Thursday, December 18, 2014

Video insights into Asia-Pacific political journalism

ASYLUM SEEKERS in the Pacific, media freedom issues, post-elections Fiji, climate change, the climate of impunity in the Philippines and investigative documentaries in Timor-Leste, Australia and New Zealand were among the wide-ranging topics featured at a three-day political journalism in the Asia-Pacific conference last month.

The conference marked 20 years of publishing the research journal Pacific Journalism Review.

This video features the conference opening, video premiere Sasya Wreksono's min-doco The Life of Pacific Journalism Review, the Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, and media freedom issues in the Pacific and Fiji. Speakers include: Walter Fraser (AUT's Head of Pacific Advancement), Sasya Wreksono (NZ/Indonesia), Del Abcede (Philippines), Barbara Dreaver (NZ/Pacific), Ricardo Morris (Fiji).

Friday, December 12, 2014

West Papua's Saralana Declaration most vital unity development for 52 years

Newly elected spokesman for the West Papuan unified movement Benny Wenda is treated to a chiefly welcome
at the opening ceremony of the "unity" meeting in Port Vila.
Photo: © Ben Bohane/
A unified movement represents a new hope for West Papuans to continue building momentum for their self-determination struggle in spite of allegations of a new atrocity in Paniai by Indonesian security forces this week, writes Ben Bohane from Port Vila.

COMMENTARY: IN A gathering of West Papuan leaders in Vanuatu earlier this month, different factions of the independence movement united to form a new body called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

In kastom ceremonies that included pig-killing and gifts of calico, kava and woven mats, West Papuan leaders embraced each other in reconciliation and unity while the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, church groups and chiefs looked on. The unification meeting was facilitated by the Pacific Council of Churches.

The new organisation unites the three main organisations and several smaller ones who have long struggled for independence. By coming together to present a united front, they hope to re-submit a fresh application for membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as well as countering Indonesian claims that the West Papuan groups are divided.

The divisions have tended to be more about personalities than any real policy differences since all the groups have been pushing for the same thing: independence from Indonesia. But the apparent differences had sown some confusion and gave cover to Fiji and others in the region to say the movement was not united and therefore undeserving of a seat at the MSG so far.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A struggle for ‘truth’ and the NZ media myopic over Fiji, West Papua

The vigil for 58 victims of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre - including 32 news people - at AUT University last week.
Photo: © 2014 John Miller
INTERESTING that the Indonesian news agency Antara should send one of its most senior journalists all the way from Jakarta to cover last week’s Pacific Journalism Review conference in Auckland, yet the local New Zealand media barely noticed the largest-ever local gathering of activists, media educators, journalists, documentary makers and newsmakers in one symposium.

Apart from a half-hour interview on Radio NZ’s Sunday with Max Stahl, the Timor-Leste film maker and investigative journalist world-famous for his live footage of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre – images that ultimately led to the world’s first independence-by-video triumph some eight years later – and a couple of bulletins on RNZI, you would have hardly known the event was on.

But the conference was packed with compelling and newsworthy presentations by journalists and media educators. Topics ranged from asylum seekers to the emerging “secret state” in Australia; from climate change to the logging of “cloud forest’ on the island of Kolombangara; from post-elections Fiji to the political ecology of mining in New Caledonia.

All tremendously hard-hitting stuff and a refreshing reminder how parochial and insignificant the New Zealand media is when it comes to regional Asia-Pacific affairs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Exposes galore in NZ's Hot Air - and now Hot Air 2 needed for Pacific?

Raging fires around Athens, a still from the devastating Alister Barry climate change film Hot Air
by photographer Nikos Pilos.
IN THE wrap-up session of the Pacific Journalism Review 20th anniversary conference at the weekend, independent film maker Alister Barry was beaming.

"I've never had such a tremendous reception for the film," he admitted to Café Pacific. He was blown away by the tremendously engaged and enthusiastic response of a packed audience. Many said his climate change film Hot Air, premiered at the NZ International Film Festival in July, was inspirational.

But what needs to be done? The Vanguard Films investigation reveals in a devastating way how politicians are shackled when trying to confront such a critical global challenge as climate change. It also exposes the weaknesses of the NZ democratic system.

The lively discussion at AUT University centred on what strategies need to be followed. Some called for another documentary about climate change in the Pacific. A graduating student journalist from AUT was on hand to report the discussion.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Honouring the Ampatuan massacre victims as fight for justice goes on

A grim reminder of the Maguindanao, or Ampatuan, massacre on 23 November 2009. Photo: DanRogayan
A TOP Filipino investigative journalist will be speaking about the “worst attack” on journalists in history and her country’s culture of impunity in a keynote address at a media education conference at AUT University next week.

Ces Oreña-Drilon, an anchor for the ABS-CBN flagship current affairs programme Bandila, has been investigating the 2009 Maguindanao massacre when 32 journalists were among the 58 people killed in the atrocity carried out by private militia recruited by a local warlord.

She has been reporting on the controversial legal and political contest around the massacre with nobody yet having been successfully prosecuted out of almost 200 people charged over the killings.

Drilon will give a keynote address at the “Political reporting in the Asia-Pacific” conference hosted by the Pacific Media Centre on November 27-29. The conference marks 20 years of publication of Pacific Journalism Review.

The fifth anniversary of the massacre is this Sunday and there is still no justice for the families of the victims.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Haka politics as part of global rugby’s overdrive

The French “arrow” challenge to the All Blacks’ haka in the 2011 World Cup final – France lost narrowly 8-7.

By Brendan Bradford on Sportal

OPINION: The chief sportswriter for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Oliver Brown, claims the haka is “scarcely more than a circus display” and that is “hidebound by political correctness”.

In a column for the Telegraph online, Brown implores his readers to grasp the “anomalousness” (yep, that’s a word we’re using now apparently) of the haka by recalling the “utter befuddlement” with which it was received by the American men’s basketball team at the recent World Cup.

Rather than incite fear in the opposition, writes Brown, the haka has become a “theatrically-rendered cultural curiosity,” and an “exotic sideshow”.

When you’ve got American-run competitions to find the best haka in the country in the lead up to the All Blacks’ game against the United States, the “cultural curiosity” tag is fair enough – but that’s not Brown’s complaint.

His grievance seems to be that the opposing team doesn’t have a right of reply – even though his main point is that the haka has become a sideshow.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ricardo Morris ... stripping away the hidden agendas and media myths

Publisher of Repúblika Media Limited Ricardo Morris (second from left) with
University of the South Pacific journalism award recipients. Image: USP
This is the keynote message from Repúblika publisher Ricardo Morris at the University of the South Pacific/Wansolwara journalism awards 2014.

JOURNALISM is an act of faith in the future. That’s what the American television correspondent Ann Curry wrote in a 2010 cover essay in Guideposts magazine. Journalism, she argued, should do more than inform. It should make you care.

Ann’s essay, titled "Telling Stories of Hope", marked her long-deserved promotion to co-host of NBC’s Today show. Ann describes the lure of journalism for her as “a call, an urgency” to report because she knew that doing so would “give voice to those who need to be heard".

Not only do the people affected deserve to be heard, the media-consuming public also deserved to hear about what was happening in other parts of the world because it gave us “a chance to care, and it is that empathy that offers the greatest hope".

In today’s world, with short attention spans, competing media outlets and platforms and a world of information – not all of it edifying – at ordinary people’s fingertips, journalism can still be a way to inject some hope into our world.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why The Australian is un-Australian: all ego and little heart

The headline on The Australian media editor Sharri Markson's 'undercover' beat-up about journalism schools
that sparked off the latest attacks on journalism educators.

By Professor Mark Pearson

OPINION: FIRST they came for journalism educator Julie Posetti, for simply tweeting some critical comments made publicly by a former staffer of The Australian. [That time I did write a commentary in Crikey about why editors shouldn’t sue for defamation.]

Then they came for Matthew Ricketson, Greg Jericho, Margaret Simons, Wendy Bacon, Martin Hirst and Jenna Price and to my shame I said very little.

Well, this week they came for a good friend and colleague, Penny O’Donnell from the University of Sydney, and I refuse to remain silent. Enough is enough.

She is one of the most committed and respected journalism educators I know – in both research and teaching – and has shown the greatest courage in her personal life in recent years that has elevated my esteem for her even higher.

Sadly, the reputation of The Australian newspaper has followed the opposite trajectory. It is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and my view is that the first 40 were far better than the last ten.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

France's young rugby guns who could herald Les Bleus' revival

Racing Métro winger Teddy Thomas ... one of the young stars lighting up French rugby.
Photo: Racing Métro
TIME for a break from media and politics with a treatise on Gallic rugby, especially after a diet of gloom and doom results and stories since France almost won the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.

As François Valentin writes, if the Top 14 competition is the El Dorado for many international superstars, the recent call-ups of Teddy Thomas, Charles Ollivon and Xavier Chiocci act as a reminder that France still has some very good local talent.

Here is a young, but competitive XV with very few caps (if any) that could form the backbone of Les Bleus in the next few years.

15 Geoffrey Palis (23 years old, Castres)
In his first season in the Top 14, and despite the presence of Brice Dulin (who is only a year older), Palis played 16 matches for a total of 103 points. Yes, Palis also kicks at goal, and is a pretty good shot too. That golden boot and his capacity to find space earned him a spot in the French 30-man list during the last Six Nations, although he didn't make his debut. Close behind, Darly Domvo hogged the full-back position for Bordeaux, starting 19 times last year and Hugo Bonneval from Stade Français is another huge talent, although he is currently recovering from a torn ACL.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Crying wolf, crying terror and fanning the media flames of disquiet

Outraged family of innocent man splashed as a 'terrorist teenager' in Fairfax media threatens to sue.
The reckless and inflammatory reporting on terrorism and national security in Australia makes ABC columnist Jonathan Green wonder whether we'd be better off without a media apparatus that can sink so low.

OPINION: HAVE we reached a tipping point where, with its mix of anxious desperation and crazy-brave self-confidence, our mainstream corporate media does us more harm than good?

Everywhere it's under pressure from declining markets and battling business models, a situation that is as pressing for newspapers as it is becoming true for TV.

The response of news producers has been trapped somewhere between the sentimental and the self-serving. How will journalism survive, ask the journalists. Maybe we ought to wonder both whether it matters and whether something better might not evolve to replace it.

It might be that journalism is just a writing style.

I should declare here that I've spent my working life as a journalist, from 1979 to now. But now, reading the newspapers and watching the news, I can't help but wonder if this is a craft that is not only losing its centre of corporate gravity and support, but also some fundamental sense of its mission and responsibility.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Politics, human rights and asylum seekers media conference lined up for NZ

An update on Ces Oreña-Drilon and the Maguindanao massacre investigation. Her justice corruption allegations have led to a National Bureau of Investigation inquiry. Video: GMA News

PACIFIC JOURNALISM REVIEW, the only politics and media research journal in New Zealand and the Pacific, will host an international conference late next month marking its 20th anniversary of publication.

With the overall theme of “Political journalism in the Asia-Pacific”, many editors, investigative journalists, documentary makers, human rights advocates, media freedom activists and journalism educators and researchers will be converging on Auckland for the event at AUT University on November 27-29.

One of the keynote speakers at PJR2014, television journalist Ces Oreña-Drilon of ABS-CBN and an anchor for the celebrated current affairs programme Bandila, will give an address on the killings of journalists with impunity in the Philippines.

She has been investigating the 2009 massacre of 34 journalists by private militia while they were accompanying a candidate’s entourage to register for elections and she has a grim story to tell in her “Losing the landmark Maguindanao massacre case” presentation about the legal and political fallout from the tragedy.

She is attending the conference with the support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

From Fiji's dictatorship to 'democracy' – the AUT student team on the job

Mads Anneberg's profile on Ricardo Morris and Repúblika.

THREE STUDENTS from AUT University covered Fiji's historic “from dictatorship to democracy” general election this month.

While the election arguably legitimised Voreqe Bainimarama’s so-called 2006 “coup to end all coups”, the students performed something of a coup themselves.

Not only were they providing the first ever comprehensive coverage of a Pacific national election by a New Zealand journalism school, but their reportage was far superior to much of the Kiwi media that was ill-prepared for the occasion.

In fact, some were unashamedly parachute journos covering a complex event on September 17 that was overshadowed by New Zealand’s own election three days later.

All three students were reporting as a “package” for Pacific Scoop, the course outlet for AUT’s postgraduate Asia-Pacific Journalism course run by the Pacific Media Centre. But while two were on the ground in Fiji, the third was an “anchor” - monitoring, writing and editing stories to provide an overall contextualised story.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Fiji democratic mandate for the coup leader – what now for the media?

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Rear-Admiral (Ret) Voreqe Bainimarama's Fiji First party is leading the country in the next four years. Photo: Mads Anneberg, an AUT Pacific Media Centre student on internship in Suva with Repúblika Magazine and Pacific Scoop for the elections
By David Robie

IN THE END, it was no real surprise. For 2006 coup leader Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who retired recently as the military strongman with the rank of rear admiral, it was a foregone conclusion that he would emerge as the triumphant victor in Fiji’s first general election in almost eight years.

Just as it was inevitable in 1992, when the original coupster - who staged two coups in the same year, 1987 -  Brigadier-General Sitiveni Rabuka made the transition from military backed prime minister to civilian leader.

A major difference is that Rabuka was elected in 1992 on an indigenous supremacy platform of “Fiji for Fijians” while Bainimarama’s Fiji First party is pledged to a multiracial “Fiji for all Fijians”.

The hope is that Bainimarama’s authoritarian streak will gradually mellow and he will come to recognise as an elected leader the critical importance of a civil society discourse with a strong non-government organisation sector and an independent Fourth Estate.

The media was once a proud and feisty part of Fiji democracy. It can achieve that credible status again.

Democracy in Fiji a tender plant – now time to nourish it for the future

The Multinational Observer Group sees Wednesday's general election as a credible expression of “the will of the Fijian voters”. Video: Alistar Kata/Pacific Media Centre/Pacific Scoop

By Fiji affairs columnist and blogger Dr Crosbie Walsh

UNFORTUNATELY, it had to happen but all is not lost.

It started with Fiji Labour Party leader and former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry – deposed in the 2000 attempted coup – complaining about a minivan showing a Fiji First sticker during the blackout period and another alleged election breach when a disabled voter at St Joseph’s in Suva was assisted by an election officer with no witness present.

Then there were complaints that the counting had stopped when all that had stopped were the announcements, and Radio New Zealand International quoted an unnamed SODELPA official saying its agents had noted anomalies in the transmission and counting of votes, and Fiji Leaks claimed the Multinational Observer Group (MOG) were having “a good holiday in Fiji”.

And then someone calling himself Thakur Loha Singh on a blog said he’d heard of a polling station where the votes of relatives of a candidate mysteriously disappeared and the candidate ending up with a zero vote.”

He said he’d “forewarned political parties of this some time ago.” Not a shred of evidence — but he made sure his prophecy came true.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Live blog: Bainimarama takes commanding lead in Fiji elections

Livestreaming with Repúblika editor Ricardo Morris and Pacific Scoop’s Mads Anneberg.

By Ricardo Morris, Mads Anneberg, Alistar Kata and Biutoka Kacimaiwai in Suva

WHILE the results are provisional at this stage, it is quite clear today that the people of Fiji have given coup leader Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama a democratic mandate.

His Fiji First party was polling way ahead of the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) at 6am this morning when counting was suspended until later today.

With 1244 of the 2025 polling stations tallied by the Fijian Elections Centre, Fiji First with a multicultural policy of “Fiji for all” had 233,094 votes, or 60.2 percent of the total vote – more than double the indigenous party SODELPA, which represents the political group ousted in the 2006 military coup.

Fiji elections live blog: Bainimarama takes early lead

Voters in Suva today. Photo: Wansolwara
By Alistar Kata of Pacific Scoop in Suva

PRIME MINISTER Voreqe Bainimarama took an early lead in provisional results in the Fiji general election tonight.

With provisional results from 43 out of 2025 polling stations processed, the Fiji First leader topped the five best-placed candidates with 2339 votes, well ahead of rival SODELPA’s Ro Teimumu Kepa with 628.

But in the party stakes, Fiji First held a narrow lead with 48.3 percent while SODELPA had 42.1 percent.

This is the first election in Fiji since Bainimarama staged a military coup in 2006.

Alistar Kata is a member of the student journalism team covering the Fiji elections as part of their Asia-Pacific Journalism course at the Pacific Media Centre. She is on internship with Wansolwara while her colleagues are Mads Anneberg with the Republika in Suva and Thomas Carnegie and Pacific Media Watch editor Anna Majavu with the PMC in Auckland. 

Their story archive is at Pacific Scoop. Read on with the Live Blog:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Key accused of allowing secret 'spook' cable sensors to spy on NZ citizens

 Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald (left) and Kim Dotcom at the "moment of truth"
political surveillance meeting in Auckland last night. Image: PMW
By ANNA MAJAVU of Pacific Media Watch

NEW ZEALAND Prime Minister John Key has been accused of allowing the secret installation of equipment that would enable spooks to tap into New Zealand's undersea fibre optic cable as part of a covert mass surveillance system of citizens.

This was the word from globally acclaimed whistleblower Edward Snowden and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (both speaking via video link), Kim Dotcom and US Pulitzer prize-winner Glenn Greenwald last night at a packed meeting of more than 2000 people in Auckland.

The hall was so full that another 800 people could not get into the venue at the Auckland Town Hall.

In a major political coup for the Internet-Mana alliance which organised the seminar and which is contesting the New Zealand national elections this Saturday, the three speakers painted a grim picture of individual privacy and internet freedom under New Zealand's ruling National Party.

Dotcom told the meeting that there were only two ways to fight mass surveillance - through political mobilising, as the Internet Party was doing and through encryption.

Fiji pre-election 'politics' blackout stirs media protests, frustration

BLACKOUT DAY – day one of the “silence window” in Fiji leading up to the close of polling in the general election at 6pm on Wednesday. And this is under the draconian threat of a $10,000 fine or five years in jail for breaches.

These are the penalties cited in a media briefing distributed to journalists covering the elections last week. But a closer reading of Part 4 “Electoral campaigns and the media” in the Elections Decree 2014 reveals that there are even harsher penalties of up to $50,000 and 10 years in jail for offenders.

And this could include social media offenders. The International Federation of Journalists was quick to pick up on these heavy penalties and fired off a protest.

“This is a gross violation on the freedom of the media ahead of one of the most pivotal elections in Fiji history,” says IFJ acting Asia-Pacific director Jane Worthington.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand Mediawatch presenter Colin Peacock, who has a keen interested in digital media developments, the Pacific Media Centre’s Thomas Carnegie was told the penalties were “unduly harsh” and would restrict political debate just when it was needed the most.

Friday, September 12, 2014

'I'll not be intimidated ... by cowards,' says Fiji death threat journalist

Fiji Sun's Jyoti Pratibha ...death threats via fake Facebook profiles. Image: Pacific Scoop
THE PARIS-based media freedom advocacy organisation Reporters Sans Frontières and the Pacific Media Centre have condemned threats and intimidation against political reporters covering Fiji’s first parliamentary election campaign since the  2006 coup.

Pacific Media Watch reports from Paris:

Two women journalists – Vosita Kotowasawasa of the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) and Jyoti Pratibha of the Fiji Sun newspaper – received death threats on Tuesday over their previous day’s coverage of the cancellation of a live TV debate between the leading contenders for the post of prime minister.

According to Pacific Scoop, a news website affiliated with the Pacific Media Centre, Kotowasawasa received several threatening phone calls while Pratibha was threatened via fake Facebook user profiles.

Both had covered the previous day’s last-minute decision by Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa, the Roko Tui Dreketi and head of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), to pull out of the debate with interim Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Indonesian ‘open door’ policy on West Papua ‘a lie’ as French journos still detained

Two arrested French journalists, Thomas Dandois (centre) and Valentine Bourrat (left), from Franco-German
television channel Arte, are photographed with an unidentified Indonesian immigration official in
Jayapura in Papua province last week. Image: AsiaOne
RECENT claims by Indonesian authorities that there was a fresh “open door” policy over inquisitive journalists wanting to enter West Papua and report “on the level” have turned out to be false.

Hopeful signs through insightful reports (long with intelligence minders) by SBS Dateline’s Mark Davis, Michael Bachelard of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jakarta bureau and AAP’s Karlis Salna that the Indonesian government had indeed seen the light – or at least was having a serious rethink – have turned out to be nothing but a mirage.

In the latest July/August edition of The Walkley Magazine, a Bachelard article featured “Opening the doors to West Papua” about his experience in January 2013 as “the first foreign reporter (excluding travel writers) to be given entry for about 12 months, and the first Australian for significantly longer”. He wrote rather prematurely:
“I hope the Indonesian government sees that these stories have not caused the sky to fall in, because only then will they open up West Papua. Then perhaps, reporting there can become just like any other part of my job.”
However, the detention of two French journalists – who are facing charges of “treason” and “immigration crime” – and a West Papuan tribal leader early last month has made a mockery of the new Indonesian policy.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mounting global pressure against Timor-Leste’s ‘death sentence’ media law

East Timor’s José Belo … courageous fight against "unconstitutional" media law.
Image: © Ted McDonnell 2014
CAFÉ PACIFIC and the Pacific Media Centre Online posted challenges to the controversial ‘press law’ nine months ago when it emerged how dangerous this draft legislation was.

Opposition quickly took off among independent journalists, civil society advocates and eventually media freedom organisations such as the regional Pacific Media Watch and global International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières took up the cause.

Yet even though this law was clearly a much bigger threat to Pacific media freedoms as a regional precedent than the military backed Fiji Media Decree, it took some time for mainstream news media groups to take notice.

And this is mostly thanks to the courageous efforts of Tempo Semanal’s editor José Belo, who is also leader of the fledging Timor-Leste Press Union (TLPU), to bring it to the attention of the global community.

This draconian draft law (not-so-draft as it has already been adopted by the National Parliament and has just been stalled temporarily by the Appeal Court over some "unconstitutional" sections) smacks of the worst repression days of Indonesian occupation and of the Suharto era of media censorship.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

La’o Hamutuk calls for inquiry into Timor GAP ‘mismanagement’ of oil resources

The Suai project on the South Coast ... "liberated" land but confused communities.
Photo: La'o Hamutuk
AN INDEPENDENT Timor-Leste development and social justice agency has called for an inquiry into the Timor GAP corporation established to manage the country’s energy resources for the benefit of its citizens, alleging “poor management” and “possible corruption”.

La’o Hamutuk, which has been monitoring state management of the oil and gas industry reserves and government spending, has sent an open letter to the Court of Appeal president Guilhermino da Silva and other agencies.

The state-owned company Timor Gás & Petróleo, E.P. was established in July 2011 and it began operations three months later - but has never filed an annual report for the past three years as required by law, according to La’o Hamutuk researchers.

“La’o Hamutuk has asked them about this many times, and Timor GAP said that problems with the internal audit of their GAP-MHS subsidiary prevented publication of these reports for more a year,” the development agency said in its open letter.

"We believe that Timor GAP, E.P. may have committed legal violations, maladministration, poor management, and possible corruption, as well as ignoring legal obligations for accountability and transparency."

The letter called for an “external audit” initiated by the "Camara de Contas [Tax and Audit Tribunal] or Parliament".

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Timor-Leste’s Parliament handed ‘humiliating’ defeat over harsh media law

East Timorese journalists raise their hands to approve the Timor-Leste Journalist
Code of Ethics in October 2013. Photo: Tempo Semanal
PACIFIC SCOOP reported this week that East Timor’s Appeal Court had scrapped the country’s draconian new Media Law and sent it back to the National Parliament. The ruling was welcomed with open arms by journalists, foreign correspondents, civil society advocates and democrats.

Problem is that some legal interpretations doing the rounds seem to suggest this isn’t quite the full story. In fact, perhaps, some say, reports “jumped the gun” in suggesting that the court had ruled the law completely “unconstitutional”.

Tempo Semanal, the independent publication run by investigative journalist  José Belo, is probably closer to the mark by saying that parts of the law “violate” the Constitution of Timor-Leste. It is an embarrassing defeat for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao who had backed the law.

This law is far harsher than the controversial Fiji Media Industry Development Decree imposed by the military-backed regime in Fiji in 2010, which casts a shadow over next month’s election, yet while New Zealand media has had a lot to say about the Fiji media law, it has largely ignored the legislation ushered in by a democracy in Dili.

This is what the Tetum-language Tempo Semanal report said in its stilted English - and the Timor-Leste Press Union, which has been fighting this law from the start, gave a big thumbs-up:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Young reporters offer fresh insights into Pacific 'truths'

REFRESHING to see some younger journos not weighed down by the political baggage of the Asia-Pacific region giving some fresh insights into media challenges - such as Fiji barely a month away from facing its first election in eight years, and also West Papua.

Coup master Voreqe Bainimarama's fleeting visit to New Zealand at the weekend, for the first time since he staged his military putsch in 2006, was crowned by a heady FijiFirst "festival" in Manukau.

Several mainstream media organisations would have us believe that this event was dominated or disrupted by hecklers and protesters.

The truth, unpalatable as it may seem, was actually a resounding success for Bainimarama with most of the 1000 crowd barracking for him, and this was more accurately depicted by Radio Tarana.

A couple of journalists on the Inclusive Journalism Initiative (IJI) programme and Asia-Pacific Journalism course, including a Pasifika broadcast journalist, with a fresh approach, provided a much more balanced and nuanced print story and video report. Well done Alistar Kata and Mads Anneberg!

On a similar theme, Struan Purdie, also at IJI and APJ, filed an excellent report on the realities of media freedom and human rights in the Indonesian-ruled West Papua region. This followed comprehensive and quality news features from Pacific Media Watch editor Anna Majavu. Kudos to you both too!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Balibo's ghosts and Timor-Leste's controversial media law

A Timorese broadcast journalist working in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery at a 2013 memorial event marking the
1991 massacre by Indonesian troops. Photo: David Robie
CAFÉ PACIFIC opened up public debate on the progress of Dili's widely condemned Media Law in February after a visit to Timor-Leste. Since then there has been a critical mass of coverage and analysis on this flawed piece of legislation. The latest commentary by Human Rights Watch's Phelim Kine is an indictment of Australian policy over Timor-Leste. He says the Australian government should "make it clear that media freedom is an indispensable component of a prosperous and stable society and demand that East Timor nurture a free media, not undermine it". Ditto for New Zealand policy. Read on:

Australia's stake in East Timor's media freedom is rooted in that country's hillside town of Balibo. It was there on October 16, 1975 that invading Indonesian military forces killed, execution-style, five journalists - Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham from Melbourne's Channel Seven and Brian Raymond Peters and Malcolm Rennie from Sydney's Channel Nine - to prevent them from reporting on the invasion.

Indonesian troops on December 8, 1975, killed Roger East, an Australian reporter drawn to East Timor to determine the fate of the Balibo Five.

Four decades later, East Timor's journalists and foreign correspondents are again under threat. A new media law that East Timor's Parliament passed on May 6 has the power to stifle the country's still-fragile media freedom. East Timor's Court of Appeal is reviewing the law's constitutionality in response to a July 14 request by president Taur Matan Ruak.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cross-party support in NZ Parliament for 'media freedom' in West Papua

GREEN PARTY MP Catherine Delahunty stunned New Zealand's Parliament today with an untabled motion supporting media freedom in West Papua. Her motion won unanimous cross-party support.

Open access has been a long-standing demand by journalists and civil society advocates.

The recent presidential vote has offered a chance for major changes in the Jakarta-ruled two provinces of Papua and West Papua, collectively known as the region of West Papua.

Delahunty's motion: 
I move that this House call upon the new President of Indonesia to commit to genuine media freedom in West Papua including the right of local and international journalists to report on the political situation there without risk of imprisonment or harassment by the Indonesian state.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Walkley review: The complex notion of news in the Pacific

Brent Edwards in The Walkley Magazine looks at journalist and academic David Robie’s scrutiny of the Pacific region’s governance and journalism. Cartoon by David Pope.

DAVID ROBIE has spent 35 years working as a journalist and journalism academic in the Asia- Pacific region. In Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, mayhem and human rights in the Pacific, Robie summarises his reportage on many of the significant events that have marked his years working in the Pacific. It is part autobiography, part history and part journalism treatise.

As well as providing his perceptive analysis of human rights and democracy, or lack of, in the Pacific, Robie also spends time commenting on journalistic practices, particularly as they relate to reporting on our immediate neighbourhood. For someone like me, who is not an expert on the Pacific, the book is a valuable reference to the significant issues that continue to bedevil the region.

Robie’s book is broad in its compass. It covers the Kanaky struggle for self-determination in New Caledonia, the rise of the Flosse dynasty in Tahiti, coups in Fiji, Chinese influence in Tonga, the struggle in Bougainville, the fight for independence in Timor Leste, the ongoing struggle in West Papua and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in New Zealand. His stories range as far away as covering indigenous struggles in Canada to the violence in the Philippines. And always he is concerned with human rights in the Pacific.

Robie includes articles he has written over the past 30 years or so, updated by his contemporary analysis of what is happening now. Take New Caledonia for instance. That chapter includes an article Robie wrote for the New Zealand Listener in 1984 titled “Blood on their banner”.

He writes that his reporting on New Caledonia led to a protracted and acrimonious dispute with Fiji’s Islands Business publisher Robert Keith-Reid, when the magazine accused him in 1989 of alleged “leftist” support of Kanak activists. It is just one example of the pressure that has been exerted on Robie and other journalists over their coverage of independence movements in the region.

But it is Robie’s comments on the practice of journalism that should excite the most debate. He makes no bones about his distaste of the tendency of regimes and other vested interests in the region trying to suppress press freedoms, often by intimidation and threats.

His views on journalism in the region have not just been shaped by his experience as a journalist. He has also been the head of journalism at both the universities of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific and he is now journalism professor and director of the AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre in Auckland.

He praises those journalists throughout the region who struggle to do their job in the face of intimidation, legal restraints and poor pay. But he is less effusive about the role of Western journalism in covering the Pacific. He questions whether the Western notion of news is appropriate to covering the many complex issues in the region. And, before some journalists protest too loudly, this is not a cry for the media to go soft. But Robie does raise some interesting questions about the role of journalism and whether its approach could be altered.

Robie puts forward the case for journalists practising what he calls critical deliberative journalism in the region. He argues that Pacific journalists now have a greater task than ever in encouraging democratisation of the region and informed insights into development, social justice and peace issues facing related island states. In other words, he says journalists should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Robie says this does not mean allowing politicians’ slogans, such as “cultural sensitivity”, to be used as a smokescreen for the abuse of power and violations of human rights. Instead, he says the approach he advocates will put greater pressure on journalists to expose the truth and report on alternatives and solutions.

Robie sums it up this way: “Critical deliberative journalism also means a tougher scrutiny of the region’s institutions and dynamics of governance. Answers are needed for the questions: Why, how and what now?”

Those questions do not just apply to the island states. Here in Australia and New Zealand we, too, might consider a different approach to the way we practise journalism.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Kanaky tale of mining skulduggery and environmental courage

AN EXTRAORDINARY story of mining skulduggery and a courageous struggle by indigenous Kanak environmental campaigners has been captured in a poignant new documentary, Cap Bocage – described by the filmmaker as a tale of “when a mountain fell into the sea”.

The culprit in this case is Ballande, one of the oldest nickel mining companies in New Caledonia with a record of three decades laying waste a coastal environment in north-east Grande Terre.

The documentary, made by director Jim Marbook, filmmaker and also a television and screen production lecturer in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies, is an astute piece of cinematography.

Made over a period of seven years, it patiently peels away all the complexities and subtleties of the environmental struggle against a hard-nosed mining company that employs most of the people in the remote Kanak community.

It also tells the story of articulate and charismatic campaigner Florent Eurisouké – who visited Auckland for the global premiere at this week’s New Zealand International Film Festival – and his environmental organisation Mèè Rhaari take on Ballande through boycotts and finally the lawcourts.

Monday, June 30, 2014

USP’s attempted gag over media freedom issues stirs international protests

USP protagonists (from left): Acting journalism coordinator and journalism fellow Pat Craddock,
deputy vice-chancellor Dr Esther Williams and journalism lecturer and author
Dr Matt Thompson. Montage: Fijileaks
Café Pacific is on holiday with the publisher looking for “summer” somewhere in western Ireland. But this blog couldn’t stay on hold any longer with all the current shenanigans going on at Fiji’s University of the South Pacific. 

Beleaguered journalism academics Pat Craddock, the acting regional media programme leader who is a New Zealand broadcaster and has long experience at USP and is widely respected on campus, and Australian author, educator and journalist Dr Matt Thompson, have stirred a hornet’s nest in administration circles over the past week because of their frank and defiant talking about media and freedom of speech issues in Fiji. 

The controversy has stirred condemnation by Amnesty International and sparked a column by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian. In the latest statement by Craddock, published by Fijileaks, he has refused to be “silenced” by the university: 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pacific media 'too cosy' with political power, says author

From Pacific Media Watch

The Pacific Media Centre's director, Professor David Robie, has called for more emphasis on critical development journalism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking on ABC's Media Report, Dr Robie said there was a tendency globally - and not just in the Pacific -  for journalism to be a "bit too cosy with political power".

"Agendas are often set in the media based around press galleries and what's seen as priorities by governments, whereas critical development journalism is really a proclamation - if you like - for ordinary people getting their values and their needs investigated and getting some sort of result from policy changes," Dr Robie told presenter Richard Aedy.

Discussing the state of media freedom in the Pacific, Dr Robie said West Papua was the most neglected region in the Pacific in terms of media coverage, mainly because there was "virtually no ready access into West Papua by journalists".

To report from West Papua without being sanctioned by the Indonesian government was risky for journalists, and even more so for their contacts and sources, added the author of the recently published Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bad news from East Timor as media faces petro fund 'guided democracy' gag

Timorese students protest over Australian spying in its efforts to manipulate Timor-Leste's oil industry
... free speech at risk under the new media law. Photo: Global Voices
By Tempo Semanal editor/publisher José Antonio Belo

SADLY, I have bad news to report from East Timor. It is not yet clear how long my colleagues and I will be able to freely report the news. But readers should know, things are not what they seem in the glowing press releases from Government Palace in Dili.

The government, through its members in the national Parliament, is taking steps to limit basic freedoms held by Timorese citizens.

East Timor is now a vibrant and peaceful young democracy, but a few weeks ago it took a significant step backwards towards the days of the Suharto regime, when Indonesia occupied East Timor for 24 years between 1975 and 1999.

On May 6, the national Parliament of East Timor passed a law to regulate the media and freedom of expression in East Timor. The law has yet to be promulgated by the President of the Republic, Taur Matan Ruak, although it was sent to him to pass last week.

The law is not only undemocratic but is also in violation of the constitution. The constitution gives rights to the media and citizens for freedom of expression in articles 40 and 41, but the new law seeks to limit, restrict and in some cases terminate those rights.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Timor-Leste raises bar in media suppression with new law

Graphic from the latest edition of Index on Censorship with a profile on the new law.
Image: Shutterstock/Index on Censorship
JOURNALISTS and civil society critical of the flawed Fiji mediascape in the lead-up to the first post-coup general election in September should also be up in arms over the attempts to muzzle the press in Timor-Leste.

A new law passed by the National Assembly in Dili early last month raises the Asia-Pacific bar in suppression tactics against probing media.

The law, not yet endorsed by the president, severely limits who can qualify to be “journalists” and could potentially curb overseas investigative journalists and foreign correspondents from reporting from the country as they would need advance state permission.

It also sidelines independent freelancers and researchers working for non-government organisations in quasi media roles.

In a fledgling country where the media has limited resources, media officers and other researchers working for NGOs have been providing robust reporting and analysis of the country’s development progress – especially over the oil producing industry.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bouquets for the Fiji media from a ‘new wave’ politician

Professor Biman Prasad ... sound credentials - for democracy and a free media.
Photo: Republika Magazine
FIJI ‘new wave” political hopeful Biman Prasad, a University of the South Pacific academic and economist with some sound democratic credentials, had positive messages for the beleaguered media last weekend.

In a speech to a working group of the rejuvenated National Federation Party, he handed out a few bouquets to the Fiji scribes.

Professor Prasad was at pains to acknowledge the handicaps that journalists faced in Fiji under the Media Industry Development Decree (MIDA), saying that while this remained in force, the 2014 general election in September “cannot be free and fair – period”.

And unlike many other politicians, he actually knows what he is talking about with the country’s media. In 2008, he was co-editor of a Fijian Studies academic journal with the theme “Media and democracy” in Fiji. And this followed a rare Pacific media textbook textbook Media and Development: Issues and Challenges in the Pacific Islands. In both collaborations his partner was then USP head of journalism Shailendra Singh.

So his commitment to media freedom is sincere and well-argued. But after eight years under this military backed regime, it is hard to think back to the days when Fiji actually had a feisty, truly independent media, arguably the best in the region.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

RSF ‘information hero’ fights new media law in Timor-Leste

Gagged José Belo at a Media Law Seminar in Dili hosted by the Secretary for Communication.
Image: Jornal Independente
Bob Howarth files a special report from Dili for Café Pacific

IT WAS a stunt that arguably, in any democratic country on any given day, would have led the media headlines and stopped anyone that cared about their rights to speak freely in their tracks.

But as the man who was this year included in Reporters Without Borders 100 “information heroes” list for his contribution to journalism world-wide, José Belo, sat quietly on the head table at yesterday’s Secretary of State-led media capacity workshop in Dili with a bandana fixed across his mouth, the noise was sadly minimal.

For almost an hour Belo sat, his mouth forced shut as a sign of the gag the veteran journalist believes will soon be forced on Timor-Leste’s fragile media under a new law.

As the nation’s first new media law now sits waiting presidential approval, Belo warned that, in its current form, its restrictions on who can and can’t operate as a journalist, government control of the regulating press council body and worrying stipulations on information access would signal the death of Timorese journalists’ spirit.

Sobering times, but is it too little too late to save freedom of expression and plurality of voices in a country that so many times has proudly paraded its own long fight for freedom?

David Robie on ‘critical development journalism’

Media in Jayapura pictured in a photograph from Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face featured during a course
in "Safe Witness Journalism". Photo: West Papua Media
Media with Gavin Ellis – Radio New Zealand National

REVIEW: WHAT makes the book Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific really interesting is that it’s not just the reprinting of David Robie’s very good investigative pieces of reporting, but he weaves into it his autobiographical story and that gives context to his various pieces that he has gathered together.

A wide range of stories from the Kanak uprising of the 1980s, the Fiji coups, Moruroa - really the whole breadth of events in the Pacific over the last 30 or 40 years ...  And it’s deep journalism …

It gets rights inside the issues and shows the trust that was placed in David Robie by people who really wanted their stories told. So it is well contextualised and I think it is a real contribution to Pacific journalism by collecting it all together.

The final part of the book is about his role as a journalism educator, and also his perceptions of the way that journalism in the Pacific has developed. He has a very interesting model that he calls critical development journalism. It is a little bit like investigative journalism.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Caveman Chabal, 'monument to marketing', bows out

Last year's infamous Caveman 'ko' against Marc Giroud moment for his Lyon club as captured on YouTube.

Special correspondent in Paris

SELF-STYLED caveman Sebastien Chabal retired from rugby on Sunday, the French forward bowing out with critics split over his rugby-playing abilities but no-one in doubt over his role as a "monument to marketing".
The 36-year-old Chabal won 62 caps for France as a powerhouse lock and back row forward, winning two Grand Slams, and his last act of a 16-year career came when he turned out a final time for Lyon, his current club which he has helped seal promotion from the ProD2 to the Top 14.

Lyon beat La Rochelle 27-26 on Sunday, Chabal coming on as a substitute to rapturous applause.

Chabal was one of the best-known and best-paid rugby players in the world, his dark beard and locks catapulting him into the public eye, with a couple of notable performances on the pitch in 2007.

"I adore rugby but I'm very conscious of the efforts needed to perform at the highest level," Chabal had said when announcing he would retire earlier in the week.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sedition, e-libel become the new Pacific media front line

Participants in today's University of the South Pacific media freedom forum chaired by
Stanley Simpson (centre), founding editor of Wansolwara. Image: USP Livestreaming
Criminal cyber defamation, journalist killings with impunity and legal gags are growing threats to Asia-Pacific press freedoms, writes educator David Robie on World Media Freedom Day.

ONE OF Fiji’s best investigative journalists and media trainers ended up as a spin doctor and henchman for wannabe dictator George Speight. Like his mentor, he is now languishing in jail for life for treason.

Some newshounds in Papua New Guinea have pursued political careers thanks to their media training, but most have failed to make the cut in national politics.

A leading publisher in Tonga was forced to put his newspaper on the line in a dramatic attempt to overturn a constitutional gag on the media. He won—probably hastening the pro-democracy trend in the royal fiefdom’s 2010 general election.

The editor of the government-owned newspaper in Samoa runs a relentless and bitter “holier than thou” democracy campaign against the “gutless” media in Fiji that he regards as too soft on the military-backed regime. Yet the editor-in-chief of the rival independent newspaper accuses him of being a state propagandist in a nation that has been ruled by one party for three decades.

In West Papua, Indonesia still imposes a ban on foreign journalists in two Melanesian provinces where human rights violations are carried out with virtual impunity. Journalists in the Philippines are also assassinated with impunity.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dangerous trend in copycat cybercrime laws in the Pacific [video]

             Video by Pacific Media Watch editor Anna Majavu.

COPYCAT cybercrime laws designed to curb freedom of expression on social media and independent blog news sites are becoming a major threat to the Asia-Pacific region.

Café Pacific today publishes a video from the book launch of David Robie's new book Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific, which raises these issues.

Speakers at the event included the AUT Dean of Creative Technologies, Professor Desna Jury; Wiremu Tipuna, Takawaenga Māori at AUT (Ngati Kahungunu); Dr Steven Ratuva, president of the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association (PIPSA); publisher Tony Murrow of Little Island Press; and Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) chair Sandra Kailahi.

TV New Zealand's Pacific correspondent, Barbara Dreaver, sent a "launch" message which was read out by Kailahi.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A measured media brand of Pacific thoughtfulness, courage and balance

David Robie with TVNZ Tagata Pasifika reporter John Pulu at the book launch. Image: Del Abcede/PMC

BARBARA DREAVER, on assignment for Television New Zealand somewhere in the Pacific, sent this book launching message for David Robie's Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face last night. It was read out by Sandra Kailahi, chair of the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA), who launched the book:
Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face takes its readers on a journey through a sometimes unfamiliar Pacific…and it’s a road you can’t help thinking you should be travelling on.

TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver ... book launch message
for David Robie's Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face.
Photo: PMC
West Papua, Bougainville, Fiji – it’s every journalist’s conscience. If it’s not, then it should be.

The stories explored in
Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face are vitally important and delightfully varied.

From the Hagahai tribesman whose blood cells have been patented by the United States to the struggles of Tonga’s media over the years with the public’s right to know under threat.

David Robie has been at the forefront of Pacific journalism for decades bringing his brand of measured thoughtfulness, courage and balance.

His account of reporting in the Philippines on the “Forgotten Victims of a Silent War 1991” is chilling. Equally so “Terror in Timor” and the self-censorship of mainstream media reporting on it.

And lest we think that was in the past, look no further than West Papua - a brutal modern day example of a story that may as well be virtually non-existent.

David Robie’s book reads like the man – there’s no fancy bells and whistles. It’s a stripped back and honest look at a region facing many challenges.

Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face is not only a valuable tool for budding journalists, it’s essential reading for anyone who cares about the Pacific.

I am privileged to know David Robie. He is a great colleague but also a mentor who has been unfailingly supportive to me working in this region I love. I was very proud to be asked to launch this book –  but it was a risky move given I am often out of the country.

Sadly, that has proven to be the case here.

But I will conclude by saying this: David Robie, a leading advocate for media freedom and quality journalism, has yet again proven he is a brilliant author.
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