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

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