Friday, December 4, 2009

Sophie and John produce PMC mini doco

Pacific Media Centre

Final year television students Sophie Johnson and John Pulu have just produced a five-minute video for the Pacific Media Centre to provide a glimpse behind the faces of the students and researchers who work there.

The mini-doco profiles the centre and some of the projects at the centre such as Pacific Media Watch, Pacific Scoop, Jim Marbrook's feature film production on New Caledonia and PMC on YouTube.

Interviews included Josephine Latu from Tonga and the centre's Asian Journalism Fellow Violet Cho from Burma.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Herald reporter - and AUT journalism graduate - Vaimoana Tapaleao has been recognised by the Human Rights Commission for her piece on New Zealand families grieving for lives lost in the sinking of the Tongan ferry Princess Ashika.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said the 23-year-old's four-page feature "highlighted the strong familial ties between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and the way the pain of this Pacific tragedy directly impacted on New Zealand".

The feature ran in the Weekend Herald on November 7.

Visit Pacific Media Centre

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Budding AUT Māori, Pasifika filmmakers now have sights on media industry

By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre

Winners at AUT University’s inaugural Flavorz09 film festival for student video makers on Friday night say they are now inspired to break into the industry.

Sophie Johnson, who won the year three prize of $350 for her 12 minute documentary, The Makings of a Kaitiaki, was delighted with her success.

“I worked quite closely with a group of eight people and I know how hard each of them worked. I feel really honoured to receive this tonight,” she said.

“It was so amazingly rewarding. Then to be able to see your images up on the big screen like this, and see people’s reactions, it is so rewarding.”

The film was a short biopic about kuia Nganeko Minhinnick, a kaitiaki of the Manukau.

Hosting the public showing of 11 Māori, Pasifika and diversity short films for AUT’s Pacific Media Centre, presenter John Utanga, a producer of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme, was impressed with the quality.

Utanga, who is also chair of the PMC, pledged to consider some of the programmes for possible broadcast.

His message to communication studies students was to strive for quality work and to have a good attitude.

‘Affectionate look’
The second-year prize of $150 went to Karleen Bidois, Ashleigh McEnaney and Natasha Munton for their four minute documentary Ka Tuituia, described as an “affectionate look at Isabella Sharrock, her whanau and her Karakeke taonga”.

Bidois said she hoped to work with Māori Television when she graduated.

“I feel emotional, excited and very surprised by the outcome. But I also know that I worked really hard to produce such a film from the bottom of my heart.”

She had not realised her passion for media before coming to AUT.

“Now I am hungry for it and I want to do it for the rest of my life.”

Organiser Dr David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, said the festival was an “inspirational showcase” for quality programmes being made by students on Māori and Pasifika themes.

One film, Beyond the Ropes, also featured women’s wrestler Sangita Patel, a New Zealand-born Indian known in the business as “Alita Capri”.

Tongan music
Strong applause also greeted the documentary The Modern Afo of Tonga, directed by John Pulu, which features Tonga Kru and Three Houses Down and examines temporary Tongan music styles.

Pulu’s programme is being broadcast on the Pacific Viewpoint television show.

The festival was supported by television staff, including acting curriculum leader James Nicholson and Jim Marbrook, and Tui O’Sullivan, equity coordinator in AUT’s Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, who also gave a mihi.

O’Sullivan said she was delighted with the festival.

“It would be great if it could be an annual event because the calibre of the work is really impressive.”

Pictured: Top: Kuia Nganeko Minhinnick in a still from Sophie Johnson's The Makings of a Kaitiaki; presenter John Utanga, of Tagata Pasifika; and television lecturer Jim Marbrook with students. More pictures on Pacific Scoop.

Violet Cho is a postgraduate journalism student from Burma in AUT’s School of Communication Studies.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Public right to know - new PJR edition

Pacific Media Watch

Trauma and exiled writers, the challenge of environmental journalism in Delta land, issues of editorial “slant” in health reporting and use of te reo Māori in newspapers are some of the topics featured in the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

The October edition is a special “Public right to know” joint issue published by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre.

A selection of eight peer-refereed papers, mostly drawn from the PR2K7 conference with the theme “Giving them what they want” (PR2K), has been published in this edition co-edited by professor Wendy Bacon, director of the ACIJ.

The PR2K conferences, which have been held regularly since 2000, have mostly focused on how the right of people to know what is happening has been frustrated by legal, political and social constraints on the media in the Asia-Pacific region.

“While these key concerns remain, in 2007 and 2008 the conference organisers challenged participants to present papers which explored how contemporary media developments are shaping and being shaped by new relations with the public,” Bacon writes in the editorial.

Bacon herself contributed a major role in one of the key research articles, along with two Bangladeshi colleagues, about the urgency of environmental coverage of Delta land, showing up the “neglect” of reporting ecological devastation by Australia and New Zealand media in some parts of the region and why change is needed.

This year is the Year of Climate Change in the South Pacific and several small island nations have stretched their resources to provide better environmental reporting.

John Carr focuses on journalism as storytelling and argues that a “viable public sphere” needs narrative templates for critical social, political and environmental issues that need to engender a sense of shared participation.

John Roberts and Chris Nash examine the reporting by two Sydney newspapers of the controversial issues of a safe injecting room in the face of complaints of bias.

Investigative journalism

Marni Cordell presents a pilot study on the state of investigative journalism in Australia with a focus on the ABC’s flagship Four Corners programme. PMC director associate professor David Robie provides a comparative case study on the controversial Fiji news media “review” in the lead up to the regime imposing martial law and censorship at Easter.

Other articles outside the main PR2K theme include a study of the “intentional use” of te reo Māori in New Zealand newspapers in 2007 by the Kupu Taea project at Massey University, a comparative study of teenage views on journalism as a career in Australia and NZ by professor Mark Pearson of Bond University, and a New Caledonian mediascape from aid analyst Nic Maclellan.

The review section includes a feature essay on the book Shooting Balibo written by Tony Maniaty about the murders of the “Balibo Five” television reporters and journalist Roger East by invading Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1975.

This edition, co-edited by Jan McClelland and Dr Robie, has been dedicated to AUT research administrator Jillian Green, who had been a strong colleague, friend and supporter of PJR and this month lost her struggle with cancer.

The next edition of PJR has the theme “reporting conflict” in association with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and will be published in May 2010.

Pacific Journalism Review can be ordered on the PJR website or through the ACIJ

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bullets and mines give Violet's job an edge

By Brenda Cottingham

The first thing Burmese journalist Violet Cho noticed about New Zealand’s news media was its different news priorities – like a burglary story on page one of the NZ Herald.

The kind of journalism she does involves avoiding being shot or having her limbs blown off by land mines.

“I couldn’t believe that a burglary would be so important that it warranted being on page one,” she told Whitireia Journalism School students during a visit to Wellington this month.

She is surprised at the New Zealand media’s lack of international coverage and focus on local issues.

Violet has emerged from the unlikely roots of a Thai refugee camp, and is in New Zealand taking her journalism education a step further.

She fled Myanmar/Burma (she uses both names) with her family to Thailand when she was seven, and says growing up in a refugee camp was not easy.

A lot of young people were depressed in the camps, which indirectly spawned journalism and led to her career.

She was taught basic journalism by a South African woman, and with the help of the camp’s community leader, was able to covertly set up a radio transmitter within her camp, which raised spirits.

Telling the stories
Since taking up journalism, she has aimed to tell the stories of the people, but says getting even a simple story could prove dangerous and difficult because of the Burmese military presence.

In 2005, she risked her life reaching a remote Burmese village.

“The Burmese conflict policy is to shoot on sight,” says Violet.

The people of the village were teaching children to use whatever materials they had, which included a large stone-face used as a blackboard.

Violet, an indigenous Karen, holds a Burmese passport, and says Burma is a corrupt country where those in power do not share the wealth, and drugs and trafficking are just a few of the problems.

After she completes her journalism studies at Auckland University of Technology, she hopes to visit her family, who now live in America, before returning to work in Thailand.

Her dream is to see a free Myanmar and to work there.

Violet - who is hosted in New Zealand on the AUT University's Pacific Media Centre inaugural Asian Journalism Fellowship supported by the Asia: NZ Foundation - would like NZ journalists to visit Myanmar to write about the lives of the people and their hardships.

Picture: Violet Cho at Whitireia. Photo: Brenda Cottingham

Brenda Cottingham is a student journalist at Whitireia Journalism School in Wellington. This story was published originally on Newswire.

Karen journalist in critical voice for change
In exile -
Bryan Crump on Radio NZ National's Nights (Nov 2)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New AUT media programme targets Pacific journalists

By Christopher Adams: Pacific Media Centre

A shortage of Pacific Islanders undertaking journalism training in New Zealand will be addressed next year with the introduction of a new course at AUT University.

The Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism will incorporate the core papers from the Bachelor in Communications Studies degree with a journalism major, along with electives focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

Tagata Pasifika producer John Utanga says while many Pacific students pass through communications programmes around the country, most do not choose to major in journalism.

“In the current era there is so much more choice, but we know that while some students do the journo component, not enough do,” says Utanga, who is also current chair of AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

“The bottom line is fewer people have chosen that option over the last few years – hence the reason for getting a Pacific-focused journalism course up and running,” he says.

Both Utanga and TVNZ Pacific affairs correspondent Barbara Dreaver, along with Tagata Pasifika’s Lisa Taouma, trained on Manukau Institute of Technology’s Pacific journalism course in the late 1980s.

“That was focused on Pacific journalism, and the idea was to get Pacific kids interested in journalism,” says Utanga.

The course closed in 1994 after government funding was phased out, and no similar course has been run since.

Dr Alan Cocker, head of AUT’s School of Communication Studies, says the new course is aimed at Pacific journalists who are already in the industry, but are looking to up-skill.

It is also available for Pacific journalists from the region or other Pasifika people looking for a career change into the media industry.

Diverse communities
“One of the key things is that AUT University, as part of its strategic plan, puts a lot of emphasis on serving the diverse groups of Auckland – particularly the Māori and Pasifika communities.”

Dr Cocker says the creation of the new programme was initiated by Pacific Media Centre director Associate Professor David Robie, who ran similar courses as head of journalism programmes at universities in Fiji and Papua New Guinea before joining AUT.

Dr Robie says the new programme has been “in the pipeline” for about three years while awaiting school and government approval.

A Pacific journalist with “mana in the industry” would be recruited to run the programme.

“AUT University has set itself a strategic goal of becoming the preferred university for Māori and Pasifika students,” he says.

But he adds there is a perception in Pacific communities that journalism is not a “highly desired” career path.

“It’s certainly not well-paid and often Pacific families encourage their young people to go into careers like law or medicine.”

He says the profile of journalism as a career path needs to be raised in Pacific communities.

But despite this, Dr Robie says a “coming of age” is currently taking place in New Zealand-based Pacific journalism.

“Two young, up and coming Pacific journalists have been in Samoa covering the tsunami disaster – the New Zealand Herald’s Vaimoana Tapaleao and Radio New Zealand’s Leilani Momoisea -and they are both graduates of AUT.”

The Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism is due to begin in March 2010, and could take up to about a dozen students in its first year.

Christopher Adams is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University.

Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism. No fixed deadline for applications, but best to apply early.

See also Pacific Scoop

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Australia, NZ 'misunderstand' Fiji politics, coup leader tells Māori TV

"Let's Be Frank" is due to be aired again on Māori Television tomorrow (Friday) night at 10pm.

By David Robie, of Pacific Media Watch

Fiji’s military-backed prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama has vowed not to be bullied by Australia and New Zealand, and has defended his curbs on the Pacific country’s media.

“I’m trying to do what is good for Fiji, not what’s good for New Zealand, not what’s good for Australia,” he told Māori Television’s current affairs programme Native Affairs presenter Julian Wilcox in an interview broadcast last night.

But he added that Fiji “treasured” its traditional relationship with both countries and blamed the neighbouring governments for the current damaged relationship.

Bainimarama said New Zealanders did not understand democracy in Fiji and he hinted that an improvement might come in relations with New Zealand if Prime Minister John Key “changed his views” on Fiji.

He said it would be “a good thing” for the future relationship if New Zealand appointed a new high commissioner to the vacant post in Suva.

Bainimarama was interviewed in Suva during “48 hours in the Pacific’s military zone” last week, as the bilingual Māori and English public broadcaster billed the special report.

The wide-ranging Wilcox interview and a report by Carmen Parahi on grassroots responses from Fiji Islanders to the military regime coincided with a brief visit to Suva by the special Commonwealth emissary, former NZ Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves.

“This is our one and only chance to right the wrongs. We have had four coups. We don’t want any more coups,” Bainimarama said.

‘No secret’
Asked by Wilcox why he had seized power in December 2006, Bainimarama replied: “It was no secret that what we wanted to do was get rid of corrupt practices [under the previous elected government of Laisenia Qarase], get rid of the racial policies that were around us – especially the racial policies that were going to take our country down …

“It boiled down to the public service not doing their thing … their bit.

“We have removed just about all the people for abuse of authority, abuse of office and abuse of funds. These people were part of the elite group of government …

“It was nepotism throughout and we could see that. So we wanted to get rid of it.”

Bainimarama called for more understanding of the complexities of the Fiji political and social system and why changes were needed.

“People see this nation as a failed state. The European Union sees it as a failed state. The Commonwealth, the whole reason why they have suspended us is that they see this nation as a failed state.

“The [Pacific Islands] Forum, Australia and New Zealand see this nation as a failed African state.
“You have a preconceived idea of what is happening [in Fiji] when you don’t understand what is happening here … and people don’t want to understand because you want to interfere in the way we do business.

“In fact, right now … Australia is trying to get us out of the United Nations peacekeeping [role]. What benefit will there be for the Australians? Would it benefit the Māori, for instance; would it benefit the Aborigines if we were removed from the UN peacekeepers?

Wilcox: “You feel Fiji is being bullied by, principally New Zealand and Australia?”
Bainimarama: “Yes, because you don’t understand what is happening here, what we’re trying to do.

“All you see is the military removing an elected government and it wants to remain in power for the next five years [until an election in 2014].

“Yes, we removed an elected government – for good reason. We wanted to bring about development in this country. We wanted to bring this country forward instead of keeping us in the old cannibalistic days.”

Asked why Bainimarama had not left it to elections and democracy to make political reforms, the self-appointed prime minister said the politicians “don’t want reforms – if they bring about reforms, the people won’t vote for them”.

Bainimarama said an authoritarian government was needed to make the political and electoral reforms in Fiji needed to ensure no more coups would happen.

“In Fiji, you don’t come up with your own vote. Your vote is dictated by the chiefs, it is dictated by the Great Council of Chiefs, it is dictated by the provincial councils, and it is dictated by the [Methodist] Church.

‘Not democracy’
“So it’s not your vote. So don’t tell me that it’s democracy.”

Asked by Wilcox about media censorship, Bainimarama said: “The press is still churning out newspapers. The TV station is still on, the radio is still on.

“What we have censored is irresponsible reports, that’s what we have censored.”
Wilcox: “What exactly does that mean?”

Bainimarama: “That you report the facts. I am sure Māori Television understands that …
“The media are free to express what they want – just say the right things, don’t say rubbish.”

Challenged to talk to the people of Fiji about how they viewed his regime, Native Affairs reporter Carmen Parahi contributed a segment on responses from ordinary Fiji Islanders.

Taking a quick break from a game of touch rugby at Lami, Radio Fiji sports reporter Sikeli Qounadovu said: “Life goes on. The politicians are causing the headaches, while we are enjoying ourselves.

“He [Bainimarama] has done a lot for the rural areas of Fiji compared to other leaders … We let them do what they think is for the good of the country.”

Positive view
Several speakers in the Suva city markets were also positive about the state of Fiji.
However, the media were less complimentary.

Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika, recent winner of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Pacific Media Freedom Award and who came in for personal criticism from Bainimarama during the interview, was not available for on camera comments.

But he declared that the Fiji Times would continue its independent role.

Merana Kitione, news manager of Fiji Television, described the daily censorship operation, adding that it spite of the repression it was “business as usual” at the station.

However, asked by Parahi if Fiji Television feared being closed, she replied: “I can’t answer that question – no comment.”

A Native Affairs studio panel discussion following the Bainimarama interview featured a former senator, Dr Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, and Nik Naidu, spokesperson of the Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji.

Both speakers argued for dialogue with the regime but while Naidu called for a free media to enable wider debate with the Fiji public, politicians, civil society and aid donors, Dr Nailatikau said dialogue needed to exclude the media.

Asked by Wilcox to put media censorship in Fiji in perspective, Naidu said: “If this was Fiji, what would happen is the military would be here by now, close down the station, most probably put all of us into custody, and this programme would not air.”

Naidu also added it was an irony that Bainimarama was now calling for New Zealand to post a new high commissioner to Fiji when the military government had twice before expelled NZ high commissioners.

Dr Nailatikau said Fiji’s elected politicians had in the past divided the country with racism and the regime was contributing to a sense of unity.

Dr David Robie of Pacific Media Watch. This article is republished from the Pacific Media Centre's Pacific Scoop.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

PMC video storytelling on YouTube

Stories and short docos filed by Pacific Media Centre students and student journos on the AUT television course are posted on our YouTube site. Happy viewing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pacific Scoop boosts media outlets for student journalists

The launch of Pacific Scoop late last month has opened the door to increased Pacific and diversity stories by student journalists at AUT University and around the region.

By Steve Chae: Pacific.Scoop

Hopes are high that Pacific Scoop will open up a window on the region with its New Zealand and global audience, says the co-founder of Scoop.

Alastair Thompson said today the parent site had increased its international reporting in the decade since it was first launched.

“We have a very outward-looking viewpoint,” he told Pacific Scoop.

“Internet has given us an opportunity for international news media. From the outset, our audience was international.”

Hosted on, Pacific Scoop was launched at the Māori Expo held at Auckland’s Vector Arena.

Thompson said while the total audience had increased, the international audience which used to make up 50 percent overall had now dropped to 30 percent.

“The main impact of Pacific Scoop will be to expose New Zealand media to more Pacific stories and this may have an impact on the New Zealand media,” he said.

Thompson said the support of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre and the leading role of its director, Dr David Robie, was the key to launching the new website.

Dr Robie said Pacific Scoop would be a regional website including good student journalism from universities around the Pacific as well stories from experienced media contributors.

He said it was important that some of the stories blocked by “censorship or local sensitivities” would get a chance to run and the regional audience have a wider choice of information.

Dr Robie said New Zealand was a key part of the Pacific and a new website like this would boost the watchdog role in the region.

Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning, who initiated the plan and launched the website during a studio interview by a team of Māori and Pasifika communication students at the Māori Expo, said it was important to chase the critical issues in the region.

“New Zealand is in the Pacific, and establishing fourth estate journalism here is the real work for us,” said Manning, who is former chair of the PMC.

He said there was an arc of instability in the Pacific region with Fiji and Tonga being the hot spots over constitution and democracy issues.

As for Pacific communities in New Zealand, Manning said there was a lot to do for the media to connect with the public and picking up trends.

Sandra Kailahi, an experienced Pacific journalist with TVNZ, said she had not yet checked the website but added it would be “an awesome opportunity to have another outlet for Pacific stories”.

Current PMC chair John Utanga, of TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, was unable to be at the launch, but posted a best wishes message saying: “This site’s a great idea – congratulations to all who made it possible. It will certainly be added to my list of must-view Pacific news sites.”

Manning said Pacific Scoop would provide a platform and audience by providing an interaction between student journalists with those in the industry.

“We have created a forum for one place where media and academics can come together. Our goal is to reach that potential for analysis and research.

“Students have vibrant and progressive ideas. We in the industry can learn from students,” he said.

The partnership between the PMC and Scoop had been in preparation for three years and establishing the website was the logical next step.

Manning is expecting 40,000 visitors a month for Pacific Scoop as a traffic rate.

The main Scoop site gets more than 500,000 visitors a month.

He said the traffic would not determine its success in the coming days.

Manning said Scoop would be counting on the innovation and quality of the content with editorial control lying with the PMC team.

Dr Robie said diversity stories were being welcomed for Pacific Scoop.

Community focused reporting was not of much interest in mainstream but the PMC would be tapping into the cultural dialogue, he said.

Ranjit Singh, a former publisher of the Fiji Daily Post and a current holder of an annual AUT/Pacific Islands Media Association postgraduate communications scholarship, said New Zealand media was not representing the changing face its own community.

“New Zealand is increasingly brown, but the media is too white,” said Singh.

Steve Chae is a Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism at AUT University. This article is republished from Pacific Scoop.

Pacific Scoop editorial policy

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Independent news and analysis from PMC

Watch for the Pacific Media Centre's latest venture - Pacific.Scoop, a joint partnership with Scoop media. We aim to provide and insightful mix of independent news, analysis and comment about Pacific issues. The website will have a fresh angle on regional affairs.

Pacific.Scoop - check it out now and it will be launched at AUT's Maori Expo later this week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crown Prince calls for 'closure' on Ashika tragedy

By Kalafi Moala: Pacific Media Centre

NUKU’ALOFA: Tonga's Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka has tried to bring closure to Tonga’s worst marine tragedy by asking those who have been rescued and the families of the 72 people still missing “to remember and to celebrate . . . life.”

At a special memorial service held at the Free Wesleyan Church at his village estate of Pea, the Crown Prince urged national unity and togetherness.

“I pray, and appeal to you all – that now is the time to put aside differences. Now is the time to work together,” he said.

Rev Dr ‘Ahio, the president of Tonga’s largest denomination, the Free Wesleyan Church, presided over the well-attended memorial service that included the Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, and other ministers of the Crown; Speaker of the House, Hon Tu’ilakepa; and other members of Parliament, as well as those rescued and the families of those unaccounted for, friends and relatives.

The Crown Prince said: “We remember those whose lives were lost on the Princess Ashika, but at the same time we celebrate those that were saved. Not all was lost.”

This attempt to bring closure has come as the NZ Navy and their Tongan counterpart concluded their search and video taping of the wreck and remains of the sunken vessel.

Commander Chris Kelly of the Tonga police, while thanking Lieutenant-Commander Andrew McMillan and the captain and crew of HMNZS Manawanui for their support and assistance in the search for the Princess Ashika, said: “We have undertaken our rescue operation, search processes and resources deployment to maximise the response capability available to us over the last 14 days . . . I consider we have exhausted all likelihood of finding survivors and in that respect I believe the families of the 72 persons unaccounted for can complete closure for their loved ones.”

At a special reception after the church memorial service, representatives of each family affected by the Ashika tragedy gave tearful and heart-moving speeches, accepting the fact they need to bring closure and move on in their lives.

Crown Prince Lavaka, a former Prime Minister, who is now Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia, said: “In times of national crisis nations are forged and defined.”

Greatest disaster
The final confirmed figures stand at 54 rescued, two recovered dead and 72 unaccounted for, presumed dead. It is believed this is the greatest disaster Tonga has suffered since the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The Crown Prince lamented: “Memories are all we have of those loved ones. Those memories perhaps show the fragility of life; and that we should always treat those close to us as if we will not see them again.”

A Royal Commission of Inquiry has been appointed and has started its work, which will include the analysis of the one and half hours of video from the wreck of the Princess Ashika and the surrounding area.

The families of the victims, as well as those rescued responded warmly to the call by the Crown Prince for closure.

Maka Taliuku, a relative of one of the victims, and a "talking chief" in his own right, spoke for the families of those unaccounted for: “We thank you your Royal Highness for your humility in meeting with us, and organising this service…

"We will go from here and pick up our belongings at the shipping office by the wharf, and we will disperse to our various homes, thankful that on this day, we have accepted the reality of the situation… we are satisfied, and we will return to our homes bringing closure to our grief for our loved ones.”

Kalafi Moala is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Taimi 'o Tonga and the Tongan Chronicle. Pictured: The Princess Ashika. Photo: TNews.

More reports at Matangi Tonga

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pacific women cautiously welcome UN move against sexual violence

By Candace Uttam: Pacific Media Centre

Women’s advocacy groups in the Pacific have welcomed a move to stop sexual violence towards women in conflict situations, but say it needs be implemented in conjunction with an earlier resolution.

They say that while the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1820, which was adopted last year, is absolutely critical, it should be viewed as an implementation strategy to further the commitment to women, peace and security.

The initial UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in 2000 and addresses the need for women to be more involved in all aspects of peace building and conflict prevention, by enhancing their participation at a governance level.

Sharon Bhagwan Roll, coordinator of femLINKPacific, a women’s community media network based in Fiji, says if women are involved in protection, participation and prevention in developing national action plans, the issue of sexual and gender based violence during times of conflict would also be addressed.

“If women were involved at a higher level you would have women in the processes of addressing security sector governments – women would be able to talk as equals when it comes to legislation of guns for example.”

She says it is important not to lose sight of resolution 1325 as it is the foundation upon which other initiatives like 1820 should be implemented, if they are to work effectively.

Bhagwan Rolls also says it is paramount that these resolutions are put into context according to the varying conditions in each Pacific state.

She says that while there is a deep need to stop sexual and gender based violence towards women in places like Bougainville, because of the resurgence of conflict there, women in other places might not be in the same critical conditions.

“We don’t exactly have that situation of armed violence conflict - we’ve actually got increased militarisation - so for the women in Fiji if we want to talk about security sector governance we would like to see greater formal participation in being able to engage in issues.”

She says the danger of only focusing on the protection of women, which is what 1820 deals with, is that it portrays women solely as victims, when in fact they have far greater potential.

Most hope
One of the founding members of WAVE, a Pacific media network for women in journalism, Lisa Williams-Lahari visited Bougainville post crisis and says the women there were not only the ones doing all the hard work, but also the ones that had the most hope.

“It is important that the voices of women are heard in the framing of these commitments [resolutions/policies].

“Women are all that is missing.”

Williams-Lahari acknowledges that women and children are the most vulnerable in conflict situations, and says it is about time sexual atrocities to women in conflict situations are brought to the forefront.

“If we had 1820, the amnesty [against sexual violence] that took place in the aftermath of the Bougainville crisis would not have happened.”

Bhagwan Rolls says issues of economic, health and political insecurity debilitate women from participating in decision making processes, which is why resolution 1325 is their main focus.

She says it is these imbalances that give rise to a range of the conflicts experienced in the Pacific region.

“A woman who’s a community leader, who has the potential to sit at a district level committee to talk about development priorities, can’t do that of she’s burdened by poverty which links to her own personal security.”

Bhagwan Rolls says women’s advocacy groups have kept resolution 1325 alive around the Pacific, but there is always a need for the UN to assist them in furthering gender equality movements.

Pictured: FemLINK Pacific's community radio empowers women with its street broadcasts. Veena Singh Bryar does an interview during a 16-day activist broadcast campaign in December 2008. Photo: FemLINK Pacific

Candace Uttam is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.

FemLINK Pacific
Pacific WAVE network

Reflections on the Princess Ashika disaster

A TNEWS special report reviewing the Princess Ashika disaster with a live studio audience. Pro-democracy movement leader and MP ‘Akilisi Pohiva - who described the tragedy as "manslaughter by neglect" - and ‘Uliti Uata in Tonga discuss the aftermath and give the studio audience a chance to ask questions.

TNews special [video Ep 18]
TNews Online

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Manila families tackle water woes in Philippines

Some Manila communities are taking the matter into their own hands in the daily struggle for water. They are forming water cooperatives in a bid to survive.

By Keira Stephenson: The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines: “Water is life,” says Maharlika Water Cooperative member Lorda Feudo, yet more than half of Metro Manilans still don’t have clean water on tap.

Those least able to afford it are spending the bulk of their salaries buying water or wasting their days chasing water-trucks up and down the street.

However, some communities are taking the matter into their own hands by forming water cooperatives, so the daily struggle for water is one less thing they have to worry about.

“Before we started the co-op and got connected to Maynilad Water, life was very hard,” said Feudo.

“It was difficult relying on trucks to deliver water. We had to wait and run after the truck many times. Sometimes the trucks were not coming, so the day was useless, only watching for a truck that didn’t arrive,” she said.

“It is so tiring, running to get water and then running home carrying the pails,” she said.

“Sometimes we had to fight others who cut into the line. Those who know the truck driver got more water. Everyone was very frustrated, sometimes angry,” another member, Noemi Pajo, added.

The cooperative’ office is in Maharlika Village, Bagansila, Caloocan City, a relocation site for squatters.

Inside the office large charts show the co-op’s monthly cash flow as well as the position of each board member.

Water barrels line the streets outside the houses of those who have opted not to join the co-op.

“Financial transparency is very important,” Feudo said.

Maynilad Water had been promising water connections since 2002 but has been unable to deliver. Eventually after the co-op was formed in 2008, it was asked by Maynilad to help provide water to other local households demanding its services.

Do-it-yourself water system
Co-op members put up the cash and work to install pipes themselves and instead of having a meter for each household they have just one “mother meter” which measures the entire co-op’s water consumption.

In effect they are buying the water in bulk from their water provider and taking care of the pipes and fee collection.

The Maharlika board comprises housewives who receive help and free workshops from the Institute for Popular Democracy on how to set up a cooperative, write a business plan and build consensus.

“We are all mothers,” Feudo said. “The men are all at work, they don’t do household chores, so they don’t know our water needs. They come home and say ‘Why don’t we have any water?’”

The women run the co-op, each board member volunteering one day a week in the office while a manager, plumber and cashier receive salaries of P3,500 per month.

Despite the extra work of running the co-op the women say life has changed for the better since the daily struggle to find enough water has come to an end.

“Household costs become very easy, everything becomes easy. When we want to take a bath we can. We don’t have to wait. We can do washing when we feel like it. We are more relaxed, life became very easy because water is life,” Feudo pointed out.

According to the IPD, households in non-connected areas can spend as much as P19,300 (NZD$600) per month on water, including labor costs for hauling, compared to an average P80 (NZD$3) for those connected.

In Maharlika, households have gone from paying up to P1,750 per month for water to P600.

“They may not feel it because they pay on a daily basis, but most of their income is going to water,” said IPD researcher Christine Quiray.

Quiray helped the women form their co-op and can attest to the chaos of water truck deliveries.

“I remember holding one training seminar where suddenly right in the middle, everyone dashed out of the meeting because a water truck had been sighted,” she said.

The co-op has 172 members so far and aims to attract 1500.

It wasn’t easy getting people to accept the idea of joining and fronting up the initial costs of installing water pipes and a mother meter, especially when they could get free, but not enough and not necessarily drinking quality, truck water.

“They had to see the pipes installed in the streets outside their houses before they would really believe it could happen and pay the P1,100 startup fee,” said Feudo.

Simple beginnings
The co-op began with just 22 members and P22,000, but fundraising and a donation of 20 pipes from the son of the town’s mayor who said he was “happy to help people who are helping themselves” got them started. After a year of successful running it was able to secure a grant from the Peace and Equity Foundation.

Quiray once took the group on a study tour to visit the Lusrai co-op which started with water and has gone on to provide “ad-on services” such as life insurance, in Antipolo City and in Binangonan, Rizal where there are 21 co-ops, the oldest having been formed in 1976.

Now, as the pilot water co-op of IPD, Maharlika co-op now receives visitors itself.

The women proudly related that guest researchers from China, Singapore, Sweden and California are keen on learning about their project.

But despite its success the co-op is still far from reaching its target of 1,500 household members.

“We feel okay, but we are worried that there are few applicants,” said Feudo. “But we feel we should continue, no matter what.”

She said they had a surge of applicants during the dry season, but had to compete with the local government water provider who charges only P6 per cubic meter of water compared to Maynilad’s P12.

But the local government water may eventually close down because it is reportedly running at a loss, and its water is often not suitable for drinking. Moreover, its system has low pressure and works only from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

In comparison, the women say Maynilad’s water is very reliable and safe for drinking, although they still boil it for infants.

The local government also trucks in free water.

The IPD has asked the local government to use some P400,000 (NZD$12,380) it spends on trucking in water to invest in structural development instead for the co-op so that more water connections can be put in place.

The IPD believes this would be a much more efficient use of government funds, and a much more effective means of getting water to the constituents. The proposal has gotten a lukewarm response from the local government.

Another IPD researcher Erik Villanueva sees water co-ops as vehicles for engaging ordinary people in the workings of democracy and throwing off Filipino fatalism and apathy.

“The fight for water can open up a way to challenge local political elites,” he said.

Water co-ops popular
Villanueva said water co-ops are now widespread in Metro Manila, especially on the outskirts, and it is not just the urban poor who are making use of the system but middle class homeowners’ associations too.

“It wouldn’t have been possible for the spread of water without water co-ops,” Villanueva pointed out.

Currently, one of the IPD’s projects is forming a water co-op network association to bring all the different co-ops together for sharing of expertise.

They are also negotiating for a bulk discount from the water providers, but neither Manila Water nor Maynilad Water is interested in offering a discount.

Quiray describes the situation as selling “retail and wholesale at the same price.”

Villanueva can understand the reluctance on the part of water providers to invest in some areas they consider high risk, like squatter settlements.

Since squatter communities usually are not titled, investors are worried they will not be able to recover their expenses if the settlers are evicted.

Also non-revenue water (NRW) can be as high as 70 percent in some areas, from leaks, water theft and people simply not paying their bills.

Quiray said Maynilad told her that recovering costs from places such as the North Caloocan resettlement area was extremely difficult and that even just fixing damaged pipes could cost more because they had to send an extra worker to guard the truck so the tires wouldn’t get stolen.

Villanueva said when the community takes over the management, these issues cease to be a problem as it is much more difficult to avoid paying your bills when it is someone from your own neighborhood collecting.

“The incidence of NRW is very low when the community patches the leaks and collects the fees themselves,” he said.

Despite this, the water providers still claim ownership of the pipes and meters which the co-op has installed because there are no clear legal protection for co-ops.

“How do you encourage urban poor or middle-class to invest in their own infrastructure, when neither the government nor the water services recognise or support their efforts?” Villanueva asked.

Relationship of patronage
He said he believes local leaders promise water connections, which often don’t get fulfilled and then deliver free water from trucks in the meantime, with their faces plastered all over them, “so that the people will know who to be grateful for.” He said such kind of behavior destroys the will of people to act on their own and organize.

He described watching people scrabble for water from trucks as “horrible and disgusting.”

“Politicians exchange services for votes and this becomes the currency by which the relationship of patronage is maintained,” he said.

“Instead of services like roads and water being the normal function of government, they are handed out like goodies in exchange for votes and the political elite maintain their position by exploiting the apathy of these voiceless, faceless, helpless masses who choose to remain dependent on someone else.”

He cited roads which ended abruptly at a village that didn’t vote for the local governor as examples of “a democratic system that fails.”

He admitted that it is “not just the fault of officials, but those who elect them.”

Water co-ops are a way of sidestepping these traps, he said, freeing both the community and their elected leaders to campaign and vote on real issues rather than relying on many officials preoccupied with raising cash to buy the loyalties of their constituents.

Housing project gone awry
Meanwhile, another water co-op is being set up in Recomville 2, a village described by a non-government organization worker as a “government housing project gone awry.”

“Can you imagine a government housing project with no electricity and no water?” the NGO worker who declined to be named asked.

The village has already formed its own electricity co-op.

The water-barrel lined streets are a hodge-podge of finished and half-built houses with weeds growing up through cracks.

A father bathes his child beside one of the barrels outside his house on the street.

A meeting was held in a hastily constructed hall not big enough to accommodate everyone so that some attended by looking in through the windows.

However, those at the meeting had great hopes for the future of their village.

A homeowners’ association official said, “It just takes someone to start a project and when they see it working there is no need to invite people to join, they just start paying and paying.”

Lyn Tayawa is a mother of two who is helping to organize the co-op before she has even moved into the neighborhood.

“I am just waiting for the pipes to be connected so I can move here and open my store,” she said. “We are all very excited to have water here."

Pictured: A father bathing his daughter from free water delivered by trucks in Metro Manila. Photo: Keira Stephenson.

Keira Stephenson is a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) postgraduate journalist working on internship with the Philippine Star with a travel grant by the Asia NZ Foundation and supported by the AUT Pacific Media Centre.

More stories by Keira Stephenson
Keira's 'live journal' from Manila

The dawn raids aftermath - looking back

During a draconian time in the 1970s, Pacific Islanders' homes in Auckland, New Zealand, were frequently raided at dawn by police. This AUT media student documentary takes a look back at those times and the emergence of the Polynesian Panthers as a political and social movement.

The documentary is by Kelly Dennett, Serra Galuvao and Nathan Dawson. An earlier Pacific Media Centre profile on the Polynesian Panthers by Katie Small is here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tongan tragedy: Niuean policewoman gave life of service

Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto was working in the Solomons with the RAMSI police force. She is one of two people confirmed drowned in the Princess Ashika tragedy in Tongan waters. The ferry capsized last Wednesday carrying 141 passengers - 93 people are still missing.

By Linny Folau of Matangi Tonga

NUKU'ALOFA: Energetic and outgoing, young Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto is remembered as a happy, smiling person who loved serving her own community and the people in the Solomons. The 24-year-old woman was working on the RAMSI mission before coming to Tonga last week for a joyful reunion with her cousins.

Her Tongan cousin 'Akesa Luani, of Puke in Tongatapu, said Sisiliah was looking forward to a trip on the ferry to the outer islands, and on Wednesday afternoon had boarded the ill-fated Princess Ashika with 'Akesa's brother, Dwenelle, 25.

"Unfortunately the dream holiday has turned into a nightmare, which has cost her life and the lives of many innocent people. I am shocked and still can't get over the fact that Sisiliah is one of the victims and I will never see her happy face again," says 'Akesa, who is now dressed in black.

Gripping seats
Dwenelle, who returned as a survivor, was in tears when recalling the tragedy. He last saw Sisiliah gripping the seats inside the passenger lounge, as the floundering ferry rolled over, swamped by waves in the middle of the night.

Sisiliah remains one of the 93 people who are missing after the ferry sank in Ha'apai waters on Wednesday, August 5.

With one female body recovered so far, 'Akesa feared for the worst and was down at the Longolongo Police station on Saturday morning, August 8, giving police a full description and a photograph of Sisiliah.

"But they said it's not her," she says.

'Akesa's elder sister 'Ana also emailed from New Zealand, trying to find out about Sisiliah. She said her family there are absolutely devastated with the news that she is still missing.

She said that Sisiliah, a New Zealand citizen, a police officer for the Niue Police Force, was currently serving in the Solomon Islands under the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI).

She arrived in Tonga for the first time on Monday, August 3, on leave from work. Because it was her first visit, Sisiliah wanted to do some sightseeing and see what it was it like in the outer islands.

"She had so much to live for she enjoyed working and serving the people in the Solomons. And she just had so many dreams and vision for the future," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah is being described by both her cousins in Tonga and New Zealand as a very outgoing, energetic and down to earth person who was always happy and smiling.

"She loves children, her job and working with the community. We are not giving up hope that she may still be alive out there, waiting for help to come. She's a strong person and I am sure she is out there somewhere," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah was due back for duty in the Solomons at the end of the month and was to depart Tonga this week.

Dwenelle, who accompanied his cousin, said he happened to go out onto the upper open deck of the ferry to have a smoke and talk with a friend, while Sisiliah remained inside the passengers' lounge.

Then suddenly, as the ferry overturned, the water came up so quickly that he could not get back into the passenger room to help her. He said that as he was gripping onto the seat outside on the deck, he last saw her gripping onto the seats inside the passenger room as well.

"I am thankful that I am alive, but I am still devastated that my cousin didn't make it and is still missing out there," he says tearfully.

Dwenelle had Sisiliah's camera, which showed the happy pictures of her Solomon's service and reunion with her cousins.

Pictured: Top: Policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto; above: The Princess Ashika. Photos: Matangi Tonga.

More reports at Matangi Tonga

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PINA summit fails to stand up for media freedom

Pacific Media Watch

Matangi Tonga editorial by editor Pesi Fonua

PORT VILA: The Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) continues to struggle to establish itself as a champion of media freedom in the Pacific Islands.

Meeting in Port Vila last week, about 200 PINA members and observers from around the region were addressing the important issue of access to information.

But what appeared to be a sincere intention by the former PINA board to turn its biannual convention into a Pacific Media Summit under the theme "Breaking Barriers - Access to Information'" did not live up to expectations.

Despite the great effort to attract as many participants as possible to attend the Vanuatu PINA inaugural summit, their contributions did not see the light of day, because most participants were not permitted to attend the AGM, and so some serious observations made by working
journalists and media people were not translated into the decision-making process.

No decisions
The few members who were tasked to evaluate and to take action on matters raised during plenary sessions and panel discussion simply could not make any decision, and for the first time ever at the end of a PINA convention there was no communiqué.

The PINA secretariat and its board restricted its thinking capacity by closing its membership registration in March, so that any member who did not pay its membership fees by March 31 would not be able to vote at the annual general meeting in July.

Unfortunately, many regular members of PINA had not paid their dues by that date and so were not permitted to either attend or to vote in the AGM in Vanuatu, although they were present to participate in the various workshops, plenary and other sessions preceeding the AGM.

It was an unfortunate decision to disallow voting of a significant number of members who were there, particularly at a time when PINA needed as many constructive contributions that it could get to help with its decision-making process.

A mere 24 members (who were paid-up at March 31) were left to deal with the numerous pressing issues that PINA has to deal with to regain its credibility.

Fiji media suppression
The Fiji government suppression of its media dominated the summit plenary sessions, for very good reasons, because the PINA secretariat and its regional news outlet PACNEWS are based in Suva, Fiji, and of course participants were saddened by stories of Fijian journalists of how their work was being censored and how they were working under threat by the military government. Even the Fiji journalists testimony in Vanuatu was made difficult by the presence of Fiji military censors taking part in the meeting who said they were there to report back to
their military government.

It appears that PINA voluntarily decided to become a lap dog instead of a watchdog:

* PINA shied away from revoking the PINA membership of the Fiji Ministry of Information - the same ministry that places censors in news rooms in Fiji;

* PINA brushed off the suggestion to remove the PINA secretariat and the PACNEWS from Fiji;

* PINA did not make a strong statement against media suppression in
Fiji, which had been a proposition that a majority of participants
supported during the summit.

Meanwhile, one of two decisions that the PINA AGM made that was relayed through the "coconut wireless'" was that there had been a new approach to the selection of the president and the vice-president of PINA.

The president of the host country, in this case Vanuatu, would become president and the vice president would be the president of national news association that will host the next PINA convention, the Cook Islands.

The new PINA board members are:

President: Mosese Stevens, president of the Vanuatu Media Association, a public relations consultant
Vice-President: John Woods, editor of the Cook Island News
Radio representative: managing director of the Solomon Islands
Broadcasting Commission
TV representative: Tapinga Lavemaau, a camera operator with the Tonga
Broadcasting Commission
Print representative: Michael Jackson, publisher/editor of a newspaper
in Niue
National organisations representative, Samisoni Pareti, a journalist
with Islands Business International, Fiji. (Fiji apparently no longer has a national media association).

The feeble outcome of the PINA Pacific Media Summit 2009 is a matter of grave concern for many Pacific Islands journalists and media people who sincerely believe that there is still a need for a credible regional news association.

Pacific Islands News Association
Matangi Tonga
Cafe Pacific on PINA 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Pacific programme to challenge 'outsider' history

By Pippa Brown: Pacific Media Centre

A pioneering new Pacific studies programme at Tonga’s ‘Atenisi University is set to change the way Tongan and Pacific history has been written, while embracing the institute’s classical philosophy.

“Traditionally history passed through generations orally and writing is a comparatively new thing,” says Pacific studies researcher Dr ‘Opeti Taliai.

The past was originally documented by missionaries who came to the Pacific in the 19th century and was therefore written from a colonial and outsider perspective, he says.

‘Atenisi Institute is encouraging Pacific Island students to rewrite their own history from an insider indigenous perspective.

“The emphasis on the new programme will be to encourage Pacific Island scholars and people that come from a background of oral history to start writing their own history,” says Dr Taliai, one of six international scholars inducted as fellows of the institute in a ceremony last month.

The four-day celebration honoured the life and achievements of founder and philosopher Professor Futa Helu.

Although the course structure is based on the history of the Pacific region, an emphasis is placed on research and the problems associated with it in the Pacific and the paradox of the insider and outsider viewpoint.

He says using the insider perspective with an outsider training will pull together both sides and give a clearer point of view.

“It ensures ‘Atenisi’s Pacific Studies will be able to publish a clearer interpretation and provide balance in the discourse and unity,” says Dr Taliai.

Misunderstanding can come from the misinterpretation of language.

“Tongan language is heliaki and this is quite common throughout the Pacific,” he says. “It is saying one thing and meaning another.”

Literal translation
“In comparison, English is a literal translation,” says Dr Taliai.

“Tongan language is poetic and English language scientific” and it is important to acknowledge the differences in the two languages, he says.

“English people go straight to the point and Tongan people go around and around before coming to the point because Tongan society is hierarchical and stratified.”

The key element in such a society is respect of people and their superiors.

“In Tongan society, we don’t go straight to the point as in Western society,” he says.

Special places and sacred historical places are used symbolically for particular chiefs and high-ranking officials and these symbolic places take the place of the high-ranking person in the conversation.

“We start with different places associated with those superiors,” he says.

It is common to use geographic locations and flora significant to chiefs and other high-ranking officials.

“Places they have come from and certain flowers can be very significant and these are distinguished in a metaphorical way,” says Dr Taliai.

To understand this it is necessary to know what and where these places are that people are using and talking about.

“This underlying meaning is only known to the indigenous people,” says Dr Taliai.

“We are starting to see more books written by indigenous people and we want to see more of that.”

Equal emphasis
There will be equal emphasis on teaching and research, says Dr Taliai.

The Pacific studies programme wants to recruit people who will teach and research at the same time and postgraduates who are already doing research in the Pacific.

“We hope to achieve from this programme more understanding of one another, not only in the Pacific but in the world.”

What makes the ‘Atenisi University Pacific studies programme different from the University of South Pacific in Fiji and other universities in Auckland is the method of analysis used in looking at data, oral traditions and literature, he says.

Dr Taliai says his life changed when he started attending ‘Atenisi Institute.

“I started to question,” he says.

“Education and religion co-exist like a coin,” says Dr Taliai. He says they cannot be separated and sees education as being scientific and objective while religion is mainly subjective.

Dr Taliai recently completed a PhD in social anthropology. His thesis, “The legitimation of economic and political power in Tonga: A critique of Kauhala’uta and Kauhalalalo Social Moieties”, discusses how the struggle for the control of power works in Tonga.

Tonga is a stratified society and has kings, nobles, and commoners; who make up the majority of the population he says. “The power in Tonga is in the hands of a very small group,” says Dr Taliai.

“In the Tongan riots people questioned the way the country was run and the position of the monarchy and started to demand the decentralisation of power,” he says.

Future dream
His investigations throughout his PhD researched the relationships and interconnectedness between Tonga and other Pacific Islands into parts of South East Asia. He wants the Pacific studies programme to be filled from people all over the Pacific.

“You can’t separate the rest of the Pacific from Tongan history,” he says.

My dream in the future will be to bring in experts and students from the Pacific and we will work together to write a comprehensive history of the Pacific from both the insider and outsider perspective, says Dr Taliai.

“The ideal student will have a combination of western methodology of analysis and local knowledge.”

Dr Taliai describes ‘Atenisi Institute as a small but independent institution. He relates it to the institute’s Latin motto, Pauca sed matura which translates literally as few, but ripe.

“It is always small but the outcome of the product is mature,” he says.

“We will do it more effectively at ‘Atenisi because there is also the philosophy in place to develop it further,” he says.

The institute’s name ‘Atenisi is Tongan for the Greek capital, Athens. It was founded by professor emeritus Dr Futa Helu who embraced the scientific and democratic ideals of the ancient Greeks into ‘Atenisi Institute’s philosophy of education.

It places criticism at the very heart of education and has as part of its core curriculum traditional subjects such as philosophy, logic, art and literature. It is unique compared to other educational institutions in the Pacific region, which are described as utilitarian in nature.

‘Atenisi Institute is portrayed as a “people’s university” and many of its students come from isolated and poor communities.

Picture: Dr 'Opeti Taliai (right) next to Professor Futa Helu at the fellowship induction at 'Atenisi Institute last month. Also pictured are Dr David Robie and Dr Ian Campbell. Photo: Pacific Media Centre.

Pippa Brown is an AUT Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on internship with the Pacific Media Centre.

'Atenisi University
'Atenisi University inducts six fellows

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pacific radio defends ban over 'unbalanced' Fiji interview

Pacific Media Centre

A New Zealand-based Pacific radio network has moved to defuse a controversy over a Fijian-language interview critical of the Methodist Church and alleged involvement of some leading clergy in past coups.

Pacific Media Network acting chief executive Tom Etuata told Pacific Media Centre reporter Pippa Brown today that the ban on experienced broadcaster Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu-Legge had been lifted after she had been suspended off air following last month’s wide-ranging interview with Citizens’ Constitutional Forum executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki.

Yabaki also spoke about the abrogation of the Fiji constitution, censorship of the media and freedom of expression in the June 6 broadcast, but the programme's criticism of the Methodist Church in the wake of the regime’s cancellation of the annual conference drew three written complaints to Radio NiuFM/531pi.

The controversy was picked up by the independent media watchdog blog Café Pacific.

Etuata said the radio tried to achieve balance in its programmes.

“She was suspended only from one programme, not from work,” he said. “She is still being employed as an announcer while we investigate and get an independent translation because we did get a number of complaints.

“Our community radio aims to provide both views of the topic and provide balance as a responsible broadcaster on air.”

Bulou Amalaini said the off air suspension was “very unfair”.

She denied claims by complainants that she was a supporter of regime leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, saying little information was coming out of Fiji and she had been trying to provide more insight and research into political developments.

'Too scared'
Formerly of Radio Fiji and with 25 years’ broadcasting experience,” Bulou Amalaini said: “People are too scared to talk, but Rev Yabaki was not too scared to be interviewed.”

Rev Yabaki, who is an outspoken champion of human and constitutional rights in Fiji, spoke about the Methodist Church after the banning of the conference, saying Fiji’s largest and most influential religious institution was “in disarray”.

“If you look at the history of the stand that the Methodist Church has taken in the past 20 years, you will note that it supported the first coup of 1987 and also George Speight’s coup in the year 2000,” he said.

“But it opposed the coup of 2006 because it believes that Fiji should be governed by Fijians, who are their members, as if it were their divine right.

“This was the case when Dr Timoci Bavadra and Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party won the general elections of 1987 and 1999.”

One complainant to 531pi/Niu FM said: “It would have been fair ... if Ligalevu [had interviewed] a member of the church in New Zealand or an official of the church in Fiji on matters concerning the church.

“But to do exactly the opposite does not only degrade the biggest domination in Fiji but also angers the members of the church who are in New Zealand.”

Bulou Amalaini said she had been told by the station management that "the interview was good but it was not balanced - that I should have interviewed somebody from the Methodist Church as well".

She said Fijian programme producer Nemai Vucago had asked the head of the Fiji Methodist congregration in New Zealand, Rev Peni Tikoinaka, to speak on the programme but he had declined because he said he was not "fully versed" over the issue.

Another Methodist clergyman was also asked but declined.

Rev Yabaki told the PMC that Bulou Analaini had been dealt a "raw deal" by the radio station "in a manner that lacks transparency".

He said she had been denied a hearing involving the three complaints.

Pictured: Broadcaster Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu-Legge (top) and the CCF's Rev Akuila Yabaki.

Niu FM - Pacific Media Network
Full text of Rev Akuila Yabaki interview
Veteran Fiji broadcaster gagged on Pacific radio

Monday, June 29, 2009

Couple fight Pacific nuclear wall of silence

By Pippa Brown: Pacific Media Centre

Cook Islander Tau Greig and her husband Wayne Meyer hope this month’s granting of the right to sue over British nuclear testing in the Pacific will be the turning point in their private battle to succeed.

They are tired of fighting the wall of silence that greets them when they open up the debate.

They now want someone to help coordinate the victims and their descendants affected by the radiation from these tests.

About 1000 veterans from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Britain, who took part in atomic tests in the 1950s, won the right to sue Britain’s Ministry of Defence for exposure to radiation.

From their first letter to British Prime Minister John Major, 14 years ago, Tau Greig and Wayne Meyer have been fighting - and they are sick and tired of it. Other letters have been written to other ministers as well, among them former prime ministers Tony Blair, Jim Bolger and Helen Clark, and Phil Goff and Winston Peters.

They feel they have been ignored by the New Zealand and Cook Island governments who they think should assist them.

It is hard to recognise that Tau Greig was a very competitive sportsperson.

Greig is now in an Auckland rehabilitation home and has been told her condition is degenerative.

She is in a wheelchair, has difficulty speaking and is dependent on 24-hour care.

Sea sickness
It was 14 years ago that Meyer realised his wife Tau was sick, when after a bout of sea sickness she never got better. It took another 10 years before a diagnosis of the genetic disease spinocerebellar ataxia was made.

Her diagnosis is atypical, in other words, she only carries three to four genetic imprints and not the 10 that make up the disease.

“It doesn’t fully conform to the diagnosis,” says Meyer.

They think Tau’s ill-health is related to nuclear radiation exposure received from Britain’s Operation Grapple tests in the Pacific during the 1950s at Christmas and Malden Islands.

About 50 years ago, when Greig was only 10 years old, she and her family witnessed a test while playing on the island of Rakahanga, in the northern Cooks, when she saw a brilliant flash across the sky. Then the ground shook.

In the evening the sky turned red and stayed red all week. A few days later the lagoon became white and frothy. The fish all died and floated on the surface. The villagers burnt the fish.

The Grapple tests happened 10 years after the Japanese were devastated by nuclear bombs in Hiroshima. It is hard to believe they thought it was safe, says Meyer.

“We were never told to leave.

They said they would come back,” says Greig as she struggles to talk.

“They never gave food and never came back,” Meyer says.

Exploding bomb
The aircraft carrier HMS Warrior visited Rakahanga and advised the islanders they were going to explode an atmospheric hydrogen bomb over Christmas Island, north of Rakahanga. The islanders were told not to drink the water nor eat any vegetation or fish for the next three to four months.

“The Warrior never came back so we had to live on coconuts for the next three or four months,” writes Greig in an earlier letter to the British Home Office.

It is thought to be one of the biggest hydrogen bomb tests ever recorded, says Meyer.

After the bomb families started dying as soon as the next day, a lot of children died. They got dysentery and started vomiting and died, says Meyer.

“[Former Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr Terepai] Maoate told the people they had dysentery because they were unclean,” he says.

In fairness to him he said he didn’t know what caused the children to get sick and die, says Meyer.

“We don’t know how many died.

“There are no records,” says Meyer.

Sir Terepai Maoate, who worked as a young doctor on neighbouring Manihiki Island, told a Cook Islands Research Association conference in 2008 that he had treated fatal cases of diarrhoea and vomiting. He said he had seen people with enlarged thyroids, but there had not been any connection to nuclear testing.

Birth defects
There were a lot of children born with the birth defect club foot in the northern Cooks, says Meyer.

“The islanders buried their limbs in the sand to stop them twisting, but a lot still died.

“People left the northern Cooks because they thought there was a curse on them,” says Meyer.

He says the Cook Islands government refuses to acknowledge the likelihood of damage because of the distance of Rakahanga from the Christmas and Malden Islands. There was a no-go zone of 400 nautical miles.

It is estimated that the northern Cooks are in an area 300–500 miles south-west of Malden Island.

Roy Sefton, nuclear test veteran and chairman of New Zealand Veterans Association, served on the ship HMNZS Rotoiti during Operation Grapple. He suffered his first bout of ill-health at 21 which has continued throughout his adult life.

The HMS Warrior was part of an exercise involving most of the ships at Operation Grapple where their job was “showing the flag” aiming to generally placate and ease any fears Islanders had, says Sefton.

The area of the exclusion zone that was declared dangerous to ship and aircraft covered 750,000 sq miles but there was no logic to how this zone was drawn up he says. It was not drawn out in a square or circle and there are large areas that are just cut out from the edge of the square in the ocean.

“It looks very much like a doctored scenario,” says Sefton.

Wind hotspots
The only reason he can think that this was done was to lessen the concern of people on the islands.

“Even with exclusion zones there is no guarantee that the radiation will stop exactly at that point,” says Sefton.

Other factors such as the unpredictability of wind at altitude and the phenomena of hotspots or blowback affect the spread.

Hotspots and blowback are created where either large or small areas are affected by radioactive fallout that has been blown together as weather conditions change. It was predicted that the wind would blow in a north easterly direction for 5000 sq miles but it may not have, he says.

“There may have been areas which were quite a considerable distance outside the exclusion zone where these hotspots have occurred,” says Sefton.

In 1973, the New Zealand government took a legal case against the French nuclear testing at Moruroa Atoll through the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

They argued about the danger of the tests and consequential spread of radiation to the population and environment of the radiation in New Zealand and other Pacific Islands, says Sefton.

“In relation to Tau’s case, it illustrates the ability of radioactive materials to go anywhere,” he says.

Grapple 4 was a particularly dirty bomb and it made atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like firecrackers,” says Sefton.

Painless, invisible
“If you have been impregnated with this stuff, it’s painless and invisible and you don’t know about it.

“If you get hit with a bit of shrapnel you know and you have an idea if you are going to survive or not,” he says.

Dr Al Rowlands is the molecular scientist and the lead researcher of the Massey University study which strongly influenced the veterans’ win to sue Britain’s Ministry of Defence.

In his research, Dr Rowlands found huge disparities between the control group and veterans group.

The control group showed genetic damage of 10 translocations per 1000 cells against the veteran’s group where the frequency was 29 translocations per 1000 cells. In comparison workers close to the Chernobyl accident and clean-up had about 20 translocations per 1000 cells.

“The New Zealand government never fail to surprise me,” says Sefton.

Back in 1973, when they took their case to court at The Hague in a very well researched case on the dangers and ill-health of radiation to the Pacific, they would have spoken with a lot of expert advice.

Sefton claims the government and Veteran Affairs have applied double standards and never used this information.

• This week French Polynesian nuclear test veterans, who had their case for compensation rejected, have vowed to fight on. The French government has previously said it would compensate for any victims from nuclear testing carried out in French Polynesia from 1960 until 1996.

Eight former test site workers who took their case to the Tahiti court have been unsuccessful because under local ruling the complaints cannot be ruled on.

Top picture: Tau Greig and husband Wayne Meyer in Auckland 2009 (Pippa Brown) and above, on Rarotonga 2008.

Pippa Brown is an AUT Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on internship with the Pacific Media Centre.

British nuclear test Grapple Y 1958
Cook Islanders may have been exposed to radiation