Nine-Fairfax merger warning for investigative media – and democracy

If you value the media’s watchdog role in democracy, then the opening words in the deal enabling Channel Nine to acquire Fairfax Media, the biggest single shake-up of the Australian media in more than three decades, ring alarm bells.

The opening gambit is an appeal to advertisers, not readers. It promises to enhance “brand” and “scale” and to deliver “data solutions” combined with “premium content”.

Exciting stuff for a media business in the digital age. But for a news organisation what is missing are key words like “news”, “journalism” and “public interest”.

Those behind the deal, its political architects who scrapped the cross-media ownership laws last year, and its corporate men, Fairfax’s and Nine’s CEOs, proffer a commercial rather than public interest argument for the merger. They contend that for two legacy media companies to survive into the 21st century, this acquisition is vital.

Perhaps so. But Australia’s democratic health relies on more than a A$4 billion media merger that delivers video streaming services like Stan, a lucrative real estate advertising website like Domain, and a high-rating television programme like Love Island.

The news media isn’t just any business. It does more than entertain us and sell us things. Through its journalism, it provides important public interest functions.

Ideally, news should accurately inform Australians. A healthy democracy is predicated on the widest possible participation of an informed citizenry. According to liberal democratic theorists, the news media facilitate informed participation by offering a diverse range of views so that we can make considered choices, especially during election campaigns when we decide who will govern us.


Check on power
Journalists have other roles too, providing a check on the power of governments and the excesses of the market, to expose abuses that hurt ordinary Australians.

This watchdog role is why I am concerned about Nine merging with Fairfax. To be clear, until last week, I was cautiously optimistic about the future of investigative journalism in Australia.

Newspapers like The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Newcastle Herald and the Australian Financial Review have a strong record of using their commercial activities to subsidise expensive investigative journalism to strengthen democratic accountability by exposing wrongdoing. Channel Nine does not.

Since the formation of The Age’s Insight team in 1967, Fairfax investigations have had many important public outcomes after exposing transgressions including: judicial inquiries, criminal charges, high-profile political and bureaucratic sackings, and law reforms. Recent examples include the dogged work of Fairfax and ABC journalists to expose systemic child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and elsewhere, leading to a royal commission and National Redress Scheme for victims.

Another was the exposure of dodgy lending practices that cost thousands of Australians their life savings and homes, which also triggered a royal commission.

The problem with Nine’s proposed takeover of Fairfax (if it goes ahead) is that it is unlikely to be “business as usual” for investigative journalism in the new Nine entity. First, there is a cultural misalignment and, with Nine in charge, theirs is likely to dominate.

With notable exceptions such as some 60 Minutes reporting, Nine is better known for its foot-in-the-door muckraking and chequebook journalism than its investigative journalism. In comparison, seven decades of award-winning investigative journalism data reveal Fairfax mastheads have produced more Walkley award-winning watchdog reporting than any other commercial outlet.

Financial fortunes wane
Second, even as the financial fortunes of Fairfax have waned in the digital age, it has maintained its award-winning investigative journalism through clever adaptations including cross-media collaborations, mainly with the ABC. This has worked well for both outlets, sharing costs and increasing a story’s reach and impact across print, radio, online and television.

How will this partnership be regarded when Fairfax is Nine’s newlywed? Will the ABC be able to go it alone with the same degree of investigative reporting in light of its successive federal government budget cuts?

Third, my latest research (see graph) has shown that in Australia, as in Britain and the United States, investigative stories and their targets have changed this decade to accommodate newsroom cost-cutting.

Investigative story targets in three countries: 2007-2016; n=100. Andrea Carson/Journalism Studies

Investigations are more likely to focus on stories that are cheaper and easier to pursue. This means some areas such as local politics and industrial relations have fallen off the investigative journalist’s radar. Here and abroad, this reflects cost-cutting and a loss of specialist reporters.

Echoing this, The Boston Globe’s Spotlight editor, Walter Robinson, warned:

There are so many important junctures in life where there is no journalistic surveillance going on. There are too many journalistic communities in the United States now where the newspaper doesn’t have the reporter to cover the city council, the school committee, the mayor’s office …

we have about half the number of reporters that we had in the late 1990s. You can’t possibly contend that you are doing the same level or depth of reporting. Too much stuff is just slipping through too many cracks.

Smaller topic breadth
Of concern, Australian award-winning investigations already cover a smaller breadth of topics compared to larger international media markets. The merger of Fairfax mastheads with Channel Nine further consolidates Australia’s newsrooms.

If investigative journalism continues, story targets are likely to be narrow.

Finally, investigative journalism is expensive. It requires time, resources and, because it challenges power, an institutional commitment to fight hefty lawsuits. Fairfax has a history of defending its investigative reporters in the courts, at great expense.

Will Nine show the same commitment to defending its newly adopted watchdog reporters using earnings from its focus on “brand”, “scale” and “data solutions”? For the sake of democratic accountability, I hope so.

is incoming associate professor at LaTrobe University and has previously worked as a journalist at Fairfax Media at The Age (1997-2001). She is a former lecturer, political science, School of Social and Political Sciences; Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne. This article was first published by The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Bid to unite Asia-Pacific press councils takes off in Timor-Leste

Former Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta (second from left) in the front row during the Dili Dialogue. Image: Bob Howarth/PMW

By Bob Howarth in Dili, Timor-Leste

The Dili Dialogue Forum, sponsored by UNESCO and organised by the Timor-Leste Press Council, will be held again next year after the inaugural successful one last week.

It is a forum of Asia/Pacific press councils and it hopes to become an alliance of all press councils in the region by next May. May 3 is World Press Freedom Day.

This year Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, South East Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) and Thailand were represented. It was held in an US$8 million auditorium (capacity 400) in the high-rise new Ministry of Finance building.

Topics included country reports of press freedom, ethics, training, social media issues and cybersecurity for journalists.

The TL Press Council impressed delegates.

Timor-Leste at 95 has the highest Asian ranking in Reporters Sans Frontiers World Press Freedom Index.


The TL Press Council was established two years ago with seven directors (two appointed by the government but possibly for the last time), mostly veteran newsmen.

Solid funding
It has solid funding sourced from the Timor-Leste government, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New Zealand, Japan and the Netherlands (but not Australia).

The council has 38 full time staff including media monitors, trainers, IT and a transport team with nine cars and 21 motorbikes in well-equipped premises (50 PCs) opposite Dili University.

The government has no influence over its operations and has enshrined freedom of speech in its national constitution.

The council runs regular monthly training and certification of graduates, backed by UNDP, for young reporters and students in all formats of print, TV and the most popular medium radio.

One objective is to become an avenue for resolution of media complaints instead of costly legal action, similar to Australia’s Press Council and New Zealand’s Media Council.

Current campaigns include lobbying Google to include Tetum, one official language alongside Portuguese, and seeking assistance from Facebook to include Tetum-speaking content monitors to quickly react to reported offensive posts, a major issue in the country’s recent elections.

Next year it is hoped countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon islands and Vanuatu will attend the Dili Dialogue.

The next forum will be held on May 9-10 next year.

Bob Howarth, a media consultant and correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, was a delegate at the Dili Dialogue Forum and is a regular contributor to Pacific Media Watch.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vanuatu plans cyber crime law to target Facebook ‘false claims’

Cyber crime law planned for Vanuatu … “people are using Facebook for political gain, attacking and making false statements or allegations.” Image: File

Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, the Minister responsible for Telecommunications, has informed Parliament that a cyber crime bill currently being developed will address the increasing issues and concerns regarding social media, especially Facebook.

He made the statement during the Ordinary Parliament sitting when responding to concerns raised by Malekula Member of Parliament, Sato Kilman regarding allegations made against him on the popular social media site.

MP Kilman referred to a post allegedly made by a fake ID that was circulated on Facebook, carrying allegations that the former Vanuatu Prime Minister had at least six bank accounts in Hong Kong with a total amount of 8 million euros.

“There are allegations that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible for the post,” MP Kilman alleged.

“Does the government have resources to check such allegations before posting in public and tarnishing someone’s reputation?

“Can the police investigate if such allegations are true or not?

“You can apologise later but by then the damage has been done, a person’s credibility has been ruined. That happens to me but am sure it can happen to any of us.”


Emerging issues
MP Kilman then asked the Prime Minister if the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) can use its resources to track down whoever is responsible for such posts.

In response, Prime Minister Salwai said the government was aware of emerging issues regarding Facebook.

“The government is working on a Cyber Crime Act, which will likely be ready by the next Parliament session to address this issue because Facebook has gone beyond [control],” said Prime Minister Salwai.

He said Facebook was not only a national but an international issue.

“It was the first agenda discussed during the Commonwealth Leaders meeting in London because people are using it to create a lot of social problems and attack people without substantiating information,” said Prime Minister Salwai.

He added that the issue was common in the Pacific and also in Vanuatu, people were using Facebook for political gain, attacking and making false statements or allegations about others.

“I think it is about time we should address this issue and as the Minister responsible for Telecommunications I want to announce to the House that the Cyber Crime Bill will come before this Parliament so we can control the use of social media.

“It has come to an extent where people feel free to say anything about others.”

Fake ID
On the other hand, PM Salwai said social media, especially Facebook, was a good communication tool but people were using it in the wrong way.

In a supplementary comment to the Prime Minister’s response, Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Regenvanu confirmed seeing the post which he alleged was posted by a fake ID and not him as claimed.

Minister Regenvanu also confirmed allegations made by an adviser of a MP that he was the person behind the fake ID was false.

Minister Regenvanu said that out of all members of the House, being a regular Facebook user he had been the subject of many false allegations.

“That is what we should expect as MPs, we become figures of public scrutiny, you will find a lot of false allegations against me in Facebook,” he said.

“For example, they alleged I signed an agreement for the Chinese to build a military base here.

“I agree with the Prime Minister that we should have more control but we have to have some line so we don’t have too much control on media because freedom of expression is a constitutional right.

“We also have media freedom so we have to draw a fine line between unsubstantiated stories and balanced stories.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have that in Facebook so we have to look into that.”

The Pacific Media Centre republishes Vanuatu Daily Post stories with permission.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

‘We cannot footnote our way to freedom’

The Pacific Media Centre’s Dr Sylvia C. Frain talks to human rights lawyer Julian Aguon, who recently won a landmark case in the Guam Supreme Court upholding the separation of powers doctrine, on issues ranging from law school and social justice to indigenous peoples and the right of self-determination in Guam, West Papua and beyond.

SF: Talk about law school. Did you like it? Do you have horror stories? Do you recommend it to others, to young people?
JA: It’s…complicated. When one enters that particular arena as a politicised person, it can be a bit difficult, logistically, to momentarily suspend reality as you know it and make like a blank slate. I mean, there is a kind of unspoken understanding, at least among the establishment professors, that the best kind of students are those who offer themselves up freely for the filling, like receptacles for the pouring in of conventional wisdom. Activists, on the other hand you know, often go to law school because we realise that the law is a particular kind of institution, or knowledge, around which some high walls have been built, at least in part to keep us out. The law is a skill set but also a vocabulary, even a weapon, so often deployed against those most in need of its protection. So for us the whole experience can be dicey. But if you’re lucky a light goes on. Once you get past the insularity of the universe that is law school, you realise you can use what you brought in with you. You know that the law is not neutral because it is always already a moving train, and you know you can’t be neutral on those things. Like any tool in human hands, it can be used for any end, for the amassing of private wealth and power, or for the greater common good. Once you get that, you’re good. You drop your shoulders and get to work.
SF: Well when you first went to law school, did you know you wanted to be a human rights lawyer?
JA: Yes. I could think of no better way to use the law than in defence of vulnerable communities – namely colonised and indigenous peoples, here in the Pacific but elsewhere too. Indigenous peoples, you know, are key. They have inherited worldviews that stretch so far back in time and space … worldviews that predate the neoliberalist one bringing this planet to the brink of disaster. So they have part of the answer, indigenous peoples do, to the question of what to do to get us out of this mess we’ve made. Also they represent that subset of humankind most directly connected to the physical world, and are consequently the most vulnerable to the vandalism visited upon it. Ensuring their maximal legal protection, you know … ensuring that they’re able to thrive in their ancestral spaces, is urgent, one of the urgent tasks of our time.
SF: So you are now an attorney with your own firm? Can you tell us about that?
JA: That’s right. Yes, sorry. I live and work on Guam. I started Blue Ocean Law, a small firm that works to advance the rights of non-self-governing and indigenous peoples in the Pacific. We’ve worked with a range of clients on a host of issues, many of which have human rights components. We began mostly … in Micronesia, but have grown. The attorneys I have the pleasure of working with are pretty incredible in their own right. There’s Julie Hunter, who has taken a lead role in our work in Melanesia, around the emerging extractive industry of deep sea mining, which threatens to adversely impact communities in the region. She also runs our internship programme, overseeing law student interns from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UCLA [University of California Los Angeles], and UH [University of Hawai’i]. There’s also Clement Yow-Mulalap, who splits his time between New York and his home island, Yap. He specialises in international environmental law, particularly climate change, and is helping to develop our analytical framework on that front.  
SF: Yes I know you folks are doing a ton of work on deep sea mining. You had an article published last month in the Harvard Environmental Law Review on the subject, but also you had a report called “Resource Roulette.” Can you speak more about deep sea mining? Why is it important and what’s at stake for Pacific Islanders?
JA: So deep sea mining is this new extractive industry that’s proceeding around the world without sufficient safeguards, either for the environment or for the people most likely to be impacted by it. As we speak, corporations and countries alike are scrambling to secure rights to explore and exploit vast tracks of the international seabed. You know it’s even being called the new global gold rush. And the thing is most of it’s happening in the Pacific. Look, one Canadian company has already applied for exploration rights to over half a million square kilometres of the seafloor surrounding Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and I believe also New Zealand. So it’s important because industry proponents are touting the whole thing as lucrative and low-risk, which it isn’t. We’ve talked to the people, you know? We’ve worked with community-based organisations in affected areas, who themselves have done real field work, on the ground, and are reporting a host of adverse impacts. The stories coming in paint a different picture.
SF: So most of your work is in Micronesia and Melanesia. Do you have any plans to expand to Polynesia too? I know you went to law school in Hawai’i.
JA: Well, technically, you could say my work as a law scholar, if not a practising attorney, already touches part of Polynesia. I authored the international law chapter in the recently released second edition of the legal treatise on Native Hawaiian rights, and before that I authored a piece I’m particularly proud of, entitled “The Commerce of Recognition (Buy One Ethos, Get One Free),” a rather ambitious law article on the viability of the three main redress regimes available under international law, normatively I mean, for the recovery of Hawai’ian independence.
SF: I’m sure you’re asked this a lot but what’s been the most important case you’ve worked on? Which is the one you feel most passionate about?

JA: That would have to be Davis v. Guam, a case I’m litigating at the moment. The case threatens to effectively deny the native inhabitants of Guam from exercising their fundamental right of self-determination in accordance with law. Davis is a case that reaches the heights of cynicism. At bottom, the legal argument constructed there is that virtually any American who moves to the American colony of Guam is legally entitled to cast a vote in the island’s long-awaited self-determination plebiscite. To deny any such person the vote, the argument goes, is unconstitutional race-based discrimination violative of, among others, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. This case is not only counter-historical, it’s absurd. Decolonisation is a remedy for the colonised. Not those who hail squarely from the coloniser. Not only that but the challenged classification itself is not a racial one in the first place. This case is … I mean, it pains me more than the others because I see it as the latest distortion of an already deeply distorted equal protection jurisprudence that seems ever more concerned with protecting only those not actually in need of protection.
SF: The case is about self-determination?
JA: Right.
SF: So your bio says you’re a UN-recognised expert in self-determination. I was wondering if you would, or could you just explain what the right of self-determination is?
JA: Under international law, self-determination is the right of peoples to be free … from colonisation, alien subjection and domination. Traditionally, the right has been understood as namely applying to colonized and occupied peoples, though the content of the right has been filled out progressively over time, with new fact patterns emerging which have stretched the right beyond its initial scope, like South African apartheid. No norm of international law comes close to matching the liberatory heft of self-determination. It is singularly responsible for the liberation of literally hundreds of millions of human beings. It is also the promise that stirs the hearts of those whose homelands remain on the UN list of non-self-governing territories, like my own, Guam.
SF: But aren’t there colonies not on the UN list that also have the right of self-determination?

JA: Absolutely. West Papua, perhaps because of the … well, the bloodshed, is the first example that comes to mind. There is no doubt in any international lawyer’s mind that the people of West Papua have the right of self-determination, and that that colony should be formally, and immediately, slated for an act of decolonisation. Despite Indonesia’s claims to the contrary, in no universe was the infamous 1969 plebiscite a valid exercise of self-determination. And let’s not, you know, be confused here. The legal status of West Papua, or any colony for that matter, is determined by international law, not the list. The situation in West Papua is … just so acutely troubling because of what we know … that the denial of self-determination is but one of many forms of state-sanctioned violence. Our sisters and brothers there are suffering horrendously.
SF: As you know, I’ve spent time here on Guam, doing research, meeting people. One of the things you hear when you interview people about Guam’s colonial status is the argument that Guam can’t be that colonised because Congress allowed Guam to create its own laws. How do you respond to that?
JA: Guam may enact its own laws, but you see, those laws may be undone by Congress. Per the terms of the Organic Act of Guam of 1950, in Title 48 of the US Code, the laws of Guam are subject, as is the entire government of Guam itself, to complete defeasance by Congress. As they say, what Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away. This is the lynchpin of the colonial relationship. To be sure, I’m being somewhat simplistic, but I think there’s something to that, actually. I think too many scholars are lost looking for life everlasting at the end of an elaborate footnote. We cannot footnote our way to freedom. But anyway there are times, usually times of crises, when the evidence of our colonial condition is just too plain to deny, when the truth just sits there in the scorching sun. Like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. These national moments of reckoning burn our illusion.
SF: On that note, what do you think about the Pacific? When you look out at the Blue Continent, as you like to call it, what gives you hope?
JA: Vanuatu … Vanuatu is leading us. In some pretty significant ways, Vanuatu has emerged as a leader among our nations. From its consistent showing of solidarity with the people of West Papua to its principled, precautionary stance on deep sea mining, Vanuatu has been shining a light for others to follow. Also, the Marshall Islands has given the world several reasons to smile. From leading global climate change negotiations to taking on the nuclear nine in the ICJ, the Marshallese are punching way above their weight. And that is something. They keep proving the point that smallness is a state of mind. Lastly, you know, well I guess, is just the people themselves. There is such a breadth of beauty in our communities. I mean, Papua New Guinea alone, what range! One need only see a Highlands headdress to know what I’m talking about, to be reminded of the beauty and variety of this region, to want to fight for it.

More information:
Blue Ocean Law
Broadening common heritage: Addressing gaps in the deep sea mining regulatory regime – Harvard Environmental Law Review
Blue Ocean Law/Pacific Network on Globalisation “Resource Roulette” report

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3

Report by Pacific Media Centre

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific news journalists grapple with challenges of social media, harsh laws

BRIEFING: By Geraldine Panapasa in Suva

Like it or not, social media has become part and parcel of almost everyday discussions.

Whether it’s talk about the economy or the latest development and trends, large and influential platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn have become the go-to source for news and information.

Add technological advancements and accessibility to the mix, and one is left with a digitally-empowered society and a media industry grappling with a number of challenges such as fake news, citizen journalism and in some cases, harsh legislation.

Legislation that can either be viewed as a way to clamp down on journalists or to some extent, limit one’s constitutional freedom of speech, expression and publication, or it could be legislation driven by genuine concerns to ensure news and information are accurate, fair and balanced.

The advent of social media, its impact on journalism and the transforming political situations that are evidently changing the way the media operates in the Pacific were at the heart of the discussions at last month’s 5th Pacific Media Summit organised by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

The May 7-11 event, attended by more than 100 media practitioners and stakeholders, also highlighted other pertinent issues relating to the theme, “Empowering the Media for Digital Challenges”, such as climate reporting; social media impact on financial literacy, women empowerment and the environment; international humanitarian law; gender and the digital media; the role of the media in fighting corruption; and dealing with threats against the media.


But the biggest concern by far was dealing with the change that social media brought in terms of the traditional dissemination of receiving, consuming, sharing and interpreting news and information.

Overlooking checks
The opportunities for social media users to maximise on the platforms to freely exchange information and news, often at times overlooking the checks and balances that journalists practise, have become a concern for some regional governments, who have openly advocated for legislation that curbs the deliberate act of spreading misinformation or hoax messages through traditional forms of print and broadcast news.

Take for instance, Fiji’s highly-controversial Online Safety Act 2018, which recently became law after being passed by Parliament with 27 votes on May 16. It aimed to promote responsible online behaviour and online safety as well as act as a deterrence of harmful electronic communication.

To a large extent, the Act addressed cyberbullying, cyberstalking, internet trolling, and exposure to offensive or harmful content, particularly for children. Public submissions to the Standing Committee on the Online Safety Bill included one from a former media personality, Lenora Qereqeretabua, who felt it was a tactic to scare online users rather than try to develop capacity for responsible online behaviour and online safety.

Another submission to the Bill, from the Media Watch Group in Fiji, emphasised the right to responsible free speech for Fiji citizens, saying this was a fundamental component of a truly democratic society and a must for a developing island nation in this growing digital age.

Recently, the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Maleilegaoi threatened to ban the social media network Facebook in Samoa after what he described were “gutless anonymous bloggers” using the freedom of social media to abuse government officials and innocent members of the public.

Papua New Guinea followed suit last month by considering to block Facebook as a result of alleged defamatory publications, fake news, identity theft and unidentified users breaching the law in terms of posting pornographic materials and fake news.

During the summit in Tonga, PNG Acting Secretary for the Department of Communication and Information, Paul Korni, did not mince his words when he told participants that they would not hesitate to enforce legislation that monitored social media such as Facebook if it meant putting a tight lid on the dissemination of “fake news” and other alleged defamatory publications.

Cyberspace arena
World-renowned digital technology activist Dhyta Caturani from Indonesia put things into perspective when she made a strong statement at the summit about the internet and new media platforms that made it possible for people to do and say things that were not possible for them before in this new arena – cyberspace.

In terms of fake news, governments, civil society and even the media are still battling this issue. And one point Caturani raised was uncovering the reasons or intentions behind fake news.

This, Caturani believes, is key if media and stakeholders were to address the issue of fake news, finding the motivations and intentions of fake news and putting the fire out through due diligence and fact-checking information before publishing or broadcasting news.

She said some fake news were churned out by irresponsible internet users while others used fake news to propagate political interests or agendas – a notion shared also by senior journalists in the region when it came to identifying the purpose of fake news.

“Why has this (cyber) space now become heavily monitored, regulated, surveilled, censored and our data being stolen from us without consent or sold, not to mention the online violence?” she asked during her keynote address at the opening of the summit.

“The answer is profit. With millions of people now connected to the internet, with billions of information and data published, the capitalists realised that the internet is the new source of making limitless profits.

“The other answer is fear. Those in power realised that the internet has now become a tool for people to challenge those in power and abusing power to disrupt the status quo and to demand freedom and equality.

Censorship a global trend
“We now see censorship as a global trend. Governments all over the world are copying one another to pass draconian laws that will give them the legitimisation to censor any content, any expression, any voice published online. Some governments even shut down the internet entirely.”

Veteran journalists from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga shared similar concerns about the fake news trend in relation to the challenge for the media in a digitally-empowered society – that fake news and social media platforms had given rise to “citizen journalism” and the circulation of unverified information, and analysis of news by the general public on popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and that journalists and media stakeholders needed to adapt to this “new normal” or “seismic change” while maintaining their integrity and ethics.

It’s a new form of journalism that continues to grow.

Journalists Association of Samoa president Rudy Bartley said this was a challenge for journalists and media workers.

“It’s either you adapt or die. There are a lot of fake news circulating and those issues, without social media, would never have happened,” Bartley said.

Long-time PNG journalist Joseph Ealedona said they were very critical of new media and its impact on the future of journalism. While they welcomed the change in the way news and information were disseminated, the concern was maintaining journalistic integrity and ethics.

Vital solution
In the midst of these challenges and debates about new media platforms and its impact on journalism in the region, Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala summed up perhaps a vital solution when he shared his concept in dealing with this trend.

“Instead of monitoring these, we need to continue to educate people to tell the truth. It is telling the truth and authenticity that will expose the fake. I have never seen new media, social media as a threat to journalism at all. I see it as an extension of the media when it is used properly,” Moala said.

These media trends and practices continue to play a vital role in terms of getting news out first and in real time. The onus is more or less on journalists and media workers to adapt and embrace these current media practices without compromising their ethics and code of conduct as the fourth estate.

Geraldine Panapasa is editor-in-chief of Wansolwara newspaper with the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. This is a special report for Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Fiji Times Four ‘relieved’ sedition newspaper freedom ordeal is over

Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts waves to supporters and the media after he and two senior officials of the newspaper and a letter writer were acquitted of sedition charges in the Suva High Court yesterday. With him is a Fiji Times director, Rajesh Patel (left). Image: Jovesa Naisua/Fji Times

By Geraldine Panapasa, editor-in-chief of Wansolwara


That was the word from Fiji Times Ltd publisher Hank Arts after High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe acquitted him and the company Fiji Times Ltd, Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula and letter-writer Josaia Waqabaca of sedition charges at the High Court in Suva yesterday.

Speaking to Wansolwara News immediately after the verdict, Arts said they were happy with the judgment and relieved the case was over.

READ MORE: Not guilty – newspaper acquitted of sedition

“We have always said we are not anti-government and our success today is a reinforcement and confirmation that we are a good newspaper. Our staff are incredible,” he said.

Today’s Fiji Times front page.

“Relief is the first comment I would make. We are so relieved and happy, but at the same time wonder how we had to go through all this—the human cost (of the case) is too high.”


When asked what the next step was for him considering that fact that he had missed his daughter’s wedding and his own anniversary as a result of the court case, Arts said light-heartedly: “I need a beer now.”

On a more serious note, Arts said The Fiji Times would focus on its strengths moving forward as this year was election year and next year would mark the company’s 150th anniversary.

According to Justice Rajasinghe, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the article in question was seditious.

In his judgment, Justice Rajasinghe said he did not find any reason to disagree with the unanimous not guilty opinion of the three assessors.

Justice Rajasinghe found the intention of Waqabaca’s article was to have national reconciliation and he said he did not find any evidence that Arts or Wesley saw the article or knew about it before it was printed.

Fiji Times Ltd was charged with one count of printing a seditious publication while Arts was charged with one count of publishing in the Nai Lalakai an article, which had content with a seditious intention to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between classes of the population, namely non-Muslims and Muslims.

Waqabaca was charged with one count of submitting for publication an article written by him with a seditious intention, while Ravula and Wesley were charged with one count each of having aided and abetted the publication of a letter in the Nai Lalakai newspaper on April 27, 2016, by failing to prevent its publication.

Wansolwara News is the online publication of the University of the South Pacific journalism programme and a partner of the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Fiji newspaper sedition trial – Fiji Times Four found not guilty

Not guilty … a Fiji Times celebration huddle outside the High Court in Suva today. Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley is on the right. Image: The Fiji Times

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The High Court in Suva has found the Fiji Times Ltd, its three senior executives and a letter writer not guilty of sedition, reports Timoci Vula in The Fiji Times.

High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe has found the Fiji Times Ltd, general manager Hank Arts, Fiji Times editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula and letter writer Josefa Waqabaca not guilty and acquitted them accordingly in a jam-packed court room at Government Buildings in Suva today.

Vijay Narayan and Semi Turaga of Fijivillage report Justice Rajasinghe had ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Nai Lalakai article was seditious.

The judge said he found the intention of Waqabaca’s article was to have national reconciliation.

Justice Rajasinghe said he did not find any evidence that Hank Arts saw the article or knew about it before it was printed.

The judge also said he did not find any evidence that Fred Wesley read or was aware of the article before it was printed, Fijivillage reports.


Justice Rajasinghe said he did not find any reason to disagree with the three assessors, reported Fijivillage.

All three assessors had earlier returned a not guilty opinion on all charges against Fiji Times Limited, publisher Hank Arts, contributor Josaia Waqabaca, editor-in-chief Fred Wesley and Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula.

All four had pleaded not guilty.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How Philippine state surveillance is used as a tool to silence critics

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: How Philippine state surveillance is used as a tool to silence critics

BRIEFING: Special report by Jodesz Gavilan and Sofia Tomacruz in Manila

Human rights activists say that the conduct of both physical and communication surveillance is prone to abuse and is a violation of a citizen’s right to privacy. If left unchecked, it can lead to ‘far worse attacks.’

  • Human rights groups say the administrations of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte are similar in their “intensity” of use of state surveillance
  • The conduct of state surveillance can lead to abuse and violate a citizen’s right to privacy
  • The secrecy surrounding state surveillance in the Philippines makes it hard to hold accountable state agents who violate the right to privacy
  • The Commission on Human Rights can help those placed under state surveillance without probable cause because they can conduct investigations and issue subpoenas to state agents

READ MORE: State surveillance – a necessary evil?

State surveillance is not new to the Philippines. Administrations across history have engaged in this monitoring to protect national security – to prevent terrorism, rebellions, and attacks.

The conduct of both physical and communication surveillance, however, can lead to abuse and violation of a citizen’s rights to privacy when left unchecked. It also plays a role in silencing dissent and valid criticism, according to human rights activists.

Two administrations post-Marcos stand out when it comes to state surveillance – those of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and President Rodrigo Duterte.

While the Arroyo administration allegedly had a so-called “Order of Battle” (OB), Amnesty International Philippines chairperson Ritz Lee Santos said that the Duterte version is reportedly called “persons of interest”.


The list allegedly includes activists and individuals the administration deemed to be critical.

There are several ways by which surveillance can be carried out, such as through wiretapping, bugging, or physical monitoring.

Human rights groups forced to go ‘old-school’
“We have monitored several instances of physical surveillance,” said Kaparatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. “May nagmamanman, may naghihintay sa amin sa labas (there are people on tailing us, waiting outside) so we had to cancel some meetings, of course, because you can never tell what’s next.”

One of these incidents includes the discovery of a tracking device in Karapatan’s service van. It was discovered after they got the vehicle back from custody at the Manila Police District during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November 2017.

There were also many hacking attempts of the social media accounts of several human rights activists, according to Santos.

“There are attempts to hack my account, even my email address,” Santos recalled in a mix of English and Filipino. “Because I have this setting on my phone, I get informed if there are attempts to open my email or social media account.”

Karapatan, meanwhile, now refers to their office as a “fixed point” – or a place vulnerable to electronic and physical surveillance. The group fears that their cellphones and landlines have been compromised, exposing their conversations with clients and other groups.

Because of these threats, Palabay said that as much as possible, they do everything “old school.”

Kapag may mga bagay na tingin namin ay hindi na dapat sinasabi online, we go old school (If there are things that we think shouldn’t be said online, we go old school),” she said. “Offline. No phones, landline, internet.”

Laws and terrorism
Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable “except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.”

There are also laws such as the Anti-Wiretapping law and the Cybercrime Prevention Act that prevent instances of communication interference without a court order.

However, human rights defenders point out the Human Security Act which says that interception and recording of “any communication, message, conversation, discussion, or spoken or written words,” with the use of any type of surveillance equipment or any means suitable is allowed in cases of terrorism.

This is what scares members of progressive groups – especially with the latest move of the Philippine government seeking to tag at least 600 individuals as terrorists. The list includes alleged leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The government also wants to label as terrorist several human rights workers such as United Nations rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Karapatan national executive committee member Elisa Tita Lubi, and Jose Molintas, former Asia representative to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), among others.

Privacy violations, watchdog role compromised
For many critics, this reflects the Duterte administration’s overall stance against dissent. Human rights organisations and those who have called out government policies – especially the violent war on drugs – have been continually threatened and demonised by the President himself.

Human rights workers main job is to ensure that people – and the government – realise the importance of following due process and protecting rights enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution and various international treaties.

Because they act as watchdogs of the state, placing them under state surveillance is not just a violation of their rights but also an interference of their work, according to Santos.

“If there’s really surveillance and those who are placed under it have no records of criminal offence, are not enemies of the state, and are just exercising their right to say something for or against the government, then there are insecurities,” he said.

Palabay, meanwhile, said that vilifying human rights defenders often goes hand in hand with surveillance. In many cases, several of these incidents lead to far worse attacks just to silence dissent and beyond an act of intimidation by state agents.

Palaging may physical tapos kasabay niyan ‘yung public vilification sa amin (There’s always physical surveillance partnered with public vilification),” she said. “Kapag hindi na nila mapatahimik (when they know people cannot be silenced), they will try to file cases, and if that doesn’t work, they go on to worst forms of attacks like attempted murder. Sometimes they succeed.”

This was echoed by Jam Jacob, legal and policy adviser for technology and rights advocacy group Foundation for Media Alternatives.

“Surveillance is a violation of privacy, a prelude to more human rights violations like desaparacidos, those abducted,” he explained. “Sa umpisa, tinitiktikan sila, minamanmanan, paano iyong routine nila (At first, they’ll being tailed, monitored, what their routines are).”

READ MORE: ‘Demonizing’ human rights under Duterte

Philippines dangerous for human rights defenders

The Philippines is often referred to as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a human rights defender. In 2017, Front Line Defenders said in its annual report that 80% of deaths of human rights defenders took place in 4 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, at least 4 human rights workers have been killed under the Duterte administration so far: Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator Elisa Badayos, Bicol paralegal Edwin Pura, Catholic priest Father Marcelito Paez, and Moro human rights activist Billamin Turabin Hasan.

Since 2001, at least 40 human rights workers of Karapatan have been killed.

It doesn’t help that the President himself have threatened human rights workers in the past.

One of these days, kayong human rights, kayo ang imbestigahin ko, totoo, conspiracy,” he said on August 16, 2017. “Sabihin mo pulis, barilin mo na ‘yang kasali diyan. If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them. Para makita talaga kung anong klaseng human right… Galit ako sa inyo. Because hindi niyo tinitimpla kung anong klaseng papasukan ninyo. Basta human rights.”

(One of these days, I will investigate you human rights, conspiracy. Tell them, ‘Police, shoot those who are part of it’ so they can see the kinds of human rights. I’m mad at you; you don’t look at what you’re getting into, all about human rights.)

Where to go?
The cloak of secrecy surrounding state surveillance and how it is done in the Philippines makes it hard to fully realize how capable the government is in monitoring individuals and groups. This makes it difficult to hold accountable state agents who violate the right to privacy.

Santos recalled there were several times during formal gatherings or national conferences where they tried to confront state agents about surveillance. They, however, always refuse to admit or deny they engage in this act.

The lack of accountability mechanism, according to Jacob, makes the whole system of state surveillance prone to abuse. It can even lead to others – such as journalists, students, and any individual or groups seen as “destabiliser” by the government – to being monitored.

“So if it is necessary, to some extent yes but is it prone to abuse? Yes, also, especially if it continues to operate the way it is,” he explained. “It’s okay if it’s used to monitor legitimate internal threats to the state, but not individuals or groups who voice out valid criticism.”

“It should not be free rein, like without at all mechanisms to keep things in check,” Jacob added.

What can be done?
According to the Commission on Human Rights, individuals who feel like they are placed under state surveillance can avail of their help.

Mandated by the Constitution to investigate alleged human rights violations by the state, it can issue subpoenas on state agents who can in turn produce documents that can help their case buildups.

“Malalaman natin kung lawful ba ang operation na surveillance on a person or group,” said Richard Laron of CHR’s legal department. “Are they armed with a mission order? Baka naman intimidation iyan? Legitimate ba? Lawful ba? May basis ba yan?

(We can find out if the surveillance operation on a person or group is lawful. Are they armed with a mission order? Maybe that’s only intimidation? Is it legitimate? Lawful? Is there any basis?)

But the fact still stands that conducting state surveillance on a person without probable cause or “verified information” is tantamount to violating his or her rights.

“If there’s no probable cause or certain specific or verified information you’re engaging in any unlawful activity, the conduct of state surveillance is unlawful or arbitrary,” CHR lawyer Arlene Ven said.

Privacy violation only counts if ‘life-threatening’
Another remedy that can be invoked is the writ of habeas data. A petition for this writ, a remedy against “gathering, collecting or storing of data or information” through surveillance, can be filed before a regional trial court.

Jacob, however, warns that securing this writ can be very hard.

“Kung mapu-prove mo lang na na-violate ang iyong privacy pero wala naman corresponding threat to your life, liberty, and security, walang writ na ibibigay sa’yo (If you can only prove that your right to privacy was violated but it has no corresponding threat to your life, liberty, and security, the courts will not issue a writ),” he said.

While legal remedies is always on the table, human rights organisations often resort to more safety protocols in line with the continuous threats and state surveillance.

Karapatan, example, ramped up their physical and digital security through trainings. Sweeps for any bug or listening device in their office are conducted more frequently, and they’ve worked out ways to protect the data they use for work.

Going through the principle of strength and security in numbers, between 50-100 people join the group’s fact-finding missions – especially in militarised areas in the Philippines.

Human rights organisations will continue to fight
But despite the danger heightened by the administration’s continuous threats, human rights organisations say they will not stop doing their job in depending the rights of marginalised communities under what critics call a “repressive” regime.

Siyempre hindi na mawawala iyong takot at palaging nandoon iyon,” Palabay said. “Pero sa totoo lang, kaya medyo hindi kami ganoon katakot, wala ito sa mga naranasan ng mga tinutulungan namin.“(Fear is always there but these are nothing compared to the abuses the people we help experience.)

But in a country where democracy is reportedly backsliding, it might only be a matter of time before state surveillance starts targeting ordinary citizens.

Jodesz Gavilan and Sofia Tomacruz have compiled this article as part of a special report series for the independent website Rappler. The website is fighting for survival against a “war on press freedom” being waged by the Duterte government in the Philippines. Read the full series here. Rappler has been running a campaign under the slogan “Support a free and fearless media” for the past six months.

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