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Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei formally arrested for alleged spying in China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/02/2021 - 5:39pm in

Tensions between Australia and China continue to intensify


Screenshot from ABC TV 7.30 video: Cheng Lei's family speaks out for the first time since her detention in China on February 9, 2021

Australian journalist and television presenter Cheng Lei has been formally arrested and accused of unlawfully supplying or intending to supply state secrets or intelligence overseas, according to Chinese authorities.

Cheng, who was the anchor for a business program on state television’s China Global Television Network (CGTN), was detained in August 2020. The Chinese government was called out at the time for so-called “hostage diplomacy.”

Members of her family spoke out on the ABC (Australia) 7.30 current affairs program.

Journalists working in China for foreign media have faced numerous difficulties recently. Australian journalist Bill Birtles, the 7.30 reporter for this story, was the ABC Beijing correspondent before making a rushed exit home in September 2020. He explained some of the background during the 7.30 segment:

Cheng Lei was taken away six weeks after ASIO [Australian security] raided the homes of four Chinese state media journalists in Sydney.

The anti-foreign interference investigation prompted Beijing to target Australian journalists in China but it's not clear if Cheng's arrest is related to the tense diplomatic relationship, because four months after she was taken away, her close friend, Haze Fan, a Chinese journalist working for American media, was also detained on national security grounds.

There is a much broader context of tensions between Australia and China involving trade, security and diplomacy.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has dismissed claims by China that Australia is trying to interfere in their judicial system. Payne responded that Cheng Lei “deserves the basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and human treatment to be met in accordance with international norms.”

Another prominent case involves the continuing detention by Chinese authorities of writer and popular online commentator, Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, since January 2019. The latest news concerning Cheng Lei has been greeted online in Australia with anger and frustration. Laoch’s tweet captured the growing reaction “Down Under” against the Chinese Communist Party:

Brisbane Twitter user Bob Bruce raised the possibility that Cheng Lei may have been involved in breaches of Chinese national security:

Paul Barrett, former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, drew parallels with the way that imprisoned Aussie journalist, Julian Assange, has been treated by his government:

Australian journalist Peter Greste, who spent 440 days in jail in Egypt, has continued his strong support for Cheng Lei. In a statement for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, he is quoted as saying that:

…Chinese authorities have had ample time to gather evidence, and unless they are willing to show it, they should release Cheng immediately.

China’s record on press freedom is already deeply troubling. In the absence of evidence, Cheng’s arrest only adds to the impression that Beijing does not care about the freedom of the press. Her case stands as a clear warning to other journalists to support the government or risk being imprisoned too.

Several news stories were posted to Reddit, where there was lively discussion.

Defamedprawn raised an issue that many others agreed with:

I don't mean to be harsh, but the lady is an anchor [for] CGTN, which is very much an arm of the regime. For instance, they're notorious for televising forced confessions and pretending they're interviews.

So should I feel sympathy for this person?

Catalyst1945 showed cynicism about whether the Australian government would take any real action:

Can’t wait for our spineless prime minister to do nothing.

Given the nature of Chinese trials, it is possible that we may never know what motivated her detention:

Meanwhile, Australia faces claims of hypocrisy over lack of judicial transparency. Ann raised the contentious issue of its own secret trials:

Exemplary governance: Which countries should high-COVID nations follow?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 3:04am in

Connecting illness, death and governance in a COVID world


Image by Frauke Riether from Pixabay

By Ian Inkster

As much of America, Europe and many anglophone nations face the welter of possible choices of action available to them as they enter what is understood to be a “second wave” of COVID-19, their media repeatedly mention a small group of nations that might best be copied—examples of good COVID governance.

Two points at the outset. For some time now it has been unclear whether this new wave was a direct function of mutation among the many DNA of the virus itself, or mainly a man-made cycle following the ups and downs of civil societies’ adherence to the regulations. Are the spikes resulting from civil laxity? The second point follows from this civil laxity argument—it may well be claimed that a nation’s ability to dampen COVID incidence and mortality is a sign of its existing power of governance. Good COVID management then becomes a measure of strength and scope of policies, of a government’s firmness in convincing its citizens to adhere to regulations, and of its own power to adapt to externally induced changing circumstances. From this, it may be argued that good COVID results act as an indicator of how well a government will lead its nation into post-COVID economic recovery. So, there can be quite a lot at stake here.

Thus, choosing the best example may well reflect an underlying belief among large numbers of people that a particular country has high status among the comity of nations. That is, successful COVID results may be seen by many people throughout the globe as exemplifying both successful governance and a firm moral economy. Contrariwise, failure over COVID in the “second wave” may now be considered a sign of a failing state. We have witnessed the ousting of Donald Trump.

Clearly enough, notable exemplars cannot be so small as to be clearly outliers, else such varied places as the Falklands or Greenland would take the lead. This puts to the side nations that have, indeed, been applauded, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. This applies also to isolated islands and vast territories with very low population densities such as Iceland, Madagascar, Finland, or even Norway. On more direct reasoning, those seeking exemplars should surely omit nations that do not report tests per million, such as Burkina Faso with a population of over 24 million and impressive Cm (cases per million) of 122 and exceptionally low Dm (deaths per million) of only 3, but which does not report test numbers. Of course, there will be nations that have actually had so few hospitalised cases or deaths that they have not instituted tests at all, but they are difficult to clearly separate from ones where cases would be high if thorough testing had been instituted.

Measuring COVID experience and selecting models

Table 1 below lists details for 10 nations, 5 of which are quite commonly exemplified across the world, and 5 others that are not, but whose records are worth serious consideration. World data is included in the last row. Coronavirus Worldometer

Table 1 offers a great many cautionary tales. Cm measures total COVID cases per million, Dm total deaths per million, D/C is deaths as a proportion of total registered cases, which we take as a good indicator of the effective mortality rate; Tests/m is the number of tests for COVID per million of the population. Figures are derived from totals for the period from January 13, 2020, the day of the first confirmed case in Japan, to November 11, 2020.

The five common exemplars are in bold, and they in fact offer very varying COVID experiences according to their own official registered data across the whole period. It seems clear that Germany and Sweden are exemplars, especially in Western nations because they have good records in fighting COVID-19 in comparison to other major European nations (e.g., the UK or Belgium with Dm figures of 719 and 1,112, respectively) and the USA (a Dm of 734). They also have highish results for tests per million, especially Sweden. But the latter’s principal drawback as an exemplar is its much smaller size of population, and the unusual characteristics for Europe of its relative spatial isolation when compared to high-COVID nations such as Italy. In addition, Sweden’s D/C or mortality rate at 3.6 per cent is actually the highest of the 10 nations in this table, despite a high testing rate. This could suggest either a fault in the procedures for effective hospitalisation after tests prove positive, resulting in greater mortality, or it could be a result of its relatively high proportion of older citizens—at 20.3 per cent of its population over 65, compared to say around 16 per cent for Australia and the USA. However, this case is severely weakened when we note that Germany has a ratio of 22.2 per cent of its population in this older grouping, and Japan an even greater proportion of 28.2 per cent. Both have D/Cs of 1.7 per cent. Given the small population of Sweden, this would throw some doubt on it as an obvious exemplar in terms of actual COVID results to date.

Within Europe, this leaves Germany as probably the better case, especially as, unlike Sweden, it is bordered by high-COVID nations such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (Dm measures of 1,185,  651, and 484, respectively).

Outside of Europe—problems

But at first glance, neither of the European contenders can match the non-European Australia, Japan and Taiwan, each with exceptionally low Dms (Taiwan with its unmatched 0.3 per cent) and much lower Cms. The seeming weakness of the Japanese and Taiwanese cases is their low levels of tests per million. Other things being equal, this means that lower numbers tested leads to lower “cases registered” if a nation is relying on test results as its principal COVID source, rather than official collections of data from hospitals and general practitioners of patients diagnosed as having the virus. This is not a resounding rejection by any means. It is very possible, certainly understandable, that a nation with actual low covidity would not feel the same need for mass testing as nations with obviously severe problems. It is notable that both the USA and the UK have the highest proportional testing ratios of any large nations—at around 50 per cent of their respective populations tested. Given that numbers of tests say little of the quality of the testing procedures there seems some good reason for holding Taiwan and Japan in high regard as exemplars.

Australia has no such problem, its rates of testing being amongst the highest in the world and notably above those of Germany. Its Dm is exceptionally low. The only problem area here is the unusual character of its demography (a huge proportion of the population live on the massive coastlines), its absence of land borders, its overall relative isolation from all high-COVID hot-spots, and its ability to close itself off despite high numbers of tourists and business connections. These features cannot simply be emulated, yet they may be more determinate of its success as a dampener of the virus than any single element of policy or of any special sequence of official interventions.

There is more to be said about why some nations appear as exemplary and others not, despite their directly COVID-related data. This is broached in three rows of Table 1. Pol-FrR provides an indicator of political freedom within nations, as measured over the years since 1973 by Freedom House, Washington, DC. The figures are an Index with 100 (Sweden) at the top among all major nations. Our Table 1 also indicates—with an * by the names of the 10 nations—all those that are labelled by Freedom House as “electoral democracies,” and it can be seen that all 5 of the major exemplary nations are in this category, and each is highly ranked on the Pol-FrR index, ranging between 93 and 100.The exemplary 5 are a free democratic group, sharing a series of status markers, attributes of a political culture, with many of the nations that regard them as exemplary.

Even though Taiwan with its amazing COVID history is not officially recognised as an independent nation by the other 4 within this select group, its characteristics fit perfectly with those of that group, as a whole. The PPP column shows that these nations are among the richest, most established industrial nations in the world, and estimates of their exemplary character by the major media outlets of the world must surely reflect something of a cultural club. The PPP column is a World Bank measure of purchasing power parity per capita, which adjust simple per capita income comparisons to account for cost-of-living differences by replacing normal exchange rates with those designed to equalise the prices of a standard “basket of goods” and services.

The index is based on the USA as 100. It seems clear enough that the chosen exemplars are seen as ones appropriate to emulate—democratic and free—and this is what is fastened on by the media that create the mantras of “lessons to be learnt,” or “following the science,” and so on. This is confirmed in column Econ-Fr, which provides an index of political freedom for 2020 calculated by the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC,  in its huge and freely available 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, where Singapore tops the world at 89.4, Australia appearing 4th with 82.6, Sweden appearing at rank 22 with 74.9, and so on. That is, this group is considered exemplary, despite the great differences in COVID performance within it, on grounds of a global culture in which, through an international media, market-based liberalism at high incomes is awarded the highest status among the nations of our world. With status comes notions of veracity, probity and high trust, the secondary rewards of high income.

It may thus be argued that the notion of what might be an exemplary nation in a COVID world, is not principally founded on the COVID record but on some evidence of COVID achievement plus much evidence of high national status among the other nations of our world. So, despite all the caveats and drawbacks noted in this paper, it would appear that the seemingly very different nations of the group will persist as exemplary.

Beyond the pale: Another perspective on best COVID performances

Our other 5 nations are a different cup of tea altogether. Although Poland and India are both parliamentary democracies, they share with this second group much lower income per capita, with Ethiopia being one of the most impoverished nations on earth. They all have lesser degrees of economic and political freedom, but they all also have very good COVID performances as measured in columns Dm and D/C, and generally reasonable numbers for tests per million (the worst being Angola which actually exceeds the figure for Taiwan!). These are not small countries demographically, and to that extent deserve some attention as possible exemplary cases.

With its large Cm measure, Poland looks at first an unlikely candidate, but note that its figure is equal to that of Sweden, and much lower than those of Spain (29,692), or France (26,769), or the huge Belgian figure of 42,547. Its tests per million exceed those of Japan. Its D/C ratio is very low, much below those for the UK, Italy, France, and even Germany. It borders 7 nations of high or uncertain covidity, such as the Czech Republic. And, of course, it is European. We might suggest that it has never been seen as exemplary in the West because of its cultural distinction of having low per capita income, equal to that of Malaysia, and its lower degrees of economic and political freedom than those found among the accepted exemplary group. And, of course, the same must be said of Ethiopia and Angola. The most likely causes of their low COVID measures is a lack of the infrastructure for effective testing and the low number of the elderly in their populations, primarily a result of low incomes. As noted already, this alone would tend to bring down the mortality rates. India and Malaysia are by far the more likely examples for others to follow. India’s massive population and extreme poverty, both noted in Table 1, has not inhibited low Cm and especially low mortality measures. As a well-established parliamentary democracy, India has a relatively high level of political freedom, although its determination to continue to plan high economic growth (an annual growth rate of GDP of over 7 per cent from 2012) means that government does not let market forces rule the production and distribution of goods and services. Aided by its age distribution but remembering the enormity of its population, India might well be seen as among an exemplary group of low-COVID nations.

Malaysia as best practice?

As an exemplary case in many senses, Malaysia has been the most neglected by international mass media commentators. Yet with highish levels of economic freedom, it has achieved remarkable COVID statistics based on a reasonable level of testing. In this, it has been aided by being bordered by nations of low covidity, such as Indonesia (Dm of 55) or Thailand (Dm of 0.9 and total cases of only 3,861!). Its Dm and D/C levels are remarkable. Moreover, its history of COVID defence shows a great deal more alacrity and intelligence than most nations in the West. Screening was adopted at all airports after the first case in Thailand was made public on January 13, and Malaysia only reported its own first case on January 25–well after Japan, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan. Thermal scanners were adopted early. Under the Movement Control Order of March 18, the government, with good cooperation from the media, actively spread the “#stayhome” instructions, NGOs and prison inmates fabricated PPE for those on the frontline, and initial financial stimulus to prevent full economic downturn had been initiated in February. Very early on, Malaysia accepted that China had proved that by isolating the infected group of individuals and practising social distancing, the pandemic could be contained. In order to fund new hospitals and create stocks of medicines, the Ministry of Health and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) established an “action coalition” to obtain financial aid from corporate companies, government-linked companies (GLCs), and other organizations in Malaysia, a form of private-public sector funding that the West has yet to truly exploit. Government dampened any division between private and public sectors, enlisting help directly from the social media, and NGOs (not private companies) were used early on to provide protective masks, disinfection chambers, and to educate citizens on COVID-19. By April 11, Malaysia had reported a total of 4,346 cases and a total of 1,830 recovered, a proportion of 42 per cent. Today the numbers are 32,969 and 45,095, a proportion of 73 per cent.

Far quicker than countries such as the UK, the Malaysian authorities recognised the key problem of the elderly in care homes. As early as March 27, the Malaysian government introduced the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) with RM 25 million allocated to provide assistance for aged care homes, including cash disbursement, food supply and healthcare items, as well as an RM 250 one-off payment for government pensioners. Malaysia was directing a much higher proportion of its very limited resources to helping the elderly than did most of the Western nations and at a much earlier date, and this was evidently rewarded through its very low Dm and D/C statistics.

Beyond casual statements—selecting with mindfulness

The Malaysian example details the variety of positive responses that have been made in nations not hitherto considered exemplary yet showing very superior COVID results over far more wealthy nations. In itself, this sort of evidence cannot pick an exemplar for all. Picking an exemplar by looking at single cases is unlikely to help very much. But what seems clear is that global exemplars do not have to look the same in terms of political structures, incomes, or economic ideology. Better that any nation looks at its own circumstances and selects elements considered appropriate. The best option might be to consider the more global picture but allow especially for differences in income and age distributions, the character of borders, densities and levels of urbanism, and degrees of air pollution. Such elements may guide selection towards countries or a country of similar circumstance, and the best COVID performer amongst them may well be your best exemplar. But just do not jump too soon!

Elements such as age structure or borders may be reasonably recognisable and objective measures. Political systems and policies are quite the opposite, these alter with regimes (we can look forward to developments in the US). The only way out of the seeming conundrum is to first admit that COVID incidence and mortality is only very partially related to any one nation’s official management policies. In fact, to date, only the dimmest light has been shed on what is the relationship between illness, death and governance in a COVID world. For this reason alone, a great COVID exemplar may not be a great example of political and civil life, especially as defined by decision-makers in parliamentary democracies. Perhaps choosing between Australia and Japan, between India or Malaysia, ought not be so normative. Perhaps it should carefully weigh up seeming COVID performance in the context of all the elements, admitting that the policies of governance may not be foremost amongst them.

Professor Ian Inkster is a global historian and political economist at SOAS University of London, who has taught and researched at universities in Britain, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. He is the author of 13 books on Asian and global dynamics with a particular focus on industrial and technological development, and the editor of History of Technology since 2000. Forthcoming books are Distraction Capitalism: The World Since 1971, and Invasive Technology and Indigenous Frontiers. Case Studies of Accelerated Change in History, with David Pretel. Follow him on Twitter at @inksterian

Report into Australian special forces war crimes in Afghanistan ‘gut-wrenching’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 4:04pm in

Twenty-five defence force personnel face charges over thirty-nine killings

Afghan Files- Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’ screenshot

Screenshot: Australian Broadcasting Corporation Four Corners video 16 March 2020 ‘Killing Field’

A report published on November 19 into alleged war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan has stunned Australians. Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, with 400 trainers and advisers remaining till today.

Despite media stories and widespread rumours of troop misconduct, the Afghanistan Inquiry report has been described as a horrific bombshell.

The inquiry was conducted by Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reserve Major General. The independent investigation, commissioned by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), reviewed over 20,000 documents and 25,000 images and interviewed 423 witnesses. “57 incidents and issues of interest” were examined in detail.

The investigation followed a 2016 review of special forces culture by military sociologist Dr. Samantha Crompvoets. Crompvoet's investigation was commissioned by the ADF in 2015 after rumours of war crimes circulated in the special forces community. She found that there was, “illegal application of violence on operations, disregard for human life and dignity, and the perception of a complete lack of accountability at times.” The review has a comprehensive list of media reports about special operations overseas from 2000 to 2015 but was finished before the sensational 2017 Afghan Files revelations mentioned below. Her review did not document specific incidents. Media stories helped to inform the Brereton investigations but are not specifically detailed in its report.

Guardian Australia reporter Paul Daley summarised the background and findings of the recent report:

For more than four years, the Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton has investigated allegations that a small group within the elite Special Air Services [SAS] and commandos regiments killed and brutalised Afghan civilians, in some cases allegedly slitting throats, gloating about their actions, keeping kill counts, and photographing bodies with planted phones and weapons to justify their actions.

Among the findings of the Brereton report are the following:

  • 39 Afghans were killed and 2 others treated cruelly between 2009 and 2013. 25 current or former ADF personnel are implicated in one or more of the 23 incidents identified.
  • The killings did not happen ‘under pressure in heat of battle’.
  • Junior soldiers were required by patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner for ‘their first kill’, a practice called ‘blooding. The commanders were usually senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers).
  • So-called ‘throwdown’ weapons were carried by Special Operations Task Group to be placed next to bodies to justify killings.

This screenshot is an example of the heavily-redacted nature of the report, with names and other details blacked out:

Brereton report extract page 73

Screenshot: Brereton report extract (page 73).

Incidents involving 19 individuals have been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for criminal investigation, which may result in murder charges.

The report also explores the fostering of a ‘warrior hero culture’ as a contributing factor. An example of the toxic culture emerged in September 2020 when an Instagram account run by special forces soldiers, past and present, mocked war crimes allegations. Many Australians on social media were appalled at the time:

The report has dominated social media. Afghan-Australian human rights lawyer Diana B. Sayed posted this statement on Twitter:

There has been ‘shock and anger’ in Afghanistan. Hani Marifat, CEO of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, raised the implications for other nations:

The Australian government’s intention to pay compensation to the families of victims in Afghanistan has been welcomed.

However, not everyone accepts the report’s recommendations:

The report found that ‘no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters.’

In an article on The Conversation, veteran journalist Michelle Grattan questioned how it was possible for those up the chain of command to not know.

If senior officers did not pick up gossip and whispers, surely they should have been enough aware of the broad special forces culture to know that extensive checks should be in place to guard against the ever-present threat of misconduct.

Former soldier Dr. Julian Fidge believes that the culture of military leadership has led to a lack of accountability at higher levels:

A potential consequence of the recent report concerns former SAS member Ben Roberts-Smith, a recipient of Australia’s highest military honour the Victoria Cross. The Court has directed him to hand over documents from the Brereton inquiry. The documents may reveal whether he is implicated as a suspect. His old SAS squadron is to be disbanded as a result of the recent report. Roberts-Smith is currently suing newspapers for defamation.

Whistleblowers and the media

Between 2014 and 2015, Australian Army lawyer David McBride leaked information on war crimes in Afghanistan to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A criminal prosecution against McBride is still proceeding. There are many people calling for the charges to be dropped:

However, Federal prosecutors are not proceeding with charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes as it was not in the public interest. Oakes helped expose secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC in 2017 (also known as the Afghan Files), he was also one of the journalists at the centre of an Australian Federal Police raid on the ABC in June 2019.

The chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell, has been accused of hypocrisy:

Colin Hocking blames the Federal police and Prime Minister Scott Minister for the pursuit of the media:

On the broader front, the ramifications of these disturbing events will be playing out for years to come, especially criminal charges.

Solomon Islands bans Facebook for ‘harmful content’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 4:16pm in

An official claims Facebook is merely being ‘suspended’ for an indefinite time


Students studying at a computer lab in University of South Pacific Solomon Islands Campus. Photo from Flickr account of the Asian Development Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Cabinet of Solomon Islands has issued a temporary ban on Facebook for what it considers ‘harmful content’ disseminated on the social media platform. It is unclear when the ban will begin and how long will this last.

The ban was proposed by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka.

Agovaka told Solomon Times why the Cabinet came up with this decision:

Abusive languages against Ministers, Prime Minister, character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concerns.

The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content. At the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet and even young kids can be able to download harmful stuff from the internet.

Agovaka said the government has not yet finalized the details with internet service providers about how the ban will be enforced. He added that press freedom will not be affected since citizens can still publish or air their sentiments on other media platforms.

There are 120,000 Facebook users in Solomon Islands.

The announcement garnered widespread criticism which prompted Permanent Secretary of Communication and Aviation Moses Virivolomo to clarify that Facebook is merely being suspended. But the official gave no timeline about the suspension.

The Facebook ban or suspension is seen by critics and the opposition as an attempt to silence citizens who are exposing irregularities in government.

Opposition Member of Parliament Peter Kenilorea Jnr reminded the Cabinet about the importance of upholding freedom of expression in a democracy:

As leaders, we will face resentment from factions of a demanding and at times dissatisfied public. Much of the dissatisfaction and mistrust, whether real or perceived, will be aired. Sometimes these need to be aired. After all, we, leaders, need to be held accountable by the electorate that place us in positions of power. We need to face the music from time to time. This is democracy.

But as leaders, let us not attack one of the main pillars of democracy upon which our nation rests – the freedom of expression. Let us not mute the voices, however angry, of those that we have sworn to serve.

Malaita Provincial Premier Daniel Suidani, a local official, also disagreed with the decision to ban Facebook:

Do not go into public life and make laws and decisions for your own good or for your own protection as is seen with the banning of Facebook.

Doing this will only lead to further frustrations. You can be guaranteed that going against your people only leads to failures.

The business sector is not supportive of the ban. Jay Bartlett, the board chairperson of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), said the Cabinet should be focusing on other more important matters:

It is the Government’s prerogative to make such a decision, but as a Chamber we believe that there are other pressing issues that requires our collective focus.

Ms Gloria Hong, a member of SICCI representing small businesses, argued that Facebook is an essential platform to interact with consumers.

Using social media helps us to build brand awareness, increase our customer base, and connect with customers.

In my view, banning Facebook is a threat to businesses, especially the small businesses who cannot afford to run advertisements on radio, newspapers and on TV.

Tourism Solomons CEO Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto warned about the repercussions for the tourism industry:

It goes without saying the platform has become vital in our efforts to keep the Solomon Islands top of mind and competitive on the world tourism stage for the time when things return to normal.

No other social media platform comes even close to what we have been achieving with Facebook.

And not just for our tourism sector, but for all Solomon Islands businesses and the wider community in general which uses Facebook as a key means of communication across our 992-island archipelago.

In a letter sent to the Solomon Times, Floyd Manata from Port Moresby said banning Facebook is not the solution:

We need to be very careful about dealing with certain things regarding this time where the world technology is changing every 6 months. Today it's Facebook next year probably TikTok. But hey think again is this the best solution to the problem?

Before you ban Facebook you should establish or come up with policies that will facilitate the issue of cyber crime and cyber security. Do we have one in place at the moment?

Facebook told ABC Australia that it is ready to discuss the issues raised by the Solomon Islands government:

We’re reaching out to the Solomon Islands government to discuss today’s decision.

This move will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific.

Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said the ban will deprive users of vital information that can save lives during a pandemic.

Given how important it is for people to quickly access information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government may not just place political discourse and participation at risk, but even lives. Total bans on websites or internet information providers will almost never be justifiable under international human rights law.

Dan McGarry, an independent journalist living in Vanuatu, has a proposal for Pacific governments which are unhappy over the social impact of Facebook and has considered plans to censor or ban the popular social media website:

Pacific governments need to start a dialogue, not just with social media giants, but with other national regulators too. They need to learn from others’ mistakes, and leverage others’ successes.

‘Life and Limb’: Foresters on the front line of climate change in Vanuatu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am in

The documentary follows Vanuatu's foresters


Foresters in Vanuatu. Source: Facebook page of Vanuatu Department of Forest.

One of the films being screened at the ongoing 2020 Eugene Environmental Film Festival is ‘Life and Limb’ which features the work of foresters in Vanuatu.

The Eugene Environmental Film Festival highlights initiatives around the world that share  “a deep connection and responsibility to protect the environment and work in solidarity with others in the struggle toward environmental justice.” This year the festival is free and all films are screened online.

Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation of 80 islands. It is extremely vulnerable to climate change, in particular the threat posed by rising sea levels to coastal communities.

One of the environmental protection initiatives that the Vanuatu government has recently launched aims to make an inventory of forest lands on 12 major islands. This was last done 30 years ago.

Ginny Stein, a veteran Australian journalist and filmmaker, documented this work. Stein has been helping Vanuatu’s Department of Forestry as a volunteer and consultant.

Global Voices emailed Stein and asked what inspired her to document the work of the foresters:

After a long career as a foreign correspondent and film maker, I moved to Vanuatu to work as a volunteer in communications at the Department of Forestry.

The National Forest Inventory kicked off while I was there. I thought it was a great chance to teach foresters about the power of media in raising public awareness about what they do. I was fortunate to get a chance to work with them, to talk about filming using phones and tablets, before they departed for the field.

She added how her team decided to make a documentary:

They started sending me short video clips which I would turn into social media videos and post on the forestry Facebook page. At the same time, I had the chance to meet up with them in the field, on a number of islands where I would film with them. Over the course of six months, I realised we had enough material to make a documentary, which is how ‘Life and Limb’ came together.

The documentary follows a team of foresters who are part of the government project to make an inventory of the forest lands and offers a glimpse into their battle against climate change. It also shows the importance of the forest in Vanuatu culture and how logging for several decades has gravely affected the ecological balance in the country’s small islands.

It also narrated the impact of the rise in cash-crop demand on Vanuatu’s agricultural and forest lands.

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For the past year I have worked with the Forestry Department of Vanuatu to help protect one of this South Pacific Island's most unique and valuable resources….its forests. Foresters became camera operators as they began the first stocktake of the island's forests in more than 30 years. The proof of everyone's efforts…a documentary "Life and Limb" will be launched next week at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila. For the past few weeks, we have all watched from here in horror as Australia's forests have burned. Vanuatu, a small pacific island on the front lines of climate change, is one of a number of island countries that has chipped in to help Australian firefighters. This documentary is about Vanuatu's forests, but it highlights the value of forests to people's lives the world over. Tankio tumas olgeta blong Vanuatu and all who helped make it. #forestartist #forestmapping #forests #conservation #lifeandlimb #climateemergency #wildlife #wildseas #kauri #nabunga #forestry #climatechange #climate #sustainability #theworld #camera #documentary

A post shared by VanuatuForestryDepartment (@vanuatuforestrydepartment) on Jan 6, 2020 at 7:49pm PST

Stein explained some of the challenges faced by the foresters:

For the teams, the biggest challenge was getting to where they had to go, by boat, truck, or foot. And the weather. They were reliant on the support of communities. For me, connecting with them was the greatest challenge. And data is really expensive in Vanuatu.

The film was screened in Vanuatu in January 2020. Stein shared the feedback of the audience:

Showing the film the first time and watching the reaction of foresters was priceless. There was lots of joy and pride in what they had done. And a thrill of seeing themselves on the big screen. Taking it into communities was very rewarding. At Hog Harbour in Santo, people watched it at an outdoor screening. There was laughter and joy at seeing ni-Vanuatu working for their country. People really loved the music as well. I was lucky that Vanuatu's Cultural Centre gave me access to some of their archived music and that the Soul Harvest Choir also allowed me to use some music I recorded with them.

Finally, Stein’s message to the international community:

My message is please watch “Life and Limb”, and please support those on the frontlines of climate change who are working hard knowing there are great challenges coming their way. You can do that by taking action yourself, wherever you are. By learning more about climate change, and calling on your representatives to start taking action now.

The whole film can be watched by visiting the website of the Eugene Environmental Film Festival. Watch the film’s trailer here:

Australian government on collision course with Facebook and Google over news revenue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 2:39am in

Tech giants fiercely resist compulsory bargaining code of conduct

Facebook News - U.S. website

Facebook News – U.S. website (Author's photo of computer webpage)

In what could be a world first if successful, the Australian government has drafted laws that would force tech giants Facebook and Google to negotiate with media companies over payment for linking to their news stories. The tech giants have responded defiantly.Flaw

The dispute has its seeds in a request by the Federal government for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). In December 2017, the ACCC was directed to consider the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators (digital platforms) on competition in the media and advertising services markets. Its final report was published in 2019 and a draft bill was posted on 31 July 2020.

Draft legislation would establish a code of conduct, requiring negotiations between the parties that could result in payment to the publishers of the content. Compulsory arbitration would follow if agreement could not be reached.

As can be expected, most of the large media companies support the code, including the Guardian as it admits in its explainer:

The government, acting on the advice of its competition regulator, accepts the argument that the platforms benefit far more, and that their substantial market power means the news companies do not have the capacity to demand a better deal. It also accepts the argument that this lopsided relationship jeopardises the capacity of the media to continue to play their essential role in society.

The vested interests of Australian-based media may help to explain why there seems to be confusion about the difference between using links to news and publishing the actual content of the stories. They foster the common belief that the platforms are gaining advertising revenue from these links, money that should be going to the news producers.

Google and Facebook react

Apparently Google is prepared to pay for content and has undertaken some negotiations about doing this. They have mounted a publicity and lobbying campaign, with a letter to the ACCC posted on their platforms in Australia. The latest update to their open letter outlines their position.

They have also highlighted part of the proposed laws requiring them to give the big news organisations notice of changes to search rankings and algorithms. It warns that ‘Search and YouTube, which are free services, are at risk in Australia’ without being specific about their future.

Moreover, Google News in Australia is under threat, according to the tech giant.

Facebook has threatened to remove the news content from its site:

[…] we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.

It has already changed its terms of service in Australia to enable this to happen:

Effective October 1, 2020, section 3.2 of our Terms of Service will be updated to include: ‘We also can remove or restrict access to your content, services or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook’

Facebook has also offered a carrot:

We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more. We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content.

Online commentary

The sums of money being talked about could well exceed $AUD 600 million [USD 40 million] according to Crikey’s Bernard Keane, politics editor at Crikey, an independent news website in Australia.

However, he rejects the government position arguing that it is stealing money from successful companies:

The government’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code would be a draconian regulation to force two explicitly identified companies, Google and Facebook, to hand an unlimited amount of revenue over to Australian media companies, justified by a fiction that those companies steal news content.

[…] The code is justified by a News Corp lie, that Google steals news content and makes billions of dollars from it.

Well respected Australian independent writer Tim Dunlop mused at length on Twitter about the government’s approach:

You can read the complete thread here.

Hal Crawford explained the case for change to New Zealanders at Spinoff:

Google, Facebook and other global companies are not sufficiently contributing to the public purse and the community life of the places where they conduct business. Both companies have made moves to support news locally, but these good initiatives are not yet enough to balance the books.

The role of News Corp

The Australian government has support from the big media companies especially Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In fact some see it as doing his bidding arguing that the code of conduct mirrors a News Corp submission to the ACCC. Kangaroo Court of Australia’s Shane Dowling has no doubt:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and the Scott Morrison government are conspiring in an attempt to shakedown Google and Facebook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

One of the slightly puzzling aspects of News Corp's strident position is that nearly all of its online news sites are behind paywalls. The national daily, The Australian, is a good example of a paid subscriber service only.

Others are riled by the fact the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are excluded from the proposed scheme. This includes the Australian Greens party but others fear it would undermine their government funding and independence:

There are also concerns about the future of the Australian Associate Press news agency and the funding of regional newspapers.

This is not just shadow boxing. The tech giants face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover in Australia if they do not comply with the code. That could amount to hundreds of millions.

The draft legislation has been the subject of a month’s consultation. It should be debated by the parliament before the end of the year.