‘Sick joke’, threats cited in Asia-Pacific declining media freedom summit

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire talks about the global threat against journalists. Video: Café Pacific

By David Robie in Paris

When Reporters Without Borders chief Christophe Deloire introduced the Paris-based global media watchdog’s Asia-Pacific press freedom defenders to his overview last week, it was grim listening.

First up in RSF’s catalogue of crimes and threats against the global media was Czech President Miloš Zeman’s macabre press conference stunt late last year.

However, Zeman’s sick joke angered the media when he brandished a dummy Kalashnikov AK47 with the words “for journalists” carved into the wood stock at the October press   conference in Prague and with a bottle of alcohol attached instead of an ammunition clip.

RSF’s Christophe Deloire talks of the Czech President’s anti-journalists gun “joke”. Image: David Robie/PMC

Zeman has never been cosy with journalists but this gun stunt and a recent threat about “liquidating” journalists (another joke?) rank him alongside US President Donald Trump and the Philippines leader, Rodrigo Duterte, for their alleged hate speech against the media.

Deloire cited the Zeman incident to highlight global and Asia-Pacific political threats against the media. He pointed out that the threat came just a week after leading Maltese investigative journalist – widely dubbed as the “one-woman Wikileaks” – was killed in a car bomb blast.


Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated outside her home in Bidnija on 16 October 2017 after exposing Maltese links in the Panama Papers and her relentless corruption inquiries implicated her country’s prime minister and other key politicians.

Although arrests have been made and three men face trial for her killing, RSF recently published a statement calling for “full justice’ – including prosecution of those behind the murder.

Asia-Pacific correspondents gather for the opening session of the RSF consultation in Paris. Image: David Robie/PMC

Harshly critical
While noting the positive response by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to the journalists’ safety initiative by RSF and other media freedom bodies, Deloire was harshly critical of many political leaders, including Philippines President Duterte, over their attitude towards crimes with impunity against journalists.

Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association vice-president Hujatullah Mujadidi holds an image of a murdered journalist at the Asia-Pacific consultation. Image: David Robie/PMC

In the Philippines, for example, there is still no justice for the 32 journalists brutally slain – along with 26 other victims – on 23 November 2009 by a local warlord’s militia in to so-called Ampatuan massacre, an unsuccessful bid to retain political power for their boss in national elections due the following year.

Rappler published a report last year updating the painfully slow progress in the investigations and concluded that “eight years and three presidential administrations later, no convictions have been made”.

Ironically, Rappler itself – hated by President Dutertre – has also been the subject of an RSF campaign in an effort to block the administration’s cynical and ruthless attempt to close down the most dynamic and successful online publication in the Philippines (133rd in the RSF World Media Freedom Index – a drop of six places).

Founded by ex-CNN investigative journalist Maria Ressa, Rappler has continued to challenge the government, described by RSF last year as the “most dangerous” country for journalists in Asia.

Duterte’s continuous attacks against the media were primarily responsible for the downward trend for the Philippines in the latest RSF Index, with RSF saying: “The dynamism of the media has also been checked by athe emergence of a leader who wants to show he is all powerful.”

The media watchdog also stressed that the Duterte administration had “developed several methods for pressuring and silencing journalists who criticise his notorious war on drugs”.

Test case
The revocation of Rappler’s licence by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is regarded as a test case for media freedom in the Philippines.

NUJP’s Jhoanna Ballaran … worrying situation in the Philippines. Image: David Robie/PMC

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines advocate Jhoanna Ballaran says the situation is very worrying.

The RSF consultation with some of its Asia-Pacific researchers and advocates in the field has followed a similar successful one in South America. It is believed that this is the first time the watchdog has hosted such an Asia Pacific-wide event.

Twenty three correspondents from 17 countries or territories — Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Hongkong, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Tibet — took part in the consultation plus a team of Paris-based RSF advocates.

Asia Pacific director Daniel Bastard says the consultation is part of a new strategy making better use of the correspondents’ network to make the impact of the advocacy work faster and even more effective than in the past.

The Pacific delegation – Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez, a journalist and media law academic who is head oif journalism at Curtin University of Australia (19th on the RSF Index), AUT Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie of New Zealand (8th) and former PNG Post-Courier chief executive and media consultant Bob Howarth of Papua New Guinea (53rd) – made lively interventions even though most media freedom issues “pale into insignificance” compared with many countries in the region where journalists are regularly killed or persecuted.

Nauru’s controversial ban on the ABC from covering the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) this September was soundly condemned and the draconian 2010 Media Industry Development Decree in Fiji (57th) and efforts by Pacific governments to introduce the repressive “China model” to curb the independence of Facebook and other social media were also strongly criticised. (Nauru is unranked and China is 176th, four places above the worst country – North Korea at 180th).

RSF’s Asia-Pacific director Daniel Bastard (left) and his colleague Myriam Sni (right) with some of the Pacific and Southeast Asian press defenders. Image: RSF

Media highlights
Highlights of the three-day consultation included a visit to the multimedia Agence France-Presse, one of the world’s “big two” news agencies, and workshops on online security and sources protection and gender issues.

A workshop on online media security and “how to block hackers” by Nico Diaz of The Magma cited Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu’s quote: “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” Image: David Robie

No sooner had the consultation ended when RSF was on the ball with another protest over two detained local journalists in Myanmar working for Reuters news agency.

An RSF statement condemned Monday’s decision by a Yangon judge to go ahead with the trial of the journalists on a trumped up charge of possessing secrets and again demanded their immediate release.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, have already been detained for more than 200 days with months of preliminary hearings.

They now face a possible 14-year prison sentence for investigating an army massacre of Rohingya civilians in Inn Din, a village near the Bangladeshi border in Rakhine state, in September 2017.

RSF secretary-general Deloire says: “The refusal to dismiss the case against the journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is indicative of a judicial system that follows orders and a failed transition to democracy in Myanmar.”

The chances of seeing an independent press emerge in Myanmar have now “declined significantly”.

The Pacific Media Centre’s David Robie was in Paris for the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific consultation. Dr Robie is also convenor of PMC’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project.

Czech President Miloš Zeman’s “joke” threat against journalists. Video: The Young Turks

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Mass staff walkout at Phnom Penh Post owner’s self-censorship order

By Thomas Brent, Tom O’Connell, Janelle Retka in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s last independent newspaper has had its editorial team gutted after its managing editor, web editor and two senior journalists resigned following a demand from the Phnom Penh Post’s new owner to take down an article reporting on the sale of the paper over the weekend.

The Post’s editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong was then sacked for his role in the article’s publication.

“I got fired by the new owner…because I’m the editor-in-chief and I allowed the printing of the independent story based on journalistic integrity,” Kimsong told Southeast Asia Globe shortly after he was dismissed.

“I trust my reporters and my editors and I think that being journalists, we made the right decision. But it’s their business and they said, ‘Kimsong, you’re the editor-in-chief – and you made a big mistake.’”

The article, which was published on Sunday evening, confirmed that Sivakumar S. Ganapathy, chief executive and managing director of Malaysia-based public relations firm Asia PR, was the new owner of the newspaper, which has been the nation’s paper of record since 1992.

Outgoing publisher Bill Clough announced the sale in a press release on Saturday, welcoming Sivakumar – also known as Siva – to the role and praising his credentials.


“Siva is a well respected newspaper man, with a [sic] experienced journalist background, and represents a strong investment group from Malaysia,” said Clough, an Australian mining magnate who has be in charge of the paper since 2008.

Doubts over future independence
But journalists and media watchdogs across the region have raised doubts about the paper’s future independence due to a number of concerning links between the Post’s new owner and the Cambodian and Malaysian governments.

Asia PR’s website lists “Cambodia and [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s entry into the government seat” as one of its previous clients. More worryingly, Sivakumar’s personal description maintains that he currently “leads the Asia PR team in managing ‘covert operations’ for our clients.”

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, described the deal as “a staggering blow to press freedom in Cambodia”.

The Phnom Penh Post had been the subject of a US$3.9 million tax bill, which drew widespread parallels with the circumstances surrounding the shuttering of former English-language publication the Cambodia Daily.

The newspaper, which frequently published stories criticising the government, was shut down last September after being hit with a $6.3 million tax bill widely believed to be politically motivated.

The Post has also been dogged by an ongoing legal action launched by former chief executive Chris Dawe for wrongful dismissal during his tenure at the paper. Clough stated that the Post’s tax bill had been settled as part of the sale.

Post office plunged into chaos
Emotions ran high in the hallways and offices of the Post on Monday afternoon after the new ownership tussled with editors over the story.

Managing editor Stuart White, who has worked for the Post for six years, was the first staff member to refuse to remove the article.

“I was asked to take down the story about the sale by a colleague, who characterised it as a direct order from the new management,” White said. “I didn’t feel like I could do that in good conscience, so I resigned immediately.”

The order was passed through the ranks, with each editor refusing to take down the story.

Web editor Jenni Reid then refused and resigned, followed by the co-authors of the piece, business editor Brendan O’Byrne and senior journalist Ananth Baliga. Chief ececutive Marcus Holmes was the last to tender his resignation.

A senior Cambodian staffer who requested anonymity said that local reporters had pleaded with the new management not to put the paper’s long-running record of independent journalism at risk.

“The rest of the Khmer staff just stayed in the meeting to say, ‘Can you run a second story?’ ‘Do not pull [the original] down…run a second article, correction, make a clarification,’” the staffer said. Management refused, and Kimsong was fired shortly after.

Editors targeted by Sivakumar
Kimsong, O’Byrne and Baliga were all targeted by Sivakumar in an internal memo savaging the Post’s coverage of the newspaper’s sale, with the new owner calling on all three staff members to be “terminated”.

Although a press release from the paper’s new owners announcing the sale maintained that Sivakumar was “fully committed to upholding the paper’s 26-year-old legacy and editorial principles/independence without infringing any relevant laws and regulations of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the memo – which was published earlier today by local news site AEC News – served up a stinging rebuke to the article, claiming that the piece did not meet the “high caliber” [sic] that the new owners expected from the paper.

Sivakumar called the piece “a disgrace and an insult to the independence claim of the newspaper” and said it “borders on internal sabotage”.

Today it is clear that the editorial independence of Cambodia’s last true independent media is at threat

Among Sivakumar’s complaints against the article were that the reporters forgot to publish his middle initial and that they identified him as “an executive”and “executive director” of Asia PRrather than CEO and managing director.

In the past year, Cambodia’s shrinking independent press has come under fire as the country gears up for a national election in July, with former Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen the clear favourite to continue his 33-year reign.

The last gasp of the free press
Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk of Reporters Without Borders, expressed his solidarity with the Post’s journalists.

“Rumours about pressures from Hun Sen’s government to try and muzzle the Phnom Penh Post have spread for a few months,” he said. “Today it is clear that the editorial independence of Cambodia’s last true independent media is at threat.

“The removal of the Post’s editor and the censorship on articles detailing the journal’s sale are dreadful signs that journalists will no longer be able to do their work freely.”

More than 30 radio stations known to be critical of Hun Sen’s rule were silenced by the government last year, including Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.

Cambodia plunged ten places in the 2018 Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index to number 142 out of 180 countries.

Since launching in January 2007, the Cambodia-based Southeast Asia Globe has sought to “engage our readers through reports that dig deeper and stories that inspire”.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Indonesia cracks down on brutal conditions on foreign ‘slavery’ fishing boats

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Indonesia cracks down on brutal conditions on foreign ‘slavery’ fishing boats

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Former slaves head for home: Thousands of fishermen rescued from brutal conditions on foreign fishing boats make the journey back home, many after years at sea. As reported by Associated Press in September 2015. Video: AP on YouTube

By Jewel Topsfield of The Sydney Morning Herald in Jakarta

It’s hard to comprehend it happened in this century: human slaves trapped on fishing boats being whipped with poisonous stingray tails, having ice blocks thrown at them and being shot.

“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us,” says Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina, a remote fisheries weight station in eastern Indonesia’s Aru Islands.

“There must be a mountain of bones under the sea…. The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”

In 2015 more than 1300 foreign fisherman from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos were rescued from Benjina and Ambon, after an Associated Press investigation revealed the brutal conditions aboard many foreign vessels reflagged to operate in Indonesian waters.

Extraordinary images of men being kept in a cage exposed the chilling reality of 21st century slavery.

“They were trafficked from their home country, mostly by means of deception, forced to work over 20 hours per day on a boat in the middle of the sea, with little to no chance of escape,” says a report on human trafficking in the Indonesian fishing industry released this week.

Some were kept at sea for years at a time.

After the rescue, the International Organisation for Migration interviewed the fishers.

Victims of human trafficking in the fishing industry pictured waiting for their back pay in Ambon, Indonesia. Photo: International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

They were told of excessive work hours — 78 percent of 285 victims interviewed in depth claimed they worked between 16 and 24 hours a day, cramped conditions, meals of watery fish gruel, physical and psychological abuse and even murder.

‘Several crews died’
“While on board, I often heard the news from the boat radio that several boat crews had died, either falling to the ocean, fighting or killed by the other crews,” a Cambodian fisher says in the report.

“While I was working on the boat, I saw with my own eyes more than seven dead bodies floating in the sea.”

A victim of human trafficking from Myanmar who was rescued from a fishing boat pictured in Ambon in Indonesia. Image: IOM

Witnesses testified that requesting to leave the boat could be a death sentence for some victims. Those who did might find themselves chained on the deck in the middle of the day or locked in the freezer.

“The heartrending stories of these fishers could not be left untold,” says IOM Indonesia’s chief of mission Mark Getchell.

The report says the Benjina and Ambon cases highlight the lack of adequate policing of the fishing industry and a lack of scrutiny of working conditions on ships and in fish processing plants.

Seafood caught by modern day slaves entered the global supply chain, with legitimate suppliers of fish “unaware of its provenance and the human toll behind the catch.”

“The situation in Benjina and Ambon is symptomatic of a much broader and insidious trade in people, not only in the Indonesian and Thai fishing industries, but indeed globally,” the report says.

Repatriation of enslaved fisherfmen
In 2015 the Australian government provided $2.17 million to IOM to support the daily care, repatriation and reintegration of formerly trafficked and enslaved fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, who had been stranded on islands in Indonesia’s Maluku province.

“This funding support has since been extended to enable IOM to provide assistance to foreign fishermen stranded in any area of Indonesia,” an Immigration Department spokesman said.

“This assistance plays a crucial role to support and protect victims of trafficking and slavery in the fishing industry by reuniting victims with their families and providing them with limited financial assistance which can help them establish an alternative livelihood.”

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said Australia provided the lion share of the funding for its emergency response to the human trafficking crisis, which included returning more than 1000 victims to their home countries.

“This would not have been possible without the Australian government,” he said.

At the launch of the report in Jakarta this week, Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti unveiled a new government decree requiring all fisheries companies to submit a detailed human rights audit.

This was one of the report’s key recommendations to protect fishermen and port workers from abuse.

“That being said, Indonesia still has homework towards the approximately 250,000 Indonesian crews on foreign vessels operating across continents that remain unprotected,” Pudjiastuti says in a foreword to the report.

The report also called for greater diligence in recording the movement of vessels in Indonesian waters, more training on human trafficking, independent inspections of ports and vessels at sea and centres in ports where fishers could seek protection.

Jewel Topsfield is the Jakarta-based Indonesia correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.This article was first published by the SMH and has been republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.