Report by Pacific Media Centre

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“We were among the first media people allowed in in decades. The challenge now is to see if other media outlets in New Zealand will take the opportunity to try and apply.” Asia-Pacific Journalism reports on the West Papua mission by Adrian Stevanon.

Pacific Scoop: Report – By Latifa Daud

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo lifting the foreign media ban in West Papua is a promising step, says Māori Television Native Affairs producer Adrian Stevanon.

Stevanon has recently returned from West Papua, saying the experience was “interesting” and his programme is being broadcast tonight.

“Going in you’re not so sure how things are going to play out on the ground. I felt pretty safe the whole time,” he says.

“For all the things I’ve read about the region, what videos I’ve watched online – my own experience was quite different.

“I was worried about my safety and it turned out I really had nothing to worry about as long as you use your common sense.”

adrianbio2 200tallHowever, Stevanon says because permits are still hard to get, it makes reporting about the region difficult.

“I think mainstream media should care and should take an interest in what is happening in West Papua.

“On the flipside if it’s so hard to get in it makes it extremely hard for New Zealand journalists to send their own people in.

“We were among the first media people allowed in in decades. The challenge now is to see if other media outlets in New Zealand will take the opportunity to try and apply [for permits].”

Mainstream media reporting
Radio NZ International journalist Johnny Blades has received his media permit to visit the region.

He says Papua generally does not feature on most mainstream media outlets in New Zealand.

“Most mainstream media have other fish to fry, insular issues such as housing prices, injuries to All Blacks …. Coverage of foreign stories falls into a fairly narrow category here.

“I would venture to say many media outlets are used to their foreign news being dished on a plate for them, without actively going out to learn about the complexities of our wider region.”

Accessing verifiable information is the challenge, which is why gaining a permit is a step forward for Blades.

“Previously I was declined a visa, but this year – since President Jokowi’s announcement that foreign media restrictions were lifted – a few of us have got journalist visas.

“It can be very difficult to contact people in Papua region due to the remoteness of the place, its patchy telecommunications and language barriers.

“Yet the telecommunications scene does seem to be improving and there are now frequent reports filtering out from various actors on the ground. These reports however are often not easy to verify.”

Local reporters still sceptical
A report by Stephen Hill at the University of Wollongong, Papuans and Jokowi are hostage to Indonesian politics, mentions the scepticism of local reporters regarding the lifting of the media ban.

His decision was announced in May 2015 on a visit to Papua, one of three scheduled for the year.

“Jokowi announced the lifting of the ban on foreign media and released five political prisoners who he then met personally.

“However, between 20 and 30 people remain incarcerated and local journalists are sceptical about the lifting of the media ban, which they regard as window dressing that will still exclude reports of human rights abuse.

“On this visit, Jokowi also announced a slate of new infrastructure investments in energy, tourism, manufacturing and communications.”

He also argues that the fabric of Indonesian politics would ultimately hinder potential progress in Papua.

“Jokowi is in a bind of his own making. He is a man of vision and integrity frozen by the politics of his time.”

“Papua awaits escape from being held hostage to wider Indonesian politics. But escape for the Papuans first requires Jokowi to escape his political shackles in order to deal with human rights abuses in Papua.”

‘Do more’ plea
Leilani Salesa, spokeswoman for Oceania Interrupted, says part of the reason why the New Zealand media has not shown much interest in the region is because of our relationship with Papua.

Oceania Interrupted is a collective of Māori and Pasifika women who use art to raise awareness about West Papua.

“It’s largely to do with our contemporary relationship with West Papua. We don’t have a direct relationship like we do with Samoa.”

She also argues that the situation calls for the New Zealand media to step up in what she describes as “the world’s forgotten decolonisation struggle’.

“This is a situation whereby people can exercise their own power and we know that can happen through social media and citizen journalism. That is one way to spread the message.

“They have the responsibility to do their job.”

The same can also be said for the New Zealand government, according to Salesa.

“We have a Prime Minister who is willing to mobilise and send troops to other parts of the world because the rights of other people are threatened and put at risk and yet on the issue of West Papua his lips are almost sealed.”

More campaigning
Green MP Catherine Delahunty says the New Zealand public should continue to campaign for West Papua.

“We need to campaign hard, we need to keep making it visible, we need to keep telling the stories, we need to keep hosting West Papuan guests and we need to keep opening it up for public understanding.”

Delahunty says the difficulty imposed on local reporters puts the responsibility on the international community.

“They are dependent on us. Because they don’t have freedom they need us to speak out because that’s the job of all concerned citizens no matter what country we come from.”

“The more secrecy, the less people know about it and the more vulnerable the people of that country become.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully rejected Delahunty’s call to apply pressure to Indonesia at the 2015 Pacific Islands Forum to allow for an investigation into human rights abuses in West Papua.

“They are absolutely bound up in keeping good with Indonesia. They want to make sure they can continue their trade relationship and they don’t do anything that could imply support for West Papua.

“They have bought the line that West Papua is part of Indonesia.”

View on Native Affairs at 8.30pm tonight

The Pacific Media Watch freedom project at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre has been reporting West Papua for the past two decades. Watch for Alistar Kata’s video report later today.

Latest Pacific Media Watch report

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.