Cook IslandsTV Cuts Off Aids In China Expose
By Jason Brown
AVARUA, Rarotonga (JB/Pacific Media Watch): Signals carrying a television expose on how HIV/AIDS was spread in China by corrupt officials were abruptly cut mid-programme in the Cook Islands last night.
China is the Cook Islands' second largest aid donor.
Footage showed blood donors in China lying in a dirty brick room with earth floors, IV lines leading to an open and nearly full bucket in the middle of the room.
Soon after that image screened, the programme faded to static - perhaps video static - and another, unrelated, show appeared. Then another.
There was no answer to calls at Cook Islands Television.
In the past, station owner Pitt Media Group has blamed inexperience among operators or signal loss for programming drop-outs.
Last night it was Hemispheres, a joint Australia and Canada current affairs programme from Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Asia Pacific service. A Hemispheres reporter followed up on a documentary aired by state media in China on World AIDS Day.
In recent years, low level corruption in China has been exposed to increasing scrutiny, including by official media. High officials in the ruling Communist Party remain untouched, however, with dozens of journalists threatened or jailed.
Cook Islanders tonight saw Hemispheres report that an estimated 800,000 people in China had contracted HIV/AIDS after donating blood.
Corrupt officials reused needles, reported Hemisphere. As many as 10 million may be infected by the end of the decade, according to United Nations estimates quoted by the programme.
Cook Islanders resident in the capital on Rarotonga were stopped from finding out more about China.
After China, corruption and HIV/AIDS faded to static in mid-expose, a clearly dated episode from the New Zealand current affairs programme Holmes appeared in its place. More static followed, then another old programme - this time Nexus from ABC.
There was no explanation from CITV, which regularly replays old programmes over live ABC feeds.
Just 110 km to the north, Aitutaki Television rescreens ABC's Asia Pacific signal 24 hours a day to its 1800 atoll residents. Some say they enjoy the foreign documentaries.
ATV does not carry any programmes from CITV or its owners, the Pitt Media Group.
China has assumed its place as the Cook Islands' second biggest aid donor and largest constructor with virtually no reporting of the big issues by Rarotonga-based media.
China is already building the Cook Islands' new justice building for about NZ$4.7 million with a 70-strong Chinese construction crew and nearly all imported materials.
Amnesty International estimates more than 1000 people were executed in China in 2002 for capital crimes, but without access to proper justice.
The closest trading partner for the Cook Islands, New Zealand, routinely provides about NZ$11 million a year in aid to the Cook Islands. China is fast approaching that total with more than $8 million so far this financial year.
Of that figure, $4 million was announced just last week.
Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton is on record as saying that the aid is in return for Cook Islands' support of the one China policy over Taiwan.
Taiwan recently held full democratic elections while China is a dictatorship with military backing.
Officially closer relations with China by the government of the Cook Islands foreshadows similar moves by New Zealand.
Officials in New Zealand recently announced a free trade agreement with China after years of unsuccessful attempts with the United States.
Few of these facts are readily available to Cook Islanders, whose broadcast media is tightly controlled by one media organisation.
The Pitt Media Group does not rebroadcast any foreign radio news bulletins, previously ending decades of services from Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand International a few years ago.
PMG did carry foreign news under earlier identities. But the signal also suffered cuts.
PMG previously cut into an annual RNZI round up of comment from diplomats around the Pacific. Music played over the Cook Islands section.
At the time, CITV denied censorship.
Like Chinese media, CITV does cover low level problems.
The night before CITV cut coverage of the HIV/AIDS scandal in China, the station reported criticism of a lack of access for handicapped people at the Chinese-funded justice building.
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE http://www.pmw.c2o.org
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).
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