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May 25 2010

Fiji backs down on suspending Parliamentary pensions

By Michael Hartsell

Fiji's government has overturned the practice of suspending pensions to former Parliamentary leaders who have been critical of the present regime. This announcement “is the sort of forward-looking conciliatory acts we need to see more of,” says blogger Crosbie Walsh. Coup Four And A Half says the government has “done a u-turn.”

April 17 2010

Did internal wounds kill the Fiji Times

Many prognosticators worry about how Fiji's proposed media ownership law will affect the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fiji Times. But a former staffer said in Cafe Pacific both foreign and local management are to blame for the paper's fall.

April 08 2010

Fiji: New media oversight proposed

Bloggers, blog commenters and forum posters are commenting on the draft media decree released by Fiji’s government that would replace censorship rules established under the emergency regulations in place since shortly after the country’s constitution was abrogated in April 2009.

The Media Industry Development Decree 2010 (download here) would establish an authority to oversee content and media ownership issues; a media tribunal to hear complaints from the public; a code of ethics for journalists and laws governing media ownership. The head of this new authority would be appointed by a government minister and charged with the power to investigate and to subpoena people and information (including computer documents).

The authority will insure the media will not publish material:

-    against the public interest or order;
-    against the national interest;
-    that offends good taste and decency; and,
-    creates communal discord.

Other highlights of draft decree includes:
-    Publishers and editors found breaching media codes could face up to FJ $500,000 (about $258,000 US) in fines and/or a prison term not exceeding five years. Reporters, if found guilty of violating the code, could face a fine up to FJ $100,000, or US $51,500, and/or a prison term not exceeding five years.
-    A tribunal, whose chair must be qualified to be a judge, will hear and determine complaints referred by the authority, considering cases regarding media standards, media disputes and complaints from the public.
-    Only 10 percent of ownership of each media outlet can be foreign-based, meaning 90 percent of owners must be permanent residents of Fiji, spending five of the previous seven years in the country, nine months out of 12.
-    A person who owns a “beneficial” interest in one media outlet cannot hold more than five percent of a second media organization.
-    The minister in charge of media and information will have emergency powers to prohibit the publication or broadcast of information which could create disorder, undermine the government or breach the peace.
-    No court or commission will have the jurisdiction to challenge the legality  of the decree, any decision of the authority, the tribunal or the minister.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the decree, which is undergoing consultations this week, would emphasize “fair, accurate and responsible reporting.” He also pointed out that media organizations will be held responsible to comply with these codes.

Radio Fiji reported that some of the 50 members of the media and other organizations who gathered for the consultation in Suva, the country’s capital, worried the media authority would not be independent because its head would be appointed by a government minister. Journalists also unanimously opposed the amount of fines for breaching media codes, especially without the right to appeal. Worries also surfaced about who would define “good taste” and “decent.”

Debate from within and outside Fiji took place regarding the limiting of foreign owners in Fiji’s media. The country’s oldest and largest paper, the Fiji Times, is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited. The paper has sparred with the government of Frank Bainimarama since dissolving Parliament and deposing the elected Prime Minister in December 2006. The decree’s rules, as currently written, would force foreign owners to divest from the media outlet within three months after being formalized. The Australian reported the company would be forced to withdraw from Fiji, closing down the Fiji Times, creating the loss of 170 direct and 100 indirect jobs. John Hartigan, Chief Executive, said the company has attempted to resolve the ownership issue with Fiji’s government.

Let’s start with journalist and academic David Robie, who previously taught in Fiji and writes Café Pacific.

Had the Fiji news media got their act together and improved things on their own accord, rather that persevering with the “toothless tiger” Fiji Media Council with all its overdue faults, this draconian draft might have been headed off…

Now we have a ruthlessly chilling climate of self-censorship being imposed in post-coup Fiji. A year of censorship since the 1997 constitution was abrogated on April 10 is taking its toll. Soon we will have a generation of journalists (average age in Fiji is less than 25)that will barely know what it was like to work in a genuinely free press.

The regime is systematically destroying what had been traditionally one of the strongest media industries in the Pacific.

Media improvements were needed, true. Especially over “fairness and balance”. But government authorities have ignored the commonsense independent Media Council review recommendations last year and instead been influenced too heavily by the harsh proposals of the discredited 2007 Anthony report.

Café Pacific also provides detailed responses to certain conditions of the draft decree.

Sparring with the media has become a concern of every government in Fiji (like elsewhere). However, critics worry that because Frank Bainimarama’s government is unelected and yet has no constitutional checks-and-balances in place, it can easily force this bill on the media.

On the other hand, government supporters and critics of Fiji’s media claim that the country’s press has often published one-sided stories and accusations that often put the government in power in poor light and help lead to inter-ethnic tensions between the indigenous Fijian majority and the minority Indian population, descendants of workers brought over by British who ruled the country until 1970. Bainimarama came to power claiming to help lead Fiji to a post-ethnic state.

A comment from Reality check at Crosbie Walsh’s blog, Fiji: the Way it Was, Is and Can Be provides some historical background to this proposed decree.

…Because a racist government in a bastardised democracy tried to push through laws disadvantaging 40 per cent of the population. They were warned to back off and didn't. So…

You could say the same about the Fiji Times. A generation of young journalists in Fiji were brought up thinking they had the freedoms of their mentors in Australia and NZ. They were paid peanuts so the best ones like Richard Naidu went off to pursue careers more worthy of a grown-up. Those who stayed were badly trained, semi literate and arrogant. They produced stories that were wrong, half wrong, one sided or badly executed.

Their bosses didn't do enough to ward off their mistakes and were more interested in profit than good journalism. And people who weren't very good in the first place were promoted beyond their abilities. Some of these took it upon themselves to mount crusades on various issues, align themselves with partisan politics and make fiery speeches in international forums demanding even more freedom. Instead of reining them in, their foreign bosses encouraged their undergraduate petulance.

Staying with the same blog, commenter Invictus claims:

It is the responsibility of any news organisation to disseminate news in a Fair “Free from favouritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming to established standards or rules” and to be Balanced “Equality of distribution”

Wallop. That's the Fiji Times and like the SDL [the governing party overthrown by the present government], it only has itself to blame. We now have a Singapore-style regulated media and the rest of us will just have to get used to it. But let's not kid ourselves that it's all the IG's fault [Interim regime: the present government]. There's plenty of blame to share around.

The former is self explanatory yet it eludes Senior and junior journalists at the Fiji times whereas the latter is significant in that it’s “discriminative” and compels the journalists to exercise due diligence and be self-conscious when distinguishing between partiality and impartiality.

However given the current state of affairs within the Fiji Times journalists to that extent are deficient in all aspects of the prescribed norm of journalism.

To be fair the Fiji Times was infact a news organisation worthy of its status where news was disseminated in a fair and balanced manner to a wide and varied audience pre-1987, it was an era when journalists were educated and intelligent enough to be apolitical.

When the Fiji Times chose to align itself with a philosophical system based purely on ethno- nationalistic ideals it became a powerful voice for the Fijian cartel for which to perpetuate itself.

Another commenter, TheMax, reports:

The new media decree doesn't curb anybody's freedom of speech at all but what it does is curb media organizations from manipulating news and reports to suit devious agendas that has nothing to do with making Fiji a better place or taking the country forward. The decree makes media organizations accountable because right now they are not accountable to anyone.

From New Zealand, Idiot/Savant writes in No Right Turn:

The result of this is clearly intended to be a silent, complaint press, which parrots the government line unquestioningly. And that is incompatible with democratic values. But then, if the military cared about them, they'd still be in their barracks, rather than running the country.

Finally, from Jonno at the Fiji Board Exiles:

So who wants to be a newspaper reporter in Fiji?

April 06 2010

Fiji: Contradicting censorship

It's hard to prove fully, but for the past six months, blogging platforms (including Global Voices) have been subject to on-again, off-again access problems in Fiji. As another round of blog blocking has been rumored, New Zealand-based blogger Crosbie Walsh writes an open letter to Fiji's Police Commissioner explaining the harm indiscriminate censorship can do to a fragile political situation.

March 27 2010

Japan: A whale of a controversy.

Only a few days after “The Cove” was awarded the Oscar as best documentary drawing the attention of public and media around the world to the hunting of cetaceans issue, anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd’s leader Peter Bethune was arrested in Tokyo [en], re-igniting the controversy between Japan and Australia - New Zealand.

The protest group activist is charged with trespassing, for boarding a Japanese whaling ship in the Southern ocean during February while attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of its captain for the sinking of the Sea Shepherd’s ship one month earlier (as previously reported for Global Voices by Kevin Rennie).

Ady Gil. By Flickr id: james975.

Ady Gil. By Flickr id: james975.

Although Japan’s whaling program is only authorised for scientific purposes and most of the Japanese people do not regard whale meat their favourite meal, the collision with the New Zealand anti-whaling vessel has roused some sentiment of nationalism [ja], though weak, in the country.

But ‘jingoistic’ sentiments are also evident in the announcement of Peter Bethune’s arrest on Sea Shephers official website.

The Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 arrived in Tokyo today with the first New Zealand prisoner of war to be transported to Japan as a political prisoner since World War II.As soon as his foot touched Japanese soil, Captain Bethune reestablished himself as a national hero in New Zealand and an international hero in Australia, France, Britain, the United States, and every other country whose citizens deplore the continued illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.

In Japan, some feel New Zealand and Australia’s anti-whaling activity as an attack on their country’s food culture and wonder why whale meat should be prohibited while cattle and pig meat is not[ja]. It highlights the contentious divide between slaughtering debatably intelligent versus non intelligent animals.

In some cases Japanese media increasingly rode the wave of polemic on the issue. James at Japan Probe posts about Japanese broadcaster NTV’s show ‘Bankisha’ reporting on the Sea Shepherd issue. In the first part of the show he says, attention is paid to analyzing Sea Shepherd’s funding sources and budget.

The second half of the clip is about Sea Shepherd’s next target: the bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean. It looks like many countries have teamed up to ban the fishing of the species, and since 80% of the catch is sold on the Japanese market, it is being interpreted as yet another attack on Japan’s cultural traditions.
Joining the reporters in the studio are an art director who does marketing for many of Japan’s famous brands and a legal scholar. The legal scholar points out how America used to kill whales for oil. He also thinks the American position towards Japanese whaling is influenced by an underlying hostility that the “white world” [白人社会] feels towards Japanese. The art director thinks that Japan needs to do a better job at presenting its case to the world, as so many people in other countries don’t understand why Japanese people eat whale meat.

2008-12-26 SS encounters Japanese whaling ship. By Flickr id:guano.

2008-12-26 SS encounters Japanese whaling ship. By Flickr id:guano.

Masablog however does not agree with those who use food culture as a counter-argument deeming it as reductive.

何となく日本たたきのようにこの問題をとらえていたが、ちょっと違うみたいだなあ。
日本人の反論としてよくあるものに、じゃあアメリカ人は牛を食べるが、それと何が違うんだ?鯨を助けても牛の数が減るだけだ、というものがある。これに対しては、単に鯨は知能が高いからかわいそうだということではなく、殺すのに時間がかかるので人道的に問題があるという議論があるようだ。

Previously, I had regarded this issue as having to do with anti-Japan sentiments, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
As counter-argument, some Japanese wonder what the difference is between Americans eating beef [and Japanese eating whale]. Another one is that even if whales are protected, it’ll simply cause the number of cows to decrease. However, the real discussion seems to be humanitarian, regarding the fact that it takes more time to kill a whale. The issue is not about people being empathic with whales because of their high intellectual ability.

Akki says he condemns the methods used by the animalist group.

私自身は捕鯨については賛成も否定もしませんが
(いまどきの高価な鯨を食べるようなお金もないですし)
彼らのやり方は、どう理由があろうがはなはだ迷惑な行為であり
危険であります。本当にケガ人が出たらどうするつもりなんだろう。

I personally neither agree nor disagree with whaling. (I don't have the kind of money to eat whale meat, anyway.) However, their methods, no matter what the issue is, are simply troublesome and dangerous. What are they going to do if someone get hurt?
Stop Whaling. By Flickr id: alisonlongrigg.

Stop Whaling. By Flickr id: alisonlongrigg.

Australian blogger Youngmarxist calls for an accurate revision of the IWC rules that would regulate whaling at international levels.

Reports are hitting the media about draft amendments to international whaling rules that are meant to bring Japan, and other whaling nations, back under the rule of the International Whaling Commission. The amendments in effect will allow nations that are already killing whales to keep on doing so with the approval of the IWC, provided that they limit the numbers of whales they catch. The exact limits are yet to be decided, and of course will only apply if the draft amendments pass.[…]
If this plan ends the ridiculous hypocrisy that is “scientific” whaling, so much the better. There is no reason that whales should be treated any differently to any other resource. Whales should be managed properly, so they aren’t recklessly driven extinct, but there’s no good moral reason to privilege the “rights” of whales over the right of humans to hunt them.

Reposted bydo-panic do-panic

December 09 2009

Indonesia: Movie ban puts freedom of speech in question

The Indonesian Censorship Board (LSF) has banned Balibo, a film about a group of Australians who were murdered during the 1975 Indonesian military invasion of East Timor. The ban ultimately stops the movie from being screened last weekend by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) — association of Indonesia-based foreign media newsmen, and therefore will not be screened at this year's annual Jakarta International Film Festival (Jiffest).

Some officials, including the military, cheered the decision taken by the censorship agency saying that the movie would open up an old wound and could jeapordize the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia.

The international press criticized the ban and questioned Indonesia's freedom of expression. However, when the Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik asked to comment about the ban, he told a local newpaper - The Jakarta Globe - that the ban is “for the country’s interest, the security and welfare of the people in the future” adding that the movie is banned mainly because it is packed with political content.

Jogjakarta blogger Rawins wonders why the government doesn't train the people to think critically:

Kenapa masyarakat kita tak dibelajari untuk berpikir dewasa dengan main cekal semacam itu. Padahal dengan pencekalan itu, masyarakat justru malah penasaran dan mendongkrak popularitas film tersebut.

Why aren't we taught to think maturely instead of censoring just like that. The truth is that with the censor, the people would be more curious and the popularity of the movie will increase.

Rob Baiton who blogs at The RAB Experience, said that the ban doesn't come to him as a surprise:

It was hardly surprising that the Indonesian Censorship Board (Lembaga Sensor Film / LSF) slapped a ban on the film Balibo. The film tells the story of five journalists killed in Balibo while covering the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. It also tells that story from the perspective of Roger East (who was ultimately murdered on the docks of Dili) and Jose Ramos Horta.

Patrick Guntensperger, a professional writer/analyst based in Jakarta, reviewed the movie on his blog.

In the first place, controversy aside, the movie is a terrific one. It is an exciting, authentic depiction of high drama and adventure; the fact that it is a true story only adds to its fascination. And the director and producers stand behind their version of the events. This is not a movie that “was inspired by actual events” or “based on a true story”. The title sequence states unequivocally that “this is a true story”.

In conclusion Patrick said that, above all reasons, the movie should be watched as a movie:

There is little point really in recounting much more of the plot of the story; suffice it to say that the Indonesian government has one story and pretty much everyone who has investigated the incidents has another, utterly different one. This is a movie. And it is a very good movie. Watch it as a movie. And if it interests you enough, do your own research into the historicity of the script.

Indonesian Independent Journalists Association (AJI Indonesia) said that the movie is highly educative and should not be banned.

It launched a Press Release [id] on its website, saying:

Keputusan LSF tersebut bertentangan dengan prinsip kebebasan berekspresi, kebebasan berapresiasi dan tidak menghormati hak masyarakat untuk tahu.Menurut Pihak LSF pelarangan film tersebut akan “membuka luka lama” konflik Indonesia dengan Australia dan Timor Leste. Alasan tersebut terkesan berlebihan.

[…]

AJI Indonesia menduga, pelarangan film tersebut sangat politis karena film tersebut mengungkap pelanggaran HAM oleh tentara Indonesia berupa pembantaian lima jurnalis asing di Balibo, Timor Leste pada 1975. Pelarangan film tersebut terkesan untuk menutup-nutupi keterlibatan sejumlah perwira Indonesia dalam pembantaian jurnalis itu.

The decision of the censorship board is against the principle of freedom of expression, freedom of appreciation, and failed to honor the right of the people to know. According to the censorship board the film will only “open an old wound” of conflict between Indonesia and Australia and Timor Leste. We see the excuse as overreacting.

[…]

AJI Indonesia presumes that the ban of the film is politically motivated because the film reveals human rights violations by the Indonesian army when the five foreign journalists in Balibo, Timor Leste were slain in 1975. The ban of the film suggests a cover up of the involvement of some Indonesian officers who slayed the journalists.

AJI demands the censorship board to revoke the ban:

AJI Indonesia meminta agar pelarangan film “Balibo Five” dicabut. Pemutaran film ini penting untuk memberikan informasi kepada publik Indonesia mengenai peristiwa tersebut dari sudut pandang lain dari apa yang disampaikan pemerintah Indonesia selama ini.

[…] Film tersebut juga menjadi peringatan bahwa pembunuhan terhadap jurnalis harus diusut tuntas, pelakunya harus diadili.

AJI Indonesia asks that the ban on the movie about the Balibo Five to be revoked. The screening is important to share the information to the public about the event from a different point of view from one delivered by the government all these years.

[…] The film should be a rememberance that crimes of murdering journalists need to be solved, and the crime doers should be tried.

Despite the ban, AJI screened the movie last Thursday in Jakarta. The free public screening was attended by hundreds of journalists and students.

Brent McGuire on his blog Spruiked firmly believes that the government shouldn't ban the movie:

Should the government ban the movie? Probably not. Sure, it opens old wounds, but this helps the healing process. Most Indonesians know very little about East Timor. Thirty years later and most still believe the New Order fairytale that the East Timorese invited Indonesia to take over from the Portuguese.

Should the government ban the movie? Banning movies seems a little heavy handed. It's something that we expect religious leaders to do, not democratically elected governments. Still, this government seems to have forgotten that the New Order ended 10 years ago.

AJI Indonesia presumes that the ban of the film is politically motivated because the film reveals human rights violations by the Indonesian army by the slain of five foreign journalist in Balibo, Timor Leste in 1975. The ban of the film suggests a cover up of the involvement of some Indonesian officers who slayed the journalists.

Balibo is a name of a small town in Timor Leste, how the East Timor formally called itself after the 1999 referendum which marked its independence from the Republic of Indonesia, situated at the west side of the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara.

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