BRISBANE (Asia Pacific Report/Melanesia Media Freedom Forum/Pacific Media Watch): Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie condemned the Australian and New Zealand governments and mainstream media for their “deafening silence” over the West Papua crisis last night.
Speaking in the pre-conference keynote for next month’s Melanesian Media Freedom Forum (MMFF) at Griffith University’s South Bank campus in Brisbane, Dr Robie said Canberra and Wellington needed to get behind the Vanuatu-led Pacific initiatives on West Papuan self-determination or face growing insecurity in the region.
He told the audience – which included experienced “Pacific hands” Dr Tess Newton Cain, Lee Duffield, Sean Dorney, Bob Howarth and Stefan Armbruster – that the 1969 UN-mandated plebiscite on the future of West Papua was a sham and that a fresh vote was needed.
While praising public broadcasters ABC and RNZ Pacific for their coverage of West Papua, Dr Robie described the mainstream commercial media’s reporting of recent protests in Papua as “shameful.”
Dozens of people have been killed and many thousands forced to flee over the past three months as Indonesian military and police clashed with Papuan demonstrators protesting against racism.
Dr Robie said some Pacific media were doing a better job of covering the crisis than mainstream Australian and NZ news organisations.
He also said it was embarrassing that international news agencies were doing a better job of covering something “right on our own doorstep”.
“West Papua has generally been poorly covered by New Zealand mainstream media – and only slightly better in Australia – apart from RNZ Pacific and a handful of specialist websites such as the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report,” he said.
Dr Robie spoke about the principles of “human rights journalism” as a guiding framework for covering conflicts in the region.
Journalists with ‘guts’
He commended specific journalists and media practitioners who have incorporated this into their work and “stuck their necks out in defence of a free press.”
“It takes serious guts to do so in the Pacific.”
Scott Waide, Neville Choi and Sincha Dimara from Papua New Guinea’s EMTV were praised as was the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Dan McGarry and the Post Vila-based independent journalist Ben Bohane.
“Fiji’s Simpson @ Eight – Stan Simpson is doing an excellent job on the University of the South Pacific expose at the moment – and Alex Rheeney and Mata’afa Keni Lesa at the Samoa Observer are examples,” he said.
“West Papua Media is one of the networks of citizen journalists which has also played a key role. And Stefan Armbruster of SBS News and Johnny Blades of RNZ Pacific are key contributors too.”
“But there are many more journalists who deserve credit.”
A select group of Pacific journalists will be gathering for the MMFF conference at Griffith University on November 11-12 to map out a media freedom strategy for Melanesia.
Some of their presentations are expected to be published in a special edition of Pacific Journalism Review research journal.
During his keynote, Dr Robie presented a “wish list” for journalist action, including pressing for an impartial investigation into cases of arbitrary arrest and impunity in West Papua; open access to news workers, diplomats and human rights advocates; and a new independent plebiscite on West Papuan self-determination.
After his speech, Dr Robie unfurled the West Papuan flag of independence – the Morning Star – and wrapped it around himself, saying: “Journalists really need to decide where they stand in relation to the issue.”
The room of journalists, academics and activists then came up to the front and joined Dr Robie around the flag.