Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Turou, Oro mai: Cooks Government welcomes Pacific Freedom Forum

Daily news outlet Cook Islands News becomes official home for newly-registered regional media freedom watchdog.

Deputy Prime Minister Sir Terepai Maoate says he’s fully supportive of the registration by the Pacific Freedom Forum in the Cook Islands this week.
“This is a really positive development for media in the region and the fact that the Cook Islands was chosen by the majority of PFF journalists as the country to be registered in is, I believe, testament to democracy and media freedoms being alive and very well here.”
Sir Terepai (right) said following the enactment of the Official Information Act, often known as the Freedom of Information, having PFF registered in the Cook Islands is seen as being “very positive for the country.”
“This shows that regional media organisations and individuals consider the Cook Islands as a stable, democratic country where our Constitution is intact and respected, a good place to register a freedom forum.”
Sir Terepai said congratulations must go to Cook Islander Lisa Williams-Lahari who has been the towering strength behind the formation of PFF, “so it makes good sense that PFF is registered here.”
Sir Terepai also offered congratulations to Cook Islands News, the newly registered office of PFF.
Ends JUNE 15, 2009

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

People@IFEX 09

Intrepid insights from the youngest delegate at the GFFE, Koroi Hawkins of the Solomon Islands

Community Broadcasters at IFEX
Continuing our profiling of participants at the IFEX General Meeting, I spoke with a group of women from the Americas some who did not speak that much English, but after a few tries I managed get them to understand I wanted to Interview them. The three ladies Aleida Calleta, Laura Salas and Elia Baltazar were advocators of Freedom of Expression in South America and they proceeded to tell me of the wide range of complex issues that journalists in South America face and of some of the atrocities suffered by journalists in practicing the right to express themselves. They work for an association called AMARC, and they said their interest in being members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange was because they were a relatively small organization and looked to IFEX for support and assistance on a global stage to further their work. Their main interests lay in training and financial assistance and the ability to get their alerts out in into the world quickly and efficiently. They seemed to have a very bleak outlook for Freedom of Expression in the World in the years ahead. In their own words, “The whole world is a problem -- the status of freedom of expression in weak.” Freedom of Expression across South America they say is subject to every kind of violation ever conceived and it their hope that having a global voice will give them enough power to make a change.
Other IFEX newbies: EJN
Another very interesting group of particpants at the IFEX general meetings are various associations for journalists in exile. One of these organizations and one which like Pacific Freedom Forum, only became a full member of IFEX at this general meeting are the Exiled Journalist Network, EJN, working out of the UK. The EJN works with Escaped Journalists, people who feel they can no longer practice their work in their home countries and who go to the UK hoping they can find freedom to practice their work. I actually approached their representative, Abel Ugba while he was waiting with us outside for the final result of the voting on our applications for membership.In explaining his reasons for applying for membership Ugba said, “IFEX has a lot of international clout, our work so far has been very localized and so we believe IFEX can give us the international clout we need He said his association hoped to benefit from the wealth of experience IFEX has but at the same time he said he believed his organization could also be beneficial to IFEX. “Not everybody knows what IFEX is, I believe we can make what IFEX does known to more people on the Ground”—Koroi Hawkins.

AUT Graduate Student feature on PFF

New Pacific media freedom group plugs the gaps By Kara Segedin: Pacific Media Centre

The Pacific’s newest media watch group wrapped up its inaugural forum in Samoa earlier this month, but has vowed that it will not be challenging the long-established Pacific Islands News Association over press freedom issues.
“We arose out of the gaps in PINA,” says founding coordinator Lisa Williams-Lahari of the Pacific Freedom Forum.
But, rather than compete with the established parent organisation, PFF’s goal is to act as its media freedom arm.
“We’re part of the PINA family,” she says. “In July, at PINA’s forum in Vanuatu they will decide how to engage with us.”
More than 40 delegates from 12 Pacific nations gathered at the UNESCO-funded PFF meeting dubbed “Courage under fire” at Apia on May 6-8.
The forum drew up an outcomes statement, saying all Pacific people have the right to freedom of speech and access to a free media.
It identified a growing number of threats to media freedom in the region and called on governments to act on commitments to international agreements such as the Rarotonga Media Declaration of 1990 and Article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights.
Strong links
The PFF wants to build strong relationships within the region, online and with the PINA.
Williams-Lahari says as an online forum the PFF has met the needs for monitoring abuses against journalists.

“It’s time to stand up. Journalists have human rights too."

It is raising the alarm on threats to media freedom, which is ultimately linked to the freedom of people.
PFF’s Project XIX was one of three Pacific media schemes approved for funding by UNESCO through the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).
“Only a handful of Pacific Island groups got funding. This paid for the conference.”
The PFF started off small, but Williams-Lahari says it quickly developed a following among experienced journalists. It has been a busy year and the next step is to apply for NGO status.
There is also talk of a name change.
Williams-Lahari says there is an attitude among Pacific Island journalists that the abuse and threats they sometimes face are part of the job.
“It’s time to stand up. Journalists have human rights too,” she says.
“We want to let the region know it’s not on. Let leaders know that for the development and growth of Pacific countries the media needs to be part of the process.”
Right track
There were many outcomes from the forum and Williams-Lahari says they felt a lot of solidarity from members that they were all on the right track.
She has been to a number of conferences in the past, but this one was different because while the issues were serious there was a lot of laughter.
“There was a lot of wisdom and experience,” she says. It was also a chance to put faces to some well-known names.
Williams-Lahari says one criticism of PINA is that is has not engaged with Pacific Island needs in New Zealand.
The PFF want to create ties with the New Zealand-based Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA).
“They are another slice of the Pacific, but it’s a different media industry,” she says. “We’re keen to hook up with the Pacific Island network because we’re all on the same page.”
Williams-Lahari says they want to make sure all abuses, even the ones people think are small, are reported.
The next step for the PFF is training, continued advocacy and to make sure all countries are covered, from Hawai’i to Papua New Guinea.
“Doing what we’re doing now and doing it better,” she says.
Rights and safety
Deborah Muir, programme manager of the Asia-Pacific bureau of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Sydney, ran two days of workshops for the PFF.
The IFJ supports journalists and their unions and works against censorship, and for the rights and safety of journalists.
Muir says IFJ got involved when the PFF asked it to help with training on monitoring and reporting on media rights.
“We were invited to provide some expertise and give it a structure”.
According to Muir, there has been a vacuum of strong advocacy and freedom of expression in the Pacific.
“A lot of the problems in the Pacific Islands are similar. Fiji is an extreme example,” she says.
“Advocacy had been insufficient and the situation in Fiji brings this home,” she says. “In my understanding, the (PFF) members are requiring a much stronger advocacy approach.”
At the forum, delegates heard first hand stories of physical abuse and intimidation.
“Fiji sets such a bad example. We’re worried that other states may adopt their tactics,” she says.
Contempt for journalists
There is overt obstruction and intimidation of journalists as power holders seek to maintain control.
In the Pacific, there are difficulties with public perception and with the media itself. Muir says contempt for journalists is a common problem across the region and members of the public may object to the way the media reports issues.
The media also has weak procedures for dealing with complaints.
“At the moment it’s early days, but members are committed to setting up a system of reporting and advocacy,” she says.
“They’ve said they didn’t want to compete with PINA but fulfil the role missed by PINA. And that’s for Pacific Islands journalists to work out.”
Muir identifies a number of things that can be done to help repair the situation.
“The first step is strong advocacy and in the long term professional development and ethics.”
It is also important to network with similar associations.
Crucial time
Phil McGrath, a spokesman for PIMA, says “it’s a crucial time for media freedom”.
“Governments in the region are undertaking massive change in the way they work. Journalists and the public have the right to be informed,” he says.
McGrath says the situation in the Pacific is very delicate and it does not help that outside media are coming in with little understanding of the complexities.
“It’s good to have local people working together.”
He says PIMA members can help with training and engaging the community in New Zealand and in their home countries.
Associate professor David Robie, director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre, sees the forum as an enormous step forward and he hopes the centre will work closely with the PFF.
“There was a real buzz of energy and commitment about it,” he says. “I hope it continues.”
“It was an inspiring meeting. Many journalists who have suffered abuse were there to tell their stories.”
He agrees that PINA has not been meeting its obligations on media freedom issues, but says it is still the main media organisation in the region.
Dr Robie, present at the meeting as an observer for the NZ National Commission for UNESCO, is concerned the PFF will overlap with PINA and end up competing for limited funds.
PMW monitoring
Also, the PMC at AUT has been monitoring media freedom in the Pacific through the 13-year-old Pacific Media Watch news service and database started at the University of Papua New Guinea and Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
The current PMW contributing editor, Josephine Latu, is a journalist from Tonga.
Media freedom organisations are generally independent, but there is a risk of PFF being compromised.
“Some journalists have either business or other media interests,” he says.
“There is a danger of people pushing their own barrow.
“It’s important that the Pacific is kept in perspective – it still largely a safe place for journalists and media freedom by comparison in global terms,” he says.
“There are none of the really serious threats and assaults, kidnappings or murders that journalists face in other countries such as Burma, Iraq, or even a democracy such as the Philippines.”
Dr Robie says ongoing issues for journalists in the region include cultural and political pressures, and the ease of inducements because Pacific journalists are poorly paid and often face poor work conditions.
This remains an ongoing threat.
Kara Segedin is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course.

PINA joins IFEX council to 2011

Akauola keen to see IFEX transparency and governance model come to the Pacific<<
>Inspirational company: PINA's Matai Akauola with IFEX members Chris Warren of MEAA Australia (back), Owais Ali of PPF in Pakistan, Joel Simon of the global Committee for the Protection of Journalists, and IFJ international head Aidan White (front) Akauola says the IFEX 09 meeting process, long on heated discussion and debate over procedural issues before resulting in a general meeting vote of support for stronger strategic planning and networking, provides a handy template for breathing new strength into regional media unity in the Pacific. The insights will be catalysed by his successful bid for one of the 7 available spots on the IFEX council, a two year post for which PINA was nominated by the Association of Carribbean Media, a regional network based in Trinidad. The council provides oversight to the work of IFEX and sets up the general meetings. IFEX executive members will be voted on in the next 30 days from those on the council.
PFF has joined the gender working group, aiming to bring Pacific lessons and insights to help grow clarity in this critical area.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hope for free media--IFEX 09

PFF joins as IFEX member orgs reach 90
The Pacific Freedom Forum and eight other organisations were formally welcomed into the fold of leading global freedom of expression network, IFEX, in its 2009 general conference. The move doubles Pacific membership to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, and is aimed at strengthening the media watchdog role of the Pacific Islands News Association. Other organisations voted into the IFEX family this week in Oslo, Norway, are C-Libre, the Committee for Free Expression (Honduras),.
OLA, the Latin American Observatory for FOE (Peru/Latin America), MADA, the Palestinan Centre for Development and Media Freedom (West Bank), and five other interim members who had submitted applications during the last IFEX general meeting
PINA, who have been former convenors of IFEX, and PFF, who stepped up the media monitoring of violations in the Pacific in the last year, are here with more than 100 media freedom advocates from some of the most dangerous and difficult countries and regions in the world.
Amongst them, Zoe Titus from the Media Institute of Southern Africa MISA, a strong advocate of media freedom spanning the 11 Southern African countries.
Titus explained that MISA joined IFEX soon after its formation because it realized the huge networking opportunities IFEX presented and with the aim of using IFEX as a platform for promoting freedom of expression in Southern Africa on the Global Stage.
“In Southern Africa there is a whole range of Violations to Freedom of Expression from the banning and closure of News Papers to the arrest and persecution of JournalistsTitus said one of MISA’s current strategies is working together with Civil Society organizations to lobby at the Policy level for the protection of Freedom of Expression.
Vietnamese journalist Phillip Hyun is the outside or external contact for Oppressed Media Workers in Vietnam. Based in the USA, Hyun helps journalists in Vietnam get their stories out into the world.
Operating as the Free Journalist Network of Vietnam, Hyun says his organization joined IFEX to try and learn ways in which it could improve its capacity to assist Journalists in Vietnam.
He says the major media freedom issue faced in Vietnam, a communist country, is that government has full control of the media and abuses their authority by censoring all information published in the local media.
Hyun said any journalists brave enough to speak out against the government were promptly arrested and thrown in jail -- in fact, some of the people he worked with had been in jail for a very long time now.
“Despite the hopelessness of the situation in Vietnam, it is my view that speaking out against these violations against basic human rights must be carried out regularly if for nothing else than to give encouragement to those in dire straits with authorities.”
“We must always criticize governments for their abuses of freedom of expression, because if we don’t they will do whatever they please. If we give up now then what hope is there for a future?—Koroi Hawkins/Lisa W.Lahari, Oslo.