Listen to Pacific ‘voices’ or climate will spark conflict, say advocates

Policy makers, academics and NGO representatives discussed the urgent issue of climate change in the Pacific, where many communities have been forced to relocate. However, Michael Andrew of Asia Pacific Report, found that participants in last weekend’s workshop believe the Pacific voices of those most affected must be heard if conflict is to be avoided.

The gap between policy and people was a key topic at the last week’s Climate Change and Conflict in the Pacific workshop when experts from Western and Pacific countries gathered to share stories and studies.

The Auckland event – hosted by the Toda Peace Institute and the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago – sought to bridge the gap by connecting Western, scientific policies with the deeply spiritual customs and beliefs of Pacific life.

Workshop facilitator and Toda director Professor Kevin Clements, who is also founding director of NCPACS, says it is an opportunity to understand Pacific perspectives and respond creatively to an existential threat.

READ MORE: The climate change workshop and policy papers

ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNALISM STUDIES – APJS NEWSFILE

“We in New Zealand and Australia have a deep responsibility to listen,” he says.

“If we don’t understand the Pacific way of thinking, we will begin to undermine relationships in unanticipated, unconscious ways.”

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Relationships were a major theme throughout the workshop, with many participants affirming the unique relationship Pacific people have with their land.

Vanua philosophy
Fijian teacher Rosiana Kushila Lagi says the traditional Fiji philosophy of Vanua reflects the absolute interconnectedness between people, land and sea.

Working in Tuvalu, Lagi is engaging communities to use the principals of Vanua to mitigate the destruction caused by climate change. The behaviour of animals, plants and the weather are all useful indicators of environmental change and can be used to prepare for extreme events.

However, she says many communities are losing this traditional knowledge when they are physically separated from the land, something that also contributes to a loss of identity.

Participants of the Climate Change and Conflict in the Pacific workshop in Auckland last weekend. Image: Lynley Brown

Tuvaluan minister Tafue Lusama shared a similar perspective, stressing the importance of traditional knowledge in the Tuvalu way of life.

“Indigenous knowledge is the way we focus our relationship to everything, to the land, to the sea, to each other and to all living things,” he says.

“It is our way to communicate with the clouds, birds, plants, animals; this includes communicating with the spirits of our ancestors.”

With an average height of 2m above sea level, Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to the affects of climate change. Rising sea levels not only threaten property but also food and water sources.

Storm surges
Storm surges can sweep inland, flooding deep-rooted crops like taro and coconut and contaminating fresh water reservoirs.

Yet for many communities who have already relocated, the struggles of adjusting to a new home can be just as harsh.

Discussed at the workshop were the people from the diminishing Carteret Islands, who in recent years have been relocated to land donated by the Catholic Church on mainland Bougainville.

Managed by grassroots organisation Tulele Peisa, the initiative sees every family given a hectare of land on which they can live and grow crops for trade and sustenance.

While the relocation project has been considered successful, there are concerns for the Cataract Islanders living in a region recovering from a bloody civil war over the Panguna copper mine. Even today, violence is widespread.

According to Volker Boege, a peace and conflict academic who has worked extensively in the region, there have been reports of attacks on the Carteret Islanders and their property.

He says this has a lot to do with tribal competition over limited land, much of which is customary.

Establishing relationships
“Before the relocation, Tulele Peisa put in a lot of work establishing relationships with the Bougainville community and engaging in discussions with the chiefs. Nevertheless, land is scarce,” Boege says.

“The policies don’t take into account the complexities between the indigenous people and the fighting that can occur between tribes when relocated.”

Despite predictions that the Carteret Islands will be completely underwater by 2040, he says some of the people are choosing to return home from Bougainville.

For these people giving up home, identity and starting a new life in a foreign land is simply too much to ask.

While other Pacific communities are on the list for relocation, there was a commitment among the workshop participants to factor in the values, customs and wishes of both the relocating and the receiving communities into any polices moving forward.

Future collaboration between the many organisations present would also allow an inclusive, dynamic approach where information could be easily shared from the top down and vice versa, connecting the grassroots to the researchers and policy makers.

Ideal outcome
For Paulo Baleinakorodawa, this was an ideal outcome of the workshop. As operations manager of Fiji-based NGO Transcend Oceania, he has worked extensively with relocated and relocating communities, resolving conflict and trying to make the process as peaceful as possible.

However, he says that plans for cross-organisation collaboration have stalled prior to the workshop.

“I was hoping that coming in here I would find an opportunity to actually push that into more actions,” he says.

“It’s been wonderful because there has been a lot of information, a lot of networking and commitment from people that are actually doing something about climate change.”

“And so now Toda, Transcend Oceania, the Pacific Conference of Churches, and the Pacific Centre for Peace Building are going to be partnering together to continue that project.”

While climate change and its affects will only continue to worsen, the workshop was an encouraging show of unity and compassion that will be needed if further suffering in Pacific is to be prevented.

Most importantly, it opened an essential conversation in which the many different voices could be heard.

“This is only the beginning of that conversation,” says Baleinakorodawa.

Michael Andrew is a student journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Journalism) reporting on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

Professor Kevin Clements facilitating the Climate Change and Conflict in the Pacific workshop. Image: Michael Andrew/PMC

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific Island leaders tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

ANALYSIS: The three-hour “detention” of television New Zealand Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver for “breaking protocols” over interviewing refugees on Nauru. But Josef Benedict reports this is just part of the dismal media freedom scene in the Pacific.

At this week’s gathering of key Pacific Island leaders on the Micronesian island of Nauru, conspicuously missing were journalists from Australia’s public broadcaster.

This was because the South Pacific’s smallest nation has refused visas to journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to enable them to attend and cover the four-day Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

And one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists, Television New Zealand’s Barbara Dreaver was detained for more than three hours yesterday after interviewing refugees from the notorious Australian-established detention centres on the island. The Nauru government claims she was not “detained”, merely “questioned’.

READ MORE: Self-immolation, hunger strikes and suicide: Children on Nauru want to die

The Nauru government’s ban on the ABC, it says, is in retaliation for the news organisation’s “blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 elections, harassment of and lack of respect towards our President and… continued biased and false reporting about our country.”

But some say ABC’s criticism of Nauru’s policies on notorious Australian-run refugee detention centre on the island – plagued by widespread reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, with at least five suicide deaths to date – may have more to do with it.

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Those controversial camps are not on the agenda and not likely to be a subject of much discussion within the forum which ended today.

And neither is the issue of free speech and media freedom, since efforts to repress critical reporting has become increasingly common among Pacific governments.

Climate change
It is not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and wellbeing of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region pose a threat to the wellbeing of their democracies.

Indeed, CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, has found that these violations of freedom of expression appear to be systemic in the region.

In Fiji, attempts by the government to intimidate and silence free speech is creating a chilling effect ahead of upcoming national elections and before the date has even been set.

In February, Island Business magazine’s editor and two of its journalists were questioned under the Public Order Act over articles on the firing of a magistrate who had presided over a union dispute.

The 2016 sedition charges against The Fiji Times – widely regarded as the country’s last independent news outlet – saw its publisher, editor-in-chief and two others hauled through the courts over a reader’s letter to the editor that allegedly contained controversial views about Muslims.

Human rights groups believe the charges were politically motivated. The state has filed an appeal against their acquittal.

Journalists in Papua New Guinea often work in fear and many believe media freedom has been eroded. In February this year, PNG Post Courier reporter, Franky Kapin, was attacked and assaulted by staff from the Morobe Province Governor’s office for alleged biased reporting.

Journalists threatened
Journalists continue to be threatened and barred from covering the ongoing crisis at the Australian refugee detention center on Manus Island (after its closure) in the country’s north.

Senior Papua New Guinean journalist Titi Gabi says that increasing outside interference of the editorial process and the bribing and threatening of journalists has led to media freedom no longer being enjoyed in the country.

After a passenger ferry sank in Kiribati in February, leaving 93 people dead, authorities barred foreign journalists from entering the country to report on the disaster.

Meanwhile, the government of Samoa was criticised by a media freedom lobby group earlier this year for seeking to repress freedom of expression by reintroducing legislation on criminal libel without proper public consultation

Civil society groups in the regional power of Australia are extremely concerned about the impact that changes to security laws will have on fundamental freedoms. The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 were met with a storm of protest from media outlets and civil society organisations.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights has criticised the legislation, warning that the measures will have a “severely chilling effect upon academic research, free speech, and particularly constitutionally-protected free political speech”.

According to Amnesty International Australia, the draconian laws will make it a crime for charities to expose human rights violations, and to communicate with the United Nations about those violations.

Stifled free speech
So, why are governments in the region working to increasingly stifle free speech?

For one, they are coming under growing public scrutiny, led by journalists and civil society using social media, for abuse of power, lack of transparency and corruption at various government levels.

News stories exposing official human rights violations have received global attention, thanks to the efforts of international media and non-governmental organisations. Averse to the negative publicity, Pacific governments have responded with repressive action.

Also, civil society groups in the Pacific are increasingly raising not just national concerns but sensitive regional ones as well, such as rights abuses in West Papua, a region in Indonesia where there is an active pro-independence movement, and in refugee detention centres in Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island.

Asylum seekers stand behind a fence in Oscar compound at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. This has now been closed but problems remain for the asylum seekers, “stranded’ against their will within the Manus community. Image: Eoin Blackwell/AFP/Asian Correspodent

Seeking to appease regional powerhouses Indonesia and Australia as they appeal for economic investment, governments of small island states have no qualms trying to silence those speaking out on these issues at home.

In turn, the “growing influence of China” has also been cited as a justification for Australia’s new security policies. But many believe another objective is to keep government dealings from the public.

This regional trend flies in the face of Pacific countries’ clear commitments to respect and protect freedom of expression.

Good governance
In 2000, governments signed the Biketawa Declaration committing themselves to democracy, good governance, protection of human rights and maintenance of the rule of law. At the meeting in Nauru, leaders are expected to sign a Biketawa Plus Declaration, building on the original document.

In recent years, island nations have also made commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels contained in Goal 16. Ensuring fundamental freedoms is pivotal to meeting this goal, as well as the other 16 SDGs.

Leaders at the gathering needed to reiterate their nations’ commitment to fundamental freedoms in its communique and demonstrate it – to create an enabling environment for both the media and civil society to work without fear of criminalisation, harassment and reprisals.

Failing to do so – and the detention of Barbara Dreaver yesterday – are clear signs that the forum is willing to undermine its international obligations and its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer with global civil society alliance Civicus and a contributor to Asian Correspondent. This article is republished from Asian Correspondent with the permission of the author.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific Media Centre turns ten, talks media freedom under violent threat

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Pacific Media Centre turns ten, talks media freedom under violent threat

PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas speaking at the AUT Pacific Media Centre summit “Journalism Under Duress” in Auckland. Image: Kendall Hutt /PMC

Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre has marked its tenth anniversary with a seminar discussing two of the wider region’s most critical media freedom crises.

The “Journalism Under Duress” seminar examined media freedom and human rights in Philippines and Indonesia’s Papua region, otherwise known as West Papua.

Pacific Media Centre 10 Years On video.

The executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Malou Mangahas spoke about extrajudicial killings and an ongoing spate of murders of journalists in her country.

Threats to journalists in the Philippines have been on the rise since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power last year. However, according to Mangahas, his “war on drugs” has seen more than 7000 people killed, over often spurious allegations that they were drug dealers.

LISTEN: PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas interviewed by RNZ Mediawatch

In the discussion about West Papua, the PMC seminar heard that access to the Indonesian region for foreign journalists, while still restricted, remained critical for helping Papuan voices to be heard.

Many West Papuans did not trust Indonesian national media outlets in their coverage of Papua, while independent journalists in this region face regular threats by security forces for covering sensitive issues.

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The Pacific Media Centre and its two associated news and current affairs websites, Pacific Media Watch and Asia Pacific Report (previously Pacific Scoop), are among the few New Zealand media outlets to cover West Papua.

Research, media production
As well as a range of media books over the past decade, the PMC also publishes the long-running research journal Pacific Journalism Review.

“The Pacific Media Centre is rather unique in a New Zealand university context because it combines the attributes of a research and publication unit, and is also a media producer,” said the PMC director Professor David Robie.

“The PMC provides a publishing environment for aspiring and young journalists to develop specialist expertise and skills in the Pacific region which is hugely beneficial for our mainstream media. All our graduates go on to very successful international careers.

“We also provide an important independent outlet for the untold stories of our region,” he said.

Earlier, the head of the School of Communication Studies at AUT, Professor Berrin Yanıkkaya launched the book Conflict, Custom & Conscience: Photojournalism and the Pacific Media Centre 2007-2017, as well as the latest edition of the Pacific Journalism Review.

She said Dr Robie and his PMC colleagues had created “a channel for the voiceless to have a voice, a platform for the unseen to be seen”.

RNZ International report republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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