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Asia:NZ Media Newsletter Friday, 21 April 2006

Asia:NZ Media Newsletter Friday, 21 April 2006

Kia ora, selamat datang and welcome! Included in the April edition of the Asia:NZ media newsletter is reaction to the killing of a Chinese language student in Auckland, a preview of the Indonesia: Foreign Policy, Islam and Democracy seminar, the New Zealand Radio Awards and the Chinese New Talent Singing Championships. There’s also warm praise for Asia:NZ deputy chair Judge Anand Satyanand who will be New Zealand’s first Asian Governor General.
April 2006

• Killing heightens fears for students
• Shock, outrage on Chinese language websites
• Former Habibie adviser for Indonesia seminar
• Praise for next Governor General
• Call to halt Asian studies cuts at Canterbury
• Grant winners finalists in radio awards
• NZ Idol Chinese style
• Life at the Jakarta Post and after
• Decline of the NZ foreign correspondent


Killing heightens fears for students
There has been enormous interest in China over the case of Wan Biao, the 19-year-old Chinese student whose body was discovered inside a floating suitcase, says the Xinhua news agency correspondent in New Zealand.

Xia Wenhui, who has been based in Wellington since being assigned to New Zealand by China’s national news agency over a year ago, says parents and readers in China are very concerned by the news.

The victim Wan Biao only arrived in Auckland in August and it appears he encountered the wrong kind of people who lured him to his death. But Mr Xia says rapid developments leading to the arrest of two men will come as some relief to parents in China.

"They would like to believe that this case is an isolated event because New Zealand is very famous for its safety and the stability of its social conditions."

Mr Xia says he is heartened by how seriously the education authorities and the police are taking the case but they need to be because negative reports about New Zealand can be spread very quickly over the internet.

"So I think more and more parents currently would take deeper consideration on whether to send their youngsters abroad to New Zealand or to other Western countries."

Mr Xia believes that New Zealand is one of the safest countries for international students and that perhaps explains why the case has received "huge attention in the Chinese media".

The country’s reputation is the reason it attracts a unique set of students. "The New Zealand group is rather special because they are younger and some are from rather rich families".

But one of the issues that have to be addressed is the big cultural differences between the two countries. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the contrasting education systems.

Xia Wenhui says the education authorities here need to improve efforts to manage international students.

"The younger generation of Chinese students rely very heavily on discipline, management and the consideration of educators, schools and parents," he said. "A lot of Chinese students have told me that after school, even though they have homestay mothers or fathers, they haven’t really got people that they can rely on."

"This is the difference with New Zealand youngsters. From the culture of New Zealand and Western countries, the schools and parents would like to give more independence to the youngsters to make them more self reliant.

"But Chinese youngsters are less self reliant and independent so it’s important for New Zealand educators to shift and make some improvement in the management of these students outside school hours."

He praised the New Zealand Police whom he called "very intelligent and hardworking" and says they have been very effective at building bridges with New Zealand’s Chinese speaking communities.


Shock, outrage on Chinese language websites
Chinese internet users in New Zealand have overwhelmingly been expressing their outrage at the killing of Wan Biao.

Discussions posted on the Skykiwi and 168 websites tell of anger over the cruelty inflicted on the victim and also at the embarrassment that the offenders are likely to be other Chinese international students.

While there is some criticism of some English schools in accepting any sort of student as long as they are able to pay, there is also a rhetorical questioning of Ministry of Education’s statement that New Zealand is still a safe place to study.

But many students expressed sentiments similar to this: "Why does this sort of scandal happen within Chinese circles again? Don’t bad-mouth New Zealand, this scandal has happened among international students themselves."

There was a feeling of 'loss of face' for the Chinese community with one poster saying "it’s not one person that has lost face here, it is all Chinese".

Another theme was that Chinese students are not united, and are therefore looked down upon or taken advantage of.

One asked: "When an international student has difficulties, who will lend a helping hand? Do we really expect local Kiwis to? Of course not! Are we Chinese not able to help our fellow compatriots?"


Former Habibie adviser for Indonesia seminar
Whatever happened to former Indonesian president BJ Habibie, the man who became Indonesia's first leader at the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 and who made the momentous decision to let East Timor pursue independence?

One person who will know is Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an Indonesian political commentator and former special adviser to the Habibie government.

Dr Anwar, who is based in Jakarta, will be the keynote speaker at the Indonesia: Foreign Policy, Islam and Democracy seminar in Wellington on Monday May 1.

She is currently the deputy chair for Social Sciences and Humanities at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and as a director at the Habibie Center as well as a senior fellow of the Center for Information and Development Studies in Jakarta.

She has also worked as a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and as a congressional fellow at the US Congress in Washington DC.

Dewi Fortuna obtained her PhD from Monash University, Australia, in 1990. Her BA and MA were obtained from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in the early 1980s.

Her former boss, BJ Habibie, shot to international prominence when he became president from 1998 to 1999 in what was effectively an interim government that marked the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Unpopular with the military, he further alienated many factions in the government by allowing East Timor to hold a referendum which led to the former Portuguese colony bloody transition to independence.

Other speakers at the seminar include John McBeth, the Jakarta-based veteran New Zealand correspondent and Yuli Ismartono, the managing editor of the English language edition of Tempo, one of Indonesia’s most influential investigative news magazines.

Ms Ismartono's documentary Muslims in Southeast Asia will also screen the day after the seminar.

The Indonesia: Foreign Policy, Islam and Democracy seminar will be held in the Student Union Building at Victoria University, Wellington, on Monday May 1 from 9am to 3.30pm. The event is organised by the Indonesian Embassy and the Asian Studies Institute of Victoria University and supported by Asia:NZ.


Praise for next Governor General
The appointment of New Zealand's first Kiwi-Asian Governor General is a positive sign of the times, says Asia:NZ Chairman Sir Dryden Spring.

Sir Dryden says Judge Anand Satyanand is a popular and tireless contributor to the work of the Asia:NZ Foundation and as a Kiwi of Indo-Fijian heritage, he embodies the evolving multicultural dimension of New Zealand society.

Judge Satyanand has been an Asia New Zealand Foundation Board member since May 1998 and is currently its Deputy Chairman. His appointment as Governor General was officially announced early this month.

"I think he's an outstanding New Zealander who has made a significant contribution to New Zealand not only in his chosen fields of law and justice but in a much broader way to social, ethnic and cultural affairs," Sir Dryden said.

Asia:NZ board member and National Party MP Pansy Wong says the appointment of someone of Asian origin is to be welcomed.

"Obviously he's a man who has extensive experience in judicial and quasi-judicial roles which make him an ideal candidate, but the fact that he is of Asian origin is an added dimension," Ms Wong said.

Fellow board member and United Future Party leader Peter Dunne also expressed his delight.

"I warmly welcome his appointment and I believe that with his Asian, Fijian, Indian and Kiwi background he will do an excellent job for the increasingly diverse society that is New Zealand today," he said.


Call to halt Asian studies cuts at Canterbury
Academics lobbying against the proposed closure of eight University of Canterbury arts faculty programmes, including three Asia-related ones, are urging people to oppose the changes.

The programmes targeted by a change proposal on March 20 are Russian, Islamic Studies, Asian History, Education, American Studies, English, Chinese, and Music. Submissions have been invited and the deadline is April 20.

The proposed cuts have been condemned by members of the university's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

One of the academics is Professor Ghazala Anwar, the Pakistan-born Islamic Studies lecturer at the university who was scheduled to leave the position this year.

Professor Anwar says she was due to return to Pakistan for other opportunities but, when she realised that this would mean the disestablishment of Islamic Studies, "I felt duty bound to stay and fight for the position".

"The loss of this position will be a loss not only to the students but to the wider community which has very often invited me for talks and the media which has drawn on my expertise."

She says there is a real need to resist "a virtual iron curtain" that is descending between the Muslim world and the West because more and more venues for dialogue and understanding are being closed.

Prof Anwar says the University of Canterbury's Islamic Studies position was until recently the only one in New Zealand.

The proposed changes would also require the Chinese programme to cut one full time position and the History programme to drop an Asian history position.

Asia:NZ education director Pamela Barton notes that Asian expertise nationally is very thin, with the proposed cuts at Canterbury continuing a trend which has been felt at other universities.

"While the importance of Asia to New Zealand is increasing, the expert knowledge we need to underpin our engagement is being hollowed out. Asia needs to be a national priority that rises above short-term funding decisions."

The president of the NZ Asian Studies Society, Dr Brian Moloughney, says the government has indicated that it wants universities to place more importance on areas of strategic importance to New Zealand and Canterbury could position itself better in this new environment if it retained its "Asianists".


Grant winners finalists in radio awards
Two of the finalists at the 2006 New Zealand Radio Awards this month are Asia:NZ media award winners.

Radio New Zealand reporters, Jane O'Loughlin and Robyn Cubie, received the awards last year to travel and report on news and current affairs issues in Sri Lanka and Nepal respectively.

The pair are finalists in the Individual Radio Journalist of the Year section and Ms Cubie's Insight documentary "Nepal: Peace at the barrel of a gun" is a finalist in Best Documentary or Feature Programme section.

Robyn Cubie travelled to Nepal in October last year after gaining an Asia:NZ media travel award for the South Asia region. Jane O'Loughlin also received a South Asia travel award for her proposal to report on the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, exactly one year after the catastrophe.

The New Zealand Radio Awards will be held in Auckland on April 28.

Applications are now being received for the North Asia round of the Asia:NZ media travel awards which close on May 18. Information about the media travel awards can be found at this link: www.asianz.org.nz/about/media-grant.php


NZ Idol Chinese style
A Kiwi-Asian version of New Zealand Idol is drawing to a climax with 21 finalists competing to be crowned New Zealand's Mandarin or Cantonese pop idol in Auckland later this month.

The New Zealand Chinese New Talent Singing Championships, organised by Auckland's World TV network, features contestants from all over New Zealand singing in Chinese.

Event spokesperson Ling-Ling Liang says 99 people entered the championships which are based around a karaoke-style format. Semi-finals were held in early April from which the final group were chosen.

She says there is enormous interest in the championships among Chinese teenagers and one of the criteria is that contestants must be aged 26 or under. Many of the contestants were first timers but there were also participants from previous years.

Ms Liang says about two thousand spectators are expected to cram into the Aotea Centre on the evening of Saturday April 29 for the finals. Last year's event at the same venue was also a sell-out.

The championships are in their third year and are run in partnership with a Hong Kong TVB satellite television network which will be broadcasting the event. World TV will be recording the final and broadcast it the following week.

There will also be a media conference introducing the contestants on Friday April 28 at the Sky City Convention Room at 4.30pm.

Meanwhile World TV, which belongs to the Asian Communications Media House Ltd group that also owns Chinese Voice Radio in Auckland, has expanded by adding two further Mandarin language channels and a Korean channel to its existing service which is available on the Sky TV platform.

For more information, contact event manager Ling-Ling Liang at lingling@wtv.co.nz.


Life at the Jakarta Post and after
By Duncan Wilson
While working in Indonesia I met many of the figures that feature in news headlines.

I lunched in a deserted hotel with an ex-mujahidin running from his old life in Jemaah Islamiah, who said he had found Allah and the safety of a government job.

I squatted in rotting tents, interviewing some of the thousands still homeless after the tsunami.

And I spoke with Indonesia's President and current power-brokers - religious leaders, businessmen and politicians - and listened to their stories of Islam, old money and reform.

But I also met and interviewed the many Indonesians often occluded in 'Western' news coverage, such as warung workers, soccer-mad school kids, and the bored youths that strut Jakarta's malls.

For two months, I hounded these people with questions. They replied with patience and warmth.

I was based at the Jakarta Post, Indonesia's daily English-language newspaper, and mostly covered politics and foreign affairs. I focused on Indonesia's political parties and movements, as well as the country's new strategic alliances and its work in counter-terrorism.

I also covered internal issues of military and democratic reform, and religious pluralism.

I had the freedom to pursue whatever stories I wanted, which often took me outside of Jakarta. I went to Banda Aceh and Nias for the Post, for example, to write features and updates on the reconstruction effort (also seen in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age).

Throughout my stay, I found interviewees to be remarkably frank and accommodating.

An old Asia hand told me that Indonesia's Government had become remarkably transparent and that he had never enjoyed such open access to ministers in more than thirty years of work in South East Asia.

But I also found it productive to approach each interview as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a target of bule (or foreign) journalists' aggressive and cantankerous opinions.

Most valuable for my stay, though, were my colleagues at the Jakarta Post. They were incredibly helpful and supportive. They taught bahasa basics and guided me to interviews (they also directed me to Jakarta's maddest and most frenzied nightlife).

But the journalists and editors at the Post also provided a vital overview and context which informed my stories. They spoke of Indonesia's history, and shared their views of the country's challenges and opportunities. Their personal insights and professional networks were crucial to my work in Indonesia, and lead to contacts and relationships that I continue to draw on in my print and television journalism in New Zealand.

Ultimately, it was the positive environment of the Jakarta Post that made my two months in Indonesia so productive. Colleagues helped me dig beyond the headlines to engage with a range of people and issues. In the process, I built useful contacts and relationships.

From my two month placement with the Jakarta Post I also gained a deeper understanding of Indonesia, and a faith and affection for the country and its progress.

Indonesia indah dan saya mau kembali!

Duncan Wilson is a print and television journalist. He currently produces the political programme Agenda.


Decline of the NZ foreign correspondent
By Jon Stephenson
A week may be a long time in politics, but it seems a year can pass with little sign of change in our Fourth Estate. This time last February, weeks after the Asian tsunami, I questioned the commitment from New Zealand media to foreign correspondence in general and the Asia Pacific region in particular.

A year later, the situation, if anything, appears to have worsened. Despite a plethora of international stories of importance and relevance to New Zealanders, our media companies are still content to regurgitate the work of overseas journalists. Sending Kiwis to report on overseas stories is still the exception - unless, of course, sport is involved.

Last year's Blackcaps' tour of Zimbabwe is a case in point. It took a trip by the Kiwi cricket team to focus our media's attention on the well-known and appalling human rights record of the Mugabe regime.

It's a pity the Blackcaps weren't in the middle of a cricket series in Pakistan on October 8, when Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province were battered by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake that left more than 87,000 dead and three million of the country's poorest inhabitants homeless. The survivors, and those struggling to help them as they faced the harsh Himalayan winter, could have done with some decent coverage of their plight.

Here was a tragedy - the worst natural disaster in Pakistan's history - that begged to be reported, and certainly our media ran some moving stories and images from overseas outlets. Yet only TV3, The Dominion Post and The Listener saw fit to send journalists to cover what was the worst humanitarian disaster of 2005 (the Boxing Day tsunami hit at the end of 2004).

If experience is any guide, the Pakistan quake is unlikely to have dominated discussion at editorial meetings in newsrooms around this country. If it did, all the usual excuses for not reporting it first hand were probably raised. The cost of sending staff to report from abroad; the difficulties of operating in a disaster zone; the question of whether a humanitarian catastrophe in Pakistan was of "relevance" to New Zealanders...

Foreign correspondence can certainly be expensive - yet for large media companies, some overseas trips are always affordable. When was the last time you heard that an All Black or Silver Ferns' tour would not be covered because of the expense?

Television companies are right when they complain that satellite fees are prohibitively high, but a bit of lateral thinking and advances in modern technology can greatly reduce the costs of broadcasting. Reporting from the mountains of northern Pakistan, TV3's Mike McRoberts used an aid agency's broadband connection to file his reports for a fraction of the cost of a live satellite feed.

As far as operating in a disaster zone like Pakistan was concerned, no one would deny there were challenges. However, with foresight and planning these were hardly insurmountable. Aid agencies and NGOs were desperate to publicise the post-earthquake humanitarian situation, and were only too willing to assist Kiwi journos. Both Mike McRoberts and the DomPost's Nikki MacDonald took advantage of this, travelling with the Red Cross to produce vivid accounts of the catastrophe.

"Relevance," of course, is subjective. There is no precise formula to determine how much airtime or column inches a story merits. Consistency, however, is a useful guide - and even a cursory look at the amount of coverage the earthquake received in comparison with the tsunami raises serious questions. It's hard to escape the impression that more New Zealand journalists would have been sent to cover the earthquake if Kiwis – or Westerners – had been tramping in the mountains of Kashmir on October 8.

Instead, this country's largest daily, the New Zealand Herald was happy to rely on wire service copy and even on a Kiwi aid worker returning from Pakistan. Something is better than nothing, but aid workers are not journalists. It may sometimes be necessary to have one "reporting" on an issue in which their organisation has a vested interest, but it is far from ideal.

One might expect coverage-on-the-cheap from those overseas-owned outlets that dominate our media. For many, the bottom line appears to be just that: the bottom line - maximising returns for offshore shareholders. Keeping Kiwis well-informed about the world outside Godzone would cut into their profits.

So many words of criticism have been directed recently at TVNZ that one hesitates to add more. But our state broadcaster is relatively well-resourced, and tasked by its charter with providing quality and in-depth news coverage.

Surely the Pakistan earthquake merited "quality coverage" from TVNZ, yet even former Asia correspondent Charlotte Glennie wasn't sent to the scene.

Perhaps this failure was a sign of worse to come with the closure of the TVNZ's Hong Kong bureau and Ms Glennie's subsequent resignation.

Again, it is true that offshore offices are not cheap to run, and New Zealand media are not alone in reducing their presence overseas. Two years ago, John Schidlovsky, director of the Pew International Journalism Program, told American Journalism Review that the dramatic decline in the quality and quantity of international coverage by US networks was "perhaps the single most negative development in journalism in my lifetime".

The cost, he said, is that the American public knows much less about what's going on in the world than 30 or 40 years ago.

"It becomes a vicious circle. When the public knows less about places in Africa or Asia or Central America, then it is going to demand less, and then the networks say the people aren’t interested, and that becomes the pretext for dropping off."

Will attitudes change? Most Kiwi journalists I speak to agree that the dismal record of US networks is no excuse for our media's failure to do its Fourth Estate duty. But they say there will be no improvement here in foreign coverage while our media pursue ratings and profits at the expense of quality news.

On the positive side, New Zealand is becoming a less insular, more multicultural, better-educated and more information-dependent society. The question is whether our Fourth Estate masters will recognise and embrace these trends, and give the public the quality of international reporting it deserves.

Jon Stephenson is an Auckland-based freelance foreign correspondent. Travelling on an Asia:NZ media grant, he reported on the aftermath of the Pakistan earthquake for The Listener, news agency Scoop, and Radio New Zealand.


The next Asia:NZ media newsletter will be available in May. The views expressed by various contributors to the newsletter do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asia New Zealand Foundation. If you are interested in contributing to the newsletter, please contact Asia:NZ’s media adviser Charles Mabbett at _cmabbett@asianz.org.nz.

Toitu he kianga; whatungarongaro he tangata - people are transient things but the land endures.

Articles may be reprinted with acknowledgement of Asia New Zealand Foundation

Level 7, Castrol House, 36 Customhouse Quay, PO Box 10-144, Wellington, New Zealand
Phone: 64 4 471 2320, Email: asianz@asianz.org.nz, Website: www.asianz.org.nz

Asia New Zealand Foundation is grateful to its key sponsors - Fonterra, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade - for their commitment to the Foundation's activities.

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