Friday, December 23, 2011
Correcting the West Papuan media blackout
CURIOUS how much of our media privileges the elite sources, yet attempts to marginalise independent media groups that are providing critical news and analysis on the stories left out of the mainstream news agenda. Take West Papua, for example. While the world’s media grasped the “people’s freedom" digital media with enthusiasm during the Arab Spring in the Middle East, other groups comprising journalists providing far more thorough media coverage and resources in our own Pacific backyard are treated as “activists”. This open letter from the Australian-based West Papua Media editor Nick Chesterfield, written after coverage of the allegations of 17 Papuans being killed by Indonesian security forces in the Paniai area, is a good insight into the media struggle to get West Papua above the radar.
For the record - open letter from West Papua Media
Description of both West Papua Media, and that of independent human rights monitors Elsham as "pro-independence groups" , is both inaccurate, misleading, discrediting, and is highly dangerous to the safety for both our journalists and also for Elsham's human rights investigators.
I cannot speak for Elsham, but like us, they are not pro-independence. They are mandated exclusively to conduct scientific research and analysis of human rights violations in West Papua according to internationally recognised methodologies, and have received significant scientific training internationally to carry out this. They are not part of the pro-independence movement.
West Papua Media is an independent media outlet, focused on bypassing the media blackout of West Papua by reporting factual, verifiable, and real time content and providing it to the world's media. We are all journalists, both professional and traditionally trained, and also from a new generation of citizen journalists.
We provide a clear training programme for our journalists on reporting under repressive contexts, and have long and established relationships with many news organisations globally - including Fairfax. We are both a media agency in the traditional sense, and an outlet in our own right. West Papua Media is overseen by a team of six editors internationally - three of whom are journalists, several sub-editors who also work for major newswires and two human rights workers - and we have an extensive network averaging 10 stringers in sixteen locations in Papua.
Each location is overseen by at least one qualified journalist, all members of the Indonesian Alliance for Independent Journalists, and all of our stringers have been providing consistent, credible and verifiable coverage after training in our Safe Witness Journalism units. Our journalists outside the country are all members of our national journalists' union (AJA/MEAA for myself) and everyone of us holds IFJ membership.
What West Papua Media is not, is "pro-independence". We are journalists, whose sole mandate is to report the news from West Papua, including items that are critical of pro-independence forces, tactics, and policies: a principled position that has occasionally cost us access and relationships to certain sectors of Papuan resistance. Telling the truth of what is happening, by adhering to tried and trusted journalistic methodology , and exposing the truth, is not being "pro-independence". It is doing what journalism used to be about - Giving voice to the voiceless.
While we attempt to seek comment from the killers and plunderers in Papua, they generally do not wish to comment to us. That is their silence, that does not lessen our work as journalists.
By labeling us as pro-independence, which we are not, you are putting our people on the ground at great risk of arrest, torture and murder, and charges of subversion, something which should concern you given the amount of journalists, including our stringers, who were murdered or threatened in West Papua over recent years.