues are suffering abuse but because when the press is kept from reporting, we lose an independent source of crucial information.
Outrage expressed
Outrage that journalists are being targeted has been appropriately expressed by various heads of state, including President Obama.

Attacks on journalists are nothing new. Five have been killed already this year, including one Friday in Cairo. Since 1992, 850 have died in the line of duty. Of those, more than 500 were murdered with impunity, according to CPJ. An additional 145 journalists are in prison worldwide for the offense of reporting.

What is new to most eyes are these real-time attacks on people we know. Watching Katie Couric being harassed and shoved by a crowd of angry men in Cairo was especially jarring. Our little Katie? Make no mistake. Perky Katie is also brave Katie.

For journalists, there's no adrenaline rush like Being There. There's something in the constitution of those who sign up for Journalism 101 that makes them want to be part of the action but also to do something of value. The bias so many recognise in the media is, among other things, a bias toward the underdog, whether that's an unwed mother or an oppressed people. That government thugs want to silence reporters in Egypt is understandable. The camera is focused on the powerless masses who want to unseat their pharaoh.

Bear witness
This is to say that those reporters who put their boots on the ground go willingly. I'd wager that every reporter confined to a cubicle at this moment wishes he or she were there, even with a touch of quiet gratitude for being safe. It isn't only to be where the action is but also to bear witness to history and to the eternal human struggle to be free.

It is rare to get to see our constitutional rights (and responsibilities) so starkly displayed or to have the courage of our convictions tested, if only vicariously. The Egyptian people are brave, too, but it is their fight. Another lesson: Democracies have to emerge from the passions of their own constituents. Freedom may be God-given, but, like life, it has a gestation period and is usually born with much pain. Afterward comes nurturing through the conscientious exercise of human will and institutions yet to be conceived.

Fundamental to this process, as our own Founding Fathers understood, is the freedom to gather and to express oneself. Every day we tolerate posers, pundits and porn along with klanners, clowns and clambering ninnies for the greater good of a free society where no one gets his head bashed for speaking truth to power.

Not so lucky are the hundreds or thousands of Egyptians who have suffered blows (or death) as they have sought their own route to liberty. Reporting from Cairo, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof tells of a carpenter named Mahmood who had needed medical treatment seven times in 24 hours. His arm was in a sling, his leg in a cast and his head was bandaged. He was going back for more.

Kristof was "awestruck" when Mahmood told him: "I'll fight as long as I can."

We should all be so awed - not only by the Mahmoods, but also by the Kristofs.

Cartoon: "Stop intimidating journalists," says the newspaper headline in Arabic. Source:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NZ ‘honour killing’ bandwagon a case of ethno-media values?

ASTONISHING how quick some mainstream news media in New Zealand were to latch on to the catchy phrase “honour killing” over the cruel and tragic death of an Indo-Fijian nurse working at an Auckland hospital last month.

Twenty eight-year-old Ranjeeta Sharma (pictured) was found burned to death at the side of a road near Huntly, in rural Waikato, Her husband Diwesh, 29, fled to Fiji with their four-year-old son the following day. But he was brought back to New Zealand and faces murder and other charges.

The persistence of some New Zealand media in speculating over an “honour killing” even after police insisted that they were simply investigating a homicide – a particularly gruesome one, admittedly - and various Indian and Indo-Fijian media and community commentators argued that this was extremely rare in the region, if not unknown, was unfortunate.

After two days of media hype, one television network online editor fired off a query to Café Pacific saying:
Some people are calling it an honour killing, but many Fijian Indians are saying this doesn't exist in Fiji in the same way it does on the subcontinent. On the other hand I have anecdotal stories from some people who have fled Fiji fearing a similar fate.

Could you shed some light on this or know anyone who could talk knowledgeably? Are honour killings in existence in Fiji - even if they are rare?
Use of the term “honour killing” stirred a spate of criticism in the ethnic press and radio over “insensitive” mainstream media. Clearly the sensationalist reporting of the issue has undermined progress in cross-cultural reporting made in NZ in recent years. Indian Weekender editor-in-chief Dev Nadkarni , a onetime coordinator of the University of the South Pacific’s journalism programme, condemned NZ media reporting of the killing:
Nearly every major news outlet played along with the honour killing angle, interviewing ethnic Indian workers of women’s and social organisations to record their general statements about honour killings and linking them to this case.

At the time of writing, no media outlet had clarified the investigation team’s present position – that it was being treated as a homicide. Follow up reports persisted in linking the honour killing angle.

One would expect the media to try to break stereotypes, not reinforce them.
Former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh was even harsher, describing it as a case of Indian and “Hindu-bashing” by news media:
This report and similar “stereotyping” reports in other media prompted concerned Indo-Fijians and Indians to call meetings in Auckland to show their concern and disappointment at the “media-bashing’ of a community.
Singh noted that the new Hindu Media Watch group, formed out of frustration with NZ media reporting of cultural minorities, was considering laying complaints with the Broadcasting Standards Authority and NZ Press Council.

In the Herald on Sunday, Deborah Coddington wrote:
It's truly horrible that nearly 600 years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, in supposedly civilised New Zealand a 28-year-old educated woman is burned alive and tossed on the roadside like rubbish.

Poor, wretched Ranjeeta Sharma, an immigrant from Fiji. Nobody deserves this, least of all amid speculation she may have been the victim of a so-called "honour killing".
Fortunately, Radio NZ’s Mediawatch and Bruce Hill’s Pacific Beat report for Radio Australia provided some clarity, context and sanity about the issue. In an interview with Hill, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre director Shamima Ali said:
There are honour beatings [in Fiji] - we could term honour beatings when … young women don't adhere to what their parents want, what the community they belong to want and so on, particularly in terms of falling in love with someone outside of that community or someone undesirable perceived by the parents. So often girls are brought back and beaten quite badly, sometimes locked up and forced to marry other people. So that has occurred and continues to occur in Fiji.

… But as far as honour killing - strictly honour killing - has happened in other communities, particularly Muslim communities in Fiji, I haven't heard of one.
A Canadian 'honour killing' controversy

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