Rainbow Warrior ’s truth-seeking remembered as secrecy lingers

The latest PEN Sydney magazine.
The latest PEN Sydney magazine.
The latest PEN Sydney magazine.

Report by Pacific Media Watch

Item: 9498

David Robie
France detonated 193 nuclear tests in the South Pacific, at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls, before halting the tests in 1996 in the face of Pacific-wide protests. On 10 July 1985, French secret agents bombed the Greenpeace flagship
Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, killing photographer Fernando Pereira, in a futile bid to stop a protest flotilla going to Moruroa. Journalist David Robie, who was on board the Rainbow Warrior for more than 10 weeks of her last voyage, coming ashore in Auckland just two days before the bombing, told his story in the book Eyes of Fire. Here he reflects on the 20-year legal struggle to prevent the French spies from gagging reportage of their guilty plea from public television and the lingering secrecy about the health legacy of nuclear tests in the Pacific.

SYDNEY: (Pen Sydney/Pacific Media Watch): EXCERPT: This seems to be a remarkable year of memories and reflection for freedom of speech and bearing witness struggles  in  the  Pacific  region.  The  townsfolk  and  children  of  the  remote  Timor-Leste border town of Balibó have recently marked the 40th anniversary of the murder of five young Australian-based television newsmen dubbed forever as the Balibó Five.

The November issue of Pen Sydney.

The November issue of Pen Sydney.

On  16  October  1975,  the  five  journalists  –  Greg  Shackleton,  Gary  Cunningham  (New  Zealand),  Tony  Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters (both British) from  channels  Seven  and  Nine  –  were  reporting  on Indonesian  special  forces  incursions  into  independent Timorese territory.

They were brutally killed with impunity. Weeks later, a sixth journalist from Australia, Roger East,  who  ventured  to  Timor-Leste  to  investigate  the murders and set up an independent Timorese news agency, was himself executed by the invading Indonesian forces on  8  December  1975.  Their  fate  has  been  told  in  the compelling 2009 Robert Connolly film Balibó.

But the impunity lingers on, not only for the journalist atrocities but for more than 150,000 Timorese victims of the 24 years
of Indonesian occupation.

In July, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia appeared to have turned a new leaf on media relations over the two Melanesian provinces that collectively make up the West Papua  region  by  declaring  an  “open  door”  visa  policy for foreign journalists. This is far from the reality. Māori Television recently sent a television crew there – the first New Zealand TV journalists to visit West Papua in more than 50 years – to bear witness.

But their stories, such as a report on a New Zealand aid-assisted thriving kumara (sweet potato) industry in the Baliem Valley, were hardly a testimony to media freedom.

Bearing witness
For me, as a journalist and media educator who has worked in the Pacific region for almost four decades, the issue of media freedom and bearing witness that has outweighed all  others is  the  bombing  of  the  global  environmental Greenpeace  flagship Rainbow Warrior by  French  secret agents on 10 July 1985 and the death on board of Portuguese-born Dutch photojournalist Fernando Pereira.

The 30th anniversary of the sabotage, which was New Zealand’s first and only example of state terrorism, came and went in a rather muted fashion (compared with events marking 20 years, for example).

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Source: Pacific Media Watch 9498

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