Report – By Alex Perrottet of Pacific Media Watch
Investigative reports on New Zealand ‘unethical” investment in the Freeport mine in West Papua and the 2010 Pike River mine disaster have won prizes in the national investigative journalism awards organised by the Bruce Jesson Foundation.
Karen Abplanalp, a photojournalist studying in the School of Communication Studies at AUT University, has won the $1000 Emerging Journalism award for her Metro magazine report “Blood Money” that investigated the New Zealand Superannuation Fund’s investment in the Freeport McMoRan goldmine in the West Papua region of Indonesia.
Abplanalp’s article caused a stir when it was published in the December 2011 edition of Metro and last month’s decision by the fund to pull out of its investment has been widely seen as a result of Abplanalp’s and other reports.
Abplanalp says she was inspired to follow the issue after hearing from Maire Leadbeater of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee based in Auckland, who is a vocal activist on the plight of West Papuans.
She had mentioned the involvement of the New Zealand fund in a workshop class in the postgraduate Asia-Pacific Journalism course taught by Professor David Robie from the Pacific Media Centre.
“Professor Robie along with Maire Leadbeater are part of a group of people who have been tirelessly raising awareness about West Papua and were instrumental in getting this story off the ground,” she said.
She says it is particularly encouraging to have an award that encourages and recognises the importance of investigative journalism.
“Metro editor Simon Wilson recognised the value of pursuing an investigation into the superfund’s investment in Freeport McMoRan and Rio Tinto, and so Metro became the first mainstream publication to feature a story covering Papua.”
Abplanalp’s report catalogued the violence around the mine, including shootings and killings.
She reported that human rights abuses as well as environmental impacts had been well-documented, long before NZSF invested in it.
“Working on ‘Blood Money’ gave me the opportunity to tap into an incredible network of academics, activists, researchers, human rights campaigners, environmental experts, international and national journalists, financial and responsible investing experts that all assisted and contributed willingly to the story,” she said.
“I was totally blown away by the help and generosity of 99 percent of the people and organisations I spoke with.”
The article was also republished on the PMC Online media resource website.
Last month, the Super Fund announced it had sold its $1.28 million investment in Freeport McMoRan because of “breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces”.
The Bruce Jesson awards recognise journalism that contributes to public debate in New Zealand on important issues and in this case, the judges decided Abplanalp’s piece stood out from the rest in the emerging journalism category.
“Her entry did stand out, it was exceptionally good for a student, and exceptionally good anyway,” said judge and freelance journalist Camille Guy.
Guy, convenor of the Jesson Foundation’s journalism awards subcommittee, said the report fulfilled all the requirements of the award and was in the spirit of Bruce Jesson.
“Karen Abplanalp and Metro magazine have performed an important public service in bringing these conditions to light, and I am delighted that the Super Fund has now pulled out of this investment.”
Last year’s student winner was AUT University graduate Josh Gale, who wrote a series of stories in the student journalism newspaper Te Waha Nui, and later in the New Zealand Herald, on prostitution of girls as young as 12 in central Auckland.
In the major category, the Bruce Jesson Senior Journalism Award, Christchurch journalist Rebecca Macfie won the prize for her research into the Pike River mine disaster.
Macfie is planning a book on the 2010 tragedy, and the $4000 prize will help her to complete the task. She is the South Island correspondent for the Listener and is hoping to publish the book next year.
“This is exactly the kind of work that the prize exists to support, and we are very proud to be able to back this important book,” said Bruce Jesson Foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey.
Previous award-winner Nicky Hager will deliver the 2012 Bruce Jesson lecture on October 31.
Other award winners and the judging panel can be viewed at the Bruce Jesson website here.
Source: 8124 Pacific Media Watch
Video: The first Pike River explosion in 2010. – BroadcastMediaNZ.