Thursday, July 24, 2014

Walkley review: The complex notion of news in the Pacific

Brent Edwards in The Walkley Magazine looks at journalist and academic David Robie’s scrutiny of the Pacific region’s governance and journalism. Cartoon by David Pope.

DAVID ROBIE has spent 35 years working as a journalist and journalism academic in the Asia- Pacific region. In Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, mayhem and human rights in the Pacific, Robie summarises his reportage on many of the significant events that have marked his years working in the Pacific. It is part autobiography, part history and part journalism treatise.

As well as providing his perceptive analysis of human rights and democracy, or lack of, in the Pacific, Robie also spends time commenting on journalistic practices, particularly as they relate to reporting on our immediate neighbourhood. For someone like me, who is not an expert on the Pacific, the book is a valuable reference to the significant issues that continue to bedevil the region.

Robie’s book is broad in its compass. It covers the Kanaky struggle for self-determination in New Caledonia, the rise of the Flosse dynasty in Tahiti, coups in Fiji, Chinese influence in Tonga, the struggle in Bougainville, the fight for independence in Timor Leste, the ongoing struggle in West Papua and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in New Zealand. His stories range as far away as covering indigenous struggles in Canada to the violence in the Philippines. And always he is concerned with human rights in the Pacific.

Robie includes articles he has written over the past 30 years or so, updated by his contemporary analysis of what is happening now. Take New Caledonia for instance. That chapter includes an article Robie wrote for the New Zealand Listener in 1984 titled “Blood on their banner”.

He writes that his reporting on New Caledonia led to a protracted and acrimonious dispute with Fiji’s Islands Business publisher Robert Keith-Reid, when the magazine accused him in 1989 of alleged “leftist” support of Kanak activists. It is just one example of the pressure that has been exerted on Robie and other journalists over their coverage of independence movements in the region.

But it is Robie’s comments on the practice of journalism that should excite the most debate. He makes no bones about his distaste of the tendency of regimes and other vested interests in the region trying to suppress press freedoms, often by intimidation and threats.

His views on journalism in the region have not just been shaped by his experience as a journalist. He has also been the head of journalism at both the universities of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific and he is now journalism professor and director of the AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre in Auckland.

He praises those journalists throughout the region who struggle to do their job in the face of intimidation, legal restraints and poor pay. But he is less effusive about the role of Western journalism in covering the Pacific. He questions whether the Western notion of news is appropriate to covering the many complex issues in the region. And, before some journalists protest too loudly, this is not a cry for the media to go soft. But Robie does raise some interesting questions about the role of journalism and whether its approach could be altered.

Robie puts forward the case for journalists practising what he calls critical deliberative journalism in the region. He argues that Pacific journalists now have a greater task than ever in encouraging democratisation of the region and informed insights into development, social justice and peace issues facing related island states. In other words, he says journalists should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Robie says this does not mean allowing politicians’ slogans, such as “cultural sensitivity”, to be used as a smokescreen for the abuse of power and violations of human rights. Instead, he says the approach he advocates will put greater pressure on journalists to expose the truth and report on alternatives and solutions.

Robie sums it up this way: “Critical deliberative journalism also means a tougher scrutiny of the region’s institutions and dynamics of governance. Answers are needed for the questions: Why, how and what now?”

Those questions do not just apply to the island states. Here in Australia and New Zealand we, too, might consider a different approach to the way we practise journalism.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Kanaky tale of mining skulduggery and environmental courage

AN EXTRAORDINARY story of mining skulduggery and a courageous struggle by indigenous Kanak environmental campaigners has been captured in a poignant new documentary, Cap Bocage – described by the filmmaker as a tale of “when a mountain fell into the sea”.

The culprit in this case is Ballande, one of the oldest nickel mining companies in New Caledonia with a record of three decades laying waste a coastal environment in north-east Grande Terre.

The documentary, made by director Jim Marbook, filmmaker and also a television and screen production lecturer in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies, is an astute piece of cinematography.

Made over a period of seven years, it patiently peels away all the complexities and subtleties of the environmental struggle against a hard-nosed mining company that employs most of the people in the remote Kanak community.

It also tells the story of articulate and charismatic campaigner Florent Eurisouké – who visited Auckland for the global premiere at this week’s New Zealand International Film Festival – and his environmental organisation Mèè Rhaari take on Ballande through boycotts and finally the lawcourts.

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.

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