May 24, 2018 Last Updated 2:32 AM, May 24, 2018

Media freedom under attack

WITH the trial of three newspaper executives underway in Fiji in May on charges of sedition, the assault of a newspaper journalist in Papua New Guinea, the removal of the general manager and her news manager at the Tonga Broadcasting Commission and the re-introduction of libel laws in Samoa, press freedom is coming under severe attacks in all regions of the Pacific.

A survey by Islands Business reveal disturbing signs to silence or control the work of independent and free media in the islands, with most of these attacks orchestrated by public agencies. Equally alarming is the absence of a public outcry or condemnation from the media and the general public alike.

Long-time Pacific media commentator and journalist now director of the Auckland-based Pacific Media Centre and convenor of Pacific Media Watch, Professor David Robie believes media freedom in the Pacific has never been under severe stress as it is today.

“Ironically, in this digital era of social media and with a multitude of alternative and independent information sources and platforms available, mainstream media has faced a decline in media freedom. Notably two of the Pacific countries with the largest and strongest media industries,Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have faced a steady “chilling” in their discourse. Increasingly in PNG, for example, the public and journalists themselves are turning to independent and respected blogs for trusted and “real” information.

There is a mainstream media silence on many issues, especially the under-reporting of social justice issues, the plight of refugees after closure of the Manus detention centre, climate change, and West Papua.”

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New voices for Pacific broadcasters

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is once again making changes that will affect broadcasting into the Pacific. From 22 January, ABC’s Radio Australia (RA) will introduce a new Pacific Mornings programme, between 6am to 10am. In a significant change, the programme will be hosted by two women of Pacific island heritage, Seini Taumoepeau and Tahlea Auliitia.

RA’s flagship news and current affairs programme Pacific Beat will be reduced to 25 minutes, with the morning show hosted by Catherine Graue and the afternoon slot maintained by long time broadcaster Bruce Hill. The changes to RA’s broadcasts come after ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie introduced a major restructure of the national broadcaster.

These changes have seen the break-up of domestic radio and TV services, with key staff reallocated to three new divisions:

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Making news in death

Obituary ROSALYN ALBANIEL EVARA 1976 - 2017

IN death, Papua New Guinea journalist, Rosalyn Evara, has shone the spotlight on an issue which often escapes notice in regional news coverage – violence against women. A victim of domestic violence for several years, this outspoken woman highlighted daily the ills of the nation and was regarded as an advocate for justice and good governance.

Evara was respected by colleagues, the public and legislators alike for her professionalism and fearless journalism which often exposed the darker side of business in PNG. Trained at the highly-recognised Divine Word University, she began her journalism career at Word Publishing before joining the Post Courier in 2002. Working through the ranks and the major news centres of Lae, Madang and Port Moresby, this promising journalist became bureau chief and later business editor at the News Limited-owned Post Courier.

At 41 when she died suddenly, Evara was on track to becoming the first female editor of one of the region’s largest and most influential newspapers. But behind the professionalism , national recognition and success lay an awful secret which many Pacific women journalists also hide. 

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Death in Moresby

Call to probe spousal abuse

PACIFIC journalists have called for an investigation into the death of Rosalyn Albaniel Evara – Business Editor of the influential Papua New Guinea newspaper, the Post Courier. Evara died last month after complaining of severe headaches. Days later at Evara’s funeral, an aunt claimed that the journalist was a victim of domestic violence and produced pictures of bruises taken after her death. Port Moresby governor, Powes Parkop, ordered the burial to be deferred and forced an autopsy which found the reasons for death to be inconclusive.

Parkop said, however, that he was not convinced and suggested a cover-up may be possible within the police and medical services. “I will refer this matter to the PNG Medical Board,” Parkop told public radio. “This is unacceptable.” His sentiments were echoed by the Pacific Freedom Forum, an independent regional organisation concerned about the rights of journalists. “We welcome the autopsy taking place, but challenge a preliminary finding that cause of death was undetermined”, PFF Chair Monica Miller said. “There are just too many witnesses to our colleague Rosalyn Albaniel Evara suffering severe domestic violence. “Photos taken after her death, and shown at her funeral, showed extensive bruising.”

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GERMAN journalist Frederik Obermaier would never have foreseen how his life would change in a year. He and his colleague Bastian Obermayer (no relation) were investigative reporters for the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung when one John Doe contacted them online with a treasure trove of leaked information – all 2.6 terabytes of it.

More than a year later after their initial contact, the Panama Papers were published on April last year, the largest data leak in history, revealing a long list of rich and powerful names around the world who have hidden their wealth in hundreds of thousands of shell companies that were created by Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider – the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services.

World leaders were dragged into the spotlight, some were linked to the Panama Papers revelations and others had close family or friends who were. Not too long after the press broke the news, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson was implicated in offshore tax evasion and after mounting pressure from the public stepped down. Several Fijian names were mentioned in the leak; however, no one was implicated for any wrongdoing.

Fiji’s Financial Intelligence Unit director Razim Buksh told the media last year that they would analyse this information through collaboration with other partners. Islands Business has contacted Buksh for the outcome of their year-long analysis but he stated via email that he could not respond before this issue went to press. 

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