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: 

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