Trauma research on TV journalists covering killings revealed in Pacific Journalism Review

Part of the cover of the latest Pacific Journalism Review. Image: © Fernando G Sepe Jr/ABS-CBN

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The statistics globally are chilling. And the Asia-Pacific region bears the brunt of the killing of journalists with impunity disproportionately.

Revelations in research published in the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review on the trauma experienced by television journalists in the Philippines covering President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called ‘war on drugs’ are deeply disturbing.

More than 12,000 people have reportedly been killed – according to Amnesty International, although estimates are unverified – in the presidential-inspired purge.

READ MORE: Killing the messenger

The latest Pacific Journalism Review.

According to UNESCO, about 1,010 journalists globally have been “killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public” in the 12 years until 2017 – or on average, one death every four days.

Many argue that the Philippines, with one of the worst death tolls of journalists in the past decade, is a prime example of the crisis.

-Partners-

Journalists covering the “graveyard shift” were the first recorders of violence and brutality under Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

The first phase in 2016, called Oplan Tokhang, was executed ruthlessly and relentlessly.

Chilling study
This chilling post-traumatic stress study in the latest PJR by ABS-CBN news executive Mariquit Almario-Gonzalez examines how graveyard-shift TV journalists experienced covering Oplan Tokhang.

The Tagalog phase in English means “to knock and plead” and was supposed to be bloodless – a far cry from the reality.

Almario-Gonzalez’s colleague, award-winning photographer Fernando G Sepe Jr, has also contributed an associated photoessay drawn from his groundbreaking ‘Healing The Wounds From the Drug War’ gallery.

He reflects on the impact of Duterte’s onslaught on the poor in his country.

Compared to the Philippines and other Asian countries – such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar – media freedom issues in the Pacific micro states and neighbouring Australia and New Zealand may appear relatively benign – and certainly not life threatening.

Nevertheless, the Pacific faces growing media freedom challenges.

The phosphate Micronesian state of Nauru banned the Australian public broadcaster ABC and “arrested” Television New Zealand Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver while she covered the Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit in September 2018.

Media freedom crises
In this context, Auckland University of Technology’s Pacific Media Centre marked its tenth anniversary in November 2017 with a wide-ranging public seminar discussing critical media freedom crises.

The “Journalism Under Duress in Asia-Pacific” seminar examined media freedom and human rights in the Philippines and in Indonesia’s Papua region – known as West Papua.

Keynote speakers included Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) executive director Malou Mangahas and RNZ Pacific senior journalist Johnny Blades.

Papers from this seminar and 14 other contributing researchers from seven countries on topics ranging from the threats to the internet, post-conflict identity, Pacific media freedom and journalist safety are featured in this edition of PJR.

Unthemed paper topics include representations of Muslims in New Zealand, ASEAN development journalism, US militarism in Micronesia and the reporting of illegal rhino poaching for the Vietnamese market.

The issue has been edited by Professor David Robie, director of the PMC, Khairiah A. Rahman of AUT, and Dr Philip Cass of Unitec. The designer was Del Abcede.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

RSF condemns killing of radio journalist – shot in Philippines

Philippine radio journalist Joey Llana … shot at least 14 times in ambush as he drove to work at Radio DwZR in Legazpi City. Image: RSF Paris

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the killing of Philippine radio journalist Joey Llana near Legazpi City, at the southeastern tip of the island of Luzon, and has called on the authorities to do everything possible to find those responsible.

Joey Llana, 38, was gunned down yesterday as he drove to work at Radio DwZR in Legazpi City, where he hosted a morning radio programme, reports the Paris-based global media freedom watchdog RSF.

Local police said he was hit at least 14 times in the head and body by shots fired by five unidentified gunmen.

The police have not yet identified a motive but a relative said Llana had recently received death threats, which suggested that he had been targeted in connection with his work.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, condemned the murder and said it would be investigated by the Presidential Task Force on Media Security.

We condemn radio journalist Joey Llana’s murder in the strongest terms as it is a serious press freedom violation, and we welcome the decision by the president’s office to open an immediate investigation and its declared desire to render justice to the victim,” a statement from RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said.

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“The Philippines, which is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in Asia, must do everything possible to effectively combat violence against the media and impunity for this violence.”

Third journalist killed
If the initial suspicions are confirmed, Llana will be the third journalist to have been murdered this year in the Philippines in connection with their work, reports RSF.

Newspaper journalist Dennis Denora was slain in a similar fashion in the southern province of Davao del Norte in June, as was radio show host Edmund Sestoso in the central province of Negros Oriental in May.

At least six other journalists have been killed in connection with their work since Duterte, who is prone to virulent verbal attacks on the media, was elected president in 2016.

The Philippines fell six places in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 133rd out of 180 countries.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

RSF plea to Indonesia to investigate reporter’s death in detention

A journalist has died while in Indonesian police custody after investigating land disputes linked to the palm oil industry. Image: Tempo – Adek Berry/AFP/RSF

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for an independent inquiry into the death in detention of Muhammad Yusuf, a reporter who was being held in South Kalimantan province, in the far south of the Indonesian part of Borneo, on a charge of defaming a local palm oil production company.

A series of irregularities surround Muhammad Yusuf’s death in the town of Kotabaru on June 10, nine weeks after his arrest because of his coverage of allegedly illegal land seizures linked to the activities of MSAM, a company that operates a huge oil palm plantation in the province, reports RSF.

Yusuf had become well-known for his reporting on the story, writing no fewer than 23 articles for two news websites, Kemajuan Rakyat and Berantas News, from November 2017 to March 2018.

Muhammad Yusuf’s death … “credibility of rule of law in Indonesia at stake,” says RSF. Image: RSF

He was arrested on April 5 as he was about to fly to Jakarta to meet with the National Commission on Human Rights.

After holding him for more than two months, the police say he was taken from prison to a hospital in Kotabaru on 10 June with chest pains, vomiting and breathing difficulties, and died soon after arrival as a result of a heart attack.

“We call on the Indonesian government and supreme court to guarantee a full and independent investigation and to deploy whatever resources are necessary to ensure that all possible light is shed on this journalist’s death,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

-Partners-

“The credibility of the rule of law in Indonesia is at stake because of the many doubts surrounding this case.

“What with his critical reporting, the appearance of collusion and a lack of transparency, there are many reasons for suspecting that Muhammad Yusuf died because of his journalistic work.”

Strong suspicions
Yusuf’s wife, Arvaidah, had requested his release three times on medical grounds because of concern about his state of health. After his death, she was denied access to the morgue and to the autopsy results. Convinced that his death was “not natural,” she has filed a complaint against the police and district attorney, who were jointly responsible for detention.

Many people question the independence of the police and district attorney’s office in this matter. South Kalimantan’s governor is the uncle of the wealthy businessman who owns MSAM, the company targeted by Yusuf’s reporting.

According to Tempo, a leading Indonesian news website, bruises on the back of Yusuf’s neck can be seen in a video of his body.

All these suspicions prompted the National Commission on Human Rights to announce last week that it was opening an investigation into his death.

Indonesia is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

The Pacific Media Centre is an associate of Reporters Without Borders in media freedom work.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Talking journalist ‘targeting’ and Papuan media on World Press Freedom Day

Author profile: 

By Craig Major
School of Communication Studies Professor and Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie marked World Press Freedom Day last week with a seminar covering the “targeting” and killing of Journalists, as well as the state of the media in West Papua.

During a seminar on Friday 3 May to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, David spoke to the shocking statistics around journalists killed in the couse of duty worldwide.

““Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) [Reporters Without Borders] statistics showed 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017,” David said.. “Of the 65 journalists killed, 7 of these people were so-called citizen journalists.”

“Although this statistic showed a drop from the previous year, the growth of “hatred” for media and targeting of journalists was a worsening problem.”

Also on the seminar agenda was a discussion about the media “gags” affecting areas such as the Melanesian region of West Papua inside Indonesia.

“There are more and more independent journalists [in the region] that are disillusioned” David said. “These journalists are taking on the role of the ‘citizen journalist’ and publishing untold stories on their own blogs.”

David highlighted the work of Papua New Guinea-based journalist and Pacific Media Centre collaborator Scott Waide, who curates and publishes articles by independent journalists and citizens on his blog My Land, My Country. as an example of this phenomenon.  

The seminar was well-attended and the issues raised documented in a comprehensive post published on the Pacific Media Centre website.

Read the full post about the World Press Freedom Day seminar.

Read more about journalist targeting and killing during Free Media Week on the Pacific Media Centre website.

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Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie talking about media freedom and West Papua at Auckland University of Technology. Image: Khariah A. Rahman/PMC

Friday, May 11, 2018

Report by Pacific Media Centre

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

‘Time of anxiety’ – a depressing new normal for local journalists in conflict zones

Afghan journalists light candles to remember the local reporters killed in last week’s Kabul bomb blast. Image: Hedayatullah Amid/EPA/The Conversation

By Colleen Murrell in Melbourne

For journalists who cover Afghanistan, the bombing that killed nine local reporters last week in Kabul was a sober reminder of the dangers the media continue to face in the country’s seemingly endless conflict.

The victims were not well-known foreign correspondents, but a group of courageous Afghan photographers, reporters and cameramen who had gone to report on another bomb blast that had exploded about 40 minutes earlier.

They included a photographer from the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), as well as contributors to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several local media companies.

READ MORE: Free media week killings underscore crimes of impunity against journalists

Elsewhere on the same day, a 10th journalist was shot dead – a reporter for the BBC’s Pashto service, Ahmad Shah.

According to Reporters Without Borders, it was the deadliest single day for journalists in the country since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

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The principal way we receive news from conflict zones like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq is via eyewitnesses on social media and the global news agencies – AFP, Associated Press and Reuters. Agency reporters are often the first “media responders” to deadly incidents like suicide bombings and terror attacks. They also negotiate with local reporters on the ground to secure the best pictures, which then get relayed to the thousands of media companies around the world who subscribe to their services.

To feed this beast of global 24/7 news coverage, there is still an expectation that agency journalists will dare to tread where others will not.

Journalists as targets
Increasingly, this has become even more dangerous, as extremist groups like the Islamic State have shifted tactics to specifically target journalists.

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee warned of “an unprecedented increase in threats and violence against journalists” in a 2017 report:

Increased threats from DAESH to media and journalists have created a new wave of concerns about the security of journalists and media. What is seriously worrying is the group’s direct attacks against media, which in 2017 is responsible for the vast majority of journalists’ deaths.

Reporters Without Borders says 34 journalists and media workers have died in attacks by the Islamic State and Taliban in Afghanistan since the start of 2016. The situation has become so dire that the group has called on the United Nations to appoint a special representative dedicated to protecting the lives of journalists. The proposal has been backed by French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Parliament.

Without adequate security provisions, journalists have also been abandoning countries that have become too dangerous, Reporters Without Borders notes in its 2017 annual report on reporters killed in the line of duty.

AFP continues to operate with a team of two or three foreign journalists in Kabul, backed up by seven full-time Afghan journalists and various stringers working across the country. Reuters employs just one foreign correspondent and one local journalist in Kabul, and AP has two local reporters and two local photographers.

Former BBC journalist Bilal Sarwary, who now works as a freelancer, tells me there are very few Western journalists left in Afghanistan because “Iraq and then Syria have commanded their attention” in recent years. He said The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post still have reporters based in the country, but now rely almost entirely on freelance photographers.

Responding to the new reality
Under global news director Michèle Léridon, AFP has been highly innovative at adapting to news gathering challenges, but also strict in its policy of not being made stooges by terrorists. According to Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s global editor-in-chief, the company is constantly evaluating its security procedures.

We have always been cautious about rushing to the scene of attacks. We have moved our office several times in Kabul to find a better location as the threat level has changed. We have sent security experts to review our procedures and to recommend physical reinforcements and measures to our buildings.

We have also sent reporters on hostile environment courses and sent trainers to Kabul to train all staff including non-journalists. The message to all our reporters remains that security comes first.

Chetwynd notes the suicide bomber who killed the nine Afghan journalists in Kabul last week – a group that included AFP photographer Shah Marai – had apparently been posing as a fellow reporter, a new tactic by terror groups.

“We are already changing and reacting to this appalling new reality,” he says.

It’s clear that all media organisations need to constantly rethink their strategies when it comes to reporting in conflict zones.

Media scholars, too, are tackling the issue. At the upcoming International Communications Association conference in Prague later this month, I will be joining other academics on a panel titled “Voices in journalism: Local news staff producing international news” to discuss the latest research examining the working conditions of stringers, fixers and local journalists.

Researched challenges
One of the panellists, Saumava Mitra, has researched the work of photojournalists in Afghanistan and co-authored an essay last week on the challenges they face:

We have seen that local journalists usually have much poorer access to hostile-environment training, work-hazard insurance or even medical benefits from their employers. They face different threats and risks than those who parachute into the conflict and have nowhere to go if the situation escalates.

They are also much more prone to reprisals. The first step to help prevent their deaths is to acknowledge that the news we consume is often produced by journalists working under precarious conditions in hostile places.

Marai, for one, always knew the dangers of working in Kabul, as his blog on the AFP website so devastatingly shows. In it, he recounts how life changed for the worse when the Taliban returned to stage attacks in Kabul in the mid-2000s:

“I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. Every morning as I go to the office and every evening when I return home, all I think of are cars that can be booby-trapped, or of suicide bombers coming out of a crowd. I can’t take the risk. So we don’t go out.

“I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don’t see a way out. It’s a time of anxiety.”

Dr Colleen Murrell is undergraduate coordinator for journalism at Monash University, Melbourne, and the author of Foreign Correspondents and International Newsgathering: The role of fixers.This article was first published by The Conversation and is republished on Asia Pacific Report under a Creative Commons licence.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

RSF media freedom round-up for 2017 – 65 journalists killed, 326 in prison

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: RSF media freedom round-up for 2017 – 65 journalists killed, 326 in prison

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker reports from London. Video: Al Jazeera/RSF

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders has documented the number of journalists killed or jailed this year.

It says Syria and Mexico are among the most dangerous places for reporters to work. Sixty percent of journalists killed are targeted because of their journalistic work.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its annual round-up of violence and abuses against journalists throughout the world.

A total of 65 journalists were killed in 2017, 326 are currently in prison, and 54 are held hostage.*

The 65 journalists who were killed were either fatally injured in the course of their work (for example, in an artillery bombardment) or were murdered because their reporting angered someone. The murdered reporters were the majority – 60 percent of the total figure.

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Although these figures are alarming, 2017 has been the least deadly year for professional journalists (50 killed) in 14 years. Journalists are of course fleeing countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya that have become too dangerous, but RSF has also observed a growing awareness of the need to protect journalists.

The UN has passed several resolutions on the safety of journalists since 2006 and many news organisations have adopted safety procedures.

Deaths of women double
The fall does not apply to deaths of women journalists, which have doubled. Ten have been killed in 2017, compared to five in 2016.

Most of these victims were experienced and combative investigative reporters. Despite threats, they continued to investigate and expose cases of corruption.

The victims include Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Gauri Lankesh in India and Miroslava Breach Velducea in Mexico.

In another noteworthy trend in 2017, some countries that are not at war have become almost as dangerous for journalists as war zones: 46 percent of the deaths occurred in countries where no overt war is taking place, as against 30 percent in 2016.

There were almost as many deaths (11) in Mexico as in Syria, which was the deadliest country for journalists in 2017, with 12 killed.

“Investigative journalists working on major stories such as corruption and environmental scandals play a fundamental watchdog role and have become targets for those who are angered by their reporting,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

‘Alarming situation’
“This alarming situation underlines the need to provide journalists with more protection at a time when both the challenges of news reporting and the dangers are becoming increasingly internationalised.”

Like the death toll, the number of journalists in detention has also fallen. The total of 326 journalists in prison on December 1, 2017 was 6 percent fewer than on the same date in 2016.

Despite the overall downward trend, there is an unusually high number of detained journalists in certain countries, in particular Russia and Morocco, that did not previously number among the worst jailers of professional journalists.

Nonetheless, around half of the total number of imprisoned journalists are being held in just five countries. China and Turkey are still the world’s two biggest prisons for journalists.

Finally, 54 journalists are currently held by armed non-state groups such as Islamic State and the Houthis in Yemen.

Almost three quarters of these hostages come from the ranks of local journalists, who are usually paid little and often have to take enormous risks. The foreign journalists currently held hostage were all kidnapped in Syria but little is known about their present location.

See the full round-up here

* These figures include professional journalists, non-professional journalists and media workers.

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Journalism under duress in Asia-Pacific – an introduction

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Journalism under duress in Asia-Pacific – an introduction

When the Pacific Media Centre was founded at AUT a decade ago in October 2007 — and launched by Laumanuvao Winnie Laban while she was Minister of Pacific Island Affairs – the region faced a turbulent era.

Fiji’s so-called “coup culture” had become entrenched by yet another coup in December 2006 by military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

However, this time it was not an ethnocentric putsch, but allegedly a “coup to end all coups” and in support of a multiracial future.

A six-month state of emergency period followed with many human rights violations. These breaches continued for the next eight years until a general election in 2014 – and beyond.

There were also concerns in Papua New Guinea over human rights violations, including police brutality and killing of suspects in law enforcement.

Relations were strained at the time between Solomon Islands and Australia over the Moti affair.

This was about an Australian lawyer Julian Moti who had been appointed to the post of Attorney-General, culminating in an Australian police raid on the Solomon Islands prime minister’s office.

In 2007, corruption, gender violence and other human rights violations were rife.

Arbitrary killings
In the wider Asia-Pacific region, arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by elements of the security services and political killings, including of journalists, were already a major problem in the Philippines – but not anything like the scale of President Duterte era of today.

And in Timor-Leste, security forces carried out nine killings that year in 2007 – less than a third of the 29 the previous year – and there were human rights violations against journalists and other civilians.

These circumstances were fertile ground for the establishment of both the Pacific Media Centre here at AUT and its Pacific Media Watch media freedom project as one of the first research and publication initiatives established under the PMC umbrella.

The project was transferred to AUT’s PMC from the University of Papua New Guinea and University of Technology Sydney where it had been founded by ABC Four Corners investigative journalist Peter Cronau and me.

Billed as an independent, non-profit network reporting on media developments in and around New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region, the initiatives and work were inspired by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) – which sadly closed in April this year after a quarter of a century of cutting edge investigative journalism.

Despite its limited resources, the Pacific Media Centre has contributed to greater diversity and more research and analysis of the region’s media over the past decade.

It has also worked closely with Reporters Sans Frontières in Paris, Freedom House in New York and other media freedom organisations.

As the credibility of neoliberalism and the quality of newspapers has eroded in Australia and New Zealand, universities and other non-profits are being increasingly seen as alternative backers for serious journalism.

Pacific Media Watch
Pacific Media Centre is regarded as an early example of such a venture, along with its early adopted project, Pacific Media Watch.

Another cornerstone of the Pacific Media Centre has been publication of Pacific Journalism Review, a Scopus-ranked international research journal that was launched originally at the University of Papua New Guinea and has now been published for 23 years.

At a conference at AUT in 2014 celebrating 20 years of publication, an academic analysis by Queensland University of Technology journalism coordinator Lee Duffield concluded that PJR “gives oxygen to campaigns that decry suppression of truth” and examines self-censorship by news media.

Pacific Media Watch has developed a strategy to challenge issues of ethics, media freedom, industry ownership, cross-cultural diversity and media plurality. It has been involved in reporting coups d’etat, civil conflict and media independence.

The service has been an important catalyst for journalists, media educators, citizen journalists and critical journalists collaborating in a broader trajectory of Pacific protest.

In 2015, PMW won the Faculty Dean’s award for a “critic and conscience of society” and it has won other awards.

Congratulations and thanks to the current PMW editor, Kendall Hutt, and all predecessors – Taberannang Korauaba, Josie Latu, Alex Perrottet, Daniel Drageset, Anna Majavu, Alistar Kata and TJ Aumua – for their contribution.

Spate of murders
In the Philippines, the extrajudicial killings crisis and the ongoing spate of murders of journalists has been an issue prominently reported on through the Pacific Media Watch project and the PMC’s news and current affairs website Asia Pacific Report.

Recently IFEX, the global media freedom exchange, summarised the current status of the trial of the accused in the Ampatuan massacre of 2009, in which 32 journalists were among the 58 people killed in a political ambush, by declaring: “Eight years, zero convictions.”

Threats to journalists in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power on 30 June 2016 have grown rapidly.

He unleashed his so-called “war on drugs” with an estimated death toll of more than 7000 to 9000 suspects, drug addicts and innocent people, so far – many of them children.

The recently ended three-month siege of Marawi City, also on Mindanao, has also been a tough time for journalists.

Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and her team are among those few brave Filipino journalists and media researchers trying to expose the truth in a chilling environment.

Malou is a veteran of Philippine journalism. As well as her role with the PCIJ, she is host of the weekly public affairs programme Investigative Documentaries on GMA NewsTV.

Political detainee
She was once a university campus journalist. She was the first woman president of the Student Council at a state university where she completed her thesis on a portable typewriter while on the run from dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ military goons.

Malou was arrested and became a political detainee in 1980, yet still managed to finish her journalism degree with honours.

A fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in 1998-99, Malou has worked as editor-in-chief of a national newspaper, radio programme host, executive producer of a TV debate programme.

She was also the first editor-in-chief of gmanews.tv online, while working as vice-president for research and content development of GMA news and public affairs.

Malou has conducted training on investigative reporting, data journalism, campaign finance, covering elections, and uncovering corruption for journalists in the Philippines and also in many places in Southeast Asia and Africa. This is her first visit to New Zealand.

I met Malou during a visit to the PCIJ in Manila on my sabbatical last year and I was subsequently at her presentation on the “war on drugs” at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2017 conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

West Papua
Closer to home in the Pacific, but equally ignored by most of the New Zealand media, is the ongoing human rights crisis in the two Indonesian-ruled Melanesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, which we generally group together as the region of West Papua.

It has been very difficult, even dangerous, for journalists to go to West Papua independently. Many have chosen to go there illegally as tourists and report under cover at great risk to themselves, and even greater risk to their sources.

Johnny Blades, a senior journalist of RNZ International, and his colleague Koroi Hawkins took advantage of incoming President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s celebrated “open door” policy to go there in October 2015.

They were the first New Zealand-based journalists in decades to visit there with a green light from the Jakarta bureaucracy.

Johnny is a presenter of Dateline Pacific and has written and reported extensively about the Pacific Islands, covering some of the most remote corners of this diverse region.

However, in recent years he has specialised in Melanesian affairs, a woefully under-reported part of the Pacific.

Today, December 1, is a very special day – it marks the first raising of the Morning Star, the flag of West Papuan self-determination in 1961. West Papuans have been seeking independence ever since.  

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Report by Pacific Media Centre

Philippines press freedom still under pressure with journalist killings

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Philippines press freedom still under pressure with journalist killings

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

By Florence Peschke

Seven months into the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, press freedom remains under pressure in the Philippines.

The country has been one of the most dangerous for journalists in recent years – the International Press Institute (IPI) has recorded the deaths of 128 journalists in connection with their work since 1997 – and only one week into the year it mourned the first journalist killed in 2017.

On January 6, Mario Contaoi was riding his motorbike home to Magsingal Town on a national highway when unidentified assailants on motorbikes shot him six times. The former university professor, radio announcer and environmental activist succumbed to his injuries in the early hours of January 7.

Just three weeks earlier, Larry Que, a Filipino publisher-columnist, was shot dead after alleging that local officials had ties to the manufacture of illegal drugs.

The circumstances and killers’ motives in both murders remain unclear, highlighting the impunity surrounding journalists’ killings in the country and the lingering threat it poses to their safety.

Since Duterte took office on June 30, he has gained an international reputation for his controversial statements and extreme positions. The war on crime and drugs launched in July that was a focus of his populist campaign is estimated to have taken 6000 lives, many in summary and extrajudicial killings.

Seven months into Duterte’s term, IPI spoke with journalists and civil society representatives in the Philippines to take a closer look at press freedom and journalists’ safety.

Touchy relationship
The president has had a touchy relationship with the media. Just weeks before his inauguration, Duterte said in a May 31 press conference that journalists who were killed were responsible for their own fate “because they extorted, accepted bribes, took sides or attacked their victims needlessly”.

The statement drew vociferous objections from both media and civil society groups. They argued that Duterte’s comments not only reinforced the misconception of journalists as corrupt, but also created a fiction that only corrupt journalists had been killed, justifying their murder.

In an interview with IPI, Kathryn Roja Raymundo, press freedom alerts and communications officer for the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Association (SEAPA) disputed Duterte’s allegations.

“Based on evidence, journalists and media workers in the Philippines were murdered for doing their work investigating and exposing corruption,” she said.

“Killing is killing and should not be justified or condoned, especially by government officials elected to promote and protect the rule of law.”

In fact, according to the Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a local NGO based in Makati City, only eight to 10 percent of all journalists killed since 2000 were actually involved in corrupt practices.

Early missteps
Beyond his pre-inauguration statements, Duterte made other early missteps, including limiting access to information and press conferences, and flip-flopping on statements. Observers argue this contributed to misconceptions and set back efforts to improve media literacy in the Philippines.

“Many Filipinos do not understand how the press works, particularly its adversarial function in a democratic society,” Melanie Pinlac, Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists coordinator for CMFR, commented.

Roja Raymundo said that, in the Philippines, actions that impair press freedom tend to be extra-legal, rather than the result of specific laws or direct government intervention. But Pinlac argued that Duterte’s openly negative attitude towards the press has taken a toll on journalists and other media workers.

“They are more cautious in newsgathering and reporting about the programs of the current government, and vigilant in monitoring the war on drugs,” she said.

Unfortunately, Duterte’s cynicism towards the press appears to be catching on among his supporters. Journalists who criticise the president’s policies or cover sensitive topics like drug trafficking or corruption face defamation suits and an online backlash.

Duterte’s supporters attack them outright or report their online accounts to social media platforms, demanding the takedown of “inappropriate content”.

Roby Alampay, editor-in-chief of Filipino BusinessWorld and InterAkyson, criticised the platforms for their reaction.

“When it comes to Facebook in particular, I am less concerned about fake news and gullibility of people, I am less concerned about the algorithms of Facebook, and more concerned about Facebook’s inability to stand up and defend journalists that they have recognised, journalists with certified accounts,” he told IPI.

The dynamics of social media mean that this stifles not only journalists, but society. Alampay said that in the current climate, no public debate or exchange of ideas is encouraged and Duterte supporters are quick to silence any dissenting opinions. Online harassment causes exhaustion and fatigue, if not fear, in society.

“It is like debating with a wall,” he said. “It is like debating with a drunk.”

Reason for hope?
Nevertheless, some journalists say there is reason for hope. Alampay said he believes that the press in the Philippines is still among the freest of the region and that, despite Duterte’s personal hostile attitude and often bad behaviour, he is still accessible and willing to answer journalists’ questions.

There also have been positive developments. In late July, Duterte issued an executive order promoting access to information. Although the right is guaranteed by the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution, many citizens are not aware of their rights, Pinlac says.

The executive order is a step in the right direction, but observers say that similar legislation applying to all government bodies should be adopted to ensure the public’s access to information.

In October, Duterte also signed an administrative order creating a “Presidential Task Force on the violation of the right to life, liberty and security of members of the media”.

The Task Force is intended to provide security to those under threat and to monitor cases of killed journalists to address the prevailing impunity with which those cases have been met.

Roja Raymundo noted that, since 1986, only 17 people have been convicted in the killings of journalists who died in connection with their work.

Both her organisation and the CMFR have made recommendations to the government on improving the press freedom situation; chief among them is the creation of a multi-stakeholder quick response team, including representatives of media and civil society. The groups also suggested reviewing investigation practices and rules of court that are prone to abuse.

Alampay cited a need to change a misconception of journalism in society, commenting that learning about information and media literacy should start “as soon as kids have email and access to social media”.

However, whether Duterte will manage to effectively address these pressing issues remains to be determined. Although orders on access to information and the safety of journalists spark hope, similar efforts by previous administrations were unable to end impunity and offer real safeguards for journalists.

Florence Peschke is an International Press Institute contributor.