Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Outsourcing danger' – the conflicted challenges facing war reporters

Keynote address by Shooting Balibo author Tony Maniaty, a former ABC television journalist and now senior lecturer in international journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, at the War Reporting seminar at AUT University.

By Tony Maniaty

Anyone remotely sensitive who watches the film Balibo comes away surely with a sense of anger, about the injustice visited upon the people of East Timor, about the invasion of sovereign states - whether East Timor or Iraq - and about the cruelty that human beings visit upon each other in the quest for political and economic power over their neighbours - and for something worse, national insecurities posing as military might. This syndrome is not confined to a misguided Indonesia and a helpless East Timor three decades ago; it still happens, and our own nations are sadly party to it.

At another level, all of us here can only reflect soberly on what happens when young Western journalists - in this case inexperienced, yet strongly motivated to “get the story” - veer towards the inexplicable in the intensity of their actions. To get the story, to stay to bitter end, no matter what. Is a story worth dying for, is any story worth the risk of likely death?

If we say no, we hand over the conduct of warfare to those without morality, without limits, without law. War without independent witness is war without mercy; the very presence of the media ensures to some degree that war is modified, to standards that are hopefully less than barbaric.

Yet saying no - that no story is worth the ultimate risk - will save the lives of journalists and other media workers; does our role stop there, should that alone be out focus? Do we delude ourselves that journalists can stop violence, or stop wars? Maybe our job is much clearer than we imagine: to observe until observation becomes lethal, and then withdraw. Isn’t that enough?

If we say yes - that some stories are worth dying for, or at least risking death for - we enter another ethical minefield: we encourage enthusiastic young men and women to go to war, to the very edge of danger, to observe events which they may not even be able to report - because they will be killed trying, a swirl of impressions and observations forever locked in their heads, unheard and unwritten and without impact, told to nobody. No audience will hear the beauty of their cause.

Quagmire of ethics
Is there anything harder than negotiating this quagmire of emotions, of dangers, of ethics and responsibilities? Even the average soldier has an infinitely clearer mission - to defend or to attack with arms, as they are highly trained to do - and yes, at a high risk of death - on behalf of the nation that sent them into battle. No questions, no ambiguities.

Does any journalist go into battle with such clear codes, such a strict framework of behaviour? For us, war is a blur, something not to fight but to report and to survive; we are civilians in conflict more often with ourselves, our distant employers, our unseen audiences. War rages all around us; war itself is neutral; it does not care whether we live or die. Is it up to us to save ourselves? That, certainly, is the greatest ongoing challenge we face: simply staying alive. But within that, there are many others.

Seventeen years ago I discussed with the then-film student and future film director Robert Connolly my own conflicting experiences under fire, in East Timor: what happened to me first in Balibo, then in Dili, trying to decide whether my own relatively short life - I was then 26 - was worth sacrificing for the story.

Of course morality declares that I should also have been equally considering the fate of the East Timorese, since my reporting of their eventual fate might well have changed their fate - or perhaps not. Indonesia had drawn up invasion plans; they would invade, no matter what I said; when they hit Dili they would search me out, and take me out.

If there was any doubt about that - and I had no doubt, from the moment the Balibo Five were murdered - it was all to grimly erased with the assassination, the morning after the invasion, of the sole Western journalist in the territory, Roger East.

Timorese misery
If I had remained, I too would have been dragged out to the Dili wharf and shot through the head. But by then I was back in Sydney, back in the safe and relatively comfortable world that was mine and not theirs - not the misery of 25 years that was to befall the East Timorese - but in Australia, in which I had been born and to which I was connected. Was my allegiance, my responsibility as a journalist to the struggle in East Timor - or to Australia, or to the Australian Broadcasting Commission which employed me?

How many allegiances can a person have and still be true to any? Self-interest took over: the desire for life triumphed over any question of death. For which I was attacked from multiple quarters, including from within the ABC itself. Yes, you should have stayed, even if it meant dying. And I still grapple with that sad allegation.

Which raises another ongoing challenge: how to change a news culture that in many quarters still encourages and even rewards high-level risk-taking - especially when it works - but mourns the tragic loss of colleagues when it fails. I think that as journalists, as a profession, we have to decide once and for all which side of that equation we are on, and stop sending out mixed messages - especially to younger colleagues, eager to make a name for themselves and largely unaware of the dangers they face in war. The values created by Hollywood and Hemingway need to be rejected, unambiguously.

In 2008, in Balibo, it was hard for me to stand in the space where they were killed and not be shaken to the core by this realisation – that our decision to pull out under fire may have saved our lives, but that we too might just as easily have been overwhelmed by Indonesian-led forces as they were, and that we too might just as easily been trapped, and been doomed to die.

Back then we were all young, quite inexperienced in war reporting, sent by managements to a conflict zone without training, without protection, without a clue really. None of this had been carefully worked out by us; what happens when the Indonesian commandos come over the hill, guns blazing? So why were we still in Balibo, other than waiting for the enemy to arrive?

Digging deeper
Digging deeper, it comes to this: having come so far, under such duress, we were unwilling to turn around and head back to Dili without a reel or two of men in action, men under fire, even men taking aim and shooting would do. And yet a full-scale Indonesian attack was not what we wanted; that would leave us all dead. We wanted, like most war correspondents, to get a good story, the beginnings of something bigger, and get out alive. We wanted to place ourselves as close to the precipice as possible without going over.

As it happened, that opportunity did not arise: five days before the Balibo Five died, our team had been shelled with artillery, hunted by an Indonesian helicopter gunship, we had survived a head-on collision with a truck, some of us had been badly injured, our camera gear was smashed, our TV reporting mission was in total disarray, and we were still twelve hours from Dili with no help. To say we were rattled would be a slight understatement.

After all that, I had no illusions about the murderous fate awaiting me at the hands of any invading Indonesians; I knew they would deliberately track me down, I knew there would be no escape. Even assuming I could flee to the hills, how long in a fractured nation could I survive without being turned in? A few weeks in this tiny, troubled land had been enough to inspire a sense of sorrow and defeat and humiliation at the thought of leaving, but it had not been enough to make me want to die, to give up my youthful life, for East Timor.

These reflections perhaps sound hollow now, three long decades after the event, and indeed some notable figures have, before and since the publication of my book Shooting Balibo, publicly criticised my actions all the way back then. I should have stayed, I should have taken those greater risks, should perhaps have died, I should have surrendered my life for the greater cause of journalism and exposure and truth. But I did not, and I’m alive today to talk about it.

I know the gravity and density of what we, the ABC crew, went through, but I do not know what the Balibo Five went through – or rather, what went through their minds – in those final horrific moments. But we all know that a similar fate has befallen too many of our colleagues in the 35 troubled years since. It’s happened in the Balkans and in Africa, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and again recently it happened in the streets of Bangkok. Journalists, doing their job, cut down.

We are here to change that.

Cold blooded murder
The New South Wales Coroner’s report into the death of Channel Seven cameraman Brian Peters found that the Balibo Five had been murdered in cold blood by invading forces. It also found that the newsmen had mistimed their departure, staying too long to ensure survival. Our challenge now is to fix both of these problems – to apply forcefully the rules of war, the codes of conduct, the International Humanitarian Law that protects war correspondents as civilians doing their job; and to inform and educate media workers going to war, to ensure they don’t place their lives (and the lives of others) at too high a risk. Both of these aims are realistic and attainable, although hard experience also tells us we will never eliminate the high possibility of death facing media workers in war zones.

We also need to recognise that those who cover wars and survive, even those who return seemingly without a scratch, are always affected by the horrors they have seen, that post-traumatic stress is a reality and that journalists are just as vulnerable as soldiers and aid workers. The challenge here is to create trauma-aware news organisations - and especially managements -that do more than pay lip service to personal security at one end and counseling at the other.

Last weekend I attended a workshop in Canberra run by the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma - and too often I heard stories of news managements handing out the business cards of psychologists “in case you need help”. That’s really nothing more than the 1970s equivalent of “go out, get pissed and get over it”, and no more effective. We need a more rigorous, systematic and sophisticated approach to an issue that has damaged many lives, and in some cases, ruined them.

Students’ dream
These days I’m a journalism educator, which ideally should remove me from day-to-day concerns about all this. Instead, I find myself facing a challenge that in many ways replicates what happened to us long ago in Balibo. I’m teaching students who dream of being foreign correspondents, especially war correspondents, and especially television war correspondents. In 1975 such dreams were tempered by harsh realities, even if you were fortunate enough to win the job lottery and score, as I did, a cadetship with the ABC.

To reach the status of war reporter, you had to put in years of hard grind, and when you finally flew off to war, your entourage included a camera person, a sound person and a dozen metal boxes of gear. It might have been dark work, but it was not lonely work; you always had a team around you, you never left each other’s company, and as grating as that sometimes was, you gave each other advice, and protection, and support.

Today, my students can - and some do - circumvent all that rigmarole by walking around the corner, buying a laptop and HD camera and a cheap air ticket to Kabul, and two days later be filming – alone, unsupported - on the frontline. And in this increasingly prevalent scenario are two more challenges facing us. One, we need to inject compulsory safety training modules into our media courses; and two, we need to address more carefully the vexed issue of freelancers, and what I call ‘the outsourcing of danger’. If networks are not prepared to send staff reporters into hot zones, do they have any right to send others there – for far lower pay, without training or insurance or training, without safety gear?

All this points to the conundrum we are in, the inescapable dilemma of all war reporters: are we there to observe, to save lives, to stop wars, to expose, all the above - and then to die? Where is that clear line that defines our role, our moral and professional obligation, even our humanity? By simply doing our job, are we part of the problem or part of the answer, if the answer is as simple as what? Reporting wars, ending wars, preventing wars, exposing wars?

Was ever a job so conflicted with loyalties, to employer and audience and peers and even perhaps nations, an emotional wringer in which the self is everything yet, in the heat of battle, counts perhaps for nothing?

Pictures: Tony Maniaty and the a section of the 200-strong crowd at the War Reporting seminar. Photos: Del Abcede/PMC and a banner from Maniaty's website set in Eawst Timor 2008

* Tony Maniaty is senior lecturer in international journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, and the author of Shooting Balibo. This is a keynote address he gave at the Reporting Wars: The Ongoing Challenges conference hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New Zealand Red Cross, AUT University and the Pacific Media Centre on 24 May 2010. Maniaty will also speak at the Qantas Media Awards in Auckland on June 11.

Other War Reporting stories on Pacific Scoop
David Robie's Cafe Pacific

Monday, May 17, 2010

PMC director talks media freedom on JACradio

Pacific Media Centre/JACradio

Pacific Media Centre director David Robie is among a host of people interviewed at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day conference in Brisbane earlier this month.

He talked to Lisa Machin from the JACradio team.

Genevieve Kennedy also interviewed Cherelle Jackson, editor of the Samoan newspaper Environment Weekly, on media freedom in Samoa.

Radio coverage from the conference is now available to download as podcasts. Students from the University of Queensland's School of Journalism and Communication joined international media in reporting the two-day event.

Among the stories they produced were interviews with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and world press freedom prize winner Monica Gonzalez.

Hear Australian investigative journalist Chris Masters discuss how freedoms are not used well and find out how audiences are dealing with the sheer volume of news available.

Tune in to JACradio to download and listen to the WPFD coverage.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Latest PJR poses ‘price of freedom’ challenge

Pacific Media Centre

Editors, journalists and media researchers face the challenge of the “price of freedom” and the cost of reporting global conflict in the latest edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

Writing in the edition, Shooting Balibo author Tony Maniaty, who was a consultant for a recent film on the killing of six Australian-based journalists – including a New Zealander – in East Timor, makes a strong plea for wider acceptance of international humanitarian laws.

“As a first move ... we need to stop viewing and presenting war as an heroic enterprise, and see it for what it fundamentally is – an inhuman, horrific and desperate act by people devoid of imagination, for whom brute force is not the last resort, but usually the first,” he says.

Maniaty, of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), is a guest speaker at a war reporting seminar being organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the New Zealand Red Cross in partnership with AUT University and its Pacific Media Centre (PMC) on May 24.

The special edition of the journal, published by the PMC, highlights the new Australian code to protect the safety of journalists and notes the lack of an equivalent for New Zealand media.

The edition will be launched at the seminar, which will include a screening of the film Balibo and a debate about the cutting edge of journalists’ safety in war zones by leading war correspondents TV3’s Mike McRoberts, TVNZ’s Sunday current affairs programme presenter Cameron Bennett and independent journalist Jon Stephenson.

Both Bennett and Stephenson have commentaries featured in the journal, which has published a series of papers from war reporting conferences co-hosted by the ICRC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the ACIJ in Sydney, and ICRC, New Zealand Red Cross and Massey University in Wellington, in May last year.

New York-based Reuters global multimedia editor Chris Cramer writes on the “challenges to journalists’ safety and welfare” and has recorded a video message for the Auckland seminar.

“Is the industry in such a mess, in such chaos and crisis, that fair and balanced reporting from conflict zones, as well as other locations, is simply too expensive for much of the industry to bear?” he asks in PJR.

“Who does the reporting when reporters can’t afford to get on an aircraft? Even drive a few hundred kilometres to cover the story? What price a free press if our business models can’t sustain our work?”

Contributors to the edition include journalists on both sides of the Tasman, media educators, lawyers, Red Cross figures, war correspondent trainers and military media minders.

Other unthemed research articles published include political blogs on Fiji – a ‘cybernet democracy’ case study, local news in community broadcasting and an analysis of Pacific Island nations’ climate change strategies at Copenhagen 15.

Editors of this edition are Professor Wendy Bacon of the ACIJ, PMC director Dr David Robie and Alan Samson of Massey University.

Pacific Journalism Review
New Zealand Red Cross
More information on the seminar

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Back to j-school a milestone for former Pacific broadcaster

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch

Putting a media career on hold in order to go to back to journalism school was a tough choice, says Gladys Hartson, a former broadcaster at the Pacific Media Network currently studying at AUT University.

Hartson entered the Graduate Diploma in Journalism programme this year and recently took up a part-time stint at the Pacific Media Centre as a reporter for Pacific Media Watch.

“It’s hard being out of school for so long,” she says. “Not having a full-time job, not earning money when you’re used to an income – that’s hard.

“If anyone wants to do this, there’s a lot of sacrifice, but I’m enjoying it.”

Hartson, 37, worked as an announcer for eight years at Radio 531pi, then as an issues assistant at the Mangere Electorate office of MP Su’a William Sio in 2007.

She describes her return to school as a “milestone” in her career.

Her classes at AUT span from news reporting, journalism law and ethics, communications theory to television journalism.

“I’ve learnt that what’s good for TV or broadcasting may not necessarily be good for print.

"There’s a real practical side to broadcasting, but mastering the basic tools for journalism – that’s another story,” she says.

Pacific journalism
Her experience outside the classroom has also helped in “making sense” of academic material.

Hartson, an ethnic Samoan (Afega/Eva/Fa’asitoo’uta/Fagalii) raised in Invercargill, said that Pacific media practitioners need to put forward a strong identity in mainstream media.

“What Pacific people may deem as important may not be important in mainstream. The challenge is to be faithful to what’s important to us,” she explains.

She adds that Pacific journalists should expect to be “slammed” for reporting on certain issues and that it’s important to approach certain topics with care.

“One minute you’ll be dealing with high power leaders or academics, and the next minute you’ll be thrown in with grassroots people - in a house in West Auckland dealing with a story on domestic violence … You learn to adapt.”

While adjusting to an intense academic routine – including several hours of classes each day and a load of assignments – Hartson said the experience is “worth it”.

She wishes to bring more attention to Pacific “unsung heroes” at the grassroots level, and raise awareness in the media about struggles faced by recent immigrants from the Pacific Islands.

Josephine Latu is a postgraduate communication studies at AUT University from Tonga and contributing editor of the PMC's Pacific Media Watch project. Photo: Gladys Hartson by Josephine Latu

New Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism
Gladys Hartson stories on Pacific Scoop
Gladys Hartson stories at the Pacific Media Centre

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tribute to Elma MaUa, a Pacific journalism pioneer

By Gladys Hartson: Pacific Media Watch

Pacific Island journalists and broadcasters in New Zealand have paid tribute to veteran broadcaster and journalist Elma MaUa who has passed away after a long illness.

MaUa was one of the first Pacific Island women journalists in the NZ media industry.

Journalists and broadcasters remembered MaUa in their own way, hosting their own memorial events.

Former colleague and Pacificeyewitness website publisher Vienna Richards shared her memories.

“I first met Elma in the mid-1990s. She was doing a story on Pacific women and the issues they faced with the mainstream health system,” Richards said. “I was working in health at the time and she called me up out of the blue for an interview.”

Richards remembers thinking “this woman is on to it”. It was only after MaUa’s death on April 28 did Richards recall that it was her first experience of being interviewed by a Pacific Islands journalist - and a woman.

MaUa was known for her passion for Pacific media with her involvement with the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA).

Richards said: “She was a real professional, and told it like it was.”

“I will miss her and it’s a real shame we won’t have her as a mentor for the next lot of Pacific journalists and broadcasters coming through.”

Pacific Radio News newsreader Jae’d Victor, a veteran of 18 years in Pacific radio, recalled his time working with MaUa at Niu FM.

“She was a woman who had so much knowledge. She was an expert in her field, particularly in sport,”he said.

“Elma was never one to mince words!” Victor added.

“Those of our Pacific journalist/broadcasters already in the media industry, need to put their foot forward and ensure the doors are open for up and coming journalists so they can make their mark like Elma did.”

MaUa, who migrated to New Zealand in the mid-1950s from the Cook Islands, was one of the first Pacific journalists to work for Radio New Zealand in the mid-1980s.

She was sports editor for the Radio New Zealand International service that was launched in 1990.

MaUa was aged 61. She is survived by her five children.

Gladys Hartson is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University and is working with the Pacific Media Centre's Pacific Media Watch.

Pictured: Elma MaUa and top (right front) with the Radio NZ International team. Photos: RNZI

Pacificeyewitness tribute

Thursday, May 6, 2010

PMC director calls for stronger voice against censorship

By Pacific Media Watch in Brisbane

A New Zealand media educator who headed Pacific journalism schools for a decade has called for a stronger voice against censorship from the region’s communication education sector.

“The student press and broadcasters in the Pacific universities need to be proactive in their coverage and philosophy as news media,” said associate professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University.

“They need to protect the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the traditions of an independent Fourth Estate while also helping Pacific nations forge a common vision.”

Speaking in one of the University of Queensland’s school of journalism and communication World Press Freedom Day lectures, Dr Robie gave a series of case studies involving censorship in the region’s journalism schools, including the George Speight failed coup in Fiji in May 2000.

The University of the South Pacific journalism school’s training website Pacific Journalism Online was closed by the university administration when martial law was declared in Fiji on May 29 and only allowed to resume again three months later providing no coup news was published.

University authorities also tried unsuccessfully to halt publication of the journalism programme newspaper Wansolwara, which published a special coup edition in June 2000.

The censorship attempts by the authorities led to international protests by media freedom bodies such as the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The university failed to gag student journalism on both counts through the students’ personal courage and determination and they were later vindicated by winning several international awards for their coverage,” Dr Robie said.

He also praised the role of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) at the University of Technology, Sydney, for immediately establishing a “mirror” website for the USP journalism students and continuing to publish the “gagged” students’ stories, pictures and audio clips.

“Their archive continues to this day,” he said.

Dr Robie said he had surveyed a number of students who had experienced coverage of that coup and they had “developed enormously” as journalists over the past decade. The experience had equipped them well for their careers.

“A shared view of many of the students reflecting on what they had learned during the putsch is that student journalism was in many respects more independent than the mainstream commercial media driven by profit,” he said.

Asked whether journalism schools were doing enough in the present climate of Pacific censorship, Dr Robie said far more could be done to continually test the boundaries.

But he cited Wansolwara’s special “role of the media” issue last year and an edition of the Fijian Studies journal devoted to media and democracy, which were examples of strong contributions to debate.

He also cited examples of attempted censorship by authorities at the University of Papua New Guinea, but said the student journalists had remained resolute.

Pictures: Top: Dr David Robie and Dr Levi Obijiofor, of the University of Queensland, at UNESCO WPFD 2010. Middle: Vanuatu Independent deputy editor Evelyne Toa and Dr David Robie. Bottom: PNG Ombudsman Chronox Manek.