Thursday, May 5, 2011

[pima.nius] Full text for Marc Neil Jones WPFD keynote to the regional media dialogue meeting, given May 3 at NUS, Samoa.

1:25 PM |


Hello everyone. I am glad to be given the opportunity to address
future leaders, entrenepeneurs and media professionals here in Samoa
at the university.

I have spent 29 years in the media industry in Melanesia in Papua New
Guinea and Vanuatu and have had first hand experience on difficulties
trying to pioneer freedom of press in Vanuatu which has only had
independent media since the mid 90's, as up until then it was
completely monopolised by the Vanuatu government.
Since launching the Trading Post in 1993 I have been  deported,
jailed, assaulted a number of times, threatened many times, and
defamed by government numerous times in their attacks on me through
their own media outlets. However we have always managed to stand our
grand by adhering to media codes of ethics, not supporting any
political party and doing our job of informing the public on issues of
national interest and I am pleased to say attitudes have changed
towards media although inherent problems remain between government and
media throughout the Pacific that are never likely to change as it is
the nature of the beast. It is a love/hate relationship. They love us
when they are in opposition and hate us when they are in government.

In fact I used to joke and tell  government ministers over a friendly
shell of kava that it is my job to be a pain in their arse and if I
wasn't I wouldn't be doing my job. Now in Vanuatu they accept that it
is media's job to be a pain in the ass of government and ask difficult
questions and expose news that they may not like. That is our job. You
know if you have hit a nerve with an expose that is big news,
depending on the reaction you get from government. If they over react
, that means you have hit home accurately with your news and they are
running for cover. A politician knows that the best form of defence is
attack and generally they pick on something not directly related to
the news item and certainly rarely answering directly concerns raised.

As a  palagi living in Melanesia and a newspaper publisher, I am
unfortunately more of a target for violence than perhaps my Melanesian

My 19 year old son was surfing the internet and said to me 'dad you
are only famous for getting assaulted' and I said , "what do you
mean?" He pointed out that when he googled NEIL-JONES ASSAULT there
were at the last count 197,000 pages on the internet and that is a
direct result of strong regional media assistance over the years and
in particular raising a storm of the latest incident involving a
Vanuatu government minister coming into my office with 8 thugs and
assaulting me and trying to strangle me over news he didn't like. It
is embarrassing for me that my only fame is getting assaulted, jailed
or deported over news but it also shows how effective the Pacific
journalists email forum and the Pacific freedom forum as well as
Pacific Media Watch and regional media bodies such as the Pacific
Media Association PASIMA, PINA, and IFJ when it comes to applying
pressure to help us.

I feel I need to give some brief explanation to why I was deported,
jailed , threatened and assaulted.

The only time that I probably deserved being given a hard time was
when I came to melanesia from London.
When I first got to PNG in 1982 I was young and employed as
advertising and marketing manager for Word Publishing under Russell
Hunter whom many of you know when he worked here and in Fiji after he
left PNG. Well I knew nothing about custom and did what every
advertising person did in those days in London, I draped half naked
girls including my wife at the time , over the cars to sell them in
PNG and make them look good in advertisements in the paper which was
owned by the churches. Well it certainly got noticed by people who
hadn't seen pretty girls selling cars in a church newspaper. Papua New
Guineans  from the rural areas asked if the girls came free with the
car and they were not interested in the car but how much was the girl.
Of course in these days such sexist advertising would be condemned and
I would have people like Lisa and others  hounding me over using girls
like this but in those days it was normal.

I thought I had wised up but made the same error when I first got to
Vanuatu in 1989 and published a wall calendar using pretty girls
wrapping themselves around the tam-tams that we have in Vanuatu. Well
this was a big no no as girls are not allowed anywhere near tam-tams
in custom on the island where they are made and I got hammered with a
large custom fine from the paramount chief. He demanded around US$500
as a custom fine and I argued that I should pay him in custom fines of
pigs and mats. We ended up friends but I vowed then to learn
everything about custom and culture in Vanuatu and now have my own
cultural centre as a tourist attraction.
In 1993 I launched a successful newspaper in competition to the
government and that is when the fun and games started.  However they
were not used to a free and open media as everything had been
government controlled until that point apart from a couple of
newspapers that had been closed down for irritating the government and
being run by foreigners.

I first used PINA when Monica Miller was President in the mid 90's. I
had been assaulted in a nightclub when I was having a friendly chat
with a minister Willie Jimmy and one of his drunken supports assaulted
me over a news item we had run. The minister was in no way involved
and told his guy to stop. I left. I had no intention of writing
anything on the incident as it wasn't news but then the minister calls
me and demands that I not write anything on what happened otherwise he
would burn down the office. Well that became news and I ran with it to
show ministers that they could not threaten media. I contacted PINA
and there was publicity on what happened in the region and it sent a
message to the government on what would happen if they made threats.

We were lucky for a few years and the government tolerated us despite
me being a foreigner and continually breaking sensitive news on
corruption, publishing ombudsman reports and satirical cartoons but in
January 2001 the then Prime Minister Barak Sope had enough and accused
me of 'revealing and publishing classified state secrets' . I had in
fact broken the secret corrupt and fraudulent activities that he and
the Indian conman Amarendra Nath Ghosh had been setting up with bank
guarantees that eventually got him jailed for three years. He had
obviously been sufficiently panicked to have me picked up with no
warning and taken to the airport at 6am where they even kept the plane
delayed to bundle me on the flight. As a foreigner by law I should
have been given 14 days notice but this never happened and suddenly I
was on a plane losing everything I owned plus my future wife behind. I
wasn't even given the chance to pack a suitcase and had no cash on me
or credit cards. As an insulin dependent diabetic I was in a serious
predicament. What was even more astonishing was the fact that I had
been being an immigration bond to my home country of England for a
decade but they deported me to Australia!

Immediately PINA and Radio Australia and Radio NZ were contacted by my
staff and the news hit the wires. I was met at the airport by Sean
Dorney and interviewed for television and radio and the pressure
mounted. The Acting Chief Justice signed a court order preventing the
government from stopping me returning to Vanuatu to challenge the
decision. I was met at the airport late at night with a hundred people
and my future Ni Vanuatu wife was filmed by local television running
into my arms. It would have been great TV but PM Sope refused to allow
it to go to air and instead made a statement saying I would be
deported again and if necessary they would change the law in
parliament to have me removed. I was lucky and his government fell
within a few weeks. In addition the Ombudsman issued a damning public
report showing the the deportation was highly illegal.

The new government agreed to settle out of court all my costs as they
knew had if I gone to court with the Ombudsman report out they would
have lost. I had the last laugh in this case as when I arrived in
Brisbane I was highly emotional and upset thinking I had lost
everything. The local people on the plane who had heard all about what
had happened at the airport as I had started yelling that I was being
deported and there is no democracy in vanuatu and to tell everyone
what they were witnessing - they had a whip round on the plane and
gave me nearly AS$300 to help me. Friends told me to come out with
them and get drunk and forget about it and wait to see what happens.
They got me plastered, took me to a few strip joints and girlie bars,
got me a couple of lap dances and I started to cheer up. Well I put
all that in my expense claim against the government that they settled
out of court so I got even.

What is important with this story was that I had seen how vital it is
in  getting the news out on attacks on media as it embarrasses the
government and creates pressure to follow the law. I was convinced and
still am that media has no choice but to go public as much as possible
to rack up pressure as the Vanuatu govt gets concerned if pressure
comes from outside that they cannot control.

In April 2006 I had demanded the suspension of a police officer who
had assaulted my sports editor at a rugby match between police and the
Vanuatu Mobile Force. Two days police members of the rugby team turned
up at the office early morning, arrested me and threw me in the
maximum security jail on a driving charge that had not gone to court
and was later dropped. They seriously tried to have me jail for 3
months as payback. I was somewhat nervous going in the jail as we had
written news items about these hard core cases and as the only white
guy in the jail needing daily insulin I was worried. I needn't have
been as all the prisoners were great and happy to see me. Some were
shuffling about wearing leg irons tied to each other and others showed
me nasty whip marks where they had been beaten by the police. I told
them I would try and help them if and when I got out. I was lucky and
the newspapers lawyers did their job and I was out as darkness
approached. I kept my word and did a big expose and editorial opinion
on human rights abuses in the jail. Later the system was changed and a
new correctional services policy backed by NZ introduced.

In January 2009 we had written a number of news items critical of
correctional services and heavy handed police action in the jail. A
prisoners report on humans rights abuses was leaked to us out of the
prison by an educated inmate that we published. There had been
numerous person escapes and then the jail was burned down. I did what
any editor would do and called for Bong's suspension pending a
commission of enquiry into the burning down of the jail, prisoners
claims of abuse and numerous escapes under his command. Bong had
threatened to send his boys into the office if we didn't apologise for
a tongue in cheek photo caption of the prison gates wide open for
hours on end and a caption that said'"gates wide open and eyes wide
Four  police working for Bong in Correctional Services entered into
the office and belted the crap out of me accusing me of getting Bong
sacked as the PM had suspended him two weeks after our editorial.
I was punched and kicked a number of times when I was on the ground.
The two others with him threatened to kill me because I hadn't got
their side of the story on the problems with the prison. One
threatened me with a knife and said he would cut my neck and another
threatened to shoot me with a gun. They said they were going to take
me to the prison to look after the prisoners.

I managed to make them stop only with some inspired acting. I told
them I was diabetic and started shaking. One of them said, "He is
bullshitting. Kill him." I thought my acting must suck so I started to
dribble and roll my eyes and gasp for breath. That worked and suddenly

With the growth of regional news outlets online and the launch of
Transparency International in Vanuatu as well as Pacific journalists
email forums and launch of freedom forums, the online world has helped
create a media monster that can be used effectively to raise a huge
voice when something happens.

After this assault we let fly and the region reacted. David Robie was
a tremendous help through his blogs, and Cafe Pacific and Pacnews got
the word out around the region and newspapers started covering it all
over the place. The wire services were tipped off by media pros in the
region. Concerns were raised overseas through diplomatic missions in
Vila and yet nothing was ever done as it was my word against theirs
and I had a weak case and the police and Public Prosecutor did
nothing. The main officer who assaulted me is now in charge of Port
Vila police station and was appointed by his mate Joshua Bong who is
now the Police Commissioner. A typical Vanuatu SNAFU some would say.

Now in 2011 and with Pasima and the Freedom Forum taking over from a
declining and ineffective PINA when it comes to standing up to media
abuse in the region, the assistance to those of us in the region who
have problems really comes home to roost as it is more effective now
than it has ever been to get the word out and embarrass governments
over attacks on press freedom.

My latest assault angered many because it was a government minister
who came into the office with 8 thugs and assaulted me, tore clumps of
hair out and tried to strangle me whilst the minister was yelling at
me.I had written a news item based on a public report made by the most
senior civil servant in the Department of lands at the time on alleged
corruption on request from the Prime Minister. He had access to any
file he wanted and slipped me a copy of the report which gave me front
page snows stories for a week. The minister had been implicated for
seizing a run down property in a prime part of Port Vila and selling
it to a political affiliate who is now the Deputy Prime Minister for a
ridiculously low figure. The motel was unsold within a couple of
months for 10 times the amount and the government had lost half a
million dollars in revenue because he hadn't gone to tender. I had
broken that story in the first place and now it was in the official
report with all facts documented. I simply quoted from the report and
he has accused me of bias because I didn't get his side of the story.
I didn't need it as we were quoting from official government documents
and I wasn't breaching media ethics.

In any other country in the "developed" world a minister storming into
a national newspaper with a gang and assaulting the publisher and
threatening the editor would last 48 hours before being forced to
resign or sacked.No so in vanuatu because of instability in the
government as if the PM had sacked the minister the government would
have fallen.

The pressure has been unbelievable from outside. I was assaulted on
March 4 and simply sent a copy of our front page story to five email
addresses. From there it mushroomed out all over the place by email.

The Pacific Media Centre through Professor David Robie got the news
out out the next day on his Pacific Scoop site and Pacific Media Watch
news web site. Dr Mark Hayes put it up on his excellent media ethics
web site called ethical martini. By March 7 Pasifika Media Association
had issued a strong press statement condemning the assault an
demanding the minister be charged and had set up an online petition
web site headed 'Stop Violence Against Journalists In The Pacific
islands" that attracted hundreds of signatures before a glitch
prevented more signatures being added.

PINA and the Media Association of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands reacted
and issued statements condemning the assault, letters started pouring
in from around the world where the news had broken and then
Transparency International, Reporters Without Borders and IFJ all
issued statements. Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand rushed to
support and diplomatic mission in Vila raised concern with the USA
issuing a strong public statement demanding justice.

The Vanuatu government had never before been under so much pressure
from around the region over an assault on media. The Minister issued a
statement saying I was publicising what happened all over the region
without his side of the story and we knew the pressure was mounting.
Sources in the government advised that they were surprised at the
pressure they were getting and negative publicity. All this from 6

We decided to keep the pressure up because there should be one justice
system for all and nobody is above the law. I want the minister to go
on trial and believe firmly that if he is convicted and cannot stand
in politics in the next elections and no longer an MP because of a
criminal conviction, that will send a message to everyone in power
that this is what happens if you take the law into your own hands and
assault the messenger.

I was an still am skeptical over whether the police and public
prosecutors office will do their job as they haven't in the past. I
decided to rack up the pressure on the system by contacting the
Australian Pro Bono Resource Centre because I felt that given the huge
regional publicity on the assault it would be of interest to a high
powered layer to do it pro bono. I succeeded in getting the former
Solicitor general of the Solomon Islands and an appeal court judge in
Vanuatu willing to assist us pro bono but this has been rejected by
the Public Prosecutor so the pressure is now on her with the region
watching. The case is currently in front of the courts and is clear
cut so it will be interesting to see what happens, particularly now
the government has changed and the new government want him convicted.

None of this would have been possible without regional support and I
wish to publicly thank everyone who has assisted in getting this to
court. I think it is timely that we are now having discussions on how
to coordinate regional responses to issues affecting media in the

One of the concerns I have is that people who have little knowledge of
media ethics are pushing for a Media Complaints Council to be set up.
As I was the person who drafted a media code of ethics for vanuatu I
was astonished when the President of PINA Moses Stevens and President
of MAV accused me of breaching media ethics because I did not run
their press releases and at the same time breaching ethics by
demanding that the Vanuatu government not give me a radio licence and
making it a reserved industry for indigenous Ni Vanuatu when I have
lived there 22 years, am married to a Ni vanuatu and have been a
citizen with a Vanuatu passport for 7 years.I was refused a right of
reply to a front page news attack on me in Stevens paper because they
also owned the only radio station and I was going to be competition.

I feel there is a need in the South pacific for a regional Pacific
Media Complaints Council to be set up to assist countries. If anyone
has a complaint that cannot be sorted out with the media outlet it can
be referred to the Pacific Media Complaints Council. The reason I say
this is that you need people who have a life time experience in media
ethics such as professors of Journalism, media lawyers, retired
editors of national newspapers etc. In Vanuatu we do not have that and
my concern is that we will end up having politicians, chiefs and
pastors with little or no knowledge of media and ethics dictating what
we can or cannot write. That to me is unacceptable.

The Minister who led the assault on me has said he will fight to get
media code of ethics made law. How would journalists feel if they
could be arrested on charges that they did not get comment from a
politician or printed a photo of a dead body? No we need a regional
Pacific Media Complaints Council set up with qualified and experienced
people and if they believe ethics have been broken and demand
apologies it would be acceptable to everyone in the industry. I think
this would get the support of many countries.

Finally I would like to say on World Press Freedom Day, that my
assaults are something nothing compared to what journalists in the
rest of the world go through. At least 134 journalists were killed in
2009 and 94 journalists were killed in 2010. Jim Boumelha, the IFJ
President said "The sheer number of murders and conflict related
incidents which claimed the lives of journalists and media personnel
around the globe this year has brought into sharp focus the high risks
associated with the practice journalism today.Nearly 100 journalists
killed is a heavy loss which ought to stir the world governments into
action to offer better protection to journalists."

Yes it can get uncomfortable sometimes practicing journalism and
exposing corruption in the Pacific islands but we live in a journalism
paradise compared to the poor journalists who have lost their lives
fighting to do the same in Pakistan, indonesia, Afghanistan, Mexico ,
Iraq, Phillippines and Russia in the last year.We should salute them
for their bravery and thank our lucky stars that the Pacific way is
still the best way dispute occasional hiccups.

Thank you for your time.

Lisa Williams-Lahari
Media Freelancer
Regional Coordinator, IFJ Pacific Media for Democracy and Human Rights
Ph Mobile: 677-7574230
Skype: lisalahari

* "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that
matter."-- Martin Luther King Jr.  *


pacific islands media association
aotearoa, new zealand
The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information regarding the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA). Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications to keep you informed about aspects of the media industry. 

These emails are unedited and discussions made through this googlegroup are unmoderated. Announcements made through this googlegroup do not constitute endorsement for the organisations, individuals or opinions featured. Please check the integrity of organisations and individuals before exchanging personal information with them. 

pacific islands media association
aotearoa, new zealand
The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information. Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications.
DISCLAIMER: These emails are unedited and discussions made through this googlegroup are unmoderated. Announcements made through this googlegroup do not constitute endorsement for the organisations, individuals or opinions featured. Please check the integrity of organisations and individuals before exchanging personal information with them.
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