Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues –

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

Read the rest of this entry »

Kiwi newspaper ‘discovers’ Facebook photos: “Ethics? What dilemma?”

July 25, 2010

Sunday News this week uncovered photos on 32-year-old [Carmen] Thomas’s Facebook page showing her playfully pecking the cheek of All Blacks midfield sensation Ma’a Nonu and embracing wing Anthony Tuitavake.

[Bunting, 25 July, Sunday News]

Gosh, I’m absolutely stunned with awe; marvelling at the forensic abilities of the Sunday News. How devastatingly newsworthy…the paper’s found out that a missing woman has been seen in a bar with two footballers.

Stunning stuff, let’s hope the police are as astute as Sunday News and are right now questioning the two players. They may know something about Carmen Thomas’ disappearance.

The headline suggest this momentous event has just happened and Carmen hasn’t been seen for about three weeks:

Missing mum poses with All Blacks

And isn’t it fantastic that there’s been a sighting of her, after all her anxious friends, her employer, her mother  and her child are beside themselves with worry.

“Oh, what’s that?” Hang on, check the details…Why? What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not known when or where the photos were taken but the social networking site has recorded them as being uploaded on September 22, 2008.

Fuck me, the photos are nearly two years old.

Why is this newsworthy? Why is this in the paper?

Oh yeah, right, the All Blacks’ connection. We get to this point a few pars into the non-story. In an attempt to ‘keep it real’ the reporter valiantly attempts to link the All Blacks to the police investigation:

Investigation head, Mark Benefield, was reluctant to comment on Thomas’ online photos but confirmed police were “aware” of them, and that “there are several photographs of her on it [Facebook] in the company of people from all walks of life”.

“As far as we know at this stage of the investigation, there is nothing sinister in any of the photographs posted by Carmen on her pages,” Benefield said. The acting detective inspector wouldn’t say whether police had contacted the rugby stars.

Finbarr, mate, you are flogging a dead horse here. You’ve squeezed all the juice out of this particular lemon and there’s no more blood in this stone.

If I was Benefield I’d be reluctant too; knowing that whatever I said was going to be quoted at length in a cheesey hole-filler, arm-wrestled into the raggiest rag in the land.

What a tasteless, low-rent and ultimately meaningless bit of reporting.

And what investigative skills.

The Facebook photos are only visible to Thomas’ friends and their friends.

Not any more they’re not. Thanks to Sunday News we can all perv at them.

I’ve written before about gratuitous invasions of Facebook privacy by gawking media vultures. This is a classic case of reducing a person to the sum of their parts. I have no doubt that if there had been any ‘racier’ images, the Sunday News would have had no qualms about publishing them.

And let’s be clear, every newspaper in the country would do it too.

This is a wild-west frontier in journalism ethics and at the moment everyone’s behaving like a drunken cowboy in a saloon.

It’s not good enough. It is time for news organisations to establish some ethical and fair use guidelines around the plundering of Facebook for images and story leads.

There are legitimate reasons why journalists should be using social media tools to enhance their reporting; but sitting on your arse in the office downloading what is really someone else’s private property is not one of them. There are copyright issues here – is it stealing?

And of course it would seem that these egregious breaches of privacy can be overlooked because all you’re doing is exploiting some other numbnuck’s inability to operate the complex technical settings on Facebook.

Let’s be clear: what you’re doing is not journalism.

There is no pubic interest in publishing two-year old photos of Carmen Thomas with a couple of footy players; all it does is satisfy the ego of a couple of hacks without conscience.

It makes me sick.

The reporter doesn’t say how he got access to Ms Thomas’ private photos, but I guess it doesn’t matter does it. Whatever privacy settings you have on your Facebook page, to the news media goon squad it’s all public property and access is just a click away.

After all, if you’re too stupid to stop us, too fucken bad, we’re coming; guns blazing and whiskey-stained breath on your neck.

Haiti: history and the shock doctrine

January 31, 2010

I made a welcome appearance on National Radio’s MediaWatch programme this morning to discuss the recent coverage of Haiti with TV3’s Mike McRoberts and MW host, Colin Peacock.

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti – MP3

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti MediaPlayer

The initial prompt for the chat was the rash of stories about TV reporters rescuing survivors and getting them to medical aid – without which they faced an uncertain, if not shortly to be fatal future.

But I also was keen to make the point that, for me a real problem with the coverage was context.

Why is Haiti one of the poorest nation’s on earth? Why did the TV reporters keep referring to Haiti as “doomed” and “blighted”?

My argument is that without this context, it just seems like the reason is the “foreignness” of the Haitians. They’re black and they don’t speak English and when we see them on television they are either “victims”, or they’re criminalised into some large, organic faceless mob that has to be kept in line by the blue-helmeted UN troops wielding riot shields and pepper-spray.

UN blue helmets pepper spray hungry Haitians

This leads to a situation in which the Haitians are seen as “animals”, as this report from the Australian ABC suggests, quoting a UN soldier:

A UN trooper, who declined to be named, struggled to hold back the jostling crowd with a hard plastic shield.

“Whatever we do, it doesn’t matter – they are animals,” he cried in Spanish, when asked why the peacekeepers were not trying to explain anything in French or Creole.

Troops waved pepper spray into the queue’s front line. Others standing atop a grubby white UN armoured vehicle fired off steady rounds of rubber bullets into the air.

Well actually, the hungry people demanding food and shelter are not animals. They are human beings whose dignity has been stripped away from them in the aftermath of an awful tragedy. An earthquake is a natural disaster, but the humanitarian disaster that is now affecting Haiti so badly is of human design.

What we are seeing today in Haiti is the application of what Naomi Klein has christened the “shock doctrine”. This is the policy of taking advantage of natural disasters in order to impose some kind of austerity programme, or other unpopular measure, on a civilian population that is too traumatised to resist. Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine devastatingly demonstrates how this has been done time and time again-particularly by the Americans-in Latin and Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Most recently we’ve seen it used internally in Burma and in China.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mike McRoberts: our man in the middle while Haiti rots

January 20, 2010

Donate to Haiti relief at the grassroots level, not through the pockets of dubious religious charities.

You can make a donation to the Haiti aid effort via:

TUC Aid-Haiti Appeal The British trade Union Council is sending aid to the trade union movement for emergency relief in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation.  »

In Australia: APHEDA-ACTU Haiti appeal Any funds raised in this appeal for Haiti will be directed to the relief efforts being undertaken by the Canadian Auto Workers and other Canadian unions.

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund: organised by Haiti Action, an organisation which directs resources to grassroots organisations in Haiti. Donate at »

It’s interesting that when there’s a gut-wrenching, heart-string tugging, tear-jerking human interest story of tragic proportions that the network’s star reporters can safely own up to having a heart of their own and to becoming emotionally and physically involved in a story.

So it is with TV3’s Mike McRoberts who’s in Haiti covering a real tragedy. He explained his involvement in the story on his Mediaworks/TV3 blog:

Whether or not journalists should be part of a story or not is one of those issues that surface from time to time.

I was reminded of it again today when I “stepped in” to a story. We found a five year old girl at a relief camp who had a badly broken arm and a gaping infected wound in her leg. She hadn’t been treated since the earthquake and medics at the camp were concerned she may lose her leg if she wasn’t operated on that day.

Trouble was neither they or anyone else at the camp had a vehicle. We did and we stepped in.

I carried her around the hospital grounds as we sought the right treatment for her and after the best part of the day waiting she had her operation.

Clearly I have no problem with journalists stepping into a story. The whole “a journalist must stay detached” stuff is just crap.

I’ve always said that I’m a human being first and a journalist second, and if I’m in a position to help someone I will.

In saying that I don’t think a journalist should be the story either. Unfortunately too many reporters these days seem to get the two things confused?

Yes, the question mark is there in the original.

But, Mike’s been upstaged by the BBC’s Matt Price. He and his crew were able to save two lives… Read the rest of this entry »

The Veitch story-when too much information is barely enough

May 21, 2009

So the New Zealand police were forced to release documents relating to the Tony Veitch assault trial to the news media under the Offical Information Act, after journalists asked for it.

According to the Dom Post there is an injunction in place preventing further disclosures from the 358 page police files. There will be hearing next week to determine if this will hold or be lifted.

My question is why did the media go after the files  in the first place?

Now we get a chance to satisfy our voyeuristic urges and read from the transcripts of Kristin Dunne-Powell’s statements to the police.
So what?

Read the rest of this entry »

A new low in New Zealand journalism – Napier siege coverage

May 8, 2009

I was so angry last night that I tweeted.

I could not believe what I was seeing on Close Up. A police officer’s body lying in a Napier street and the vultures of the media circulating, sniffing out a tasty morsel or two.

In the case of Close Up the tasty morsels were the mother and the brother of the alleged gunman.

Then again this morning,  the brother, Peter Molenaar, was back on air. This time on Morning Report and the questioning was sickening.

“Do you think you’ll see your brother alive again”

“Why did he open fire? Did you know he had guns in the house?”

“Did you know he was doing drugs? Was he using P?”

These are questions for the coronial inquest, not for radio hosts. The news media is overstepping the boundaries of public decency in relation to this story. It’s not over yet. The siege is ongoing, there’s likely to be more blood on the streets of Napier. The way things are going, we’ll get it live at 6pm tonight and again at 7pm.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Image as News – Virginia Tech Media Coverage

April 23, 2007

In the aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech the media has a duty to think carefully about how it presents the on-going news story in ways that fulfils its role of informing citizens, but also minimizes harm and trauma. The stories of the 15 injured survivors are now featuring in the news, later will come the coronial inquests, official inquiries and other newsworthy stories in the aftermath of the massacre. And then on 16th April each year for many years to come news organizations, particularly in the US, will revive the story of the Virginia Tech massacre and this coverage will re-traumatize its citizens, particularly those most closely affected by the event. All of these stories will need to be told, the news media has a duty to inform the public about the aftermath of the massacre. However, the images the news media choose to publish in their coverage of the aftermath will have a substantial impact on how well the media manages that fine line in trauma reportage between fulfilling its duty to inform while minimising the harm to the public.
In the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996 (when gunman Martin Bryant killed 35 people at a historic former penal settlement on the Tasman Peninsula) the media coverage that most divided the Tasmanian community has been the continued use of what has become the iconic image of the massacre – a photo of a blonde-haired, wild-eyed young man staring out at the world. The continual replication of this image has created an ongoing hostility towards the Tasmanian media. Those affected by its replication claim that it re-traumatizes them while providing nothing new to the public discourse.
Visual images are a powerful medium. Photographs, as Peter Stepan says in the forward to Photos that Changed the World (Prestel, 2006), photographic images can “shake us, disquiet, and distress us so deeply that they are etched in our memories forever.” In disasters, conflicts and significant human tragedies one image often becomes the defining image through its mass media coverage. Nick Ut’s 1972 photo of Kim Phuc, naked and burned by napalm, running down a road surrounded by other terrified children is for many the iconic image of the Vietnam war, while John Paul Filo’s photo of Mary Ann Vecchio’s kneeling lament before the body of a dead student at Kent Sate University on 4 May 1970, is the iconic image of that tragedy.

In the case of the Port Arthur massacre the iconic image of Australia’s worst mass murder is not a photo from the massacre scene, but rather a personal family snapshot of Bryant which was initially published in a shocking full-page layout on the front-page of Hobart’s daily newspaper, the Murdoch owned Mercury, with the headline: “This Is the Man.” (There have been claims about the digital manipulation of the eyes in this photo to give Bryant a more demonic appearance, but that is the topic of another ethical discussion.) In the 11 years since the Port Arthur massacre this image has become the stock image used in news stories about Bryant in the Australian media, particularly in the local Mercury where stories appear not infrequently ranging from unconfirmed reports that he has self-harmed; that he is living like a “zombie”; or that he is gaining extra privileges in prison. Each time this photo is published many in the Tasmanian community, and particularly those who were most closely affected by the tragedy, complain about the harm and distress its publication causes in forcing them to relive the horror.
Aside from the ethical debate about the issue as to whether NBC (and later other news networks) should have broadcast the video produced by the Virginia Tech murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, there is also the question of the replication of the image which is already becoming the defining image of the massacre,

Cho Seung-Hui’s portrait of himself dressed in military clothing, brandishing the weapons he used to kill 32 people while he stares menacingly into the camera—and forever at the viewer.

As in the case of Martin Bryant (while Bryant did not personally hand over his framed family photo to the media, the image reflects the way he wished to be seen by others) the media is again allowing the perpetrator of a heinous crime to choose how they are to be seen by the world. By publishing, and republishing and rebroadcasting, Cho Seung-Hui’s portrait of himself, the media is allowing him, from the grave, to choose the images which will forever define the Virginia Tech massacre. The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Phil Bronstein, was one editor who was mindful of the power of Cho’s image when deciding what pictures to publish. Bronstein agreed that the most shocking image was of Cho, dressed in the “Rambo-style” outfit and pointing his guns at the viewer seemed “a step too far”: “To me, that is so manufactured. It’s real in the sense that he used the guns in a horrible way, but those particular images of him with guns are such manipulation… they reflected the image that he wanted to have live on, so we made the decision consciously not to reflect that image”. The other image most widely broadcast and published of Cho Seung-Hui is an undated mugshot from the Virginia police (and therefore not an image of Cho’s choosing) which at first appears less confronting in that it depicts nothing more than the rather sulky face of a young man, but in other ways is, like Bryant’s image, this innocuous image is even more confronting for its disconcerting normalcy.
To the families of the victims of Port Arthur and the wider Tasmanian community, the replication of the Bryant image has continued to compound the trauma of that event. While Cho Seung-Hui will forever stare menacingly out at those who view his image, at what stage will its news values cease to override the risk of harm? News editors will need to think carefully, like Phil Bronstein, before they allow this image to become the “stock” vision of the Virginia Tech massacre.
It has been heartening to see the response of the Virginian newspaper the Roanoke Times to the massacre. In an unprecedented decision the team of editors, headed by Managing Editor Carole Tarrant, chose to publish five of NBC’s images of Cho Seung-Hui on pages two and three and ran a memorial picture on the front page

At the same time Tarrant acknowledged the importance of the NBC photos, arguing that they gave readers a glimpse of the killer’s mind-set and that the pictures helped to tell the story, but that the community was “still too raw to put a picture of a gun-toting Cho on the front.” Roanoke Times columnist Shanna Flowers says, “geography and proximity are other important ingredients in a decision like this one.”
Bob Steele from the Poynter Institute in Florida acknowledges that in such situations the media cannot prevent all harm, and that it is a balancing act between truth and harm. But the ethical breach comes when the news media continues to replay the footage, or republish the still images, when the news imperative to inform is no longer valid. When the image is being published or broadcast to attract an audience, to drive ratings, there is a clear ethical breach. The impact of visual images is immediate and undoable. Unlike the written word, visual images often rob the individual of the right to choose. We have a choice as to whether we read a news account of a story. However, visual images, particularly if they are displayed on the front page of newspapers, on billboards, or used unannounced in news broadcast, are consumed before the viewer has been given the opportunity to make a choice, and for many this lack of choice compounds their sense of affront and further reduces their respect for the news media.
Scott North, reporter and assistant city editor for the Herald (Everett, Wash) in his advice to journalists covering the aftermath of the massacre, wrote in his posting on the DART Centre for Journalism and Trauma web site.

In the race to get it first, don’t forget the long view. It often helps to think less about gathering fact and more about creating relationships. Some of the best stories won’t be told for days, weeks, months or, in some cases, years.
“People in grief have long memories. You will want to be able to return to these people when they are ready to tell you what they’ve learned, not just what they know. The golden rule can’t hurt you here. Approach people the way you’d want to be approached. Give them the respect and space you’d expect in the same situation.

In advising news directors, picture editors, news editors and sub-editors who are making choices about republishing or rebroadcasting the images of Cho Seung-Hui, I would advise them to not forget the long view, to think about building relationships with their audience, and to be proactive in assisting the community to heal in the aftermath by acknowledging the positive stories to come out of the tragedy. I would also advise gatekeepers to be mindful of the impact of visual imagery and to make the choice to republish judiciously.
The media’s coverage of the Port Arthur massacre provides several important lessons. In 2006 the University of Tasmania, in conjunction with DART International and the Australian Press Council, held a public seminar in Hobart on the media coverage of Port Arthur. The audience hostility towards the media, ten years on, was at times palpable and the overwhelming message from the public members to the media representatives and media educators present was—report the positive stories, stop re-traumatizing us by glorifying Bryant by gratuitously publishing his photo. There is a lesson here for those reporting on the aftermath of Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous actions.
In Tasmania, April is an autumnal time of still, clear crisp days—in Virginia it is a time of verdant spring. In both corners of the world April is now defined for many as a month of sad reflection. It is beholden on those who uphold the ideals of the fourth estate in these communities to reflect the events which have marked the lives of their people with a sensitivity and dignity which fosters healing and provides a way forward.