Thursday, February 19, 2015

Improving Pacific media freedom record … but let’s get real

Pacific press freedom ... maybe not as bloody as elsewhere in the world, but vigilance still needed. Image: AFP/RSF
IT’S GREAT to get some bouquets on media freedom issues instead of brickbacks in the Pacific for a change. But let’s not get carried away. Instead of all the backslapping, what is needed is more vigilance because really it is all about more than watching this space.

Tonga did best in the latest Reporters Sans Frontières World Press Freedom Index, climbing some 19 places to 44th (yes, actually above the United States, but still below the best-paced Pacific island Samoa at 40th).

You would expect a healthy climb during the year, especially with former school teacher and public broadcaster (not to mention publisher of the pro-democracy Koe Kele’a) ‘Akilisi Pohiva finally becoming prime minister of Tonga.

This was an encouraging result in the November 2014 election following the first “democratic” election in 2010.

And it was expected that Fiji would also improve in the rankings after the “return to democracy” election in September – first since the 2006 military coup – flawed though that might be.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Samoa's 'Rochelais monster' adds beef to the French Roosters

Profile (in French) on La Rochelle captain Uino Atonio. Source: Pierre Ammiche

FORMER Samoan and New Zealand prop Uini Atonio - the man they call the "Rochelais monster" - looks set for his Six Nations debut, making the 23-man French squad for this Saturday's assignment in Paris which his coach predicts will be an emotional moment in the wake of the country's recent terrorism attacks.

The 24-year-old, born in Timaru and a former Samoan under-20 international, gained his residency eligibility last year after joining French club La Rochelle in 2011 and made his debut against Fiji in November.

Unio Atonio
He made three appearances for France in that international window and has held his favour with coach Philippe Saint-André.

He's unofficially the biggest man to pull on a French jersey. So big in fact, that they had to get a special jersey made to accommodate his 1.97-metre and 146-kilogram frame.

For comparison's sake that makes Atonio shorter than the Wallabies' Will Skelton (2.03m tall, weighing 135kg), lighter than former Wellington and Fiji prop Bill Cavubati (1.89m tall, weighing 165kg), but all-around bigger than All Blacks loosie Jerome Kaino (1.96m tall, weighing 113kg).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stop the press - a stimulating contribution to NZ media debate

A story, “Locked Up Warriors”, about the New Zealand jail culture on Al Jazeera’s East 101 series. See Tom Carnegie's story below on New Zealand journalists working at Al Jazeera. Image: Al Jazeera – Watch video.

SCOOP  has been hosting a lively series entitled The State of NZ News Media that is providing some rare insights into an industry under siege (not that you would know much about this from local publications). The short-term objective is identifying possible ways of reinventing Scoop and ensuring its future as the vital independent news service that it is.

A longer-term goal is giving New Zealand journalism an energy boost and new directions.

The State of NZ News Media
As part of the debate, some interesting pieces are coming to light on the wider issues of freeing New Zealand from the shackles of an insular and short-sighted industry. Niche media such as Scoop are essential for the country.

We need independent and vigorous media with an international outlook prepared to challenge the neo-liberal orthodoxies and prejudices, such as Australia has with the Antipodean edition of The Guardian, The Conversation, New Matilda, Crikey and others.

Alison McCulloch's provocative piece is a particularly good read: Stop the Press - is corporate media a flawed product? It is, of course. But Alison's argument concludes with her own personal response and suggestions about what to do:
I appreciate absenting myself from daily corporate churnalism isn’t going to bring about a media revolution. But the structural problems run so deep, this profit-making media monster simply can’t be fixed with a little tweaking about the edges.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Charlie Hebdo: An open letter to my 'Anglo' friends

What Voltaire might have said to Charlie Hebdo - and the answer below. Cartoon: Ironman
'We are all trying to find the narrow path – defending the French Republic against the twin threats of fundamentalism and fascism (and fundamentalism is a form of fascism). But I still believe that the best way to do this is to fight for our Republican ideals - secular and democratic.'*

By Olivier Tonneau writing for France's Mediapart

Dear friends,

LAST week, a horrid assault was perpetrated against the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, who had published caricatures of Muhammad, by men who screamed that they had “avenged the prophet”. A wave of compassion followed but apparently died shortly afterward and all sorts of criticism started pouring down the web against Charlie Hebdo, who was described as Islamophobic, racist and even sexist.

Countless other comments stated that Muslims were being ostracised and finger-pointed. In the background lurked a view of France founded upon the “myth” of laïcité, defined as the strict restriction of religion to the private sphere, but rampantly Islamophobic - with passing reference to the law banning the integral veil. One friend even mentioned a division of the French Left on a presumed “Muslim question”.

As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my Left-wing French position is on these matters.

Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analysed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

‘Je suis Charlie’? Not I. Here’s why…

A profile on the role of satire in France a la Charlie Hebdo via Vox.

By Richard Fidler at Canada's Life on the Left

MILLIONS of people took to the streets in France and elsewhere in Europe and North America to protest the brutal murderous attacks by Islamist extremists on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket in Paris.

At Charlie Hebdo, the death toll of 12 included the paper’s editor and some of its major cartoonists; a further 23 staff members were wounded. Several more were murdered at the Jewish grocery store.

The unifying slogan of these protests is “Je suis Charlie!” - I am Charlie, the implication being that the targeted publication — notorious in France for its ridicule of minority religious beliefs, especially Islam — had merely been exercising its right to “freedom of expression.”

That is the theme being propagated by the establishment media and politicians. Many on the left have chimed in. NDP [New Democrats] leader Thomas Mulcair in Canada says it was a “terrible attack against democracy and freedom of the press.” Québec Solidaire leader Amir Khadir, speaking for the party, said it was a “black day for free speech".

Free speech?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Creating the cartoons that led to the Charlie Hebdo assassinations

Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre from The New York Times on Vimeo.

NINE years ago two Paris-based filmmakers, Jerôme Lambert and Philippe Picard, who have directed many documentaries for French public television, made a controversial documentary, Cabu: Politiquement Incorrect (Cabu: Politically Incorrect), about one of Charlie Hebdo's most famous cartoonists.

The documentary hasn't yet been released in English, but an almost six-minute section of it about the decision-making process around publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad has been edited as a short package and published online on Op-Docs at The New York Times.

Ultimately, the publication of this cartoon - and others – by the satirical magazine led this week to the tragic assassination by two jihadist gunmen of the cartoon creator, the editor and eight other people and two police officers protecting them in a savage raid on the publication’s office.

By the end of three days of blood-letting in Paris, including a double hostage siege, 17 innocent people had been killed plus three extremist gunmen - shot dead by French elite security forces. More than 3.7 million people and global leaders on Sunday marched in rallies across France - including the French Pacific territories - to pay tribute to those who lost their lives.

According to the NYT's website for Op-Docs, it is a "forum for short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and artists". And there is an open invitation for submissions. Here is the introduction to the video - Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre:

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