Freedom for those who defend it: Journalists – a film from Belarus

May 14, 2009

The docmentary Journalists, by Belarusian film director Aleh Dashkevich, is screening twice on the programme of the Auckland Human Rights Film Festival.

Journalists tells about how freedom of expression was destroyed in Belarus over the 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule. 20081203_journalistLukashenka came to power in the 1994 election promising to allow freedom of the press. Unfortunately, like most politicians, he was lying at the time.

In most western nations journalists can operate within reasonable boundaries of freedom. It’s rare for a TV camerawo/man to be kidnapped and murdered; journalists don’t often get beaten up, arrested or threatened when covering protests. Not so in Belarus – nor, incidently, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.

Belarus 1229920068Late last year Lukashenka’s regime signed into law further restrictions on media freedom. Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Journalists is showing on Friday (15 May) and Tuesday (19 May) at 6pm at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. I will be making a few brief comments after the screening and leading a question and answer session. After that I’ll be available for a quite drink if you’re interested.

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State of Play: Commentary on contemporary journalism

May 4, 2009

I was able to catch an advanced screening of the new Russell Crowe flick, State of Play, over the weekend. Ben Affleck also stars as a rising Washington star who falls from grace.

All I can say is, if you’ve got any interest at all in journalism and the news business, go and see it when it hits a cinema near you.

I’m not a huge Crowe fan and certainly wouldn’t go to see State of Play because he’s in it. It’s the story that’s interesting.

The movie is a Hollywood adaptation of a BBC TV series of the same name. It’s a political thriller and the plot’s fairly standard for the genre – mysterious shooter pegs small time crook leading to bigger fish and a national security scandal. Anyone who’s seen it will instantly make comparisons with All the President’s men.

What’s very interesting about this version is that it’s been updated to the digital age and there’s lots of references to blogging and whether or not that’s “real” journalism. Jokes about YouTube and celebrity also help to keep it topical.

But for me, the drama is in Helen Mirren’s role as the publisher of the Washington Globe as she comes to terms with the declining health of her once great newspaper. That side of the story rings very true. Mirren has all the great lines: “Reporters don’t have friends, they have sources.”

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Australian J School bans staff contact with Fiji

April 23, 2009

My colleagues in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland have taken a strong stand against the suppression of media freedom in Fiji. The school has decided to put a black ban on staff travel to Fiji for the foreseeable future in solidarity with journalists and news workers who are literally under the gun on the Pacific island.

The veteran Australian reporter, Sean Dorney, regarded as one of the world’s experts on Pacific issues has also received a very warm welcome on a recent speaking tour of Australian universities. I’ve included a report of his talk to three hundred first year journalism students at the University of Queensland a couple of days ago.

A hat tip to Dr Mark Hayes for this information.

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Journalism – the dangerous business

April 22, 2009

I wrote recently about the moral purpose of journalism, in part I noted:

The bottom line is that, consciously or unconsciously, reporters and editors often concede their independence to political actors. Equally, states often go to extreme lengths to coerce or cajole the news media into toeing the line

There’s another deep philosophical argument: Is the conscience of the journalist easily equated with the broader public conscience?

In this context, one of journalism’s most important roles is that of awakening the public’s conscience. Journalists must decide when the alarm must be sounded and how best to do so.

(The Global Journalist, p.4)

I am still thinking about these issues, they’re not yet fully resolved in my own head, but I think it’s a debate that anyone with an interest in honest, truthful and insightful news media should engage in.

However, it’s never too late to sound the alarm: journalism is a dangerous business for courageous reporters who threaten powerful political and economic interests.

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Robert Capa’s Falling soldier – does the evidence stack up?

November 1, 2008
Sonw in London - October 2008

Update 19 July 2009: Fresh argument erupts

[Traveller's tip: Don't miss: This is war! at the Barbican till 25 January 2009]

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a ‘private viewing’ of the Robert Capa and Gerda Taro exhibition at the Barbican this week. Helen and I got doused by a storm walking from Moorgate, but once we were inside, the magic of the Barbican Centre took over. We spent the next 90 minutes immersed in some great war reportage and an installation of contemporary photojournalistic and new media commentaries on Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the way home I was caught in that wonderful (for an expat of 40 years) October snow. It was bitterly cold, but the chance to take this photo made it all worthwhile. The white blobs in the foreground are snowflakes.

Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were an amazing couple as well as great photographers. This retrospective provides hundreds of images showing how they worked together or alone and using a variety of cameras and techniques.

Many of the images in this collection are clearly staged and posed: including many famous images by both Capa and Taro from the Spanish civil war.

They first went to Spain in 1936 and their sympathies were with the Republicans (also known as Loyalists) who were defending their newly established (and left-leaning) government from the Fascist militias led by General Franco.

I don’t doubt Taro and Capa’s political allegiance to the Republicans. That was always the right side of the barricades and many fine socialists, intellectuals, poet, anarchists, workers, women and children died defending and extending working class political rights against the rising tide of European fascism.

But did this ideological sympathy for revolution in Spain create ethical problems for either Capa or Taro? One famous series of images by Robert Capa sheds some interesting light on this debate.

Known universally as ‘the falling soldier’, one iconic image is at the centre of a longstanding question hanging over Robert Capa’s reputation as one of the finest photojournalists of the 20th Century.

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Four interesting items in the New York Times

September 12, 2008

I picked up the New York Times yesterday, it’s a thinsheet too, like the LA Times.I ripped out four pages from the newspaper, only one of them was a piece of journalism.

Columnist Bob Herbert wrote a great piece about the proud achievements of what Americans coyly call “liberals”. That is US citizens with a modicum of intelligence and a social conscience.  I put that last bit in there to distinguish them from intelligent conservatives-they’re the ones who know they’re f&8k9nG the rest of us over and get sadistic pleasure from it. They’re the ones who know it’s torture, think it’s OK and actually enjoy it being done to “terrrrists”.

Herbert’s column’s called “Hold your heads up” and it argues well that American liberals should be proud of who they are and not ashamed to be identified as liberals, even though it’s a swear word in the red states.

The other stuff I pulled was a series of interesting display ads.

[dribblejaws alert-you should go here]

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Gopalan Nair free on bail – still facing charges

June 6, 2008

I just saw an AFP news feed, 8 hours ago [around 7 on Thursday evening Sydney time], saying the Singapore blogger Gopalan Nair has been released. As of now I can’t find any coverage in the NZ Herald or the Dominion Post.

Nair posted $5000 bail and walked out of prison after four days, but without his US passport. Nair arrived in Singapore on 25 May and challenged authorities to come and get him from his hotel.

He had posted his room and phone numbers on Singapore Dissident [link inside]. Gopalan’s charged with insulting a judge in a defamation case involving two of his political allies. His blog, regularly criticises the government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is protesting Nair’s arrest. He was in Singapore to cover the defamation trial involving Democratic Party activists Dr. Chee Soon Juan and Chee Siok Chin.

That trial is also a story worth following as Nair is trapped in Singapore and now facing serious defamation charges himself.

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