Timorese journalists protest outside Philippine embassy over Ressa arrest

Timor-Leste Press Union president Francisco Belo condemning the arrest and charge of “cyber libel” against Rappler publisher Maria Ressa. Image: Antonio Dasiparu/TLPU

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The Timor-Leste Press Union has protested in front of the Philippine Embassy in the capital Dili in solidarity with indicted Journalist Maria Ressa over her “persecution” and in defence of freedom of the press.

Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa is known and respected for her work as a journalist in bringing the plight of the suffering people of Timor-Leste under a quarter century of Indonesian occupation prior to renewed independence in 1999.

The Timorese journalist protest was broadcast by the public broadcaster RTTL.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the leading Philippine national dailies, reported today that Ressa had accused President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration of acting like a dictatorship and using the law as a weapon to muzzle dissent.

READ MORE: Rappler’s Maria Ressa sees threat to democracy

“What we’re seeing … is a level of impunity that I frankly haven’t seen, and I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 some odd years,” Ressa said after posting bail in a Manila court on Thursday.

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Ressa, who was selected by Time magazine as one of its Persons of the Year last year, is the head of Rappler Inc., which has aggressively covered Duterte’s administration.

Rappler publisher Maria Ressa speaking at a media conference after her release on bail in Manila. Image: Philippine Daily Inquirer

She was arrested Wednesday over a libel complaint from a businessman. Duterte’s government claimed the arrest was a normal step in response to the complaint and had nothing to do with press freedom.

Universities condemn arrest
University leaders and student groups in the Philippines have also condemned the arrest of Ressa, saying schools must defend the truth and press freedom, reports Rappler.

Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) president Father Ramon Jose Villarin and De La Salle Philippines president Brother Armin Luistro urged the universities’ communities to speak out and defend democracy.

“The university shares Maria’s challenge to shine the light on power and be brave in witnessing to the truth. Veritas liberabit vos (The truth will set you free),” Villarin said.

“Lies and false promises of unbridled power, when met with silence, will only make us a nation of slaves,” he added.

Luistro urged Lasallians to “vote with their feet” in the upcoming 2019 elections and make their voices heard to defend press freedom.

Ressa was arrested in connection with a cyber libel case filed by the Justice Department.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Student Council and ADMU publication The Guidon denounced the arrest, saying students would continue to hold the line with Ressa and Rappler.

‘Make our voices heard’
Here are the statements of support from various schools:

Brother Armin Luistro FSC, president of De La Salle Philippines:

“Let’s give our all out support as Lasallians to Rappler. Let’s defend press freedom. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s vote with our feet and stand with Maria Ressa!”

Father Jose Ramon Villarin SJ, president of Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU):

“In my statement of 13 October 2017, I had occasion to ‘call on everyone in the community to defend our democratic institutions” and to state that “[t]his call to defend our democratic institutions is not even a matter of political partisanship or persuasion. It is a call that is borne out of our conviction about what is right and just and truly democratic.’

“While such pronouncements then pertained to government institutions in particular, the same should be said with regard to freedom of speech, of expression and of the press. No less than the Philippine Constitution recognises ‘the vital role of communication and information in nation-building’ (Constitution, Art. II. Sec. 24) and ‘the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press’ (Constitution, Art. III, Sec. 4).

“There are several rights and freedoms necessary for a democratic society to function. The right to life, the right to due process, the sweet freedoms of speech and of the press – all of these were once considered sacred, inviolable. But as of late these have been called into question; mocked, attacked, degraded.

Rappler, and its brave leader Maria Ressa, have consistently held the line against the erosion of these liberties. It is journalists like her who keep us all informed about the state of our nation, covering different areas of our national life, contributing immeasurably to the wealth and value of our country.

“Too often these days, it is they who wage daily battles against fake news, expose corruption and bring to light illegal practices and wrongdoing by those who lead us.”

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

No progress on press freedom, impunity under Jokowi’s watch

By Dieqy Hasbi Widhana in Jakarta

Indonesia’s National Press Day (HPN), which falls on February 9 – yesterday, is a reminder of the murder of Radar Bali journalist Anak Agung Gede Prabangsa in 2009.

Based on the results of an investigation by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), which was later published under the title “The Bloody Trail After News, Prabangsa was murdered because he wrote at least three articles on the manipulation of project budgets valued at around 40 billion rupiah (NZ$47 billion) in Bangli regency, Bali.

The three reports were titled, “Supervision after a Project is Running”, “Sharing the Bangli Education Office P1 Project” and “Agency Head’s Document Deemed Flawed”.

READ MORE: The Bloody Trail After News [Bahasa Indonesian]

The mastermind behind Prabangsa’s murder was Susrama, a contractor who routinely handled contract and procurement tenders for several government offices and agencies in Bangli, Bali.

Susrama is also the younger brother of Bangli Regent I Nengah Arnawa, who at the time was an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislative candidate in the 2009 elections, and was then elected as a member of the Bangli Regional House of Representatives (DPRD). Susrama was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for Prabangsa’s murder.

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The irony, however, is that Susrama’s life sentenced has been commuted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Through a sentence remission contained in Presidential Decree Number 29/2018, Widodo reduced Susrama’s sentence from life to 20 years imprisonment. Susrama was the 94th in a list of 115 convicts who received sentence remissions.

Convict profiling
Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) executive director Ade Wahyudin says that the Susrama’s remission failed to consider a variety of aspects.

“What was missed in the convict profiling study, was what were the case details, the social effect of a case such as this”, Wahyudin told Tirto.

In the same vein as Wahyudin, AJI chairperson Abdul Manan said that Widodo’s decision was very disappointing because the remission given to Susrama completely ignored the public’s sense of justice.

On Friday afternoon, Wahyudin and Manan met with the Director-General for Correctional Institutions at the Ministry for Justice and Human Rights (Kemenkum HAM), Sri Puguh Budi Utami.

Accompanied by a representative from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI), the two conveyed their complaints over the remission and handed over a petition put together by AJ, the LBH Pres and YLBHI.

“We asked that the remission for Prabangsa’s murder be revoked,” said Manan explaining the demands they took to the president.

Poor press freedom ranking
According to Manan, using the standards set by Paris-based global media freedom agency Reporters Without Borders, the state of press freedom in Indonesia is indeed very dim. Indonesia’s ranking is 124th out of 180 countries, lower even that Timor-Leste.

“It’s below 100, that’s in the underdog league, right. Categorised very bad,” said Manan.

Widodo has indeed routinely appeared at annual celebrations of National Press Day organised by the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI). However, explained Manan, this has not automatically translated into efforts to strengthen press freedom in Indonesia.

“The February event commemorated by PWI was largely ceremonial. Totally inadequate to show that he sides [with journalists]”, he said.

There are many things that Widodo should be able to do rather than just taking part in ceremonial National Press Day commemorations. For example, said Manan, asking the Kemenkum HAM to look at the proposed revisions to the Criminal Code (KUHP), specifically the new on “contempt of court”.

The current formulation is problematic because journalists can be sentenced to five years jail if their journalistic work influences a judges’ verdict.

In addition to this, there is Article 494 on revealing confidential information. Likewise, Article 309 Paragraph (1) which has the potential for multiple interpretations and is susceptible to being used to criminalise journalists.

Articles too vague
“He should, if he wants to defend the press, [be able] to initiate the creation of regulations that support a climate of press freedom. Annul the articles which endanger the independence of the press because they are too vague,” he said.

The need to revise these problematic articles is becoming more urgent bearing in mind that in the last year there have been two efforts to criminalise journalists.

Those who have fallen victim were the former editor of Serat.id, Zakki Amali and Manan himself. The two were criminalised for investigating alleged plagiarism by Semarang State University (Unnes) rector Fathur Rokhman and the IndonesiaLeaks “red book” scandal allegedly involving National Police Chief (Kapolri) General Tito Karnavian.

“The Serat.id case was clearly just a press dispute. Police should be very careful in handling this. Ideally, pushing for the case not to be handled as a criminal case, so that it can be resolved though the mechanisms of the UU Pers (Press Law), namely by asking Unnes to submit a complaint with the Press Council”, explained Manan.

“Meanwhile the IndonesiaLeaks case is very clear cut and if they want to make an issue out of reports which were carried by five different media outlets, it’s inappropriate it to deal with it as a crime. The party that feels injured, if that’s Kapolri, should set an example by dealing with the case through mechanisms which are already provided for by the UU Pers”.

Still lots of homework
There is lots of homework that Widodo which needs to prioritise in order to protect press freedom in Indonesia.

Take for example his vision, mission and action program when he first ran as a presidential candidate in the 2014 presidential election. Widodo pledge to reorganise the ownership of broadcast frequencies in the hope of preventing monopolies by groups of people or broadcasting industry cartels.

According to doctoral research by Ros Tapsell from the Australian National University which was publish as a book titled “Media Power in Indonesia” (2017), there are eight media conglomerates that monopolise the public broadcast frequencies.

Aside from the problem of media conglomerates, Widodo also needs to fix the problem of the clearing house, a mechanism aimed at screening requests for permits by foreign journalists wanting to report on Papua.

The clearing house involves 19 working unit from 12 different ministries and is known for being convoluted and time consuming.

When he attended the great harvest in Marauke regency in Papua on May 10, 2015, Widodo asserted that these procedures would be abolished. Widodo declared that there should be a transparent mechanism with objective standards used to evaluate foreign journalist permit requests to report on Papua.

Journalists spied on
“Journalists find it difficult to obtain permits to report [on Papua], they are even spied on. In other cases their fixers are intimidated”, he said.

The other no less important problem is intimidation. Based AJI’s advocacy team’s records, during Widodo term in office new patterns of violence against journalists have emerged in the form of harassment and releasing private information through social media.

In 2018 there were three cases of journalists being persecuted in the online media. The victims were journalists from kumparan.com and detik.com. Their private data was publically released after they reported on the “211 Defend Islam Action” by a group who objected to the reports that they wrote.

“No legal action is ever taken in case journalists being persecuted. But, several cases of persecution where the victims were not journalists have been pursued legally. The president must show a clearer commitment to press freedom, particularly in its real application,” he said.

Wahyudin also raised the issue of poor protection for journalists under Widodo’s watch.

“There has been absolutely no progress. He’s been exactly same as the SBY [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] era, Jokowi. He hasn’t given attention to press freedom. Perhaps he thinks it’s already safe or resolved. Yet every year there are [incidents] of violence against journalists,” said Wahyudin.

Concrete steps
The government’s role, said Wahyudin, should be to guarantee that press freedom is protected. Yet Widodo has not fully realised this.

“It’s not enough. The government must take concrete steps in resolving murder cases. [Otherwise] the effect of ignoring cases of murder and valence will just be mushrooming impunity. Our democracy [itself] will become sick,” he said.

“In general terms, Widodo’s [new] vision and mission does not address press freedom. It more prioritises infrastructure but the aspect of civil freedoms are still very lacking.”

Translated by James Balowski for the Indo-Left News Service in partnership with the Pacific Media Centre. The original title of the article was “Hari Pers Nasional: Tak Ada Progres Kebebasan Pers di Era Jokowi“.

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vietnamese blogger critic missing and feared ‘kidnapped’ in Bangkok

Truong Duy Nhat’s disappearance is all the more disturbing because he is widely respected as a blogger. Image: RSF/Youtube).

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Thai authorities to shed all possible light on the disappearance of Truong Duy Nhat, a famous Vietnamese blogger who went missing in Bangkok last month, one day after going to the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to apply for refugee status.

RSF is concerned that Vietnamese agents may have kidnapped Truong Duy Nhat on January 26 , who is from the city of Danang, in central Vietnam. The Thai police say they are not holding him.

More than ten days have gone by since anyone heard from him, RSF reports.

Other Vietnamese bloggers who have applied for refugee status in Bangkok say they think he was abducted while in a shopping mall in suburban Bangkok, according to Radio Free Asia, one of the media outlets for which Nhat works.

“We urge the Thai authorities to make every effort to shed light on Truong Duy Nhat’s extremely disturbing disappearance,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“If the Thai authorities prove not to have been involved, this would mean that Vietnamese agents are no longer bothered by international law and violate a partner country’s sovereignty in order to pursue their critics. This sends an absolutely terrifying message to the community of Vietnamese bloggers who have sought refuge in Bangkok.”

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Network of sources
Nhat’s disappearance is all the more disturbing because he is widely respected as a blogger, even within certain circles of the ruling Communist Party in Hanoi.

Bui Thanh Hieu, a blogger who has found asylum in Germany, wrote on Facebook that he suspected that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc may have ordered Nhat’s abduction.

“I think the prime minister wants Nhat arrested at all costs because he is in possession of compromising information about the prime minister’s clan in Quang Nam province,” Hieu wrote.

Quang Nam province adjoins Danang, Nhat’s home town, where the blogger has many sources to help him with his investigative reporting.

Place of refuge
Nhat used to work for state media outlets, including Danang police newspapers, until 2010, when he launched his own blog, Mot Goc Nhin Khac (Another Viewpoint), in order to be able to report and write with complete freedom.

He was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” in his blog posts. RSF included him in its list of 100 “information heroes” in 2014.

In the course of the Vietnamese government’s two-year-old crackdown on citizen-journalists, many of them have found refuge in Bangkok.

Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest ranking in Southeast Asia. Thailand is ranked 140th.

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Timor-Leste Press Council condemns ‘crime’ against public broadcaster

Timor-Leste Press Council president Virgílio Guterres (second from right) addresses the media briefing at the council’s office in Dili. Image: TLPC.

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Timor-Leste’s Press Council (TLPC) has strongly condemned political interference in the country’s public broadcasting service (RTTL) newsroom where political-appointed advisors for the president of RTTL have interfered in its coverage.

During a press conference at the TLPC’s offices in Dili, chairperson Virgílio Guterres said it was the first political interference in RTTL’s newsroom since country’s restoration of independence.

“Press Council follows and is informed that after the recent change to the leadership of RTTL, bad interference in the newsroom has been happening. That is why the Press Council is concerned,” he said.

READ MORE: Bob Howarth’s report on Asia-Pacific united Press Councils

The condemnation was about political interference, but there was also physical interference in that certain advisors went in to the newsroom asking to change the news coverage,” Guterres told journalists.

It was a serious problem, he said, and an “act of crime” against the public as the political-appointed advisor had seized the authority of the editor-in-chief to remove the content of news stories.

-Partners-

“It is a crime against journalism as these people have seized the power of the editor-in-chief for exercising their political interests.

“The Press Council is concerned about this situation, and would like to take the opportunity to convey our concerns to the public as well also to the government bodies to look into this situation,” he said.

Sacking threat
The Press Council also condemned the head of the Office of the Secretary of State for Social Communication (SECOMS), Julio Goncalves, as he had threatened to sack RTTL journalist Constancio Vieira from his job, following his comments on freedom expression and freedom of the press on his social media account.

In an interview with Timorese media, which was also broadcast by the country’s public radio, the president of RTTL Francisco “Gari” da Silva, said he had received an official letter from the Press Council, protesting against the newsroom interference.

“We have received a protest letter from the Press Council and we held a meeting discussing the issue, which regard to the news stories that RTTL broadcast. We do appreciate the Press Council’s concerns and hope we will make self-improvements,” he told public radio.

The political interference in RTTL’s newsroom happened in the country’s broadcasting service after the former president Gil da Costa Naldo Rey, was sacked from his post by the new government, following a controversial audit that had been conducted, indicating that there were some “irregularities”.

Francisco da Silva Gari was the one who in charge of the Secretary of State for Social Communication-led audit. Weeks later he was appointed to replace Gil da Costa Naldo Rei as new president of RTTL.

Timor-Leste is ranked 95th in the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index.

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

PNG Media Council says bring back Waide – stop attacking free media

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

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The Media Council of PNG has called on the board and management of Media Niugini
Limited to allow senior EMTV journalist Scott Waide to return to active duty.

This follows Waide’s suspension for reportedly broadcasting a “negative” news story on national EMTV News relayed by the New Zealand Newshub television from Port Moresby that criticised PNG’s purchase of 40 Maserati luxury sedans for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

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.

READ MORE: EMTV suspends senior journalist Scott Waide over NZ Maserati news story

“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.

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“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.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Scott Waide: PNGFM news boss calls for investigations, penalties for troops who assaulted journalists

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.”)

READ MORE: RSF condemns exclusion of PNG journalists

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.”

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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.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Timor-Leste state media group sacks editor over role on Press Council

GMN news editor Francisco Simões Belo … elected to represent Timor-Leste journalists in the TL Press Council. Image: RTTL

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

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.

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

The letter also said that Belo “could not concentrate” on the GMN newsroom while he was representing journalists at the Press Council.

Belo was elected by TLPU members to represent TLPU on the Press Council. He has registered his case and mediation is due to begin on October 29.

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The IFJ said: “The sacking of a journalist for simply fighting for the rights of fellow journalists is outrageous.

“Francisco has worked hard for journalists across Timor-Leste, and should not be punished for this work. We demand GMN immediately reinstate his employment.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vanuatu Daily Post … latest news hot off the free press

“How your newspaper gets to you” … Vanuatu Daily Press press rolling with the day’s news. Video: VDP

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

The Vanuatu Daily Post, only daily newspaper in Vanuatu, and a leading champion of a free press in the South Pacific, has posted a video of its printing press in action in Port Vila.

It is a rare insight into small press publishing in the region. The video of the Seattle-manufactured Web Leader has been posted on the newspaper’s social media to inform readers.

Launched in 1993 as The Trading Post, the newspaper quickly established itself as a pioneer of freedom of press in Vanuatu and has broken practically every major news story first since its launch by English-born publisher Marc Neil-Jones.

The publisher faced enormous difficulties in the early years and was subject to deportation, jailing and assaults.

However, those days have passed on, the newspaper reports on its website and has had local Ni-Vanuatu editors since 2003.

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Currently the editor is award-winning Jane Joshua, backed up by the group media director Dan McGarry.

“As Vanuatu’s largest privately owned media company, employing nearly 50 people, Trading Post Ltd has successfully moved in publishing the official tourism newspaper of the Vanuatu Tourism office called What To Do In Vanuatu and has launched a popular radio station called 96 BUZZ FM,” the paper says.

Vanuatu Daily Post is a successful and profitable newspaper and is consistently been the first choice for all advertising in Vanuatu.”

The striking Vanuatu Daily Post logo.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Climate change and security big focus for Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru

Climate change is a major worry to the Pacific Islands and it was the major talking point at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) earlier this month. Barbara Dreaver of Television New Zealand, who was detained and questioned in Nauru, talks to Sri Krishnamurthi of Asia-Pacific Report.

Two significant events happened at the 49th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) earlier this month – climate change and ratification of the Boe agreement (a regional security pact that succeeded the 2000 Biketawa agreement), says Barbara Dreaver, a veteran journalist with 20 years’ experience covering the Pacific.

Dreaver made headlines herself by being detained and questioned for four hours after interviewing an asylum seeker from a detention centre on Nauru.

The centres were declared a forbidden area when Nauru approved journalists’ accreditation for the forum on September 3-6.

APJS NEWSFILE

READ MORE: Climate change, at the frontlines

Initially, Nauru revoked Dreaver’s accreditation but reinstated it, so she could cover the forum proper, and she did not allow it to detract from doing her job.

Climate change is a growing burden for the Pacific and was the key discussion point at the forum.

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Central to this is the demand by the Pacific Island countries that the United States return to the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

In short, the Paris Agreement is an ambition to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C – and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C – as called for by the smaller island states at the forum.

Plea to the US
“Pacific leaders have also called on the US to return to the Paris agreement,” says Barbara Dreaver.

The call comes on the back of US President Donald Trump announcing his intention in June 2017 to withdraw. Under the agreement, the earliest possible withdrawal date for the US is November 2020, although moves have been afoot for the US administration to withdraw from the agreement.

Climate change has become such an important problem for Pacific Island nations that it had to take centre stage at the forum.

“Yes, this was the main thrust of the forum. The leaders have formally requested the United Nations appoint a special adviser on climate change and security and they have also called on the UN Security Council to appoint a special rapporteur to produce a regular review of global, regional and national security threats caused by climate change,” Dreaver told Asia Pacific Report.

Most of the controversy at the forum centred around Nauru, which was once a phosphate-mining mecca now virtually stripped dry and reduced to playing an off-shore role as a detention centre for asylum seekers to Australia.

Nauru is set to receive nearly A$26 million from Australia in Official Development Assistance  in 2018-19, which is almost a quarter of its gross domestic product.

“The money Nauru receives from Australia is valuable to this cash-strapped nation. It’s not only in cash terms – buildings have been improved etc. For Nauru, while it’s a headache, it’s also a godsend,” says Dreaver.

Sensitive refugee discussions
Sensitive discussions around the detainees did take place under muted conditions and away from the media, she noted.

“The discussion around the detainees on Nauru took place in the bilaterals and only at a general level.

“There was some sensitivity given it’s a domestic issue for the most part and Nauru had made it clear it did not consider it part of the forum – even if others did.

“It should be noted that the bigger non-government organisations like World Vision or Amnesty, which would have brought up the issue at side events [civil society discussions)] were refused visas to Nauru.”

Incarcerated children on the island, kept in conditions widely considered inhumane, hardly rated a mention at the forum.

“The children on Nauru are staying put – I understand there are now approximately 109 of them,” says Dreaver.

An Australian decision
New Zealand did discuss the potential resettlement of some of the asylum seekers but were told it was an Australian decision.

“Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister) discussed it with Nauru at the bilateral discussions but at the end of the day, if Australia doesn’t agree with the transferral of refugees to NZ it won’t happen. The decision is not the Nauru governments’ to make,” says Dreaver.

That was not to say New Zealand did not have a contribution to make at the PIF, even though one commentator in New Zealand likened Pacific countries to “leeches”.

“Most of New Zealand’s contribution was behind the scenes. For example, like some of the other member countries it had input on the Biketawa Plus or Boe Declaration,” she said.

“New Zealand’s presence must not be underestimated… the only times a New Zealand Prime Minister has not attended a forum has been when it has been close to an election.

“While fellow leaders have always publicly expressed their understanding, they have also made it clear New Zealand is missed and it doesn’t go down well.

“New Zealand is strong on fisheries in the region and its input in this area is strong,” she says on a food source that is dear to the heart of all Pacific Islanders.

Climate change priority
Again, there was no getting away from climate change and the security of the region, as Dreaver points out.

“Yes, the Boe declaration was ratified (named Boe as this is name of the President of Nauru’s [Baron Waqa] village where it was signed).

“The leaders had to go back to the table in the evening as Australia had some concerns over the language about climate change which other leaders describe as the single greatest threat to the region.

“There is a strong agreement for resources for cash-strapped nations, particularly in the area of cybercrime – it’s expected New Zealand and Australia will provide specialist and technical knowledge to help small island nations combat this,’’ Dreaver says.

Progress was made at the 49th sitting of the Pacific Islands Forum despite it being held in the controversial venue of Nauru.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Pacific Island leaders tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Partners-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media