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.

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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

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

“Relief!”

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.”

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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

Tuilaepa accuses Pohiva of being ‘jello’ over Samoan press freedom

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva … something “odd” with the world press freedom rankings. Image: Samoa Observer

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielelgaoi has accused his Tongan counterpart ‘Akilisi Pohiva of being “jello” – jealous – of Samoa’s media freedom ranking.

Tuilaepa made the comment in response to Pohiva questioning Samoa’s ranking on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.

Samoa is ranked 22nd while Tonga is ranked 51st.

READ MORE: Fifth Pacific Media Summit

Speaking at the opening of the 5th Pacific Media Summit being held in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, Pohiva suggested that something was “odd” with the rankings.

“You have all heard by now how that Tonga dropped two places from 49 to 51 on the 2018 World Press Freedom index,” he said.

-Partners-

“You have also learned that the reason for the drop is because of my government’s unfair treatment of senior journalists in the Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

“I have no problems with that but let me assure you all that it is a work in progress.

‘Continuing to talk’
“We are continuing to talk with the management and staff members of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission about improving our relationship, and of course our position in the 2019 Press Freedom Index.”

This is when he turned his attention to Samoa.

“I must say that I am surprised by Samoa’s position on the Press Freedom Index where Samoa is 22nd,” he said.

“Oh congratulations! However, what I went on about is the ongoing battle between my Samoan counterpart and the Samoa Observer. I can’t believe that Samoa is 22nd and Tonga is 51st. This is unbelievable.”

Asked for a comment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa laughed.

“Our ranking is far superior than the United States of America, which is ranked 45th and this is good news for the media and everyone who is here in my office,” Tuilaepa said.

Freedom of journalists
“I am thankful that the government puts up with you people,” he said, laughing.

“I am talking about freedom of journalists in our country and that is why the Tongan Prime Minister is somewhat “jello” (jealous) given that their ranking is very low, yet Samoa’s ranking is quite significant.”

According to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, there is a difference in the governance of Samoa and Tonga, but he did not elaborate on this.

Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu is a journalist working with the Samoa Observer.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

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

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

By Colleen Murrell in Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Partners-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Journalists talk press freedom – ‘be afraid, but do the job’

In this World Press Freedom Day video, Filipino journalists Ed Lingao, Jason Gutierrez, Inday Espina-Varona, Ezra Acayan, and JC Gotinga speak about facing threats against the press, and why it’s important to keep reporting. Video: Rappler

By Patricia Evangelista in Manila

The threat against press freedom, say local journalists in the Philippines, one of the world’s dangerous zones according to Reporters Without Borders, comes from the republic’s highest office.

The Philippines has dropped six places to 133rd in the RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index – and a Filipino radio journalist was gunned down on Monday, just three days before World Press Freedom Day yesterday.

The country is now ranked the deadliest country for journalists in Asia.

“Do I think the President is a threat to press freedom?” asks international broadcast producer JC Gotinga. “He has threatened press freedom – in public.”

Ed Lingao, a conflict journalist who has found himself in the crossfire of anger from government supporters, characterises the administration as one uncomfortable with criticism – “and it has taken out a very big stick.”

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“I think people are getting their strength in the fact that government seems very courageous in whipping up the crowd,” says Lingao.

The threats online are varied, he says, and occasionally specific.

‘Death threat … rape threat’
“Every day over breakfast,” says Rappler Presidential Palace reporter Pia Ranada, “it’s kind of a routine that I look through my Twitter feed, my Facebook messages, my emails. No fail, there will be a death threat, mixed in with those trolling.

“There will always be a rape threat.”

Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona calls the attack against the press “consistent and systematic.”

The most dangerous threat, she says, comes from members of the propaganda machine whose goal is to “scare the media into silence”.

Although she laughs off many of the insults – “they call me old, of course, I’m a grandmother of 3!” – she says it is necessary to take the physical threats seriously.

“Am I afraid? All the time,” says Lingao. “Only a stupid person would be a reporter and not be afraid. So be afraid. Be very afraid. But do the job.”

Freelance photojournalist Ezra Acayan, whose work covering the brutality of the drug war has seen publication in The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, denies there is reason for concern when journalists stand for particular principles.

Bias constant refrain
Bias is a constant refrain among detractors of critical reportage.

“When they say we shouldn’t take sides, I think that’s wrong,” says Acayan. “We should be on the side of what’s right and true.”

“Before I am a journalist, I am also a Filipino,” says international correspondent Jason Gutierrez.

“I care about what is happening to my country. That’s a large part of my being a journalist.”

The trouble, says Gutierrez, is that people are locked within echo chambers constantly validating their own opinions.

Gotinga, a former local broadcast journalist himself, says part of the mandate of journalism is to provide information to protect citizens from abuse.

It is the reason, he says, why news is often negative.

“Otherwise,” he says, “the other word for it is propaganda.”

Patricia Evangelista is a journalist for Rappler in Manila.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media