Some Updates ~ Pacific Media Freedom, Useful Idiots, and Oxford Commas

by Dr Mark Hayes in Brisbane

July 5, 2011 –

July 12, 2011 ~ I’ve moved the Vanuatu Bashing UpDates into a separate Post as this caper is continuing and there have been some quite significant developments and comments.

Apologies for not being around for a while, but have had some other things to attend to.

Defending the Oxford Comma

Cannot let the raging controversy about the Oxford Comma pass without buying into it.

Heretofore, the authoritative Oxford Dictionary people decreed that a comma be placed between words which were used in series, like this, and this, and this. The comma after the second ‘and this’ is the Oxford Comma, also known as the ‘series comma’.

Other influential style guides are less rigorous, and allowed for the omission of the comma, like this, and this and this.

The whole thing was triggered by some idiot Twitter feed asserting that Oxford was abolishing its Ruling on the ‘serial comma’, which provoked global howls of outrage, and quite rightly so if it were true.

It wasn’t true. So much for believing everything you see on Twitter.

To my way of thinking, and practice, omitting the Oxford Comma is in the same league as wearing socks with sandals, putting tomato sauce on chips (or French fries if you must), admitting to being a postmodernist, or violating one of the pronunciation decrees issued by the terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English, the Official Arbiter of All Things Correct when it comes to stalkin’ roit proper on Australia’s National Broadcaster.

Buying into this raging controversy, The Guardian’s Alison Flood has this take on it all, and I agree with her.

I rise to my hind legs and leap to the defence of the Oxford Comma, along with the right and proper use of the Apostrophe too.


Meanwhile, some significant developments on a couple of Posts from earlier in 2011.

More on Libya & LSE

To make sense of this, please re-visit the first Post On Useful Idiots and Dictatorships.

The controversy around the London School of Economics’ ‘constructive engagement’ with the then rehabilitating Libyan regime seems to have died down a little, unlike the appalling civil war raging in Libya, but The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins added this comment on the situation back in March, 2011.

How LSE must rue their association with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, PhD (LSE), now wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, along with his utterly awful daddy, and most the rest of the Libyan regime.

I was provoked to check on the LSE – Libyia story by my learned friend and interlocutor, and occasional drinking buddy, Ethical Martini’s recent ruminations on receiving a communication from Gaddafi’s second wife.

This, in turn, provoked a paroxysm of guilt and remorse on my part for not contributing to this august and most reputable Blog for far too long, and thereby not bulking up Ethical Martini’s SEOs (Search Engine Optimization rankings), which go towards one’s Google rankings, and thence the rivers of gold triggered by Google’s advertising… ka’Ching, ka’Ching, ka’Ching, he says, onomatopoeticly, mimicking the tinkle of coin into Ethical Martini’s coffers.

I’ll get my modest share of this loot when I encounter Ethical Martini again in person, hopefully in the form of some very drinkable wine or beer, and hopefully quite soon.

I’ll offer the second part of my Useful Idiots and Dictatorships piece soon, but I want to very tightly nail down all the bits and pieces to the Pacific and Fiji angles to this Post so as to leave no room for any critics or Fiji regime stooges, Bainimarama’s local useful idiots, for their typically swingeing sniping or nit picking rebuttals.

Media Freedom Meeting in Samoa

Just so happened that one of the things I had to attend to in May was a sudden trip to Samoa to attend a meeting of several Pacific NGOs with interests in media freedom and development, coinciding with Media Freedom Day 2011.

Here’s a UNESCO story on the meeting (they helped fund it), and a NZ Spasifik magazine story featuring the President of the New Zealand-based Pacific Islands Media Association, Iulia Leilua, who was also in Samoa for this meeting.

Iulia Leilua ~ PIMA NZ ~ Samoa May 2011

The way I heard it, as funding for the meeting was being pulled together, UNESCO asked the organizers to approach the Fiji regime to see if they’d mind the meeting being held in Suva, probably at the Secretariat for the Pacific Community’s Media Centre at Nabua, a northern Suva suburb quite close to the Australian High Commission (a.k.a. ‘Fortress Australia’) and down the main road from the military’s HQ, the Queen Elizabeth II Barracks (a.k.a., ‘the camp’), to where, occasionally, folks who irritate the regime are taken and given a severe talking to, or worse, a solid beating. This is the real ‘rule of law’ in Fiji these days, the Rule of Fists and/or Glock.

Regime apologists would vigorously disagree, of course, pointing to what certainly looks like a functioning legal system including a police force headed by a senior military officer, and a judiciary containing quite a few Sri Lankan judges and magistrates, recruited because the Regional ‘smart sanctions’ on travel through or to Australia and New Zealand for anybody associated with the Fiji military have dissuaded potential judges and magistrates from taking up even temporary posts in Fiji. It is, of course, forbidden, for the Fiji courts to rule against any decree promulgated by the regime.

Following some recent allegations about regime critics in the Fiji union movement being assaulted, the military helpfully said that any such complaints should be made to the police, and at the beginning of July, 2011, the regime shut down a meeting of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, claiming the internal working meeting was in breach of the PER (Pacific Beat’s story has comment from Shamima Ali, from the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre).

An approach by the Pacific media networking meeting organizers was duly made to the relevant regime identity, probably the so-called ‘Permanent Secretary for Information’, former Australian PR and advertising worker, Ms Sharon Smith-Johns, still Fiji’s Chief Censor given the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) are still enforced, in addition to the equally draconian Media Decree.

The initial response from the Fiji regime was, so I heard, positive, but then they asked for a list of attendees, actual and probable (I only found out about the meeting about a fortnight prior, and wasn’t going to be funded to attend. I never accept donor funding for these kinds of gigs so I paid to go myself, and I wouldn’t have been on the submitted list).

On receipt of the list of attendees, the Fiji regime reneged on its initial approval, so the journalism programme at the National University of Samoa’s Le Papaigalagala Campus in Apia, and my old pal, Misa Vicky Lepou, stepped up

Misa Vicky Lepou ~ NUS Journalism Lecturer

to host the meeting. And an excellent job Misa Vicky and NUS Journalism did too.

I have no idea who on the list of prospective attendees offended the Fiji military dictatorship sufficiently to tell the meeting’s organizers to ‘piss off’, and there isn’t much point in speculating, though one of the invitees was Marc Neil-Jones from Vanuatu, who was scheduled to deliver the Pacific World Press Freedom Day 2011 talk.

This he then did, and a powerful presentation it was (PDF download from Pacific Media Watch/Pacific Media Centre). Marc and I also did a joint guest lecture for NUS Journalism students, and his part of the lecture would have been appreciated by any reputable journalism school’s students.

Marc Neil-Jones & Peter Lewis ~ Samoa, May 2011

What was also significant was the presence, as a co-facilitator of the meeting, of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) Federal President, Peter Lewis, who, in another life, is the Executive Producer of the ABC’s very well regarded weekly rural affairs TV programme, Landline. In an earlier life, Mr Lewis was the ABC’s New Zealand Correspondent, then based in Auckland, and with a brief to also cover Pacific stories.

Mr Lewis’ presence, which was very well received, clearly flagged that the major media worker’s union in the local Superpower (Australia, like it or not) is very interested in the Pacific and wants to forge closer ties with Pacific media and related NGOs.

The MEAA in Sydney also hosts the Asia-Pacific Desk for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) which, in close collaboration with the Pacific Freedom Forum, monitors media freedom issues in the Pacific and indeed funds Ms Lisa Williams-Lahiri on a Pacific media freedom monitoring project, including mounting training workshops in places like Vanuatu earlier in June. (Declaring an interest, I’m a founder-member of PFF and serve on their drafting committee, leaping into action to help draft statements on various media freedom threats, and offering periodic advice on knotty or tricky issues which crop up.)

The early May, 2011, Samoa trip was, as any visit to Samoa and Apia always is, very busy and productive, renewing many of my Pacific friendships and connections, and making new ones.

It was also very pleasant to be warm again. I hate being cold, even given Brisbane’s usually moderately cool winters. And I always like sampling the local Samoan beer, Vailima. Best beer in the Pacific, if you want my considered and experienced opinion.

Ms Smith-Johns is Fiji's Chief Censor ~ PINA Picture

There were two ‘gorillas in the room’, though.

Despite being invited to send a representative, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) did not participate, for reasons which I couldn’t figure out, but on which I’ll have more to say in my forthcoming Useful Idiots II Post soon.

And there was nobody from the Fiji media in attendance, again for reasons I couldn’t work out. The Fiji regime and its draconian media controls was very much on everybody’s mind, though.

On to Madang and Divine Word University

Then I had to scoot up to Divine Word University(DWU) at Madang in PNG to do a week long workshop on investigative journalism for third year journalism students, the second gig of this kind I’ve done for them. This time, they paid for the airfares, accommodated me in a modest but quite comfortable room in a Society for the Divine Word building, provided meals, and I bought the beers. (Not that I like PNG’s South Pacific beer; yuck.)

Br Michael McManus & Students ~ DWU Journalism

I always enjoy going to DWU Journalism, as the students are always keen and attentive, and the proposed investigations they research and work up as part of the intensive short course are always fascinating and usually very well developed.

DWU Journalism, actually a grandly titled Communication Arts Department housed in a modest little office near the center of the campus, is headed by Australian Marist Brother, Br Michael McManus, most ably assisted by local journalist, Patrick Matbob. I cannot speak highly enough of these two, and their efforts over many years, with visitor assistance on occasion, to make DWU Journalism a modest, but lively and Regionally very well regarded operation.

Pity the PNG media, especially the two major newspapers, the News Corporation-owned PNG Post-Courier and the Malaysian owned The National, and the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation, whose Web Site says it’s ‘Under Maintenance’, either don’t have the capacity, or, more likely, simply don’t want, to do serious investigative reporting. It’s blindingly obvious to anybody with even a passing interest in PNG affairs that there are a huge number of potential investigations to be done ~ rampant corruption, massive resources boom, barely functioning governance, health, and education systems and services, raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, serious, even deadly, law and order problems…

The Vanuatu Bashing UpDates have been moved into a separate Post.

4 Responses to Some Updates ~ Pacific Media Freedom, Useful Idiots, and Oxford Commas

  1. Caren Duggan says:

    It is a bit disingenuous of Mr Neil-Jones to make claims of political interference in the judicial process when he himself sought the intervention of the Minister of Justice. The regional media coverage of this story has been largely from one perspective only, and it is unfortunate that the facts have not been properly laid out – only those that appear to support the position of Mr Neil-Jones.
    Nobody condones what happened to him, however, his behaviour throughout, particularly in attempting to intervene in the prosecution and in publishing allegations about a senior prosecutor to further his own ends, would not be accepted in other countries, and much of what he has attempted to do in Vanuatu in relation to this case would not be allowed in other countries like Australia or his native Britain, so why should it be expected in this instance?

  2. Dr Mark Hayes says:

    Tanku mas Tru for your comment.

    I would be extremely interested in any evidence which shows “… that the facts have not been properly laid out…” with respect to the original attack on Mr Neil-Jones and his staff.

    As I pointed out in various UpDates to my original Post on this matter, both PINA and MAV in their belated though eventually welcome Statements on the original matter sought to cast doubt on the Daily Post’s ethics and practice of publishing a Vanuatu Transparency International report on aspects of Mr Iauko’s handing of his portfolio, and at least one critical Letter to the Editor. These publications were, apparently, the provocation for Mr Iauko and his associates to pay their now notorious visit to the Daily Post’s Newsroom, for which they have been found guilty and/or pleaded guilty to several charges, and have been punished.

    In handing down the pathetic sentence on Mr Iauko, the equivalent of a parking fine in many other countries, after what looks like a plea bargain, the court has drawn international attention to the doing of justice in Vanuatu, setting to one side, though by no means neglecting, specific and applicable Vanuatu laws and precedents. The same Questions are now being Asked about the Vanuatu justice system as would be asked in Australia, New Zealand, or any other equivalent jurisdiction, had the same outcome occurred – a senior politician is involved in a serious attack on a newspaper’s publisher and editor, and, by all reliable accounts, does a plea bargain, and gets mercilessly thrashed by a stern and unsmiling beak wielding a $US 150 feather.

    Mr Neil-Jones, part way through this caper, was quite right to raise Questions about the glacial progress of this matter and, on the basis of reliable information his newspaper had to hand, was quite right in asking Questions about possible conflicts of interest on the part of the Vanuatu prosecutor’s office. Any competent lawyer would do the same in any comparable jurisdiction, and I have no doubt that, prior to going public, Mr Neil-Jones would have raised those issues privately with the relevant Vanuatu authorities.

    This whole caper is by no means played out or anywhere near resolution.

  3. Caren Duggan says:

    I guess I just raise the point that the media stories circulating around the region and internationally all appear to have been told from Marc Neil-Jones’ perspective.

    I don’t know if Mr Neil-Jones’ statement to police was published more widely than in the paper he publishes, but as a statement of what happened, it left more questions than answers, and it is possible that the convictions obtained were the best available on the evidence – that is the point i wish to make. Has anyone considered the possiblity that this might have been the best possible outcome in the circumstances and with the available evidence? – a conviction on at least some charges, based on what appears to be rather limited evidence …. It is a question that should be asked and answered before an adverse assessment is made on the judicial system in Vanuatu… And I have not seen or heard anyone look at what sentences are handed down in similar situations. I have just seen assumptions made about what might happen – but has anyone actually done the research?

    It has also been raised as an issue, locally at least, that Mr Neil Jones used the DP to cast aspersions on the judicial process for his own ends…

    I am just suggesting that the media community in the Pacific needs to look at the whole picture and not foreground particulars of cases for its own ends…It does not help media credibility and it does not help Vanuatu

  4. Caren. The problem we have in Vanuatu is simple. What recourse does any member of the public have if there is a clear conflict of interest involving the Public Prosecutor in a case? I simply followed instructions from the Minister Ralph Regenvanu who is Chairman of the Judicial Services Commission. I was asked to put my request for an outside QC to assist with the case in writing. I did and it was refused by the Public Prosecutor. I accepted that until we found out about an affair she was having with someone very close to the minister that had only been going on since the minister was charged. The affair was confirmed by concerned members of her family neighbours and eye witnesses, was checked by the Ministry of Justice and verified. She responded and refused to step down leaving me no choice but to print the concerns raised by us to the Judicial Services Commission and her response to those concerns.

    The concerns I raised initially have all be shown to be accurate given the ridiculous sentence on the minister. If you had any understanding of the way ministers control things in Vanuatu you would know that he was in complete control at all times of the people with him and there is no way anything would have happened without his approval.

    The only defence mechanism we have on media attacks is overseas press coverage. Nothing else.

    I do not know what country you are from Caren but do you really believe that if a government minister had led a group of eight people into a daily newspaper in your country and assaulted the publisher and overturned the office over news he didn’t like exposing corruption he was involved in with documentary evidence, and then admitting guilt, that he wouldn’t be thrown out of office and the case wouldn’t be headline news on every TV, radio and newspaper outlet demanding justice knowing that the Prosecution has been criticised for lack of action against government officials and building up a large backlog of cases. If the PP in Australia had been having an affair with a close friend of the minister involved in the assault and had insisted on handling the case himself, you do not think media would pick up on a potential conflict of interest?

    The Vanuatu Public Prosecutor has filed charges against myself and the Minister of justice on Aiding and Abetting attempted extortion because I felt she had a conflict of interest and should step down from the case. How that translates into extortion is beyond me but this is the kind of ridiculous payback I am now having to put up with.

    Marc Neil-Jones

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