EMTV journalist Scott Waide … “Papua New Guinea is a democracy and the media is free to hold those in authority to account.” Image: PMC
By Blessen Tom
Pacific media freedom and ignorance of Pacific issues by mainstream media in New Zealand are growing challenges for the region, says a journalism academic
“There are so many issues in the Pacific that are simply ignored by the mainstream media,” Pacific Media Centre director Professor Robie bluntly told the two-day Oceans and Islands conference for Pacific researchers that ended in the Fale Pasifika at Auckland University today.
He cited the ongoing human rights situation in West Papua – which will be marked tomorrow with flag raising ceremonies across New Zealand – and the recent New Caledonian independence referendum as examples of poorly covered issues.
The conference was hosted by the NZ Institute for Pacific Research, a NZ government-funded consortium of Auckland University, Otago University and Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
A Maserati luxury sedan as portrayed in the controversial news item shown in EMTV. Image: EMTV screenshot
Addressing the centre’s research and public strategy, Dr Robie also shared his concerns about media freedom in the Pacific region and highlighted this week’s dramatic developments in Papua New Guinea in the wake of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.
Scott Waide, one of the country’s most high profile and influential journalists, was secretly suspended over broadcasting a New Zealand television news item that criticised government spending on 40 Maserati luxury sedans.
Waide, deputy regional news editor of EMTV and who blogs on social issues in his My Land, My Country website, was reinstated a day after news of his suspension was leaked through social media networks, sparking a flurry of protests in international media.
“This outrageous meddling by the state-owned Telikom company’s board was kept quiet for a week until it finally went viral last Sunday.
‘Blatant censorship’ “This blatant act of censorship – publicly defended by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – rebounded heavily on the government.”
Dr Robie, who is also the convenor of the PMC’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project in collaboration with international press watchdogs such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, criticised corporate and political inference in PNG’s news and current affairs media.
He said what had happened was salutary for Pacific press freedoms. While he described the reinstatement for Waide as a victory for media freedom in the region, he said the journalists’ own reflective comments were “lessons for the rest of the Pacific”.
AUT’s Professor David Robie … critical of political and corporate “meddling” with Pacific media freedom. Image: Blessen Tom/PMC
“Papua New Guinea is a democracy and the media is free to hold those in authority to account,” Waide had said on his blog. “This means highlighting flaws in policy and making sure mistakes are pointed out and corrected. It is an essential part of our democracy.”
Dr Robie cited the Waide suspension as an example of some of the research, publication and storytelling provided by the PMC.
“We try to give lot more storytelling with Pacific voices and Pacific context,” he said.
“We try to provide an outlet for Pacific views and also information right across the region.”
Professional development AUT’s PMC in the School of Communication Studies operated as independent university-based educational media by providing space for postgraduate students to have their stories published and broadcast for professional development.
This had contributed a lot to Pacific storytelling, he said.
“If we do things independently media-wise, there are a lot of stories that we can tell that much of the mainstream just ignores.”
• Pacific Journalism Review, a peer reviewed journal, the only New Zealand-based publication specialising in journalism, media issues, communication and diversity in the South Pacific, Asia Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
PJR is ranked on the SCOPUS metrics database and is in its 25th year of publication and is hosted on the open access indigenous research platform Tuwhera at Auckland University of Technology.
• Pacific Journalism Monographs, a peer-reviewed research companion to Pacific Journalism Review, which publishes longer research projects in an online and booklet format.
• Southern Cross, a weekly radio programme on Pacific affairs run by the PMC on Radio 95bfm at the University of Auckland.
Professor Robie also mentioned PMC’s three-year-old Bearing Witness climate change project and talked about its “outstanding results” by award-winning postgraduate students reporting environmental issues.
He screened the trailer of Banabans of Rabi – A Story of Survival, a short documentary by Hele Ikimotu and Blessen Tom that was premiered at the Nuku’alofa International Film festival last week.
The inaugural Oceans and Islands conference concluded today.
Sri Krishnamurthi and Blessen Tom of the Pacific Media Centre are working as part of a PMC partnership with the NZ Institute for Pacific Research.
AUT’s Professor David Robie with two colleagues at the NZIPR Oceans and Islands conference. Image: NZIPR
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have written a joint open letter to the prosecutor-general of the Philippines calling for an end to the orchestrated harassment of the news website Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa, which began more than a year ago.
The website, which has more than 3.7 million followers on Facebook alone, has been under constant bureaucratic and legal attack by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Department of Justice earlier this month said that it planned to file unspecified tax evasion charges against Rappler and the website’s founder and executive editor, award-winning Maria Ressa.
The two media freedom advocacy groups said the government was trying to “silence” the website and its journalists.
Later it filed on November 9 a criminal case against two Rappler executives for allegedly avoiding paying 133.8 million pesos ($9.6 million) in tax.
“We urge you to cease this campaign of intimidation and harassment against Rappler, both for the sake of respecting press freedom and for your government’s international credibility,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in the joint open letter.
Rappler publisher Maria Ressa could face up to 10 years in prison for tax evasion. Noel Celis /RSF/AFP
“We maintain that this is a clear form of continuing intimidation and harassment against us, and an attempt to silence journalists.”
The website said there was no legal basis for the action. The open letter said:
Mr Richard Anthony Fadullon Prosecutor-General Department of Justice Ermita, Manila 1000 Republic of the Philippines Via email: email@example.com
Dear Prosecutor General Fadullon,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders, two independent non-profit press freedom organisations, ask that you and your office end the politicised persecution of Philippine news site Rappler.
The Department of Justice earlier this month said that it planned to file tax evasion charges against Rappler and the website’s founder and executive editor, Maria Ressa. The charges relate to a company bond sale in 2015 that, according to reports, resulted in 162.5 million pesos (euros 2,7 million) in financial gains. The Justice Department’s statement did not indicate how much Rappler and Ressa allegedly owed in taxes.
Ressa has denied the allegation and said that Rappler is compliant with all Philippine tax laws, including the transaction in question. She said she believes the legal threat is an attempt to silence her news outlet’s critical reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. CPJ and RSF have documented in the past year how authorities have retaliated against Rappler’s coverage, including by banning its reporters from the presidential palace and referring to the site as “fake news” and “biased.”
The Department of Justice’s announcement that it will seek to file tax evasion charges is strikingly and worryingly similar to previous legal harassment of Rappler. The news site is still fighting a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order to revoke its registration. The Court of Appeals ruled in July that the SEC had erred in its move to revoke Rappler’s certificate of incorporation, but the outlet’s motion to fully annul the order is still pending.
We view the tax evasion charges, which carry potential 10-year prison penalties under local law, as a clear and present threat to press freedom. As Ressa has pointed out, the charges could potentially threaten foreign investors who use similar mechanisms, and could thus damage the Philippine economy
We urge you to cease this campaign of intimidation and harassment against Rappler, both for the sake of respecting press freedom and for your government’s international credibility.
Sincerely, Joel Simon Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists
Christophe Deloire Secretary-General Reporters Without Borders
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was informed soon after APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) that the O’Neil actually planned on sacking Waide. However, there was pushback from the management and staff so they decided to instead suspend him and order that he go on leave.
I suspect given the recent unrest in Port Moresby involving security forces, they had to be careful not to trigger another incident.
Opposition MP Bryan Kramer … wants to get to the bottom of the attempt to sack Scott Waide. Image: Kramer Report
So the real question is, who was behind the decision calling for Waide’s “sacking/suspension”, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill himself, or the usual suspects such as O’Neill’s Chief Media Officer Chris Hawkins and Minister for APEC Justin Tkatchenko?
EMTV is owned by Telikom PNG that is ultimately owned by Kumul Holdings Consolidated, a state-owned enterprise.
Shadow minister The minister responsible for state-owned enterprises is William Duma and I am the shadow minister.
I will be writing to the minister and CEO of Kumul Consolidated Holdings asking them for an explanation behind this suspension.
I don’t expect a response, but what I can assure them is that following the removal of O’Neill in February 2019, the person behind the decision can expect to be sacked.
Last week, Opposition Members were on FM100 radio talkback that was telecast live on EMTV. However, half way through the programme we were cut off air. This is the second time it has happened.
It appears those feeding from a corrupt O’Neill government are starting to get desperate in their efforts to take away our rights – including our freedom of speech.
It’s time Papua New Guineans start to seriously think about organising ourselves in the cause to hold to account a corrupt prime minister and his cronies.
Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer is the shadow minister for state-owned enterprises, including the Telikom-owned EMTV. He founded the Allegiance Party and is an investigative journalist who publishes Kramer Report.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as she appeared on the “negative” EMTV News during APEC – she refused to ride in a Maserati luxury sedan and criticised the funding. Image: PMC screenshot from EMTV News
In the story, visiting NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is featured saying that none of the NZ$15 million in aid money went towards buying the Maseratis and she would not travel in one in one of the cars.
“I will not and I have been advised that I will be travelling in a Toyota Highlander, I believe,” she added at the time.
“Reinstate Scott Waide” … currently a popular meme on PNG social media. Image: PMC
The news item on November 17 was considered “negative” by the EMTV state ownership – MNL board, the Kumul Telikom Holdings board and the Kumul Consolidated Holdings board.
“The Media Council (MCPNG) sees this as a clear case of ignorance on the part of the chairmen and members of these boards, about the business of reporting the news,” the council said in a statement.
“The media in PNG is in the business of reporting the truth. Regardless of whatever form it may take.
“It is clear that the owners of EMTV, do not appreciate the strength and commitment of its news team, to tell the truth.
“EMTV News has been at the forefront of setting new ways of covering and reporting the news, that is now international standard.
“Mr Waide and the EMTV News team has been leading this change. It is a step backward for democracy, and development in the The MCPNG maintains that the job of portraying a positive image of the country rests solely with the government of the day.
“The media is not responsible for this aspect of a country’s well-being. Its sole responsibility is to the people, and not to government, regardless of whether it owns some, or all of any media company’s shareholding.
“The media must not bend to the whims of insecure politicians, and spineless ‘yes-men’ who flaunt their authority, with impunity, and against all moral and ethical judgement.
“We in the media are in the business of reporting the truth. Journalists should not be looking over their shoulders, every time they work on a sensitive story, just because it may not paint the government of the day, in a good light.”
Freedom of speech and expression are a fundamental constitutional right entrenched in the constitution, are pillars of democracy and this suspension is a breach of this fundamental right.
We have become a dictatorship in essence and it’s happening right before our eyes. Leadership comes with the territory, and scrutiny and criticism are part of this package and the media plays a big part.
Wabag MP Lino Jeremaih Tom … “sad day for PNG for one of its most loved journalists to be treated this way”. Image: PNG Parliament
Biased reporting is not healthy for this country and it is indeed a sad day for PNG for one of its most loved journalists to be treated this way.
In fact, it’s disgusting and nauseating witnessing the gross abuse of power in recent times by those vested few in their bid for survival.
Desperation calls for desperate measures. All our oversight institutions and laws have been raped and plundered to a point where the remains are a dysfunctional wreck.
If we can’t condemn this stupid and selfish act then all of us leaders should resign in shame as we’d have failed miserably our mandated responsibilities as freedom of speech and expression is one of the foundation principles of any democratic society.
This is totally wrong EMTV. What’s your role as a media outlet in nation building in PNG? The management should hang their heads in shame for stooping this low.
Parliament Haus in Waigani … scene of the reported assault against PNGFM journalists. Image Scott Waide’s blog
Scott Waide’s blog highlights an open letter by Genesis Ketan, director of news, PNGFM:
As director of News for PNGFM, I am very disappointed at the manner at which two of my reporters – one male and one female – were assaulted by disciplinary officers while covering the storming of Parliament on Tuesday, 20 November 2018.
They were simply there to do their jobs and cover the proceedings of what was happening at National Parliament when they were accosted by a group of inflamed disciplinary officers, both police and correctional service officers.
Upon seeing the journalists – one officer called out “Em ol Reporter ya, ol laik kisim wanem kain story, paitim ol”. (“They are reporters, what kind of story are they here for, beat them up.”)
Police Commissioner Gary Baki … received PNGFM’s assault complaint. Image: Loop PNG
The female journalist was manhandled by a group of police officers who pulled at her shirt attempting to rip it:
“One of the police officers pulled out my camera from my bag and smashed it right in front of me. While I was trying to take in what was happening, another officer pulled my bag causing the leather handle of my bag to break. He then threw my bag on the ground, kicked it towards the other officers, they in turn kicked the bag back to him, emptying out all my belongings in my bag. Another officer picked up my phone and smashed it while others were shouting and yelling abusive languages.”
She was pushed back and forth during the commotion with just one elderly officer attempting to assist her and help her out to safety.
At the same time, the male reporter was separated from his colleague, then told to put his camera away and not film or take shots.
“During the struggle, I was attacked by a Correctional Service officer at first, which then led to police officers surrounding me and attacking me. During the incident, I was trying to see what was happening to my colleague, but kept getting punched until one Police Mobile Squad officer pulled me away to safety. I had my vest broken, my note book gone and the company camera destroyed by the officers.”
PNGFM has written a letter of complaint to Correctional Service Commissioner Stephen Pokanis and Police Commissioner Gary Baki calling for those involved to be penalized.
Such an attack is an attack on our media freedom when journalists should be protected and not be subjected to such attacks for merely doing their jobs.
Meanwhile, at separate media conferences on Thursday, November 22, both Commissioner Pokanis and Commissioner Baki were informed of the assault against our journalists and have given assurance they will investigate this matter thoroughly.
– Genesis Ketan, director of news, PNGFM
Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae.
The media has played a central role in this year’s huge scandal involving MP Jami-Lee Ross. Journalists, broadcasters, and political commentators have reported on the scandal – including choosing to withhold some information – and interpreted it all. Inevitably questions have been asked about how well the media have performed, and the decisions they have made.
I raised some of these issues in my column yesterday, Lifting the bedsheets on MPs’ private lives. Further questions include how much the media have influenced the scandal themselves, in terms of what they’ve decided to report and not report, and the role some in the media have played in their interactions with the political players.
What to report and what to leave hidden?
The media face plenty of tough decisions about what to report in politics, especially in incredibly fraught cases such as the Jami-Lee Ross scandal. One of the biggest issues the media have been grappling with is whether to name the National MP who was reported to be in a three-year relationship with Ross, and who anonymously made allegations about his behaviour in Melanie Reid and Cass Mason’s report, Jami-Lee Ross: Four women speak out. The same National MP was also reported to have sent Ross the infamous abusive text message in which she told him, “You deserve to die.”
Journalists and newsrooms around the country continue to debate whether the National MP should continue to have her name kept from the public. Veteran political journalist, Richard Harman raised this on the Kiwi Journalists Association Facebook page: “Like most political journalists, I believe I know who that MP is… The inexorable pressure is now moving towards naming the MP. It’s a very difficult ethical issue. I certainly have emails from people on the left making the same allegation as Whaleoil — that the Press Gallery is party to a cover-up. But equally at what point does this simply become prurient gossip?”
What follows is a fascinating debate amongst journalists, with varying views. Journalist, Graham Adams argues in favour of disclosure and is worth quoting at length: “My view is that she should be named (and I think most of the media are waiting for someone else to do it first!). Until she is named, it casts suspicion on other female MPs who are not involved, which is unfair. Also, the female MP whose name has been frequently mentioned on social media represents a conservative electorate, is socially conservative herself and has promoted family values from her first days in Parliament. I think the public should always been told when an MP’s publicly professed values are at sharp variance to their own private behaviour. That is an obligation the media should fulfil. Furthermore, she has no right to privacy when she has anonymously and publicly shamed Jami-Lee Ross in the Newsroom piece by Melanie Reid. She’s an MP and a highly educated professional whose actions should be held to account. If she had any courage, she would come clean herself.”
He also raises the issue of whether the media is being inconsistent, and is going easy on the National MP because she is powerful. The comparison is made with the media choosing in 2013 to publish the identity of the woman who had an affair with then then mayor of Auckland, Len Brown: “The fact that five years later the media is so coy about naming a married National MP who anonymously gave Newsroom highly personal details about her relationship with another married National MP inevitably raises uncomfortable questions — including whether there is one rule for Parliament which has a dedicated press gallery that operates in a symbiotic relationship with politicians and another for councils which don’t. A casual observer might conclude that when you’re a woman like Chuang who is an ambitious nobody you’re fair game but when you’re a woman like the National MP who is an ambitious somebody the media will protect you.”
The Southland Times also favours disclosure of the woman’s name. In the editorial, ‘Moving on’ is not acceptable, the newspaper argues that the MP is a “hypocrite” for not abiding by National’s core value of “Personal Responsibility”. The paper raises whether the women’s abusive text to Ross “could be a breach of the Harmful Digital Communication Act”, and whether she therefore can “really stay in her role as an MP”. The newspaper elaborates on this issue in second editorial, Another issue arises from the Ross case.
The Listener’s Jane Clifton discusses how gender issues also come into the debate: “Until now, the line in the sand has been the hypocrisy test. Outside the old News of the World wilds, the journalistic orthodoxy has always been that such personal indiscretions as boozing or illicit affairs go unreported unless the public figure concerned is guilty of obvious double-standards. #MeToo shifted the public interest sand line to: was there an imbalance of power, and/or abuse?” – see: Why you should never say ‘now I’ve seen everything’ in politics.
On Facebook Graham Adams takes the view that it’s actually her gender that is protecting her from being outed: “I imagine that if gender roles had been reversed and a man had sent a similar text to the female MP that included personal abuse (including calling her fat and sweaty) and telling her that she ‘deserved to die’, he would have been outed just as soon as his identity had been established. Not many journalists would have hesitated. And he would have been widely and viciously pilloried for it. The MP has successfully cast herself as a victim despite her rank in society as an MP and a successful professional, which is presumably why journalists are hesitant to name her.”
The Press Gallery’s role in the Jami-Lee Ross scandal
As the above debate shows, some are questions about the role of the Press Gallery journalists in how the whole scandal has been covered, and what that says about their proximately to those in power. Certainly, there has always been a complex and symbiotic relationship between journalists and politicians – they rely on each other for the communication of politics to the public. Journalists need MPs to provide them with content for stories, and MPs need the media to distribute their news and views.
But does that mean journalists end up being compromised or complicit in the political agendas of the various political actors? Chris Trotter definitely thinks so – see his Otago Daily Times column Too close for comfort. Here’s Trotter’s main question: “What is the electorate supposed to do if those entrusted with reporting the actions of the principal political players, themselves become important actors in the drama?”
RNZ’s Jo Moir, has been very frank about her use of politician sources, when reflecting on her major scoop in the Jami-Lee Ross scandal, when she published the details of the anonymous texts that were sent to Simon Bridges and Speaker Trevor Mallard, asking for the leak inquiry to be called off. Moir discusses this in the RNZ Focus on Politics programme for 24 August – listen here: Focus on Politics for 24 August 2018.
Moir explains: “Sources are a journalist’s lifeline. And I would probably say even more so when it comes to Parliament and the Press Gallery. I mean every great story that comes out of this place is usually from some sort of a relationship between a Press Gallery reporter and a politician. The amount of information that you get “off the record” in this environment is huge. And that is all based on trust. So, the reality is that journalists go to the grave with that information. And you are just never going to make it in the game really if you don’t.”
Of course, Moir then unintentionally became part of Ross’ downfall, as the National Party’s PWC investigation report focused on the phone calls and texts that Ross had made to Moir in concluding that he was the likely leaker of Bridges’ travel expenditure details. In response to this allegation, Ross tweeted that his communications with Moir were because she was a “friend”.
Some have suggested journalists have relationships with MPs that go further than friendship. As Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins has said, the revelations about Ross’ sexual relationships “sent shock waves through Parliament. Labour MPs were just as rocked as their National counterparts. There was a feeling that a line in New Zealand politics had finally been crossed. And a fear that there may be no going back. Parliament is never short of gossip about affairs between MPs, between MPs and their staffers – and, yes, journalists as well” – see: The Jami-Lee Ross saga – dirty, ugly, nasty politics with no end in sight.
This raises the question of whether political journalists choose not to report on certain issues in order to protect their own privacy, or that of their colleagues. Ross, himself, has hinted at this in some of his statements.
Blogger Pete George thinks relationships need to be disclosed: “I think that the media should name the MP who is at the centre of this issue, but if they do they should also look at the wider issue of relationships and sex among MPs, journalists and staff. Journalists should disclose personal relationships if it relates to politicians they are reporting on and giving their opinions on. There are issues with journalists straying more and more into political activist roles, so the public has a right to know who may be influencing their opinions and their choice of stories and headlines…When they don’t want to go near the sex and relationship thing it suggests they could have secrets of their own they don’t want disclosed. This is not a good situation for the supposedly without favour fearless fourth estate to be in.”
The media’s fraught use of anonymous sources
The media quite rightly relies on anonymous sources to carry out its investigations into issues that are in the public interest. Leaks are made to journalists, and “off the record” briefings are important in establishing important stories about politics and power. A number of the stories published about the Jami-Lee Ross scandal have relied on secret sources. Most notable, were Melanie Reid’s Newsroom story with the allegations about Ross’ treatment of women, and the RNZ Checkpoint broadcast of details about the abusive text sent to him by the National MP he allegedly had an affair with.
The use of such sources has helped the public understand what’s been going on behind the scenes. But that doesn’t mean that it is without ethical problems and questions. One of the journalists with the most experience of this, and who has deeply considered the ethics, is Nicky Hager – see his useful piece: Dirty Politics, 2018.
Hager sees some parallels with the journalistic practices he covered in his 2014 book, where the media ends up running the agendas of political actors: “This is reminiscent of the way that Cameron Slater used to hand out scoops attacking opposition politicians to willing journalists (the scoops often having been quietly prepared in John Key’s office).”
But he warns against the media doing the bidding of various political players: “I believe media should not take politically motivated attacks (Slater called them ‘hits’) from political people and allow their identities and motives to remain hidden from the public. Otherwise the journalists are just being used.”
Of course, he’s not the only one who thinks that National had its fingerprints on the “hitjob” against Ross. Heather du Plessis-Allan explained the Newsroom story like this: “The party is in full attack-Jami-Lee mode. Why do you think at least four women have suddenly come forward accusing Ross of everything from bullying to ‘brutal sex’?”
Fiji Sun managing editor business Maraia Vula (middle) flanked by USP Journalism coordinator Dr Shailendra Singh (left), joint winners Koroi Tadulala and Elizabeth Osifelo and Professor David Robie (right). Image: Harry Selmen/Wansolwara
Keynote address by Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie at The University of the South Pacific Journalism Awards,19 October 2018, celebrating 50 years of the university’s existence.
Kia Ora Tatou and Ni Sa Bula
For many of you millennials, you’re graduating and entering a Brave New World of Journalism … Embarking on a professional journalism career that is changing technologies at the speed of light, and facing a future full of treacherous quicksands like never before.
When I started in journalism, as a fresh 18-year-old in 1964 it was the year after President Kennedy was assassinated and I naively thought my hopeful world had ended, Beatlemania was in overdrive and New Zealand had been sucked into the Vietnam War.
And my journalism career actually started four years before the University of the South Pacific was founded in 1968.
Being a journalist was much simpler back then – as a young cadet on the capital city Wellington’s Dominion daily newspaper, I found the choices were straight forward. Did we want to be a print, radio or television journalist?
The internet was unheard of then – it took a further 15 years before the rudimentary “network of networks” emerged, and then another seven before computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and complicated journalism.
The first rule for interviewing, aspiring journalists were told in newsrooms – and also in a 1965 book called The Journalist’s Craft that I rediscovered on my bookshelves the other day – was to pick the right source. Rely on sources who were trustworthy and well-informed.
This was long before Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post made “deep throat’ famous in their Watergate investigation in 1972.
The second rule was: make sure you get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but… We were told that we really needed to get a sense of when a woman or a man is telling the truth.
This, of course, fed into the third rule, which was: talk to the interviewee face to face. Drummed into us was accuracy, speed, fairness and balance.
Many of my days were spent on the wharves of Wellington Harbour painstakingly taking the details of the shipping news, or reporting accidents.
The whole idea was accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. And what a drumming we experienced from a crusty news editor calling us out when we made the slightest mistake.
If we survived this grueling baptism of fire, then we were bumped up from a cadet to a real journalist. There were few risks to journalists in those days – a few nasty complaints here and there, lack of cooperation from the public, and a possible defamation case if we didn’t know our media law.
It wasn’t until I went to South Africa in 1970 – the then white-minority ruled country that jailed one of the great leaders of our times, Nelson Mandela – that I personally learned how risky it could be being a journalist.
Jailings, assaults and banning orders were commonplace. One of my colleagues on the Rand Daily Mail, banned then exiled Peter Magubane, a brilliant photographer, was one of my earlier influences with his courage and dedication.
However, today the world is a very different place. It is basically really hostile against journalists in many countries and it continues to get worse.
Today assassinations, murders – especially the killing of those involved in investigating corruption – kidnappings, hostage taking are increasingly the norm. And being targeted by vicious trolls, often with death threats, is a media fact of life these days.
In its 2018 World Press Freedom Index annual report, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without borders (RSF), declared that journalists faced more hatred this year than last year, not only in authoritarian countries but also increasingly in countries with democratically elected leaders.
RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement:
“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies.
“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda.
“To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”
Fifty seven journalists have been killed so far in 2018, plus 10 citizen journalists for a total of 67; 155 journalists have been imprisoned, with a further 142 citizen journalists jailed – a total of 297.
Professor David Robie (centre) with media freedom defenders at the 2018 Asia-Pacific RSF strategic summit in Paris. Image: RSF
In July, it was my privilege to be in Paris for a strategic consultation of Asia-Pacific media freedom advocates in my capacity as Pacific Media Centre director and Pacific Media Watch freedom project convenor.
Much of the blame for this “press hatred” was heaped at that summit on some of today’s political leaders. We all know about US President Trump’s “media-phobia” and how he has graduated from branding mainstream media and much of what they publish or broadcast as “fake news” to declaring them “enemies of the people” – a term once used by Joseph Stalin.
#FIGHTFAKENEWS VIDEO INSERT
Source: Reporters Without Borders
However, there are many leaders in so-called democracies with an even worse record of toying with “press hatred”.
Take for example, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who is merely two years into his five-year term of office and he has unleashed a “war on drugs” killing machine that is alleged to have murdered between some 7,000 and 12,000 suspects – most of them extrajudicial killings.
He was pictured in the media cradling a high-powered rifle and he admits that he started carrying a gun recently – not to protect himself because he has plenty of security guards, but to challenge a critical senator to a draw “Wild West” style.
Instead, he simply had the senator arrested on trumped up charges. Duterte has frequently berated the media and spiced up his attacks with threats such as this chilling message he gave casually at a press conference:
“Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination, if you are a son of a bitch. Free speech won’t save you.”
The death rate among radio journalists, in particular those investigating corruption and human rights violations, has traditionally been high in the Philippines.
In the Czech Republic late last year, President Miloš Zeman staged a macabre media conference stunt. He angered the press when he brandished a dummy Kalashnikov AK47 with the words “for journalists” carved into the woodstock at the October press conference in Prague, and with a bottle of alcohol attached instead of an ammunition clip.
In Slovakia, then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas”. A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta, who was investigating corruption, was killed by a targeted car-bombing.
Last week, a 30-year-old Bulgarian investigative journalist, Viktoria Marinova, was murdered. Police said the television current affairs host investigating corruption had been raped, beaten and then strangled. Most of the media killings are done with impunity.
And then the world has been outraged by the disappearance and shocking murder of respected Saudi Arabian journalist and editor Jamal Khashoggi by a state “hit squad” of 15 men inside his own country’s consulate in Istanbul. He went into the consulate on October 2 and never came out.
The exact circumstances of what happened are still unravelling daily, but Turkish newspaper reports reveal captured audio of his gruesome killing.
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Source: Al Jazeera’s Listening Post
Condemning the brutal act, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed fears that enforced media disappearances are set to become the “new normal”.
While such ghastly fates for journalists may seem remote here in the Pacific, we have plenty of attacks on media freedom to contend with in our own backyard. And trolls in the Pacific and state threats to internet freedom are rife.
The detention of Television New Zealand’s Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver for four hours by police in Nauru at last month’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit while attempting to interview refugees is just one example of such attempts to shut down truth-seeking. Among the many protests, Amnesty International said:
“Whether it happens in Myanmar, Iran or right here in the Pacific, detaining journalists for doing their jobs is wrong. Freedom of the press is fundamental to a just society. Barbara Dreaver is a respected journalist with a long history of covering important stories across the Pacific.
“Amnesty International’s research on Nauru showed that the conditions for people who have been banished there by Australia amount to torture under international law. Children are self-harming and Googling how to kill themselves. That cannot be swept under the carpet and it won’t go away by enforcing draconian limits to media freedom.”
Journalists in the Pacific have frequently been persecuted by smallminded politicians with scant regard for the role of the media, such as led to the failed sedition case against The Fiji Times.
Professor David Robie with Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley and USP journalism coordinator Dr Shailendra Singh. Image: Harry Selmen/Wansolwara
The media play a critical role in exposing abuses of power, such as Bryan Kramer’s The Kramer Report in exposing the 40 Maserati luxury car APEC scandal in Papua New Guinea last week. Papua New Guinea’s Maserati luxury sedans scandal.
In this year’s World Media Freedom Day speech warning about the “creeping criminalisation” of journalism, the new UNESCO chair of journalism Professor Peter Greste at the University of Queensland, asked:
“If we appear to be heading into journalism’s long, dark night, when did the sun start to disappear? Although the statistics jump around a little, there appears to be a clear turning point: in 2003, when the numbers of journalists killed and imprisoned started to climb from the historic lows of the late ’90s, to the record levels of the present.
“Although coincidence is not the same as causation, it seems hard to escape the notion that the War on Terror that President George W. Bush launched after 9/11 had something to do with it.”
Peter Greste himself, and his two colleagues paid a heavy price for their truth-seeking during the post Arab Spring upheaval in Egypt – being jailed for 400 days on trumped up terrorism charges for doing their job.
His media organisation, Al Jazeera, and rival media groups teamed up to wage their global “Journalism is not a crime” campaign.
Now that I have done my best to talk you out of journalism by stressing the growing global dangers, I want to draw attention to some of the many reasons why journalism is critically important and why you should be congratulated for taking up this career.
Next month, Fiji is facing a critically important general election, the second since the return of democracy in your country in 2014. And many of you graduating journalists will be involved.
Governments in Fiji and the Pacific should remember journalists are guardians of democracy and they have an important role to play in ensuring the legitimacy of both the vote and the result, especially in a country such as this which has been emerging from many years of political crisis.
But it is important that journalists play their part too with responsibilities as well as rights. Along with the right to provide information without fear or favour, and free from pressure or threats, you have a duty to provide voters with accurate, objective and constructive information.
The University of the South Pacific has a proud record of journalism education in the region stretching back ironically to the year of the inaugural coups, in 1987. First there was a Certificate programme, founded by Dr Murray Masterton (who has sadly passed away) and later Diploma and Degree qualifications followed with a programme founded by François Turmel and Dr Philip Cass.
It is with pride that I can look back at my five years with USP bridging the start of the Millennium. Among high points were gaining my doctorate in history/politics at USP – the first journalism educator to do so in the Pacific – and launching these very Annual Journalism Awards, initially with the Storyboard and Tanoa awards and a host of sponsors.
When I look at the outstanding achievements in the years since then with current Journalism Coordinator Dr Shailendra Singh and his colleagues Eliki Drugunalevu and Geraldine Panapasa, it is with some pleasure.
And USP should be rightly delighted with one of the major success journalism programmes of the Asia-Pacific region.
Wansolwara newspaper, which celebrated two decades of publishing in 2016, has been a tremendous success. Not many journalism school publications have such sustained longevity and have won so many international awards.
Innovation has been the name of the game, such as this climate change joint digital storytelling project with E-Pop and France 24 media. At AUT we have been proud to be partners with USP with our own Bearing Witness and other projects stretching back for two decades.
Finally, I would like pay tribute to two of the whistleblowers and journalists in the Pacific and who should inspire you in your journalism career.
Firstly, Iranian-born Behrouz Boochani, the refugee journalist, documentary maker and poet who pricked the Australian conscience about the terrible human rights violations against asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. He has reminded Canberra that Australia needs to regain a moral compass.
And activist lawyer communicator Joe Moses, who campaigned tirelessly for the rights of the villagers of Paga Hill in Port Moresby. These people were forced out of their homes in defiance of a Supreme Court order to make way for the luxury development for next month’s APEC summit.
Be inspired by them and the foundations of human rights journalism and contribute to your communities and countries.
Don’t be seduced by a fast foods diet of distortion and propaganda. Be courageous and committed, be true to your quest for the truth.
Professor David Robie is director of the Pacific Media Centre and professor of journalism in the School of Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology. He is also editor of Pacific Journalism Review research journal and editor of the independent news website Asia Pacific Report. He is a former USP Journalism Coordinator 1998-2002. firstname.lastname@example.org
University of the South Pacific’s award winning Class of 2018. Image: Image: Harry Selmen/Wansolwara
The news editor for National Media Group (GMN) in Timor-Leste has been dismissed due to his role as the TL Press Union (TLPU) representative on the country’s Press Council.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the TLPU has condemned the dismissal of the editor as “outrageous” and called for his immediate reinstatement.
Francisco Simões Belo, news editor of GMN received a letter from GMN information director Francedes Sun on September 27 stating that he was dismissed from his position because his role with the Press Council did not benefit GMN, according to a report by the IFJ Asia-Pacific website.