Friday, December 7, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hats off to PMC student investigative, convergent media awards in annual Ossies awards

Karen Abplanalp speaking at the recent Jesson Awards
about her article "Blood Money". Photo: John Miller
From Pacific Media Watch

AUT Pacific Media Centre's Karen Abplanalp has won a rare double award for her article on New Zealand investment in a controversial gold and copper mine in Indonesian-ruled West Papua at the annual Ossies for student journalism in Australia.

She has won both the Sally A. White Prize for Investigative Journalism and Best Feature (Print) Award.

Her article, "Blood Money", developed out of an assignment in her postgraduate Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University in New Zealand, was published as the lead feature in Metro magazine last December.

Last month, she was also awarded New Zealand's Bruce Jesson Emerging Journalist Award for the investigative article.

Abplanalp investigated the $1.3 million New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZSF) "ethical" investment in the US-owned Freeport McMoRan mine at Grasberg in southern West Papua region, which has been at the heart of human rights allegations for several years.

Late last year, a strike at the mine led to several killings by security forces.

Judge Sharon Mascall-Dare in the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) Ossie awards investigative journalism category said: "Karen Abplanalp's investigation into human rights abuses at a copper and gold mine in West Papua is an outstanding piece of journalism.

"Her methodology is robust; her presentation compelling. Her work was responsible for a national debate that, ultimately, persuaded the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to end its investment in the mine: her work held the fund's "ethical" investment policies to account.

'Blood Money'
"Blood Money is exemplary in demonstrating investigative journalism as a medium for change, in the public interest."  

In the Best Feature (Print) category, judge Max Anderson, editor of Adelaide Hills Magazine, said Abplanalp’s article "demonstrates investigative savvy and a command of the feature writer’s art.

"Incredibly assured and perfectly metered, it allows the facts and interviewees to do the hard lifting without confounding narrative or surrendering pace. Any editor serving educated readers would be delighted to receive it."

The PMC's Alex Perrottet also won a highly commended award in the Best Use of Convergent Media for "Not eccentric at all", a combined slideshow, audio interview and text report providing an intimate glimpse of the life of King George Tupou V of Tonga before he died in March. This was published on Pacific Scoop website and posted on YouTube.

Judge Chris Campbell, director of Our World Today, said: "Engaging and personal choice of story - great interview."

Perrottet has been the PMC's Pacific Media Watch media freedom project editor for the past two years.

The winner in this category was Monash University's "highly professional" Dangerous Grounds investigative website probing environmental hazards and policies in the state of Victoria.

Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie praised the centre's students for their contribution to investigative work.

"It demonstrates the value of investigative research journalism when universities support their independent role," he said.

"Karen Abplanalp's article was recently republished as an example of research journalism in Pacific Journalism Review."

The Best Publication category in the Ossies was won by the University of the South Pacific's Wansolwara newspaper.

"This entry stood out because the journalists produced highly relevant and interesting stories in the public interest," said judge Paul Starick,  head of news of Advertiser Newspapers in Adelaide.

"The front-page expose on the rigging of the Miss World Fiji beauty pageant was a great example of investigative journalism, both in the research and writing." 

This report also won the Best News Story category.

"Not only did the stories in this publication stand out from the crowd, the journalists worked under trying circumstances. Wansolwara [had been] subject to censorship under martial law. Yet it campaigned for press freedom in numerous articles - surely something that must test the courage of any journalist."

Stop press:  David Robie is the only JEA journalist and media academic whose students have won the best publication award at three different universities for three separate publications: Uni Tavur (University of PNG, 1995), Wansolwara (University of the South Pacific, 2000), and Te Waha Nui (AUT University, 2005)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fiji justice threatens hefty contempt penalty on oldest daily newspaper

Oceania Football Federation's Tai Nicholas ... criticisms in NZ press
of Fiji judiciary triggered contempt case against The Fiji Times.
: Photosport
WHAT an irony. The first serious test case since the Fiji regime’s draconian Media Industry Development Decree was imposed in 2010 has arisen out of a New Zealand newspaper report late last year castigating the post-coup Fiji judiciary. The Fiji Times ran the “scandalising” article unchanged the following day on 7 November 2011 and a follow-up article about six months later which also sparked a contempt charge. And the stakes are disturbingly high – the prosecution is calling for a $500,000 fine and six-month jail sentence for the chief editor – totally out of proportion to the alleged offence.

At least, this was the demand by the regime’s lawyers at a mitigation hearing by Justice William Calanchini in the Fiji High Court this week. The Fiji Times (founded 1869) is the country's oldest and arguably still the most influential daily newspaper.

Even though both Oceania Football Confederation general-secretary Tai Nicholas, a New Zealander, had pleaded guilty last July to contempt of court for his outspoken comments suggesting there was no rule of law in post-coup Fiji reported in the Sunday Star-Times, and The Fiji Times had also been found guilty in October to contempt, the comments would clearly be regarded as normal freedom of expression in any less vindictive jurisdiction.

If the world needed further evidence of how Fiji’s “chilling” legal environment has not improved for free speech in the Pacific nation in spite of the lifting of formal censorship in January, this was it.

The Fiji Times legal case has rested on a mitigation defence that the contempt publication was "a mistake" – neither the publisher nor the editor were on duty on either dates of the offences.
As reported by South Pacific Lawyers website, Justice Calanchini ruled in early October that former publisher Brian O’Flaherty and editor-in-chief Fred Wesley were guilty of contempt.

The judge found both men liable as publisher and editor under strict liability principles. Justice Calanchini said that views attributed to Nicholas in the original article amounted to a contempt because a fair minded and reasonable person reading them would conclude that "those who claim to be performing judicial functions in Fiji are not in fact a judiciary at all” and presented a “real risk to the administration of justice in Fiji by undermining the authority, integrity and impartiality of the court and the judiciary”.

Fiji has been frequently criticised in recent years for proceeding with contempt of court charges that infringe international human rights to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.

Fiji Times lawyer John Apted told Justice Calanchini that chief editor Fred Wesley was unaware of the story that was published.  And according to the newspaper’s own report of the mitigation meeting:
“It was entirely up to the sports editor who, due to time constraints and no show of some staff, admitted he did not read the article.

“Apted says on that day the editor, Fred Wesley, was not at work.

“In his mitigation submission, Apted once again asked for forgiveness from the court on behalf of his client.

“He also told the court that the Fiji Times had agreed to publish an apology on the front page of the newspaper.

“He said the Fiji Times was a very good corporate citizen and was working for the communities and a good example was the publishing of the Nai Lalakai and Shanti Dutt vernacular despite making losses.”
The Fiji Sun reported:
“The Attorney-General’s office proposed that a $500,000 fine be imposed on the Fiji Times Limited and a six-month imprisonment term for its editor-in-chief Fred Wesley.

“Appearing on behalf of the Attorney-General, acting Solicitor-General Sharvada Sharma submitted that given the seriousness of the contempt offence the Fiji Times should:

•   pay no less than $500,000 within a period of time deemed appropriate by the court.

•   the owners and directors should enter into a good behavior bond of $500,000 suspended for two years because the company was a repeat contempt of court offender."
Sharma told the court that the contempt was the result of a “gross negligence and recklessness” by the newspaper.

In spite of the contempt proceedings, Andrew Walshaw reported last December that Tai Nicholas had been given a place in one of the International Football Association Federation’s (FIFA) four anti-corruption panels.
 “The New Zealander has been given a place on FIFA's Revision of Statutes Task Force entrusted with reviewing the rule book as part of FIFA president Sepp Blatter's cleanup campaign.

“The move comes as the Fiji government announced that legal action was being taken over published remarks made by Nicholas about the Fijian judicial system.”
A Fiji government statement said at the time: "The Attorney-General views these comments as scandalising the courts in Fiji, in that they are a scurrilous attack on the judiciary, thereby lowering the authority of the judiciary in Fiji."

Rev Akuila Yabaki ... denies the "contempt" charge.
Photo: FijiVillage
In a similar case, the New Zealand Law Society condemned the Fiji regime’s decision to charge a prominent civil society group and its chief with contempt of court. The Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF) and director Reverend Akuila Yabaki had been charged over an article in the NGO's newsletter, Tutaka, which referred to a critical report on the rule of law in Fiji by the Law Society of England and Wales charity.

In a Radio Australia Pacific Beat interview, Jonathan Temm, president of the New Zealand Law Society, said that in his opinion no crime has been committed.

Justice Calanchini's sentence in The Fiji Times case has been reserved. The 2010 Media Decree effectively forced the sale of The Times by the Murdoch-owned News Limited group to local newspaper director Mac Patel of the Motibhai Group because of an imposed 10 percent foreign ownership ceiling. Contempt is separate from the decree, of course. But although the regime's vindictiveness against the newspaper continues, the mitigation submissions clearly demonstrate that Times staff need a big brush up on potential media law traps.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to make censorship 'obsolete' - a bold new RSF digital strategy

REPORTERS sans frontières (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has launched a website called WeFightCensorship (WeFC) on which it will post content that has been censored or banned or has given rise to reprisals against its creator.

This original website’s aim is to make censorship obsolete. It is an unprecedented initiative that will enable Reporters Without Borders to complement all of its other activities in defence of freedom of information, which include advocacy, lobbying and assistance.

Content submitted by journalists or netizens who have been the victims of censorship – articles, videos, sound files, photos and so on – will be considered for publication on the WeFightCensorship site.

The content selected by the WeFC editorial committee will be accompanied by a description of the context and creator. It may also be accompanied by copies of documents relating to the proceedings under which it was banned or other documents that might help the public to understand its importance.

There will be French and English-language versions of the site. Documents from all over the world will be published in their original language (including Chinese, Persian and Vietnamese) and in translation.

The site is designed to be easily duplicated and mirror versions will be created in order to thwart attempts to filter or block it. Internet users will be asked to circulate the censored content in order to give it as much visibility as possible.

“Reporters Without Borders is providing a deterrent designed to encourage governments and others to respect freedom of information, the freedom that allows us to verify that all the other freedoms are being respected,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“This website aims to exploit the so-called ‘Streisand effect,’ under which the more you try to censor content online, the more the Internet community tends to circulate it. We want to show that jailing an article’s author, seizing copies of a newspaper or blocking access to a website with a certain video can prove very counter-productive and can result in the content going around the world.”

By accessing a secured “digital safe,” Internet users will be able to submit content for publication anonymously.

The website will also offer a “digital survival kit” with information about Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), encryption software such as TrueCrypt, online anonymization techniques such as Tor and other tools that news providers can use to protect their sources and, in authoritarian countries, their own safety.

Private access to a beta version of the site has already been available since 13 November to those that register. To support the launch, the Publicis Bruxelles advertising agency devised a campaign ad free of charge that shows several heads of State, including Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad in their birthday suits with the legend “Totalitarian regimes will no longer be able to hide anything from us.” It will appear in the print media and online.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO with consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the International Organisation of the Francophonie. It has its international secretariat in Paris, 10 international bureaux (in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Madrid, New York, Rome, Stockholm, Tunis, Vienna and Washington) and more than 150 correspondents across all five continents.

The WeFC project is supported by the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the Paris City Hall.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chomsky, linguists condemn ‘reprehensible’ media coverage of Gaza attack

OPEN e-LETTER: Media reporting on Gaza: Nous accusons.

WHILE countries across Europe and North America commemorated military casualties of past and present wars on Armistice Day (November 11), Israel was targeting civilians. On November 12, waking up to a new week, readers at breakfast were flooded with heart rending accounts of past and current military casualties.

There was, however, no or little mention of the fact that the majority of casualties of modern day wars are civilians.

There was also hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend. A cursory scan confirms this for Canada’s CBC, the Globe and Mail, Montreal’s Gazette, and the Toronto Star. Equally, for the New York Times and for the BBC.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report on Sunday, November 11, five Palestinian civilians including three children had been killed in the Gaza strip in the previous 72 hours, in addition to two Palestinian security personnel. Four of the deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells on youngsters playing soccer.

Moreover, 52 civilians had been wounded, of which six were women and 12 were children. (Since we began composing this text, the Palestinian death toll has risen, and continues to rise.)

Articles that do report on the killings overwhelmingly focus on the killing of Palestinian security personnel. For example, an Associated Press article published in the CBC world news on November 13, entitled Israel mulls resuming targeted killings of Gaza militants, mentions absolutely nothing of civilian deaths and injuries.

It portrays the killings as ‘targeted assassinations’. The fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in ‘targeted’ killings, as in ‘collective’ killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment.

Another AP item on CBC news from November 12 reads Gaza rocket fire raises pressure on Israel government. It features a photo of an Israeli woman gazing on a hole in her living room ceiling. Again, no images, nor mention of the numerous bleeding casualties or corpses in Gaza. Along the same lines, a BBC headline on November 12 reads Israel hit by fresh volley of rockets from Gaza. Similar trend can be illustrated for European mainstream papers.

News items overwhelmingly focus on the rockets that have been fired from Gaza, none of which have caused human casualties. What is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties.

It doesn’t take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst wilfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.

Furthermore, articles that do mention the Palestinian casualties in Gaza consistently report that Israeli operations are in response to rockets from Gaza and to the injuring of Israeli soldiers.

However, the chronology of events of the recent flare-up began on November 5, when an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot when he wandered close to the border.

Medics had to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay. Then, on November 8, a 13-year old boy playing football in front of his house was killed by fire from the IOF that had moved into Gazan territory with tanks as well as helicopters.

The wounding of four Israeli soldiers at the border on November 10 was therefore already part of a chain of events where Gazan civilians had been killed, and not the triggering event.

We, the signatories, have recently returned from a visit to the Gaza Strip. Some among us are now connected to Palestinians living in Gaza through social media.

For two nights in a row Palestinians in Gaza were prevented from sleeping through continued engagement of drones, F16s, and indiscriminate bombings of various targets inside the densely populated Gaza strip.

The intent of this is clearly to terrorise the population, successfully so, as we can ascertain from our friends’ reports. If it was not for Facebook postings, we would not be aware of the degree of terror felt by ordinary Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

This stands in stark contrast to the world’s awareness of terrorised and shock-treated Israeli citizens.
An extract of a report sent by a Canadian medic who happened to be in Gaza and helped out in Shifa hospital ER over the weekend says: “The wounded were all civilians with multiple puncture wounds from shrapnel: brain injuries, neck injuries, hemo-pneumo thorax, pericardial tamponade, splenic rupture, intestinal perforations, slatted limbs, traumatic amputations. All of this with no monitors, few stethoscopes, one ultrasound machine. …. Many people with serious but non life threatening injuries were sent home to be re-assessed in the morning due to the sheer volume of casualties. The penetrating shrapnel injuries were spooky. Tiny wounds with massive internal injuries. … There was very little morphine for analgesia.”

Apparently such scenes are not newsworthy for the New York Times, the CBC, or the BBC.
Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented.

Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military, and moral support from our governments, the US, Canada and the EU.

Netanyahu is currently garnering Western diplomatic support for additional operations in Gaza, which makes us worry that another Cast Lead may be on the horizon. In fact, the very recent events are confirming such an escalation has already begun, as today’s death-count climbs.

The lack of widespread public outrage at these crimes is a direct consequence of the systematic way in which the facts are withheld and/or of the skewed way these crimes are portrayed.

We wish to express our outrage at the reprehensible media coverage of these acts in the mainstream (corporate) media. We call on journalists around the world working for corporate media outlets to refuse to be instruments of this systematic policy of disguise.

We call on citizens to inform themselves through independent media, and to voice their conscience by whichever means is accessible to them.

Hagit Borer, linguist, Queen Mary University of London (UK)
Antoine Bustros, composer and writer, Montreal (Canada)
Noam Chomsky, linguist, Massachussetts Institute of Technology, US
David Heap, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Stephanie Kelly, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Máire Noonan, linguist, McGill University (Canada)
Philippe Prévost, linguist, University of Tours (France)
Verena Stresing, biochemist, University of Nantes (France)
Laurie Tuller, linguist, University of Tours (France)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Inspirational Fiji widow's story credit to Wansolwara team

NICE to see Fiji sisters Sherita and Sheenal Sharma, who have been the maestros of the Wansolwara journalism newspaper at the University of the South Pacific this year, being so innovative about their skills. They have made a showcase of their work on their Sharma Productions Facebook page. There has been a lot of interest in their inspirational video Bangladesh's Supermum about the life of a young Indo-Fijian widow. That's "Bangladesh" as in the squatter settlement Nanuku in the capital Suva, not the country. This is what they say about the programme:
A 10-minute video of a widowed mum teaching at a school for the blind, and surviving in a squatter settlement in Fiji's capital, Suva. The settlement known as Nanuku ... is one of many that have sprung up in the greater Suva area. The story of a woman who struggles to live in a two-bedroom house, with her parents, not accepted by her in-laws as well as earning very little and having to work multiple jobs, Anshoo is an inspiration to the many women who live in poverty-stricken parts of Fiji.
 This is development journalism - and good storytelling - at work. Congratulations Sherita and Sheenal! In fact, double congratulations for Sherita because she has just won the Gold Medal for the top USP journalism student for 2012.

Café Pacific also takes the opportunity to applaud the journalism students for reviving Wansolwara Online. Not yet quite the finished product, but it is just good to be back in cyberspace after being offline since March 2007. The website follows an award-winning pedigree. Back in the 2000, the Wansolwara website (then known as Pacific Journalism Online, incorporating Wansolwara), won the international JEAA awards for Best Online and Best Publication (any media) for its coverage of the George Speight coup. In other words, the best produced by any journalism school in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Greek free speech editor Kostas Vaxevanis acquitted over leaked 'tax evader' list

Greek editor Kostas Vaxevanis (right): “My job is simply to tell the news and tell it straight.
My job is to tell the truth,” he says. Photo: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA
By HELENA SMITH, reporting from Athens for The Guardian
KOSTA VAXEVANIS hates being the centre of attention. On Thursday moments before taking the stand in one of the most sensational trials to grip Greece in modern times, the journalist said he was not in the business of making news. "My job is simply to tell the news and tell it straight," he averred. "My job is to tell the truth."

Truth in the case of Vaxevanis has been a rollercoaster that has catapulted the 46-year-old from relative obscurity to global stardom in a matter of days. But, after a hearing that lasted almost 12 hours – with a three-member panel of judges sitting stony-faced throughout, he was vindicated: the court found him not guilty of breaking data privacy laws by publishing the names in Hot Doc, the weekly magazine he edits, of some 2059 Greeks believed to have bank accounts in Switzerland.

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations," Vaxevanis said, citing George Orwell, before observers packed into the crammed courtroom broke into applause. "As such it was my duty to reveal this list."

Even before Thursday's court drama – proceedings that veered from comic to tragic as handcuffed Asian migrants looked on in bewilderment – the nation was up in arms over the list.

In the two years since it had been handed to Greek authorities by the IMF's chief Christine Lagarde, the infamous tally of suspected tax evaders had caught the popular imagination. With tax avoidance widely blamed for the debt-stricken country's inability to balance the books, the failure of successive governments to act on the list and crack down on tax evaders had raised suspicions that corrupt vested interests ran to the top of society.

"It is quite clear the political system did everything not to publish this list," said Vaxevanis, who had faced up to two years in jail and a €30,000 fine (£24,000) if convicted.

"If you look at the names, or the offshore companies linked to certain individuals, you see that these are all friends of those in power. Phoney lists had also begun to circulate. It was time for the truth," he told the Guardian during a recess.

Tax evasion rampant
"We live in a country where, on the one hand, tax evasion is rampant and, on the other, people are eating out of rubbish trucks because of salary cuts, because they can't make ends meet."

Three years after Europe's worst crisis in decades erupted in Athens, Vaxevanis has emerged as an unwitting crusader – a defender of truth in an environment ever more electrified by the perceived menaces of malfeasance and mendacity.

Five days after a public prosecutor ordered his arrest – dispatching special agents to seize the journalist in a nation whose justice system has almost never moved with such alacrity – there are few who do not agree that his trial has been "politically motivated". For defence witnesses such as the popular singer Dimitra Galani, bringing Vaxevanis before the court was proof that even press freedom was now at risk in the birthplace of democracy. "The whole thing is absurd, the theatre of the absurd. Greeks really don't know what to think anymore," she said.

For veteran leftists such as Nikos Kostantopouloulos, one of the reporter's three lawyers, the affair was further evidence that the country at the centre of the continent's debt drama was falling down a very slippery slope. "We have a schizophrenic situation where, on the one hand, a journalist is being penalised for revealing a document in the interests of informing public opinion and, on the other, the parliament itself is now saying the handling of the list should be investigated."

From the outset, said Kostantopouloulos, a former leftist politician, the case had defied the principles of justice.

"Right down to the way the prosecutor so hastily issued the charge sheet without even bothering to stamp it, it has been handled very badly," he said. "Furthermore, none of those on the list have even filed a complaint about privacy violation."

With ordinary Greeks hammered by a fifth year of recession, the case has ignited widespread fury. The list, reprinted on Monday by the leading daily Ta Nea, includes politicians, businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors, lawyers – a far cry from those who have borne the brunt of relentless austerity measures on the margins of society.

'Stashing their loot'
"While we have been paying our taxes, some out there have been stashing their loot away in Switzerland, not being taxed at all," said Petros Hadzopoulos, a retiree, who had come to the court to get a glance of the journalist he called "his new, best hero". Hot Doc, which normally has a circulation of about 25,000, sold 100,000 last week.

As Athens teeters once again on the brink of bankruptcy – its public coffers set to run dry in less than a month – Vaxevanis's arrest has highlighted the pitfalls of press freedom in a nation where this week alone two anchors on state television were also fired for publicly "undermining" a minister.

The presenters' "crime" had been to question the failure of the public order minister Nikos Dendias to act on a threat to sue the Guardian for publishing a story alleging police torture of protesters that he said had "defamed Greek democracy".

For those packed into the chamber it was clear that in the birthplace of freedom, democracy itself was at stake. Yesterday's often shambolic proceedings, which frequently saw the panel's presiding female magistrate thumping the bench as she demanded "silence" under an icon of Jesus Christ, included court-appointed interpreters being unable to translate with one confusing friend for French and absurd with illegal.

"I am very pained to have to be here in Greece the mother of democracy explaining the obvious," said Jim Boumela, who, as president of the International Federation of Journalists, flew in from London to testify at the trial.

"This is what I have to do in countries like Uganda," he said. "Kostas should be applauded for what he has done. It's a very worrying turn that journalists are being suppressed in Greece – and I think we are going to see more of it."

More than 500 individuals on the so-called "Lagarde list" of suspected tax evaders with secret bank accounts in Switzerland have been, or are currently, under investigation by UK Revenue and Customs for serious fraud.

Tax investigators are still working their way through the 6000 names on the list, two and a half years after it was handed over to the UK by then French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, who also passed versions to other European members states, including Greece.

While HMRC said its handling of the data was "a major success" and expected to recover hundreds of millions of unpaid taxes, only one person has been successfully prosecuted so far. The long-standing HMRC policy of reaching settlements and imposing penalties mean that the vast majority of those on the list are unlikely to be prosecuted or named as a result. - Ben Quinn

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Freeport mine investigation article wins Jesson emerging journalist award

An Al Jazeera news feed on the strike at Freeport mine in West Papua in October 2011 backgrounding the issues. Note that the clip is reported through a Jakarta "prism" rather than a Papuan one.

CONGRATULATIONS to Auckland writer/photographer Karen Abplanalp who has won the Bruce Jesson Foundation’s $1000 Emerging Journalist Award for an outstanding investigation published in Metro magazine in December 2011 about the NZ Superannuation Fund’s investment in the Freeport mine at Grasberg in West Papua. She was awarded the prize last night by foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey.

The article was written while she was a postgraduate journalism student with AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre and on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course taught by David Robie. It was also featured in the May 2012 edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

The article, “Blood Money”, asked how the Super Fund could justify investing in a project, owned by US-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, that depended on regular payments to the Indonesian military and other unethical practices. At least three striking Grasberg miners were shot dead by police in October 2011. (The above Al Jazeera video news news clip during the strike reported three were shot). The judges' statement said:

Jesson Foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey with the
Emerging Journalist category winner Karen Abplanalp
The Super Fund defended its investment to Abplanalp, arguing that it had a policy of “engagement” with the mining company to improve its ethical practices.

But on September 26 this year the Super Fund announced that it had sold its $1.28 million investment in Freeport McMoRan because of “breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces”.

It also sold much smaller investments in three other companies “for severe breaches of the fund’s responsible investment standards where engagement was unlikely to be effective”.

The convenor of the Jesson Foundation’s journalism awards subcommittee, Camille Guy, said Karen Abplanalp’s article was a stunning exemplar of the crucial role of journalism in all countries of holding authority to account.

The award-winning Metro article.
“If Karen hadn’t investigated the true conditions behind the profits coming out of the Grasberg mine, it is unlikely that more than a handful of New Zealanders would have been aware of what their public pension fund was supporting. NZ Super Fund managers themselves probably did not know the full truth,” Guy said.

“Karen Abplanalp and Metro magazine have performed an important public service in bringing these conditions to light, and I am delighted that the Super Fund has now pulled out of this investment.”

The top Bruce Jesson journalism prize of $4000 for investigative journalism went to Christchurch journalist Rebecca Macfie for a planned book about the Pike River mine disaster.

Macfie, the South Island correspondent for The Listener, has covered the Pike River story ever since 29 miners died on 19 November 2010 in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster in almost a century.

The Jesson journalism prizes, set up after the death of journalist Bruce Jesson in 1999 to support investigative journalism in New Zealand, will contribute $4000 towards Macfie’s costs of researching and writing an in-depth book on the tragedy for Wellington publisher Awa Press.

Macfie will take leave without pay from the Listener to write the book, which will be published next year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Manning film strips away the secrecy around the Zaoui 'espionage' case

BEHIND THE SHROUD, Selwyn Manning's long awaited documentary about "intelligence, espionage and counter-terrorism", is now available on DVD and public screenings are being planned. The Pacific Media Centre plans a showing early next year. The 105min documentary film is investigative, participatory, independent and "gritty in style".

It examines the Ahmed Zaoui case. The film analyses why in 2007, after years of the New Zealand government stating the refugee Algerian theologian and teacher to be a risk to the nation's security, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Justice Paul Neazor, found in Zaoui's favour and set him free.

As New Zealand filmmaker and journalist Manning says, the documentary "unearths information that has been cloaked in secrecy". The research and preliminary version of the documentary was produced while the filmmaker was completing his Masters in Communication Studies at in collaboration with the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University. It also provides insights into French intelligence policy and the Pacific. Manning is lead co-author of the book I Almost Forgot About the Moon about the Zaoui case:

Behind The Shroud takes the viewer on a journey into that shadowy world of spies and espionage, and resolves the mystery of the Zaoui case through interviews with key players in the great game, including two secret witnesses who each testified at the Inspector-General's hearings into the Zaoui case in Auckland in 2007.

The two secret witnesses are: Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Samraoui, the Algerian regime's former head of intelligence and counter-espionage based in north Europe; and Professor George Joffe, an academic from Oxford and Cambridge universities - a renowned expert on north Africa affairs. Both men now speak publicly for the first time about how and why Zaoui was framed by the Algerian regime.

Mohamed Samraoui is a protagonist of sorts and is presented as the officer tasked by his superiors to create a cloak of disinformation around Zaoui. He outlines why as an officer of the DRS (Algeria's secret intelligence service) he "disempowered" Zaoui and other members of Algeria's opposition political parties so as to render them ineffective threats to the military regime.
Behind The Shroud also presents other experts who offer exclusive accounts, each giving a unique view on how the Zaoui case has become a precedence-setting case-study into whether it is proper for governments to rely on intelligence information in judicial process and practice.

These experts include: Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wilkie, a former Australian Defence intelligence officer and intelligence adviser to former prime minister John Howard; Dr Paul Buchanan, a former security analyst to United States intelligence/security agencies;Superintendent Gerry Cuneen, New Zealand Police's former head of its criminal intelligence unit; Matt Robson, former associate minister of foreign affairs; and others.

Their testimony confronts unanswered questions that have lingered since late 2007 and explains why the New Zealand government suddenly set Zaoui free, inviting Zaoui and his family to enjoy their liberty as legitimate refugees in New Zealand.

The documentary concludes with a thought-provoking critique of New Zealand's intelligence apparatus and paves the way for a debate into how New Zealand can move to ensure the Ahmed Zaoui case is not repeated.

Behind The Shroud is being distributed for selected film festival release.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bravo France's Huget ... the try of the year!

THIS MUST go down as the rugby union try of the year, surely. France winger Yoann Huget, grabbed this remarkable score on March 28 in the French Top 14 championship playing for Bayonne away against Montpellier. After a brilliant intercept, he ducked and weaved his way almost the length of the field, kicked ahead, smothered the last defender - who had the ball - regathered and then scored. Magnifique! In spite of this, his team Bayonne lost against Montpellier 26-37. Huget is now playing for French champions Toulouse.

Video link

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cyberspace gag condemned as e-Martial Law in Philippines recalls Marcos era

The Anonymous view of the Filipino digital danger.

IN HIS recent AUT University inaugural professorial about global media truth, transparency and accountability, David Robie condemned the new so-called e-Martial Law in the Philippines, saying it was a warning for the Pacific.

“The most disturbing trend in the digital age is electronic martial law - a draft new law in the Philippines which criminalises e-libel in an extreme action to protect privacy,” he said.

“The Supreme Court has ruled to temporarily suspend this law. But what happens next? Will it be ruled unconstitutional or will the politicians prevail?

“This Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012 is like something out of the Tom Cruise futuristic movie Minority Report.  An offender can be imprisoned for up to 12 years without parole and the law is clearly a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“And truth is not recognised as a defence.

“It would be disastrous if any Pacific country, such as Fiji, wanted to do a copycat law and gag cyberspace.” 

Professor Robie highlighted the fact  that in the Philippines at least 165 journalists have been murdered since 1986 – 32 of them in the Ampatuan massacre in Mindanao in 2009, the world’s worst single killing of journalists.

Three years later nobody has been convicted for these atrocities.

“The Philippines is a far more dangerous place for the media under democracy than it was under the Marcos dictatorship,” Professor Robie said.  “There is a culture of impunity.”

In a joint statement by independent digital and online media, communications and journalism schools and media people in the Philippines, a strong attack has been made on the “cyberspace outrage”.

Professorial speech on AUT on demand

As outrage against the Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012 continues to snowball and create unprecedented unity and defiance among netizens, the Aquino administration has not backed down in its resolve to implement a clearly draconian measure designed to curtail our most basic civil liberties—the right to freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press.

As alternative media practitioners, filmmakers, bloggers, and artists who maximise the new media to bring to the public information, opinion and analysis, as well as works of art that serve to illuminate social conditions and present ideas for social change, we believe that the government’s repression of the medium is the message. With the Cybercrime Act, the government wants to ensure that no avenue for expression exists that is free from control by the rich and powerful elite.

The existing law on libel has long been used by powerful public figures mostly to harass and prosecute journalists for doing their job. Instead of decriminalising libel as urged by international human rights and media institutions, the government has even increased penalties. Worse, it now considers each and every citizen who uses Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as potential criminals.

With the rise of new media, ordinary citizens have been given the extraordinary power to reach large audiences, a power that has previously been the monopoly of the government and corporate media. The new media has been the recourse of citizens who see, report, and interpret social realities that traditional institutions ignore, hide or obliterate. 

Citizens have long been marginalised from discourse on national issues through the agenda-setting powers of the government and corporate media. Through the new media, citizens have the opportunity to counter this marginalisation—to give voice to the poor and oppressed, to gain an audience without the need for huge capitalization, to criticise freely and creatively.

We believe that the Cybercrime Law is primarily a tool that exploits the rise of the new media and the use of ICT to suppress dissent and spy on citizens. The way the law is being defended by those who crafted it, and especially by the President who signed it, reveals that they enjoy, and will use to their own interest, the immense powers that the Cybercrime Law has given the government, such as the ability to take down websites, undertake surveillance, and seize electronic data.

Abuses that will surely arise from such powers will undermine any gains that this law claims to have against “cybercrimes.” For instance, online child pornography and sex trafficking should be addressed by the strict implementation and strengthening of existing laws to reflect the developments in ICT.

It is still debatable if hacking and cracking, spamming, online piracy, and cyberbullying are indeed crimes or if they can be covered under a single piece of legislation. What is clear is that these “cybercrimes” will not be addressed by a law makes expressing oneself online punishable by a jail term, or one that assumes that authorities can dip their hands into private electronic communication.

In other words, a law that throws us back to the dark ages won’t protect our women and children, nor our personal identities and safety. On the contrary, it makes every citizen using ICT vulnerable to abuse by the biggest band of criminals: a government that is corrupt, loathes criticism (as can be judged by President Aquino’s reaction to the online phenomenon ‘Noynoying’), and uses all of its resources to crush dissent.

Even the US government—the footsteps of which the government only follows—did not confer such broad powers unto itself when it attempted, but failed, to pass its Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act.

However, the Cybercrime Law probably pleases the US government, as it strengthens their existing network of surveillance in the country, and boosts the counter-insurgency programme Oplan Bayanihan. The said law also pleases local and foreign big businesses that operate in utter secrecy in this country, further shielding them from public accountability and oversight while penalising those who use ICT to expose wrongdoing and abuses in the private and public sectors.

For e-martial law only reflects the de facto martial law already in place. Under Oplan Bayanihan, more than 100 citizens have been killed for their advocacies, forever silenced by bullets. More than 350 are imprisoned for their political beliefs. The Cybercrime Law makes it even easier to slap dissidents with trumped-up charges and send them to jail. After all, it now takes so little to be considered a cybercriminal.

Repression and lack of freedom is a daily reality for millions of Filipinos in the militarised countryside, violently demolished urban poor communities, and highly controlled workplaces and schools. Now it has become a daily reality as well for netizens who seek comfort in the freedom, however limited, of the new media.

As poverty, exploitation, and repression worsen, the duty to speak up and express ourselves through new media is more necessary than ever. As we begin to feel the grip of Aquino’s iron fist rule, it becomes more urgent to struggle to break free through actions both online and offline. E-martial law has been declared, and as those who fought the Marcos dictatorship taught us, the only way to end it is to start defying it.
          Junk the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012!
          Don’t criminalise criticism!
          Defend our freedom of expression, speech and the press!
          Resist tyranny!

Independent digital media supporters:
Pinoy Weekly Online/ PinoyMedia Center
Davao Today
Northern Dispatch Weekly
Burgos Media Center
Mayday Multimedia
Tudla Productions
Kodao Productions
Southern Tagalog Exposure
UPLB Zoomout

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Independent Papuan journalist attacked in Indonesian crackdown on protest

A 10-minute Metro TV news feed of Indonesian police shooting at protesters.

JAKARTA GLOBE stringer and reporter Oktovianus Pogau was choked and beaten by Indonesian police as he attempted to report on a West Papuan protest.

Indonesian police opened fire on protesters in Manokwari, West Papua, shooting two and wounding three others — including a Jakarta Globe contributor — in the latest crackdown on pro-independence groups in the restive Melanesian province, reported Pacific Scoop.

The independent West Papua Media reported four people had been shot. Indonesian police denied the shootings, which were graphically videotaped by Metro TV.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) has protested over the assaults against journalists in Indonesia.

Tuesday morning’s West Papua National Committee-sponsored (KNPB) rally began near the State University of Papua (Unipa) in Manokwari, said human rights activist Markus Haluk.

About 300 protesters attempted to march to nearby Borarsi field when police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) blocked their path.

Pogau was videotaping the scene when he was approached by a plainclothes officer and told to leave, according to the Jakarta Globe. When he refused a second officer attacked him from behind.

'Choked my neck'
“[A] policeman in a uniform came and choked my neck while he threatened me and told me to leave the location,” Pogau said.

“I tried to escape and told him that I’m a journalist… but [another] policeman punched me in the face.”

Pogau was pulled from the scene by fellow journalists. He showed the officers his press credentials before the second attack took place.

It was the second assault on journalists in Indonesia in the past week. On October 16, members of the TNI attacked five journalists reporting on a downed military aircraft in Penkanbaru, Riau.

Riau Pos photographer Didik Herwanto was beaten and choked by an officer with the Indonesian Air Force in a widely spread video.

The attack sparked widespread condemnation in Indonesia. Lt. Col. Robert Simanjuntak later apologised.

Pogau is the second Jakarta Globe contributor to be injured on the job while reporting in Papua. Last year, long-time writer Banjir Ambarita was stabbed in Jayapura after reporting on allegations of sexual abuse of female inmates by officers in a Jayapura police detention centre.

Ambarita survived the attack but said the stabbing left him “deeply traumatised” and wary of reporting on government abuse.

In 2011, two journalists working in Papua were killed, according to the Pacific Media Freedom 2011: A status report by the Pacific Media Centre. Eight were kidnapped and 18 others attacked during the course of their work.

Foreign media are banned from reporting in Papua without a special permit. In 2011, only three foreign media outlets were granted approval.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rabuka's post-coup Fiji 'forgiveness', corporate civil-military consultation proposal

The logo for the Macmillan Brown Centre
for Pacific Studies-organised conference.
MILITARISM has always been part of Fijian society and the country needs to find a “corporate” bridge between its civil and military based sectors, believes the man who sparked off the modern day coup culture more than 25 years ago.

Sitiveni Rabuka, then a lieutenant-colonel and third-ranked military commander in the Republic of Fiji military Force (RFMF), led the first two of four coups in 1987. The other coups followed in 2000 and 2006.

Former Fiji coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka speaks
at the Democracy in the Pacific conference
at the University of Canterbury on Friday.
Photo: David Robie/PMC
Rabuka, later an elected prime minister, was giving his views on “democracy” as keynote speaker on Friday in a Pacific-wide conference hosted by Canterbury University’s Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.

“Militarism has always been a part of Fiji culture,” he said. “Militarism has always been a way of thinking.”

The military traditionally believed that they were the final guarantors of the security of the Fijian people.

“Unfortunately, I broke the democracy way and I stand accused,” Rabuka said, adding that he hoped for better relations with the military in future.

‘Corporate’ committee
He said what was needed was a “corporate” style special committee consulting between the military and the civilian government after the hoped for return to democracy in 2014.

“This would keep tabs on civil-military relations to prevent them breaking down again.”

But he said he believed that the return to democracy in Fiji rested on a fragile election plan that may not eventuate.

If elections did not go ahead, regime Prime Minister and 2006 coup leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama would remain in power.

So far, Bainimarama had made no move to establish a new political party, join an existing party or distance himself from the military.

Talking about traditional tribal rivalries and earlier military traditions leading to United Nations peacekeeping duties and politicisation of the army, Rabuka several times cited the famous Battle of Marathon in 490BC when a smaller Athenian army defeated the Persian invading force.

A runner sped to Athens to break the news, declaring: “We have won!”

‘Forgiveness’ process
He said a truth and conciliation “forgiveness” process involving chiefly protocols of “vakaturaga” of the iTaukei culture would contribute to a lasting resolution of Fiji’s problems.

During a plenary session later in the day, Rabuka admitted that he had initially thought the invitation for him to speak at the democracy conference was "a joke”.

“Fiji has had an army destroyer of democracy and a navy destroyer of democracy [Bainimarama] and now I thought they wanted to hear an army destroyer of democracy.”

In a reply to a question about the state of the press in Fiji, Rabuka replied there was a "selective" freeing up of news media debate: "My submission to the Constitution Commission hasn't been reported, for example."

The two-day conference included keynote addresses from current NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, former Labour Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff and wide-ranging papers from Pacific politicians (including a former Pacific Islands Forum chairman), foreign diplomats, academics, researchers, civil society advocates and doctoral students.

Conflict resolution
"Topics included alternative governance for conflict resolution in the Solomon Islands; conflicting “democracies” in customary and parliamentary governance in Samoa; Tongan constitutional reform; grassroots or top down approaches in overseas territories development aid?; the role of the military in post-colonial Fiji; and peace journalism in the South Pacific: a media and democracy frame in Timor-Leste and West Papua.

Macmillan Brown Centre acting director Dr Malakai Koloamatangi  praised the "successful" outcomes of the conference, vowing to plan towards a comparable future event and to establish an "Institute for Pacific Research and Governance".

Monday, October 15, 2012

David Robie talks on Pacific media freedom, politics and public trust

Coups, conflicts and human rights: Pacific media challenges in the digital age

Public lecture by Professor David Robie

Date: Tuesday, 16 October 2012
Time: 4.30pm - 5.30pm
Venue: WA Conference Centre, AUT City Campus

View full lecture at AUT University on demand

PROFESSOR DAVID ROBIE is director of the Pacific Media Centre in AUT’s School of Communication Studies and editor of the international peer reviewed journal Pacific Journalism Review. He holds a PhD in History/Politics (2004) from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. He has lived and worked as an international journalist and media educator in seven countries for more than four decades.

In this professorial address, Professor David Robie reflects on the challenges in the context of the political economy of the media and journalism education in the Asia-Pacific region. He also explores emerging disciplines such as deliberative journalism, peace journalism, human rights journalism, and revisits notions of critical development journalism and citizen journalism.

Friday, October 12, 2012

‘Desperate’ search for online business media model, but what about public trust?

News organisations have mostly reacted defensively about media "regulation"
but with little attention paid to public trust. Photo: TG
ONLINE media business models will succeed only if news organisations put more effort into regaining public trust, says Pacific Journalism Review in its latest edition, reports Pacific Media Watch.

In an issue devoted to the Leveson inquiry into Britain’s News of the World phone hacking scandal and the Finkelstein and Convergence reports on the Australian news industry, the research journal has questioned the “increasingly desperate” search for a business model.

“Is the new model the only answer to the current plight of journalism?” writes edition editor Dr Johan Lidberg from Monash University in Melbourne.

“Are media proprietors paying enough attention to the fact that the business model is built on the public trusting the journalistic practices that sit at the heart of the media brands?”

It is as important to retain public trust in journalism and to rebuild lost trust as the quest to make online journalism pay, Dr Lidberg writes.

“Indeed, without, or with low, public trust in news media, will online journalism ever pay enough to sustain quality journalism?” he asks.

One important tool to retain and rebuild trust in any professional practice is openness and accountability.

Ethical codes
“It is to achieve this that industries construct ethical codes of conduct to complement the existing legal framework.”

Along with the British and Australian media crises, the journal also examines NZ Law Commission proposals for media accountability reforms.

“The NZ media has not yet demonstrated anything like the excesses that have been the focus of the Leveson inquiry,” comments media law analyst Linda Clark.

“Which means the government can afford to sit back and watch what happens in the UK and in Australia. It can allow the broadcasters to experiment with an extra layer of self-regulation.”

Contributors to this edition include professors Wendy Bacon, Duncan Bloy, Rodney Tiffen, Mark Pearson and Denis Cryle (an assessment of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, two decades on).

Dr Lidberg, who also contributes an article about Australian media attitudes to accountability, was assisted for the edition by Professor Chris Nash and managing editor Professor David Robie.

He said he hoped the issue would be the beginning of an ongoing debate where media practice accountability would be elevated to the same level as media regulation.

Conference theme
It is a theme for the annual conferences of both the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) and Journalism Education Association of New Zealand (JEANZ) next month.

Professor Wendy Bacon has also contributed an article for the new Frontline section of the journal devoted to a “research journalism” strategy in an academic environment.

“Over the last two decades, the history of journalism research in universities has been a dynamic and intellectually rewarding one,” writes Bacon, who is editor of Frontline.

Frontline will build a public archive of examples of journalism research and exegeses to assist those who embark on the challenging process of critiquing their own work.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Stunning about faces by NZ and PNG over West Papua human rights

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's EM TV interview on West Papua.

NEW ZEALAND’S public pension fund has stunned the human rights fraternity monitoring the recent upsurge in West Papua violations by Indonesian security forces in West Papua by pulling out more than $1 million in investment from the US-based copper and gold mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.

The $15.7 billion NZ Superannuation Fund announced it was ending investment in four companies that were violating international ethics standards.

The fund decided to can its Freeport investment in the wake of persistent allegations of human rights offences committed by security forces around the company’s controversial Grasberg mine.

But the Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee and a young photojournalist affiliated with the Pacific Media Centre can take a bow for their contribution to the change of heart by the super fund.

The IHRC has been an ardent campaigner against the investment while Karen Abplanalp, then a postgraduate student at AUT University, carried out a major investigation of the mine and the New Zealand connection as part of her Asia-Pacific Journalism coursework.

Her article was worked up into the lead investigative article, entitled "Blood Money", in Metro magazine in its December edition. This gave a major public profile to an issue that had previously been “hidden”.

If that wasn’t a big enough setback for the Indonesians in the global credibility stakes over its failed West Papua policies, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill declared that he was going on the front foot by applying diplomatic pressure on the Indonesians over the human rights violations against their Melanesian brothers.

This is an extraordinary, but welcome, step for a PNG leader to take – and the first such move by a prime minister since independence in 1975. Here is Karen’s Pacific Scoop report on the investment fund fallout:

NZ Superfund stand against Freeport mine ‘rights breaches’ stirs headlines

By Karen Abplanalp

New Zealand’s public pension Superfund stand against alleged Indonesian government security forces breaches of human rights is making a mark around the world.

The story has been covered by international media and hit the front page of Indonesian news website the Jakarta Globe, with the headline New Zealand fund pulls Freeport investment, cites Papua rights offences.

It is the first time a government fund has made statements linking Indonesian security forces, corruption and human rights abuses.

The NZ Superfund (NZSF) and its investment in the US-owned mining giant Freeport McMoRan’s Grasberg mine were the subject of a major Metro investigation last December written by me while I was a postgraduate communication studies  student at AUT University.

At the time, the fund was adamant that it would not divest from Freeport and that the mining company was meeting the fund’s responsible investment standards.

What has changed then for NZSF since the Metro investigation?

NZSF’s head of responsible investing Anne-Maree O’Connor replied to Pacific Scoop:  “We have had more time to continue our engagement with a number of companies on our portfolio and to review the resources we have to commit to engagement, and look through which companies we would likely have success with engagement, which ones we needed to draw a line with that we should not pursue engagement because we did not feel that would could generate enough change given our resources and our holdings in the company."

Human rights breached
The NZSF statement said: “Freeport-McMoRan has been excluded based on breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces by the company in at least two countries in which it operates.

“Despite improvements in Freeport-McMoRan’s own human rights policies, breaches of standards by government security forces are beyond the company’s control. This limits the effectiveness of further engagement with the company.”

NZSF has investments with RioTinto, which owns 40 percent of Freeport McMoRan – does this mean that NZSF will divest from Rio Tinto also?

O’Connor said: “Freeport McMoRan is the operator mine and they are the ones who make the payments to (the military) and are responsible on the security issues.” 

“…  It is a significant stake, 40 percent, but Freeport McMoRan is the company that is operating the mine, and they are the ones that need to make management policy decisions.”

It will be interesting to see if  other crown financial institutes follow suit.

The Government Pension Fund and the Earthquake Commission also have investments in Freeport McMoRan.

IHRC thanks fund
The Auckland-based Indonesian Human Rights Committee (IHRC), which has long campaigned against “unethical” investment in the mine, met with the NZSF to thank the fund for its decision to divest from Freeport McMoRan.

IHRC chair Maire Leadbeater said the meeting went “extremely well”.

“We were met by CEO Adrian Orr and by Anne-Maree O’Connor and were shown to a room of about 40 people, all of their staff.”

Leadbeater told the staff they were really pleased about the decision, and told them about the kind of response they were getting from around the world.

Indonesia and Timor-Leste campaigner Josef Benedict from Amnesty International said the agency continued to receive “credible reports” of human rights violations committed by the security forces  in the neigbouring provinces of Papua and West Papua.

The reports included allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, unnecessary and excessive use of force and firearms and possible unlawful killings.

“Investigations into reports of police abuses are rare and only a few perpetrators have been brought to justice,” he said.

“Amnesty International is also concerned that international observers, non-governmental organisations and journalists continue to be to be denied unrestricted access to the two provinces.”

Amnesty International believes that the lack of independent and impartial monitoring of human rights in the West Papua region contributes to a “climate of impunity”.

Freeport-McMoRan responds
In a response statement to Pacific Scoop, Freeport-McMoRan made the same assertions that the NZSF had made to the original Metro investigation but were discredited in that report.

“We are disappointed in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund’s decision to exclude Freeport-McMoRan from its portfolio based on claims of breaches of human rights abuses by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), a Freeport-McMoRan subsidiary,” said Eric Kinneberg, the company’s external communications director.

“As specifically recognised by the fund, PTFI has improved its human rights policies and procedures.”

The statement said Freeport-McMoRan had cooperated with the Indonesian government in its role of maintaining public order, upholding the rule of law, and protecting company personnel and property.

“The police are assigned via a presidential decree to protect the Grasberg mine site, which has been categorised as a national vital asset,” Kinneberg said.

“Where invited by the police, the Indonesian military also may be deployed to provide additional security.”

Karen Abplanalp is an Auckland photographer, writer and contributor to Pacific Scoop.

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