Report – By TJ Aumua
Media “freedom fighters” in a struggle to protect independent news was a theme during the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event held at AUT University in Auckland last night.
It was an eye opener for student journalists who were made aware of the danger and sacrifices journalists can encounter when defending freedom of speech and democracy.
The director of AUT’s Pacific Media Centre, Professor David Robie, acknowledged Al Jazeera journalists being held captive in Cairo and also two Pacific “information heroes”.
Three Al Jazeera English journalists, including the local Cairo bureau chief, went on “trial” for allegedly spreading false news and aiding a proscribed “terrorist” organisation Muslim Brotherhood.
However, their case was adjourned again for another two weeks and bail was refused. They had been detained since December.
The case of another Al Jazeera colleague, Abdullah al-Shami, was also cited.
He had been held for eight months “without charge and has been on a hunger strike for more than last 100 days”, Dr Robie said.
These journalists were just some of the many who had been brutally victimised by the world’s predators of the press, he said.
He also acknowledged two media freedom fighters of the Pacific.
“Last week, Reporters Without Borders published a list of the 100 people around the world that have been described as ‘information heroes’. Two were in Australia and none in New Zealand.
“But two were named from small Pacific Island states.”
“None of our Pacific Island heroes rated a mention in the main stream media,” Dr Robie said.
“Both of these men deserve our gratitude.
“Leading investigative journalist José Belo in Timor-Leste and Kalafi Moala of Tonga, who have both been jailed during their careers for defending press freedom.”
Dr Robie said José Belo, editor of the weekly Tempo Semanal, was threatening that he and other colleagues would chain themselves to Parliament to protest if the lawmakers passed a controversial draconian media law on the nation.
He quoted a citation from the RSF website to raise awareness of the exploitation of human rights that had confronted Belo during his career while fortifying press freedom.
“During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste in the 1990s José Belo learned to cope with anything. He was handcuffed, hung by his feet, burned and put in prison for three-years.”
The inspiring motto of press freedom by Kalafi Moala was also quoted by Professor Robie.
“If you’re going to influence any society, or any group of people, information is the key. The victory for freedom of the press and freedom of expression is a victory for the people.”
A moment was taken at the end of Dr Robie’s address to applaud these journalists and acknowledge their work and passion for press freedom.
Guest speaker and former New Zealand Herald editor-in-chief, Dr Gavin Ellis, said world press freedom day should be updated to “world media freedom day”.
The day served two purposes, he said.
“One is the opportunity to pay tribute to the courageous men and women who place themselves in danger to report the truth, particularly to those who have paid the ultimate price for their endeavours,” he said.
“It is also to regard with dismay the wholesale denial of the basic human right of free expression.”
TJ Aumua is a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) student at AUT University.