THE Asia-Pacific region is poorly reported and under reported in the New Zealand media and has been for years, says a leading journalism academic.

Professor David Robie, director the Pacific Media Centre at the AUT University, said the mainstream and legacy media was “patchy” at best in the coverage of the region.

“The poor level of reporting means that we are frequently misinformed or we get a one-dimensional view of developments, which is barely half the story.”

Prof, a media educator in the Pacific region for many years, was speaking at the recent launch of his latest book “Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face”. In the book, Prof Robie, an independent journalist, media campaigner and educator from AUT University, distills his lessons from 35 years of working in the Asia-Pacific region.
Covering environmental challenges, coups, the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement and civil rights, as well as the many barriers journalists face, “Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face” reveals many of the hidden stories from the island nations.

“Critical development journalism is a robust form of journalism investigating political and social process and policy. It is still speaking truth to power, but as well as seeking accountability it tries to find a constructive edge leading to solutions.

“The Asia-Pacific region is poorly reported and under reported in the New Zealand media and has been for years,” Prof Robie said.

“Only one institution consistently covers itself with credit when covering the region and that is Radio New Zealand International. Although Maori Television’s current affairs programme Native Affairs has also done some excellent Pacific work,” he said.

“Spasifik magazine and TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme also do first first class work.

Although RNZI only has a fraction of the resources of its cousin across the Tasman, Radio Australia plus ABC Television, it does an excellent and creditable job.

“But with the honourable exceptions of individual journalists such as TVNZ’s Barbara Dreaver and Fairfax Media’s Michael Field – both banned by the Bainimarama regime in Fiji – the mainstream and legacy media is patchy at best in the coverage of the region,” Prof Robie said.

“The poor level of reporting means that we are frequently misinformed or we get a one-dimensional view of developments, which is barely half the story.

“Our treatment of Fiji is an example of this. The hypocrisy and double standards over the reporting of radical changes in post-coup Fiji have not only blinded us about the realities but also prevented us seeing other critical issues around the region.

“In many respects, the illegal Bainimarama regime has been a paraiah ever since the military coup in 2006.

Prof Robie said it should not be forgotten that the so-called “democracy” that was overthrown was actually an extremist and corrupt ethno-nationalist regime masquerading as democratic.

“Also, the reality is that this same military backed regime is likely to become the elected government in the general election in September,” he said.

“Orchestrated and manipulated, perhaps. But the regime does have a lot of genuine support in rural areas and it least it opens the door to a return to real democracy.

“For the doomsayers there is very little difference from when the original coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka made the transition from hardline military dictator to elected prime minister in 1992.

“Paranoia reigns when the regime’s bureaucrats deal with the media and there is a climate of timid self-censorship in Fiji under the control of the dictatorial Media Industry Development Tribunal – except for a handful of courageous and dissident journalists such as Ricardo Morris and his Republika magazine.

“Actually Fiji is not the biggest worry in the region by a long shot,” Prof Robie said.

“Indonesian repression in the two Melanesian provinces that make up the West Papua region and the climate of impunity in the Philippines where journalists are assassinated with ease are serious crises in the region.

“But when do you read about these issues in the New Zealand media?

“At least 206 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986—34 of them in the Ampatuan massacre in Mindanao in 2009. More than four years later nobody has been convicted for these atrocities.”

He said the Philippines was a far more dangerous place for the media under democracy than it was under the Marcos military dictatorship. 

“And now a controversial law in the Philippines billed by critics as an “electronic martial law” that criminalises e-libel may be mimicked in the Pacific.”

“Now in Papua New Guinea the Peter O’Neill government has signaled an impending onslaught against stridently critical social media with a draft new cyber-crime law.”

“The proposed PNG legislation mirrors in some respects the Cybercrime Prevention Act in the Philippines where an offender can be imprisoned for up to 12 years without parole and the law is regarded by critics as a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Truth is not recognised as a defence. 

“Last month in Thailand, the indictment of two journalists, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, for alleged criminal libel under a similar Computer Crime Act “may spell doom” for the online news website Phuket Wan.

“West Papua is the most critical front line for defending media freedom in the South Pacific at present. The West Papua Freedom Flotilla last September focused unprecedented global attention on human rights and freedom of expression in the Indonesian-ruled region.

Vanuatu Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil challenged the United Nations Human Rights Council last month to act decisively to end the “international neglect” of the West Papuan people.

 “In this climate of fear and repression of political dissent, and blatant negligence by the international community including the UN and the powerful developed countries since 1969, we find this forgotten race still dare to dream for equality and justice. Yet the democratic nations have kept silent.

“New Zealand is among these silent nations – and nowhere was this landmark speech reported in the New Zealand media,” Prof Robie said.

“More than 3000 asylum seekers are living in detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea deprived of their human rights and with no hope for the future.

“Through the so-called “Pacific Solution”, Australia has simply attempted to dump responsibility on two nations for a price,” he said.

“Journalism must fundamentally change in the Pacific to cope with the challenges. 

“Far more investigative journalism is needed, or as I would say more critical development journalism,” Prof Robie said.

“More education and training is needed and not just the sort of self-interested short-term training served up by donor agencies.”