Sunday, July 24, 2011

Global battle for images and ideas - challenging the West's 'news duopoly'

Professor Daya Thussu speaking at AMIC 2011. Middle: PNG's Joys Eggins. Bottom: PMC's Dr David Robie. Top two photos: David Robie; bottom image: Manawwar Naqvi

ONE of the highlights of last month’s AMIC conference in Hyderabad, India, was a presentation about the US/UK news “duopoly” and the distortions and “injustices of information flows”. Presented by professor Daya Thussu of Westminster University, a former editor of Gemini News Service - one of the post-war pioneers of “independent news” - it was a compelling session. Thussu regards the rise of Al Jazeera English as a critical factor in creating a “news contra flow” to challenge the Western prism. “It was important to have the independent perspective on the Libyan civil war provided by Al Jazeera,” he said. “There is a global battle for images and ideas and Al Jazeera is an important counter to the BBC/CNN global news duopoly."

Undoubtedly, foreign policy has been enormously affected by WikiLeaks – “the greatest leaks in history”, he argues. And the information guerrillas are playing an important role too, in spite of the celebrated “Gay girl in Damascus” blog being exposed as a hoax, and blogger Amina Arraf being unmasked as a man - 40-year-old American student activist Tom MacMaster.

The four-day 20th Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference, with more than 400 participants and presenters, was a stimulating event, even if understandably very heavily focused on the host nation India. The “Pacific” contingent may have been tiny (just four from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea), but the team profiled well.

Associate professor Martin Hadlow of the University of Queensland and the Pacific’s representative at the UNESCO World Freedom Day event in New York in May, following his valiant efforts at getting last year’s UNESCO event staged in Brisbane last year, provided a global overview of development communication with a focus on the Pacific. He described how the Pacific, while being relatively underdeveloped in ICTs, had actually stolen a march over many developing countries with an innovative and rapid take up of mobile phones. He also talked about the region’s “heritage media” and radio was “still very much king” in the Pacific. He outlined the success of some new players like New Dawn FM in Bougainville, last year’s winners of a global communication and social change award sponsored by UOQ.

Papua New Guinea’s Joys Eggins, daughter of leading former EM TV journalist John Eggins and now doing her master’s degree at the University of Goroka, spoke about the Komunity Tok Piksa community video project in the Highlands. She outlined its success in producing visual messages on HIV/AIDS with local communities – “the dilemmas of collaboration, consent and ownership”.

Associate professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, outlined contrasting media campus-based media models with case studies of both Wansolwara at the University of the South Pacific that now publishes this newspaper in partnership with the Fiji Sun, and Pacific Scoop, a partnership between AUT University and New Zealand’s largest independent digital news media group Scoop Media Ltd. The paper assessed their “publishing profiles and contrasts their independent brands focused on education, environmental issues – particularly climate change and deforestation – human rights, resource development, social justice, culture and language with mainstream media”.

Unitec’s Munawwar Naqvi’s paper presented a critical perspective on communication with communities within development efforts at the grassroots level in central India. Two models, selective interaction and new involvement, were developed from the data collected from semi-structured interviews of different types of non-governmental development organisations.

Next year’s AMIC conference will be in Malaysia and organisers already have the Malaysian Tourism Board lined up as one of the key sponsors. Café Pacific hopes to be represented.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Toxic media brand called Rupert Murdoch in free fall


A TOXIC BRAND. And each day the poison spreads. Michael Wolff, author of the The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, a biography, had some riveting insights during an interview with Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill at the weekend. Wolff noted the supreme irony of the mogul who had built the world’s largest media empire, ruled through fear and “reward or punishment”, was now taking his own medicine.

“Once the power has gone, many of the opponents rise to get rid of the despot,” he said. Wolff believes the fallout from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal will be devastating in the long run for the Murdoch empire.

The NOTW has been accused of hacking into the phones of celebrities, politicians and ordinary citizens - including a 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was abducted and murdered in Britain.

Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of NOTW, Britain’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper until it was sacrificed in an attempt to keep alive Murdoch’s takeover hopes to buy out the British pay TV giant BSkyB, finally resigned as News International head in Britain late last week. She has since been arrested by police for questioning and has been replaced at the helm by New Zealander Tom Mockbridge, formerly chief executive of Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster Sky Italia.

Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton resigned in New York and Murdoch himself has published several apologies in his various British titles in a desperate attempt at damage control.

But the biggest casualty so far has been the resignation of Britain’s top police officer Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, head of London's Metropolitan Police Service, or Scotland Yard, who quit because of the alleged links between the police and the phone-hacking scandal. Stephenson cited the “ intense media scrutiny and the hiring of a former News Corporation tabloid editor to advise police on public relations” as a major reason for his resignation. The editor, Neil Wallis, was arrested in connection with the criminal investigation last week.

Rupert himself, at 80, should retire, and James Murdoch now has no credibility, argues Wolff. Somebody else should take the helm as soon as possible – “as long as his name is not Murdoch”.

Wolff also pointed to the “hypocrisy everywhere” over the saga: “Every week 2.7 million Britons read the salacious detail in the NOTW provided by phone hacking.”

A couple of days after the interview, Wolff reportedly claimed the Murdoch siblings were turning on each other, saying:
[T]he tycoon's daughter, Elisabeth, said her brother James had "f***ed the company".

Last week Elisabeth denied she had said something similar about the ousted News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks. But Wolff insisted on Twitter: "She said, 'James and Rebekah f***ed the company."'

Wolff said Elisabeth made the remark at a book launch for political analyst Philip Gould hosted by her husband, Matthew Freud, and the editor of the Times, James Harding.
Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian – the paper that exposed the phone hacking scandal and brought the empire to its knees, wrote:
Despite the decisiveness of his actions – most obviously closing the NOTW and withdrawing the BSkyB bid – a mute Murdoch no longer seemed to be master of his own fate. In a vacuum, journalists were bound to speculate, as he will have known. So the gossip swirled. And the most potent rumour was that he was about to dispose of News International itself. There was logic to the argument. If the NOTW was closed because it was toxic, then it followed that the whole division was toxic too.

Seen from the perspective of the US-based parent company, News Corporation, the Wapping outpost seemed both irrelevant and dangerous. Why not cut off the gangrenous limb to ensure the poison did not spread to News Corp's heart?
A weekend analysis by Associated Press writers Michael Liedtke and Ryan Nakashima related how the “tables have turned on Murdoch” . They wrote:
To his many enemies, Rupert Murdoch is getting his comeuppance. Murdoch's tabloid newspapers long have reveled in the misdeeds of others with salacious photos and pun-packed headlines. Now, one of the world's most powerful media executives is learning what it's like to be enveloped in his own scandal.

"There is a feeling that Murdoch has been king of the world for too long and it's about time that somebody brought him back to Earth," says Mungo MacCallum, a political journalist and commentator who once worked for a Murdoch-owned newspaper, The Australian.

But no one is calling press conferences to gloat about Murdoch's troubles. Even his bitterest media rivals are keeping quiet.


CNN founder Ted Turner, who once challenged Murdoch to a boxing match in Las Vegas, was unavailable, according to a spokesman.

New York Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman, whose newspaper fights every day for front page dominance with the [Murdoch] Post for New York's tabloid audience also did not return a message seeking comment.


But the British lawmakers who have traditionally supported Murdoch rather than risk being pilloried in the pages of his newspapers no longer seem to be in his corner because their fear of retaliation is fading. He will surely face tough questions Tuesday when he appears before a Parliament committee eager to grill him about the phone hacking and bribery allegations.

"All the powerful allies that used to help him, either publicly or behind the scenes, have faded to the sidelines," says Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters, a liberal group that frequently criticises Fox News for what it says is biased and inaccurate reporting. "He is on his own, and he is in over his head."

Boehlert likens the crisis and widespread antipathy surrounding Murdoch to the unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974 as details of the Watergate cover-up were revealed. Like Nixon then, Murdoch is in "free-fall mode. There is nothing he can do to stop this story," Boehlert says.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gang members kidnap, rape Indian journalist's niece

Indian troops guard the entrance to the AMIC media and globalisation conference in Hyderabad, India. Below: Assaults on the media in India featured on CBS-IBN. Photos: David Robie

BARELY had Café Pacific returned to its more tranquil Waitemata waters after the stimulating AMIC media and globalisation conference in Hyderabad, India, than Reporters Sans Frontières has issued another communique about a shocking development on the subcontinent. RSF reports that it is
... appalled to learn that the niece of a journalist based in Bulandshahr, in the northeastern state of Uttar Pradesh, was kidnapped for three days and raped by gang members, who mistook her for his daughter.

The police have arrested a member of the gang, which had reportedly threatened the journalist over his reporting and wanted to deter him from testifying in a murder case. The journalist, who reports for a TV news channel and edits a monthly called Jungsatta, has been identified only by the name of "Rizwan".

"We express our full support for Rizwan, his niece and his family," Reporters Sans Frontières said. "This barbaric violence must not go unpunished. In his reporting and the evidence he gave to the judicial authorities, he courageously fulfilled his journalistic and civic duties. The Indian authorities must now do their duty by bringing this wretched crime's perpetrators and instigators to justice and by providing the journalist and his family with effective protection."

The press freedom organisation added: "If the authorities take no measures to punish those responsible, other journalists will be afraid to continue covering criminal cases or any story remotely linked to the underworld and organised crime."

Yasin Bhatola, a known member of a Bulandshahr-based gang led by Mehboob Pandey, was arrested in New Delhi on July 1 on information provided by the Bulandshahr police. Police say Bhatola has admitted to being a member of Pandey's gang.

The Times of India quoted deputy police commissioner Arun Kampani as saying: "[Rizwan] was a witness in double murder case (. . .) in which Mehboob Pandey was an accused. Pandey and his associates threatened him with dire consequences if he continued to testify."

The abduction and rape was allegedly carried out by Pandey, Bhatola and three other members of Pandey's gang. Rizwan's family is reportedly now being protected by the Bulandshahr police.
The news of the Uttar Pradesh case has emerged just three weeks after Jyotirmoy Dey, an investigative reporter for the newspaper MidDay who specialised in covering organised crime, was gunned down by three men on 11 June in Mumbai.

This assassination was featured in the last report on Café Pacific.

After initially arresting a single suspect, police arrested seven more suspects on June 27. Mumbai joint police commissioner Himanshu Roy said they were hired by underworld don Chhota Rajan.

Dey was the second journalist to be killed this year in India. The first was Umesh Rajput, a reporter for the newspaper Nai Duniya, who was gunned down by two masked men on a motorcycle in the east-central state of Chhattisgarh on January 23.

Reporters Sans Frontières released a report on February 24 about global organised crime and the fact that it now poses one of the biggest threats to media freedom.

These events, of course, put things in perspective in the South Pacific where media freedom is a catchcry but where the risks are relatively mild in the global stakes apart from the occasional roughing up, such as in Vanuatu, and unsavoury state censorship, as in Fiji. (Incidentally, Café Pacific deplores the appalling non-sentence handed out to minister Harry Iauko for the recent assault on Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones). It only takes a brief trip to India, Pakistan, Philippines - or across the border from Papua New Guinea into Indonesian-ruled West Papua - to get a rude awakening on the realities over media freedom.

Meanwhile, the global credibility of news media has taken a king hit with the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World amid the newspaper's phone hacking and alleged police corruption furore that is shaking the Murdoch media empire to its foundations. Café Pacific regards the collapse to the world's biggest selling Sunday as no real loss - it was a scurrilous rag anyway. But the ramifactions from this scandal for professional and ethical media globally is likely to be dire.

The British government insists that media self-regulation itself has "failed". Many other governments are bound to share that sentiment and use the NOTW debacle as an excuse for harsher media laws.

For those in the Pacific, it is sobering to reflect on the performance of another (then and albeit tiny) Murdoch paper, The Fiji Times, during the Coalition Labour government's one year in office in Fiji after a landslide election win in 1999 and the George Speight coup in May 2000. Allegations of bias and lack of professionalism were rife at the time and much has been written since.

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