Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hepi Krismas dear readers

PORT MORESBY resident and local wit Alan Robson passed on this "Coconut Krismas" image, thanks to the the PNG branch of the Malaysian logging giant and newspaper publisher Rimbunan Hijau. So on that note, Café Pacific is sharing the image and wishing all its readers all the best for the Festive Season.

Pacific journalists face tough struggle tackling corruption

AMONG the many persuasive and compelling presentations by Pacific journalists at the Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology (MIJT) conference in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this month, was the series on investigating corruption. Kim Bowden of the Pacific Media Centre reports:

Pacific-based journalists struggle to adequately play watchdog in countries rife with public and private sector corruption, according to Fiji media stalwart Shailendra Singh.

Despite highlighting a few standout cases of well-executed investigative journalism in Fiji, Singh called for more Fourth-Estate style journalism in the country during his presentation at the MIJT conference held at AUT University.

The experienced editor and media academic said one of the key reasons investigative journalism needed to be encouraged was because good governance was a major problem in the Pacific.

He referred to “daunting figures” from the 2006 Australian Treasury Department report which said Pacific countries had squandered $US75 million since independence through poor governance.

Singh, head of the University of the South Pacific journalism programme, said there was “no shortage of material” for investigative journalists to work in the region - official corruption and abuses were widespread and there was an “ample supply of dubious politicians and businessmen”.

Fiji “does not have a strong history or culture of investigative journalism but there are some outstanding cases where research and in-depth reporting resulted in major exposes,” he said.

“A lack of training, depth and experience in newsrooms” prevented journalists from undertaking more comprehensive research.

Heavy workload
In addition, he said, “promotion and pay rise is often based on the number of stories reporters produce in a day” and journalists are encouraged to focus “on daily news rather than chase stories that might not yield anything”.

In a similar vein, Patrick Matbob, a lecturer in journalism at Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea and also in attendance at the conference, said investigative journalism was not strong in his country.

Media organisations in PNG had traditionally not encouraged a culture of strong investigative journalism due to a lack of resources, he said in his paper at the conference.

“The PNG mainstream media have always been chronically understaffed and reporters have been too busy providing daily news coverage.”

According to Matbob, the woeful state of some government agencies also limits the progress of investigative journalism in PNG as well as any potential positive effects.

He said inefficiencies within state organisations prevented journalists from easily obtaining the information and data they needed when investigating stories.

In addition, these organisations often did not “follow-up and take action after the media have revealed some illegal activity or wrong doing”, and no meaningful change occurs as a result of the little investigative work that is carried out, he said.

Punitive media law
Singh said government regulations discouraged Fijian journalists from digging deeper.

Recently decreed punitive media laws, introduced by the Banimarama government, were, he said, detrimental to investigative journalism.

“They prescribe hefty fines and jail terms for journalists who publish material that is ‘against public interest or order, or national interest’.

“Government and media can have conflicting views about what is in the national interest,” Singh said.

“Authorities have been given new search and confiscation powers. New disclosure provisions compel reporters to reveal confidential sources or face fines of up to F$10,000, or jail terms of up to two years, or both.”

However, Singh believes new media technology could be used to overcome censorship barriers.

In Fiji, access to the internet was improving and a blogging culture was emerging, he said.

New era
Matbob talked of a new era of investigative journalism in Papua New Guinea, aided by the internet and taking place outside of mainstream media.

The advancement of new media, he said, had shifted the definition of who could be a successful investigative journalist and had provided a fresh method to hold powers to account.

Internet-savvy young people, who were “well-educated and concerned about the future of their country”, were increasingly taking on the role of “citizen journalism” and, by self-publishing on the web, were forcing public officials to be more accountable.

“The new media’s ability to disseminate information instantaneously was having some impact on public opinion and causing PNG leaders to be wary of their behaviour and actions,” he said.

The United States Embassy in Fiji funded both Singh and Matbob’s participation in the conference.

Another speaker, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh, delivered a research paper about the “coup culture” in Fiji and how it had impacted on investigative journalism in the country.

He called for a stronger commitment to investigative journalism in the country and better training of journalists throughout the Pacific.

Picture: UNDP

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How 'peace journalism' surfaced in the Pacific

SUDDENLY “peace journalism” has emerged as the flavour of the month in Fiji – and has even had a debut in New Zealand as an idea. A panel of local Fiji journalists at last week's University of the South Pacific seminar admitted they knew little about the approach. And, to be frank, were a little distrustful , as many journalists often are when confronted with a new concept and their natural skepticism pushes aside rational argument.

One journalist admitted she had asked around her newsroom (Fiji’s largest) about what peace journalism was. The answer: “Journalism about peace” - a rather unhelpful contribution from a colleague. In spite of the visit of the celebrated author and media theorist about peace journalism Professor Jake Lynch, director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies , to Suva late last month (and considerable publicity), there was little idea that the notion is about community “empowerment” and actually plain good contextual journalism. The sort of journalism that helps find solutions, rather than adds to a community’s problems.

Speaking on Radio Australia with Geraldine Coutts, Professor Lynch said:

Traditionally, the Citizens Constitutional Forum and numerous other advocacy groups would do what they call hard-hitting advocacy. And they would take a stance which was very directly critical of the government for example. Now that's one way of ventilating [civil rights and social] issues, and it would fit with expectations among journalists of the kind of role they might play given that Fiji's media probably inherited a lot of its assumptions from the British system.

But it's certainly not the only way to ventilate those issues. And what I've been encouraging them to do i
s to think how they can arrange for the kind of testimony and perspectives of people at the grassroots, people who are dealing with these issues in everyday life to be more widely known and more widely appreciated, and thereby contribute to a national conversation in Fiji about the issues on their own merits.

It doesn't necessarily have to be fed through the filter perhaps familiar to audiences in Australia, where so many issues are wrapped around a
claim by the opposition and a counter claim by the government, that kind of thing.

Barely a week later, at the inaugural Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference organised at AUT University by the Pacific Media Centre, the first-ever “peace journalism” seminar was staged in New Zealand – convened by a doctoral candidate from Pakistan, Rukhsana Aslam (pictured) and Dr Heather Devere of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University. Aslam, who has contributed a chapter on peace journalism education to a new book Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution, was well supported by Shailendra Singh of USP, One Television’s Koroi Hawkins in the Solomon Islands, and Taimi Media Network chief executive Kalafi Moala among others.

A few days later, Moala was in Suva along with Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie and senior journalism lecturer Dr Levi Obijiofor from the University of Queensland. Both Obijiofor, who spoke about a case study in the Niger Delta involving indigenous peoples and multilateral oil companies, and Robie have papers on peace journalism appearing in the forthcoming Journal of Pacific Studies. Moala gave an impassioned address about post-election realities in Tonga and how “democracy” was not necessarily a panacea and Pacific journos should not blindly follow Western news values. Robie’s message included, after an analysis of many conflicts in the Pacific region and the role played by media:
Peace journalism or conflict-sensitive journalism education and training ought to provide a context for journalists to ensure that both sides are included in any reports. The reporting would also include people who condemn the violence and offer solutions. Blame would not be levelled at any ethnicity, nor would combatants be repeatedly identified by their ethnicity. But the reporting would constantly seek to explain the deeper underlying causes of the conflict. This approach to journalism surely could offer some hope for conflict resolution in the Pacific and a peaceful future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farewell Comrade Max Watts (1928-2010)

Max Watts. Photo: Vivienne Porzolt

By Peter Boyle in Sydney

MAX WATTS, a well-known personality on the left in Australia, particularly in Sydney, died on November 23.

Max was a left-wing freelance journalist, an occasional contributor to Green Left Weekly and its discussion e-list, and a solidarity activist with many national liberation struggles, including in Palestine, Kanaky, West Papua and Bougainville.

In the 1960s, he was a central activist in Europe working with soldier resistance to the Vietnam War within the US armed forces. Resistance inside the army (RITA) was one of his great political passions.

Max was an extravagant personality and some people may have found him difficult at times, but he was someone always firmly on the left and on the side of all struggles against oppression and exploitation. You could count on that, and he will be remembered by many comrades in the broad left movement.

Max shook his head at the persistent tendency of the left to be over-factionalised and divisive, but he was quick to work alongside those who took up serious struggle. An eagerness to understand and show solidarity with new forces in motion in any country was one of his characteristics.

Max passed away in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital from kidney and heart failure. He was with close friends Rosie, Lydia, Vivienne and Barbara at the time and passed peacefully.

I managed to say goodbye to him in hospital a few days before he died. He was quite feisty then — though somewhat confused and disoriented, probably due to medication.

After about an hour, my attempts to get him to stay in his bed earned me the following last words: “Boyle, your visiting time is up!” It was classic Max.

Max will be formally farewelled in Sydney on December 1 at 11.30am at Camellia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, Plassey Road, North Ryde. Phone (+614) 11 366 295 for more details.

Friends of Max have set up a Facebook group. To leave messages, photos or other material, go to www.facebook.com and search for “Remembering Max Watts”.

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