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.

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