Sunday, October 5, 2008

Public right to know - from Possum to the Pumpkin

MAKE sure you get hold of the latest Pacific Journalism Review, due out next week. With the theme "The Public Right to Know - Reporting Futures", this edition has a host of interesting articles. Among them is Chris Nash's fascinating insights into political blogger Possum Pollytics and the critical impact he had on the reportage of last November's Australian federal election. (Check out his new blog). Too bad we don't seem to have a blogger in his league in New Zealand as we approach our own election on November 8. Tony Maniaty has an article analysing the impact of the evolutionary technologies and breathtaking media change on television war reporting:

The fall of free-to-air ratings continues apace, and, with it, the vast resources needed to deploy large teams into the battlefield to mount comprehensive audience-gripping coverage. This relentless quest for real-time war drama has much to answer for, shifting increasingly precious resources away from more nuanced and informative reportage.

In Maniaty's view, "big" media is struggling to sustain "comprehensive coverage". He reckons the "smaller-scale, independent output of video journalists" is becoming the new trend-setter.

In other content in PJR, Robbie Robertson reviews two new challenging books on the Pacific (and Asia) media, which should have the flacks talking, while Sarah Baker and Jeanie Benson offer a refreshing take on NZ media reporting of Asian crime - "The suitcase, the samurai sword and the Pumpkin". The edition is jointly published with the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vijendra's memory lane and a welcome gong

ONE of the satisfying presentations of the recent FAME awards in Fiji was the long-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award media recognition for Vijendra Kumar, first local editor of The Fiji Times. He held that post for about 16 years from 1975, bridging the mellow Mara years during the height of the placid "Pacific way" era and through Rabuka's two military coups. He finally resigned and headed for Brisbane to join his family.

Kumar wasn't there in Suva to collect his gong, but many spoke warmly of his contribution to Fiji media. A few years ago, he spoke candidly to doctoral candidate Anthony Mason who was working on a thesis examining the Fiji coups and the Australian media. Among his reflections published in Pacific Journalism Review was a scathing assessment of international media covering Fiji:

They had absolutely no idea. Few of them knew very much about Fiji, except that it was a South Sea island where they went for a holiday. Very few of them knew much about the political system or the names of the leaders. So it was a surprise for us, and I think it was a big learning experience for the Australian and New Zealand journalists. The NZ journalists had a little more knowledge about Fiji than the Australians, because NZ had closer contacts. Fiji got a lot of coverage on New Zealand radio and in NZ newspapers even before the [1987 Rabuka] coup. But Australian newspapers never reported anything that happened in Fiji, as far as I remember, unless it was something sensational.
Has anything changed that much? Picture: Mason/Pacific Journalism Review

Michael Field has taken a pathetic cheap shot over at Discombobulated Bubu (and on his own website) while attempting to put a sanitising spin on the recent Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling against him. It seems his own reading skills are rather limited. He claims: "... given that organisations like NZPA, the Fiji media and AUT's David Robie cannot be bothered to read the BSA ruling, and prefer to take the Fiji government assessment of the situation, I will try to at least put some context into it all." In my case, he is totally wrong. He is referring to a Pacific Media Watch monitoring item reporting his own news organisation Fairfax Media's website Stuff account of the adjudication. Had he bothered to check, he would have also found that PMW published the full adjudication on its database (but he knew this anyway as it had been pointed out to him later). This is plain mischief-making and disinformation on his part - wasn't "accuracy" at the very core of the BSA complaint over Field in the first place? My only previous comment on this issue was right here on Café Pacific.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Muckraking honours and short memories

MUCKRAKERS have a long and proud tradition stretching back to Progressive era in the late 19th century United States. The term (from the Man with Muckrake in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress) was coined to describe those investigative journos exposing social ills and terrible conditions such as in slums and prisons, sweatshops, along with issues like child labour and food processing cheats. Some also exposed fraud and abuse in politics and corporations. Bethany McLean's Enron expose was a classic example in contemporary times.

And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.

There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:


The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.

As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):

This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.

A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).

Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Media blood-letting over fairness and the Fiji regime

THE FIJI regime and some of the Suva media have had a field day this week ... castigating Fairfax Media's international journo who covers Pacific issues - Michael Field. The fallout came after the regime's Ministry of (dis)Info gleefully jumped the gun and circulated a media release noting that a complaint against Field had been upheld by NZ's Broadcasting Standards Authority over his views about Fiji expressed in Radio NZ National's Nine to Noon programme on 7 March 2008. The BSA didn't uphold a complaint by Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde against Radio NZ Ltd under principle 4 (balance), but it did uphold the complaint under principle 6 (accuracy). It ruled that four inaccurate statements had been made during Field's discussion of how Fiji was reeling from "all the signs of true military dictatorship". Complaints committee chair Joanne Morris didn't impose any order. She said publication of the ruling would "serve as a reminder to commentators that they must ensure the accuracy of factual statements".

Many of the local media in Fiji were quick to seize on the regime handout about the adjudication. Radio Fiji summed it up by saying "controversial journalist Michael Field has been rebuked by the BSA ..." Fiji Daily Post ran an article by Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, claiming - unfairly - Michael Field "'wings' it when he can" in an article under the headline "The writing on the wall". Even NZPA circulated a piece that largely echoed the Fiji government line that was also run on Field's own media organisation's Stuff website. Kiwiblog highlighted the actual inaccurate statements and sparked a handful of responses, one posting noting that the Fiji regime should be recognised as the "nearest thing there is to a benign military junta". Field himself, according to an email to Pacific Media Watch, regards the reporting "shallow" and the adjudication itself as "interesting". Bruce Hill also gave the issue an airing on Radio Australia's On The Mat.

Meanwhile, in other blood-letting about the Fiji media and politics, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh has been riled by Kamal Iyer's one-sided monologues in the Fiji Times about life under the regime. He has written an alternative view of balance and fairness. Singh also takes a potshot at conflicts of interest in the Fiji media.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fisky beat-ups detract from the real deal

IT'S remarkable how a non-story refuted by a couple of throwaway lines by British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk over a non-meeting with accused members of the so-called Tuhoe 16 became a beat-up in two media outlets at the expense of hard news this week. In an hour-long AUT University dialogue (mostly monologue - but riveting, inspiring and entertaining), Fisk only spent 31 seconds on the topic - and this was in response to a question from a student about a posting on David Cohen's notorious (non)blog at the National Business Review claiming he was going to meet Tame Iti and others at Te Tirahou marae.

Fisk dismissed it out of hand, saying nobody had discussed it with him. He said he had no time to be involved in local stories: "I'm 62, have 22 countries and four wars to cover, I don’t have time for anything that does not involve the Middle East". While he did talk to Ahmed Zaoui when in NZ three years ago, it was "clearly an Algerian story". The beat-ups (following the original mischievous Cohen beat-up) were in Scoop, who was asking for the "real leak" to stand up (not a bad idea, but it won't happen), and NZ Herald Online. Fisk launched into an attack on the internet, saying the medium was out of control and lacked the integrity of the printed paper. As far as he is concerned, the internet is a "system of hate" and fuels the risk of an extreme act by a nutter against outspoken journalists such as him.

Here's a story that came out of the seminar that does have some substance - the transformation of the US Soldier's Creed to the Warrior's Ethos ... war without end! Of course, little was reported about that. This video clip is thanks to the Pacific Media Centre team of Kate Morse, Joe Rixon, Naveena Baratharaj and Jim Marbrook on the PMC YouTube channel - and there are a couple of other good ones '50/50 journalism' and 'weapons of mass destruction'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tabs goes for a publishing strike three!

ALL power to Warkworth's Tabs Korauaba and his Tuvaluan partner, who have launched a new pan-Pacific paper this week. Café Pacific hopes the monthly Pacific Community News succeeds where other ventures have failed. Tabs, originally a broadcast journalist from Kiribati, got his print creds the hard way - by publishing Tematairiki and Rodney Today. Both went under. The reason? No team, no mission, no funding, he admits. But Tabs reckons he has now absorbed the tough lessons from the two previous publications. Third time lucky?

It is a highly competitive market. It's also hard to judge a readership across several distinct Pasifika communities. The Samoa Observer is making big inroads into Auckland and now has its own Auckland Pacific Today publishing on Fridays. However, this time Tabs does have a team and a clear business goal. He has teamed up with a successful businessman who will handle accounts, marketing and advertising while Tabs looks after the editorial side. He also has a couple of English first-language speakers to do the proof-reading. He says:

Some pan-Pacific papers have been launched before and they went under. I think the problem was that they didn't have enough planning, didn't have a committed team, were impatient and, of course, they didn't have enough advertising. But that's in the past. This is today. I always remind myself that being a publisher means not dwelling on the past so that it doesn't control the future. We talked with some businesses and they liked our positive vision so they came on board. And after six months ads will really start to roll.
Asked about Samoan journalist Malia Sio's "breaking away or breaking in?" comments about Pacific vs mainstream media on her blog, Tabs says:

That's her view. But I am not very keen on 'talking' - I am a doer and I always experiment on new things. But she musn't worry, because we're not going to hide bad stories about Pacific Islanders. We'll let the community talk about its own problems and its own solutions. Reporting about crimes and negative stuff are not helping at all. Successful people achieve their potential because they are positive throughout their lives.

Right on, Tabs. Go for it!

Robert Fisk's recipe for young journo success

TRUE believers? A host of them trooped in for the Robert Fisk lecture/ student news exchange organised by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University. Where were the sceptics?

Apart from the core of AUT student journalists, radio and TV students and staff who had ditched their mid-semester break to come along to be challenged, inspired - and even entertained - by Fisky, there were academics, civil rights activists and many others. Robert Fisk was in NZ for a promotional tour for his latest book, The Age of the Warrior.

The AUT booking was thanks to Amnesty International. The lecture theatre (chosen for its intimacy and which normally seats 160 people) was packed out with at least another 40 or 50 people for the hour-long lunch date. Just as well there were no health and safety hawks drifting around. Fisk was at his inspirational best - it's quite extraordinary to see a journalist having such a cult following. Many editors were sighted in the audience, including the NZ Herald's former editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis, who chose the AUT rather than his own University of Auckland bash, which was charging $25 a head for a Fisk Amnesty fundraiser.

Fisk had plenty of gems on offer for his audience including anecdotes about his contempt for how the internet has become "a system of hate". Scolding media for not reporting the full truth about the Middle East, he also had some advice for the neophite journos that wouldn't go down too well with either the digital natives or the digital grandstanders:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Treason? I've got a little list

More from one of Café Pacific's Laucala correspondents who keeps a reality check on Fiji with a touch of satire ...

Fiji is funny. The coup is now generating humour and the past politicians are becoming hilarious. Eighteen months after the coup of December 2006 Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister was kicked out of government, his government house and his government car. He has now realised that something is wrong and become so incensed that he filed a treason complaint with the police on the grounds that the December 6 coup was illegal.

Treason. Doesn’t the word make you cringe, go pale with fear at being hanged, drawn and quartered or at least exiled for life to the island of St Helena where you will view the house where Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his glorious past, France, freedom and failure?

Qarase
lodged his treason claims against a formidable group of people that include the Interim Prime Minister who led the coup, the Chief of Police who was an army officer and part of the coup. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you it was the coupmaster who made him Chief of Police.

But there are civilians on the alleged traitors list too. It includes the aged and dignified Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca and the 45 members of The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). One name on the list is John Samy, the gentle spoken boss of the NCBBF Secretariat who has led the way writing the People’s Charter with its message of love thy neighbour.

Dear John also appeared on the front page of (
The Fiji Sun, September 6) with his photograph and the headline "Coup was illegal: Samy". He denies saying that, but it brings a smile or scowl to the face, but which face or faces!

I’m not sure who all the 45 members of the NCBBF are but they include Mahendra Chaudhry, who must have got wind of the treason charge as he resigned from the council a few weeks ago and is now defending himself with a phalanx of political jargon. There are another 44 other people on that guilty council list. They include academics, traditional chiefs, business people, trade unionists, a woman from an NGO and a priest who has spent many years helping the poor.

Obviously this is a meddling priest. We all know that there only around half the nation live in poverty or damn near it. This priest says so little about the other half of the population. Now, there is prejudice for you, and as we learned from Qarase – treason!

Mick Beddoes, the former leader of the Opposition, is an interesting guy. Big in body, bold in voice and so convinced that he is right. He has now publicly supported the treasonous charge brought by Qarase and company against the army and those nasty NCBBF members.

But, wait, there is more. If you had watched the
Fiji TV news on Monday, September 8, there was a news item saying that Mick, the man, has joined the NCBBF when it started. He attended the meeting, took the allocated allowances and then resigned. So Mick, the man must also want to be in court in the defendants’ box when the treason trial begins. Good man, that Mick is, he recognises the error of his ways, and is preparing to suffer the consequences. I don’t know if he is Catholic or Methodist or whatever, but on St Helena, I am sure the Archbishop will give Mick good Christian counselling.

This Mikado story took another turn today. A former Fiji police commissioner said in a serious voice, so we would not laugh, that it would be difficult for the present police commissioner to be impartial in his investigations of the Qarase accusations, when he is also mentioned in the complaint, as being implicated in the coup.

Let me end with Major Lewini, the government spokesperson who seems to be
always lost for words, but who can make up for it with scowls and a few mumbled key phrases. Today he inferred that Qarase and his team are having foul fun and no good would come out it. Other men make the humour, Lewini is the straight man. We do need a reality check in Fiji, or at least in Suva, where all this stage cavorting is going on.

Last Sunday on TV, the interviewer was conducting a serious discussion on proposed new rules for the next general election. He said to one of the participants who was talking about recreating part of the political past, that the boat has already left the wharf. A neat metaphor.

The way I see it, the boat left the wharf during December 2006 and it’s getting further away. It’s difficult to see when it’s going to return and when it does, will it hit the wharf with a great wallop and damage both the people and the goods on board?

From endangered Pasifika journos to chiefly titles

IT wasn't so long ago that Malia Sio was lamenting on her recent blog over the apparent "demise" of Pacific journos, especially from her Aotearoa viewpoint after swapping her radio work and on the Samoa Observer plus the Tribune for a NZ j-course. She noted that only two other Pasifika students out of a programme of 25 were with her doing journalism at the revamped Whitireia course. But actually, this is better than most in NZ. (AUT has 54 media students but that's out of a programme with a total of 800 plus students. The good news though is that AUT now has a dedicated Pacific journo course on the books - the first in NZ for 17 years!) Malia has also had a crack at the lack of understanding and respect by some NZ media of the use of matai and other Pacific chiefly titles. For example, Pacific Island Affairs Minister Luamanuvao Winnie Laban would correctly be addressed as Luamanuvao throughout a news story after the first instance when the full name is given. Prominent journalist Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin (Tagata Pasifika) is another example - but his chiefly title is rarely given the respect it deserves in the media. The price of being a journo? But in these days of muddled name styles, many papers that usually dispense with honorifics, also ditch titles - regardless of whether they're Pasifika or palagi.

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