Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Journos, media educators rally behind Jose Belo

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH has filed an item about journalists, media educators, lawyers and NGO advocates being up in arms about the outrageous criminal libel case against respected East Timorese editor and publisher José Belo. The Timorese government is under increasing international pressure to drop this case. What an irony - José risks being imprisoned in the very jail where the Indonesian oppressors tormented him before independence. José has been charged followed publication of an article in his impoverished newspaper and online publication, Tempo Semanal, making allegations of corruption over the issuing of government tenders against Justice Minister Lucia Lobato.

According to PMW, the open protest letter, under the umbrella of the Sydney-based Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), has been signed by 85 media industry, legal and academic people ranging from the ACIJ’s Professor Wendy Bacon to ABC Four Corners investigative journalist Liz Jackson, SBS Dateline’s Mark Davis and British-based filmmaker and author John Pilger. Pacific Media Centre director Associate Professor David Robie and PMW co-founder Peter Cronau are also among the signatories. The letter is being sent to President José Ramos-Horta, in New Zealand this week on his first official visit abroad since being wounded in a rebel attack a year ago, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

The Timor-Leste government has passed a new penal code that decriminalises defamation but the President hasn't yet promulgated this. José Belo is charged under the old Indonesian law, a hangover from the Jakarta colonial era.

The open letter says:
While making no comment on the merits of [José Belo’s] allegations, we are disturbed by the application of criminal defamation laws against one of East Timor's bravest and most respected journalists.

Belo's role in documenting the atrocities of the Indonesian occupation and disseminating that information to the international media is well known.
Since self‐government, José has emerged as one of the most productive, disciplined and independent journalists that East Timor has produced. He has become a key figure in the attempt to build a democratic media in your country.

To be imprisoned by your government would be a great injustice to José and more importantly, a terrible precedent for all media in East Timor. Such laws criminalise and suppress good journalism, they help cloak corrupt and questionable behaviour of public officials and they diminish the reputation and international standing of the nations that apply them.

We note that the laws under which José Belo has been charged are left over from the old Indonesian regime, and understand that new laws more suited to a democratic society have been drafted but have not been placed before your Parliament.

We pledge our support to José Belo and all East Timorese journalists who may face imprisonment for the practice of their profession. We urge you to take all actions within your power to bring about the dropping of this charge and the removal of criminal defamation laws in East Timor.
The full list of signatories is at PMW. And a good backgrounder is Mark Colvin's PM programme on ABC Radio. We're with you, José!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Media7 bares all on Fiji

THANKS to Russell Brown and Media7, the digital channel TVNZ7's programme featuring Fiji media freedom and politics is finally on YouTube. Media7's own YouTube channel has a technical hitch which has temporarily stopped updates, so Russell kindly made available made a copy for uploading to the Pacific Media Centre's own channel. It's there now (three parts) so take a peek - especially those around the Pacific who have complained that they couldn't see the programme on TVNZ's on demand link. The programme features David Robie, Barbara Dreaver and Robert Khan. Ranjit Singh filed his own impressions on the PMC's blog.

TV debate on media coverage of Fiji - ABC's On The Mat Feb 20
Media7's on PMC YouTube
Fiji programme (part 1)
Fiji programme (part 2)
Fiji programme (part 3)
Ranjit Singh's review

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cook Islands News fires up over offshore banking

COOK ISLANDS NEWS editor John Woods has featured a caustic editorial blast in response to an attack on the paper over a recent story about offshore banking and the impact of an impending new finance amendment law. The News reported that the government's plan to "abolish the offshore banking industry ruffled lots of feathers". Trustees Companies Association president Brian Mason claimed "irresponsible journalism". He was particularly irked over Woods' final paragraph saying that behind a screen of privacy and protection, offshore banks were able to get away with corrupt practices such as money laundering and providing funds for terrorism. Mason issued a statement claiming the comment was disgraceful coming from a newspaper editor. “If the offshore banks in the Cook Islands are involved in providing funds for terrorism, then all of [the regulatory] agencies are either complicit in it or are not doing their jobs.”

But Woods rejected the sweeping interpretation by Mason and replied in his editorial:
Emotive, exaggerated and vacuous slanging of the kind dished out by Brian Mason is self-serving tripe. I am referring to his [front page] media statement casting aspersions and drawing wild conclusions on our story about the offshore banking industry.
Our story was very clear that the new law will abolish just the offshore banking industry. It explicitly stated that the law change will not affect the remainder of the offshore sector, and specifically said that international trusts and companies are not involved.
We accept that some people may not distinguish between offshore banks and offshore trusts, but that is not our doing. Everything else Mr Mason says about our story is wrong.
Woods added that ironically it was the very secrecy afforded to this industry under Section 227 of the International Companies Act 1981-82 that prevented the News from publishing the evidence that Mason suggested - wrongly - the paper did not have. The News said it had been investigating claims of corruption and terrorism financing by one offshore bank for the past three years.

Undoubtedly the issue will start hotting up. Already, over at Tgif Edition winebox papers investigative journo and author Ian Wishart was also breaking the story - in much greater depth, especially with the NZ connections:
A global business conglomerate tied to international money laundering and linked by Indian police, the CIA and MI6 to one of the world’s most wanted criminals and terrorists, is trying to get listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange by leveraging its connections to a couple of senior NZ politicians.
Meanwhile, onetime student editor and media commentator and campaigner Murray Horton and his four decades of activism have been profiled by The Press in a two-page feature: "The last radical". As Horton, now nearing 60, jokes, "they've been kind enough to write my obituary without me having to go through the bother of dying first."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NZ's spy agency SIS 'a law unto itself'

GREEN MP Keith Locke, spokesman on Pacific and international affairs and social justice champion of the underdog, has been the latest revelation on New Zealand's "spy on our citizens" controversy. The Security Intelligence Agency's stocks have sunk to a new low after it was revealed that Keith had been spied on since he was 11 - and for at least four years since he was elected a Member of Parliament in 1999. As he pointed out in the House what an "offence to democracy" it is that the SIS - not even upholding their own legislation which requires them to be watching people "involved in treason, espionage and terrorism" - should be devoting much of its efforts to spying on civil society dissenters. So far not much has emerged on similar spying against dissenting journalists (if it indeed happens). But watch this space. Keith's reflections in his parliamentary address-in-reply on Feb 10 are recorded here by Hansard:
KEITH LOCKE (Green): I would like to begin my speech by complimenting the Director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Dr Warren Tucker, for the new spirit of openness that he has conveyed since he took over a year or so ago. It is very good that he is allowing under the Privacy Act people like myself and others who have been involved in various progressive issue movements to look at their files, because what they show are some very bad practices in the history of the SIS in targeting dissenters. In my case it concerned my involvement in the anti-Viet Nam war movement, the peace movement against nuclear weapons, the anti-apartheid movement, and movements for human rights in Latin America, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

The horrific thing about that file is that it shows that the SIS had infiltrators pretending to be fellow campaigners who reported on everyone who was present at the meetings—public and private—and who was doing what, who was carrying the banners, who was going out, and even trivial details such as at 0900 hours so-and-so went out to buy a Sunday paper, and very detailed stuff. In my own case, my movements around the country, around the world, what car I was driving, romantic attachments etc were noted—all completely unjustified in terms of the law of the SIS, and in terms of any concept of fair play, whatsoever.


The records in my case go from when I was aged 11 in 1955, and the file [has] been updated and continued since I have been in Parliament, not only with news clippings but also with monitoring of my private conversations with constituents in the Sri Lankan-Tamil community back in 2003, before I went off on a peace monitoring trip to Sri Lanka. It is good that the
Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), and other groups have also got their files, which show a similar pattern over the years of the SIS of not upholding their own legislation—where they should only be watching people involved in treason, espionage, and terrorism and the like, but countering the activities of campaigners in the interests of the Government of the day.

In my case that countering meant trying to stop me from getting jobs, and conspiring directly with employers. It is recorded that I supported someone for permanent residence in New Zealand, and it was reported back to the SIS, which probably stopped that person from getting permanent residence because of my personal SIS personal file. So it had concrete effects, it was not just about being watched; it hindered the careers of myself and probably many, many others.


It is good that [Prime Minister] John Key has responded by asking the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor, to look at the way in which files are set up, maintained, and closed. It is good that John Key says that I, and, hopefully, others who have received their files showing a similar pattern can cooperate with the inspector-general to really get to the bottom of this issue.


We need a much broader inquiry, but that is a good start. The surveillance of the SIS itself, or what might be called accountability measures or oversight, are very weak. In Parliament today my colleague Kennedy Graham tabled what he received from the official sources as the current membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It still lists the members of the previous Parliament, including Winston Peters. There has been no new committee set up over the past few months of this Parliament. When I have written questions in the past I have found that the committee meets only about an hour a year, enough time to hear a little report from the director of intelligence, and perhaps have a cup of coffee. It is not an oversight body, and that is why that over the years that the SIS has been able to be, effectively, a law unto itself, even spying on members of Parliament.


Under this MMP Parliament we represent a much wider range of views than was the case when we had a Labour-National monopoly, and the Green Party, in particular, represents movements outside of Parliament of people fighting for social change, environmental issues, and international social justice issues like I was involved in. It is a sad logic that if they are spying on all these movements for social change, and international solidarity movements that they are spying on MPs. It is an offence to democracy in this country, and, particularly, parliamentary democracy and the independence of Parliament from the executive, and that is why it must be opposed.

Meanwhile, strategic intelligence commentator and academic Dr Paul Buchanan (on leave from Auckland University and now visiting associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore), has profiled the SIS head in a Scoop article, "The curious case of [Dr] Tucker". He reminds us that Dr Tucker:
Assumed leadership of the SIS in November 2006. At the time the agency was under heavy public scrutiny due to its mishandling of the [Algerian theologian and politician] Ahmed Zaoui request for political refuge (where it manipulated intelligence data to manufacture a case against Zaoui, only to have it discredited and eventually withdrawn under legal challenge).
Since Tucker's appointment at the helm of the SIS, he has promised "more transparency and public accountability" in the spy agency's operations. But Buchanan notes that the SIS sems to have a recent fixation on human rights cam,paigners, environmental and indigenous rights activists and critics of the government and the SIS itself: "It's disturbing because many of those recently targeted by the SIS domestic espionage programme post no threat to NZ's national security."

Stuff reported on March 17, Green MP Keith Locke was unlikely to be the only person spied on by the SIS after entering Parliament - a practice a government watchdog says should now be scrapped. Prime Minister John Key asked SIS head Dr Warren Tucker to deactivate files on sitting MPs and consider a system to allow surveillance only when deemed necessary with consent from the Speaker. Pictured: MP Keith Locke at a rally in support of the people of Gaza in Auckland last month. Photo: David Robie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

News Ltd innovator to take helm at Fiji Times

ANNE FUSSELL is taking over as publisher and managing director at the Fiji Times. This is good news for the champions of a better gender deal in the local media - she will be the first woman at the helm of the country's major daily newspaper and arguably most influential news organisation. But she is also both an innovator and well-experienced as a sub on a variety of publications, having worked with Britain's Daily Star and The Sun. Back in Brisbane her career included the Courier-Mail and picking up a Walkley Award (1992) for best use of the newspaper medium for journalism with the special report "Creating the future". Her most recent News Ltd executive role has been as group intellectual property manager.

She replaces Rex Gardner, who was kicked out by the military-backed regime last month in fallout from the contempt affair. Two other Australian executives were deported last year - the Fiji Sun's Russell Hunter in February and the Fiji Times' Evan Hannah in May. News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan pledged his company's commitment to the Fiji Times group: "[The papers] will remain free and independent publications." But not everybody in Fiji agrees with the move. Some are questioning the need for expat publishers in the first place. Laminar-Flow's Stuck in Fiji M.u.d blog had this to say in a scathing posting (mostly about the Pacific Islands Forum circus in Port Moresby):

The question of how and why - despite 120 years of existence - the Fiji Times still can't produce or employ any local publisher, comic strip series or independent columnist, or separate Sport/ Editorial/Opinion is now an alarming question, considering the circumstances. Such are questions that have been avoided, by the local media's coverage of the deportation of foreign citizens. One of the most poignant questions asked among local journalists: Aren't Fiji citizens capable or qualified enough to be employed as the Fiji Times publisher?

It is quite alarming that
Fiji Times [has] had an alarming over reliance on foreign citizens, employed as publishers, taking the job away from any local prospect. An outrageous policy that equates with, a distinct non-compliance of localisation of vacant positions. If there were rules for local content in published comic strips, most print publication in Fiji would be audited as a complete and abject failure ...

Or was the omni-presence of Australian citizens employed in the local media
agencies throughout the Pacific region, an extension of these reoccurring themes
of embedded journalist/intelligence agent programs?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fiji press freedom and a fresh Kiwi angle

MEDIA7 last night had a crack at Fiji press freedom and coverage in the New Zealand media - and it wasn't too flattering. A news intro covered the expulsion of three publishers in a year and deportation of two New Zealand-based journalists: Fairfax's Michael Field and TVNZ's Kiribati-born Barbara Dreaver, the channel's Pacific affairs correspondent. The intro also raised criticisms of lack of balance and depth in NZ media coverage and highlighted former University of the South Pacific's professor Croz Walsh and his scathing comments in a new blog focused on Fiji affairs. Presenter Russell Brown raised wide-ranging questions with his panel - Café Pacific's David Robie (AUT Pacific Media Centre director), Barbara Dreaver and Radio Tarana's managing director Robert Khan. The general mood was that Fiji deserved a fairer hearing, more support for finding a solution - and "there's only one thing worse than a coup and that's a failed coup".

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fiji needs lasting solutions and compassionate neighbours

By Thakur Ranjit Singh

IF THERE are any lessons to be learnt from the previous coups, hurriedly-prepared elections and token changes to rules do not usher in real democracy. As New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 descended on Port Moresby on the night of 26 January 2009, carrying New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting, we had hoped his first trip to the Pacific since coming to power would make a difference.

However the outcome of the PIF meeting was a big disappointment. We had expected and hoped for some change with a new bloke in control. But it appears that despite his right arm in plaster, John Key was still using the other arm to cling on to Helen Clark’s petticoat when it came to determining his stance about Fiji. He still appeared to be doing that in Port Moresby as he met the Pacific leaders and gave an undiplomatic and paternalistic grilling to Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s Interim Attorney General, who represented Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Key even went to the extent of suggesting Khaiyum should be tried for his crimes.
For those of you who are unaware, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key suffered multiple arm fractures after a fall at Auckland’s Greenlane ASB Showgrounds to mark the Chinese New Year on January 17, just over two weeks before the PIF meeting. He attributed his tripping and falling down the small flight of stairs to a "momentary lapse in concentration - I was looking out instead of looking down".

While we are sorry to see this happen, at least some thought that there was a brighter side to this unfortunate incident - with one arm already preoccupied, he would be less tempted to snatch at Labour’s petticoat. There are indications that the National Party was still copying and pasting the non-compromising foreign policy of Labour Party and its former leader Helen Clark who is reported to be National’s de facto adviser on Fiji matters.

So much has already been written as to why an election alone would not solve Fiji’s problems. New Zealand and Kevin Rudd’s obsession with elections is merely an escape valve to show to the world that these big Anglo-Saxon brothers still rule the Pacific. The only problem is that these two countries are bereft of any brotherly love. They have always gained from Fiji both in terms of trade imbalance and the well-trained English speaking professionals, businessmen and qualified blue collar workers who do the jobs that need to dirty the hands. The biggest beneficiaries of the coups and instability in the Pacific have been these two big brothers who saved millions, if not billions in not having to train migrants who were already trained by the Fiji government, its taxpayers, its work ethics and its stable family environment.

I am one of them.

Fiji has had elections since its independence in 1970, but these elections were a mere shadow of democracy. John Key and Rudd need to understand that even in past Fiji elections, real democracy was never been achieved. It had merely been a sham of democracy; in many instances autocratic leaders used their traditional powers and influence to manipulate democracy and masquerade as democratic leaders.

In my past writings, I have already enumerated the fundamental problems with Fiji, but today, the biggest problem for an election is an unfair electoral system and arrangement that hits at the heart of democracy.

There is a need to remove the race-based politics and election and have an electoral system and process that gives same weight and importance to every vote. The current system is flawed in this respect where some provinces with only 6000 people have a seat while others with three times more people still have one seat. Fewer rural population have greater number of seats while urbanites miss out.

The United Nations and internationally recognised principles of democracy dictate that each person's vote is to be of equal importance; hence Fiji’s electoral system is in breach of these. In addition, some 20 percent of voters in 2006 either did not vote because of a rigged and ineffective system with many names not on the roll, or had their votes declared invalid because the system is too complicated for many to understand.

Is John Key aware of this major flaw in Fiji’s electoral system? Are other Forum leaders aware of this? Would they tolerate this in their countries?
The adage that age brings maturity was aptly displayed by the host of PIF meeting, Sir Michael Somare. Despite their economic richness and advancement, Key and Rudd were rendered mere dwarfs by the sensitivity, reason, humility, compassion and generosity flowing from this eminent person.

It is hoped Australian and New Zealand bureaucrats in the Beehive in Wellington can teach this lesson to their leaders that I have been echoing for years now. Sir Michael summed it very aptly:
“If there are any lessons to be learnt from the previous coups, hurriedly- prepared elections and token changes to rules do not usher in real democracy.”
In true Pacific way, Papua New Guinea gave NZ and Australia a lesson in diplomacy, neighbourly love and maturity in pleading that the Forum owed it to the people of Fiji not to commit the same mistakes of the past. He suggested that a roadmap be drawn up with realistic timelines to return Fiji to a durable democracy. Sir Michael promised financial and logistic support, and volunteered to provide all the assistance that Fiji required to carry it towards path to a long-lasting democracy, based on equality and justice. Perhaps the developed-country (read Australia and NZ) leadership in PIF countries need to learn from the supposedly backward Pacific countries which have a heart for their neighbours in trouble. It has become obvious that the two strong and rich Pacific neighbours do not understand and appreciate the true meaning of the Pacific Way.

Sir Michael’s pronouncement should echo for a long time and reverberate in future Forum meetings:
"Forum leadership is not about imposing our will, but about listening and extending a helping hand in ways that bring about long term solutions.”
New Zealand can continue to ignore the advice of migrants like me and others, but they need to heed the advice of their own former diplomat who suggested that a team of experts should be sent to Suva to establish the broad outlines of new constitutional requirements. He cautioned that tone and style would be important and New Zealand needs to stop acting ethnocentrically.
His advice to his own government was to reflect on the observation: There's only one thing worse than a coup, and that's a failed coup.

On that fateful day when John Key stumbled and fell in Auckland, he blamed it on a momentary lapse in concentration as he was looking out instead of looking down.

John Key needs to learn from his experience. He once again stumbled and fell in Port Moresby and further fractured the relations that NZ Labour Party had failed to mend. He needs to learn from the elder Sir Michael Somare, and he needs to free his non-plastered hand from the previous government’s policy and develop his own foreign policy towards Fiji with advice from seasoned leaders with a heart - like Sir Michael.

My advice to John Key is to start looking down and closely at Fiji before looking out at far away countries, to avoid future falls, like his stumble in Auckland followed by the one in Port Moresby.
He may end up being the fall guy of NZ Labour Government’s failed and non-compromising foreign policy on Fiji.

He may, hence end up copping the blame for a failed coup and the resulting dictatorship in Fiji!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

John Scott post-coup doco scores another award

IT'S HEARTENING to see New Zealand filmmaker and associate professor Annie Goldson and her team raking in the kudos for a poignant and challenging doco about Fiji politics, the gay rights community, ethics and human rights. It has just picked up the Grand Prix award at the sixth Pacific Documentary Film festival in Tahiti. An Island Calling is far more than a film about a particularly gruesome and high profile double murder. Based, in part, on the book by Owen Scott, Deep Beyond The Reef, it tells the story of the killing of former Fiji Red Cross director John Scott (Owen's elder brother) and his partner Greg Scrivener in mid-2001 by Apete Kaisau. As Lumière Reader describes it, there is a real irony in the film:
Scott’s great-grandfather was one of the missionaries who brought The Bible to Fiji in the 19th Century. That same Bible was used as a justification by Kaisau to murder Scott and Scrivener. In the process of telling this tale, Goldson draws in issues such as history, colonisation, evangelical Christianity, homosexuality, turning what could have been seen as a simple murder into something much more complex and morally ambiguous.

Following the impressive track record that she has set with other films such as the 1999 documentary Punitive Damage on the killing in East Timor of Kamal Bamadhaj, Goldson told Lumière's Brannavan Gnanalingam:
“I’d always been a bit of a Pacific watcher. Given we live here in New Zealand I’ve always been interested in the politics of the region. Fiji is one of the hotspots of the Pacific.”

Goldson's awareness of John Scott emerged during the 2000 coup by maverick businessman George Speight, when he risked his life to deliver aid to the hostages - including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry - held by the coup leaders. After causing a stir at New Zealand film festivals last year, Goldson has now won the coveted Pacific award. This year, apart from the Grand Prix, the festival awarded three special awards to River of No Return (Darlene Johnson,
Australia), Sevrapek City (Emmanuel Broto and Fabienne Tzerikiantz, France), The Oasis (Sascha Ettinger-Epstein and Ian Darling, Australia), and a special prize from the public to Marquisien, mon frère (Marquisian, My Brother, Jacques Navarri-Rovira, France, French
Polynesia). Image: John Scott in filmmaker's promo picture.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Maire tackles the SIS for breakfast

PACIFIC peace campaigner Maire Leadbeater, author of the groundbreaking book Negligent Neighbour about New Zealand's shameful role over the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, was featured on TVNZ's chatty Breakfast show today. But behind all the light-hearted banter about a bygone era of paranoia, there are still sinister overtones for both NZ and the Asia-Pacific region. Maire was spied on by NZ's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) since the age of 10.
In a relatively new era of "transparency", security files have been handed over on request to a group of "activists and agitators". The move, as The Press noted in an editorial, recalls "a whiff of the musty battles of the cold war". After her Breakfast cameo, when she waved her hefty spook file that must have cost the taxpayers pointless zillions, Maire told Café Pacific:

While it's good that the SIS issue is being debated, the issue is more serious than just about the bad old cold war - "reds under the bed" - days. My file, in common with others, illustrates some quite intensive spying - "sources" planted in meetings, stake outs of conferences and so on.
But there is good reason to believe this undemocratic, wasteful activity is still continuing for some groups and individuals. It's possible that with the establishment of the new police Special Intelligence Branch the respective roles of police and SIS have changed a little.

Looking further afield in the Asia-Pacific region, she says:

Anti-communism is still strong in Indonesia, where the spreading of ideas and writing about Marxism-Leninism has been banned since 1967. The dictator Suharto rose to power by dint of a pogrom that wiped out at least half a million people deemed to be communists. Books are still banned if if they are deemed to be supportive of the PKI - the former Indonesian Communist Party - or if they give a "wrong" analysis of the events of 1 October 1965 and the murder of six army generals which triggered the bloodbath.
Indonesia's Criminal Code contains broad articles giving the authorities license to charge people that they consider to be subversive. For one human rights lawyer in West Papua that meant detention for 15 months and a trial for nothing more than forwarding a text message which alleged that the Indonesian Government was planning to cause harm to West Papuans. Fortunately he has just been acquitted. Those who dare to raise the banned
Morning Star flag or even depict its design on a bag or clothing run the real risk of going to jail.
West Papuans say that in the towns are villagers "intel" are always lurking and listening.
West Papuans say to us "please use your liberty to protect ours". So I guess that is one good reason why we also need to be vigilant about our own freedoms and right to meet and discuss ideas without being spied on!

Pictured: Maire Leadbeater with the Café Pacific publisher at a recent Auckland rally in support of the suffering people of Gaza. Photo: Del Abcede.

CAFCA's secretary Murray Horton - another leading activist who obtained his organisation's SIS files (and then fired off a personal request while a Press reporter was at his office to interview him) - believes New Zealand's security service has behaved in some respects much the same way as communist police states.

Meanwhile,
in other fallout from the SIS papers issue, Helen Sutch, daughter of the late leading public intellectual and civil servant Dr Bill Sutch who was at the heart of NZ's most controversial "spy" case, has condemned The Press in a letter of peddling an "urban myth" about her father. Dr Sutch was wrongly accused by the SIS in 1974 of trying to pass off NZ government information to the Soviet Union. In the high profile case that followed, he was acquitted. Helen Sutch wrote:

The Press continues to besmirch Bill Sutch
I am disappointed that The Press continues to purvey an urban myth regarding Dr W.B. Sutch. This myth, that ''the SIS caught William Ball Sutch passing material to the Soviet Union'' (editorial, Jan 29), was shown at his trial in 1975 to be false, and no evidence has emerged
since then to undermine that finding.
While editorials contain opinion, they should not misrepresent it as based on fact when it is not. Instead, please take note of the following easily verifiable facts:
  • Dr Sutch was acquitted. The SIS did not ''catch him passing material to the Soviet Union''. The transcript of Dr Sutch's trial, which has always been a public document, shows this clearly.
  • The subsequent enquiry by the then Ombudsman, Sir Guy Powles, found that the SIS had broken the law and that Dr Sutch had not.
  • Disquiet at the arbitrary and oppressive nature of the Official Secrets Act, under which Dr Sutch had been charged, and to which Sir Guy and others drew attention, led to its repeal
  • and replacement by the Official Information Act.
If The Press had been interested in the real historical significance of the release of SIS files, it could have highlighted two important developments in the years since 1975.
First is the movement away from a secret, closed bureaucratic world towards a more transparent society in which the presumption under the OIA is that all information should be
publicly available unless strong arguments to the contrary can be made.
The second development relates to the recognition that the SIS needed to be made more accountable.
Greater governance safeguards are now in place aimed at preventing the abuses of power that New Zealand has suffered in the past.
While Wolfgang Rosenberg, to whom your editorial also casually referred, may have kept his job, his career may well have been damaged, and there are many others, such as the distinguished lawyer Dick Collins, who were prevented from following their chosen careers at all.
Helen Sutch
Wellington

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Provocative expulsion another chapter in Fiji media witchhunt

“PROVOCATIVE”, says the Paris-based media freedom group Reporters sans Frontières. The regime is “targeting us”, says the Fiji Times chief editor Netani Rika. “Fight on”, says expelled publisher Rex Gardner. He believes that if the Fiji media keep campaigning for freedom of information, the media will survive. His final message to his embattled Suva paper was:
I'm being kicked out of the country. I don't write what goes in the papers. Until the people who put pen to paper are being harassed as much as I am, I don't think there'll be a problem.
My freedom doesn't exist anymore but I think media freedom will exist if the newspapers push hard enough and continue to fight for their right and the public's right to freedom of information.
The onus is on the media to report sensibly and carefully and truthfully and cover all the facts and keep pushing for the public's right to know because that's the most important thing. Media freedom is one thing but it's the public's right to know that's so very, very important.

And the Fiji Times itself said “Time to get real”, pointing out the inconsistencies in the government claims against Gardner. Although the Fiji Times admitted guilt in the contempt of court case over a published letter to the editor (purportedly from Australia) that attacked the coup legality judgment and the judiciary, Gardner was pointedly not convicted by the judge:
Justice Thomas Hickie was abundantly clear in his ruling on the matter. Let us once again state for the record that Gardner was not convicted by the court. Instead, he was discharged conditionally and had signed all applicable documents pertaining to the course on Thursday, less than two hours after the case ended. We know the work permit has not expired and that the court did not find Gardner guilty. This means that the excuses given by [Commodore Voreqe] Bainimarama and [Immigration Director Viliame]Naupoto for the deportation are not the real reasons for Gardner's removal.

In fact, Gardner’s work permit was due to expire next month and he would have been leaving the country anyway. But as RSF said, this was a provocation aimed at the Pacific Islands Forum, and may well have hardened the PIF resolve against the Fiji regime. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, did his best to stave off a bad outcome for Fiji, even issuing a copy of his statement during the special forum appealing for no “isolationist” penalty being imposed on Fiji.
But at the other end of the PIF scale, Australia and New Zealand were pushing for their hypocritical hardline ultimatum. Finally, Fiji was given until May 1 to announce elections by the end of this year or face expulsion and other sanctions.

A recent Café Pacific posting has been cited at length by Global Voices writer John Liebhardt with a reasonably balanced account of the bloggers debate on the “harsh” court response to the contemptuous letter. For the record, Café Pacific hasn’t softened its earlier criticisms of the media “climate of contempt”. But in the final analysis, media freedom must be defended at all costs if "democracy" is to be restored.
Improvements in the Fiji media cannot be achieved by systematic witchhunts against targeted news organisations. If the current regime and previous Fiji governments had spent even a fraction of their legal bills on sustained and committed media training and education in the country, then substantial progress would be made.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fiji floods - more on aftermath reporting

JAMES MURRAY has been busy with his new blog Views on the News with an ethical take on the media. Half of his pieces so far have been on the Pacific. Good, given the relative under exposure elsewhere in the NZ media. His latest comment has been another bite at the issue of disaster coverage after my comments in one of his recent postings. I had called for more in-depth coverage of the region and less of an obsession with crises, coups and disasters. In other words, a lot more focus on the "why" - backgrounding of stories and the followups. This time, James has talked to one of his colleagues at TV3, Michael Morrah, recently back from covering the Fiji floods. James quotes Michael as saying that covering the floods opened up the door to other stories:
Poor infrastructure – especially roads, governance and health care are a few examples. Unfortunately, because of the lack of resources in many New Zealand newsrooms, and potentially the lack of appetite by viewers and readers, other local newsworthy events don’t get the airtime they deserve in New Zealand.

Exactly my point. It is the stories that follow that also need good coverage. While Michael says disaster stories can act as stepping stones to further reportage, he acknowledges a major problem - the reluctance of media organisations to put the necessary financial resources into followups and backgrounders. And this is a serious hurdle for any improvement. The available newsroom resources are threadbare compared with dollars thrown at international sport coverage, for example - providing Kiwi teams and participants are to the fore. Yet according to a national survey in the latest Listener (issue 3586) only 30 percent of New Zealanders have a strong interest in sport.

James offers a tragic story by Michael about Aquila Drisco who lost his daughter in the floods as an example of Michael's reporting. Incidentally, presenter of the story is Rebecca Singh - herself a daughter of Fiji and to my mind the best newsreader to come out of Fiji TV and arguably the current best in NZ. No doubt with her track record, it has been a boost for TV3 coverage of Fiji issues having her on the team.

Meanwhile, Fiji's regime plans to spend close to F$2.6 million on food rations to be distributed to door-to-door for 103,257 people - almost an eighth of the country's population - in the ravaged Western Division. The government announced the food ration for 30 days would include 45kg rice, 50 kg flour, 25kg dhal, packet of milk, 50kg sugar, oil, 48 tins of fish. The floods aftermath was Fiji's interim PM Voreqe Bainimarama's excuse for the postponement of the Pacific Islands Forum special summit in Port Moresby on the road back to democracy until February 10. ReliefWeb estimates infrastructure damage from the floods to be almost $55 million.

Views on the News - James Murray
Michael Morrah story on the Fiji floods
NZ Listener
Fiji floods situation report - ReliefWeb
PNG decision to delay forum throws Pacific leaders' plans into chaos

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