Private Column by Frank Short, CBE
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Monday, 8 April 2013 12:00 AM

Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 39: The Ongoing Media Saga.


Extract from my memoirs.

What makes a journalist or reporter tick? Wait – let me re phrase…

What makes much of their reporting so often negative, error filled, and shallow?

Do they and their editors truly believe that their style of product is the format for information that their readers want to read?

Maybe they should take notice of their fellow reporters credibility ratings in the USA, where belief in the written daily report or 20 second TV news sound bite is at an all time low.

Moving on past my previous comments regarding Mary, Louise O’Callaghan in the last edition, one now moves on to Michael Field; journalist of some repute here in the south Pacific. A man who seems to savour his reputation for being disbarred from some four Pacific islands; at my last count.

Is this his personal mark of excellence? Or a mark of burned out inadequacy due to his work often being criticized, critiqued on blogs – all for the same problems -- inaccurate, misinforming and more.

A man who seems to come from the same school as Mary O’Callaghan.

I met him originally after he was caught sneaking into a part of the Rove Police Academy back in 1999.

From my office, I happened to spot two unknown persons – both male, non uniformed, non Solomon Islanders. I watched as they entered into an upper classroom at the Police Academy, which was right opposite from where my office was located.

I had my staff officer go over and check them out.

The two men turned out to be Michael Field and Sean Dorney – professional journalists of some repute who parachute around the south Pacific writing up, what to them are newsworthy stories.

Neither man had permission to be in that location.

So what was going on?

At that time our security level had been heightened due the upsurge in militancy. The area was restricted and closed off for police activity only.

Officers then found out that the Sri Lankan Chief Magistrate; the same one that that had released Keke, Sangu and two others on bail, had entered the PHQ grounds, without any prior notice or official sanction, and started proceedings against a prisoner, or prisoners from the Prison -- which was part of the larger Rove complex -- in a classroom at the Police Academy.

The officers asked the two men to leave the area and politely escorted them from the complex: that was the end of that.

Or should I say the start…of… Michael Field’s personal vendetta against me. A small man with a small mind surfaced.

It was noticeable that Sean Dorney asked to see me after he had been told to leave by my staff officer and we discussed the reasons for my suspicions and his being escorted from the Academy. No problem – he understood and that was it -- he accepted my explanation.

Field apparently felt slighted and never had the courtesy or enquiring mind to follow up where Sean Dorney did. He did, however, write soon after about having been prevented from covering court proceedings by myself.

These were Court proceedings being held in a classroom of the Police Academy without prior sanction, I should again stress. What does that say about the man and his style of reporting?

Should I have done an interview with him if he had ever asked? On reflection one thinks not.

I had excellent relations with local Island reporters such as Dorothy Wickham of the SIBC, Ofani Eremae of the Solomon Star and all the other staff reporters of the SIBC, each of whom reported accurately and wholly truthfully.

At the time the ill-informed political complaints about my "hogging" the limelight by keeping the public informed as to what we were doing were rife – what would be the point? Dammed if I did chat with him – dammed if I didn’t.

It soon became an ongoing reality for foreign journalists like Michael Field of the AFP and Mary O’Callaghan of the Australian to add to their regular press releases about the Solomon Islands, that this Police Commissioner, namely Frank Short, had done most of his policing in apartheid South Africa; or references to my, ‘being straight out of South Africa.’

A couple of personal anecdotes added to this chapter: Field says I have a moustache – totally wrong – never had one in my life. And about the swagger stick which he pontificates about – a gift from a long dead police friend; and carried by senior police officers worldwide to this day. Yes, he got something right – partly…

He quite obviously mistook me for another serving officer who did have a moustache and who was of the same height and build and his mistaken identity gave rise to unfounded claims that I was given to being pompous; again he was far from correct, but his inaccurate assertions were replicated by others who re-printed his exact words, including Murray of the AFP and Jon Fraenkel.

Who fed off who? Or did both O’Callaghan and Field have the same base generating their writings? Who knows?

Sam Inguba, the former Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations is reported to have said that adverse media publicity about a country affected by civil unrest can destroy its economy and international image. He was correct, in my view.

That does not mean that the media should be silenced – just produce sensible, truthful reporting – is that too difficult Mr. Field?

O’Callaghan went on to become a contract employee of RAMSI as already discussed in the earlier chapter; while Field continued parachuting his way around the south Pacific. It rather reminded me somewhat of an alcoholic staggering from bar on to next bar in hope of -- news…? gossip…? free travel and expenses…?

His attitude against me seemed to start the day I caught him with his feet walking in a genuine no walk zone. Then he started to, allegedly, plagiarize Mary O’Callaghan’s phrases.

It was once said by Sir Robert Mark, the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, “The police have everything to gain by opening their doors to the Press not because they accept the Press at its own evaluation. No one but the Press is likely to do that. However, exposure or reality is the best way to achieve reform. It is moreover likely to deter police wrongdoing, to encourage public confidence and to serve the public interest as well as that of both the police and the Press.”

A free Press is essential but I believe press reporting must be truthful and no one should be maligned or lied about, indeed most democratic countries have laws that that define defamation and provide for penalties for a breach of such laws.

Moving forward to August 2011 Michael Field was at it again, according to a byline by Sofaia Koroitanoa who wrote in Pacific Media Watch that Sharon Smith-Jones, Permanent Secretary in the Fiji Islands said that he was “grossly inaccurate, mischievous, insensitive and deliberately misinforming the public.”

Other comments regarding Field’s reliability, his use of rumours, and gossip were also forthcoming. One has no way of verifying right or wrong from where I am but I use these comments as an ongoing example of Field’s approach to his profession.

And I won’t bore you with other examples of other complaints regarding Field’ isms…. One can find them in Today’s World of the Internet – especially in the south Pacific.

One tends to compare Michael Field with his counterpart – Sean Dorney, MBE, who as of this time is the Pacific Correspondent for an Australia Network, specializing in Papua New Guinea (PNG), spending over 20 years in mainly PNG, Fiji and the Solomons.

Alas, he only has one deportation episode to his name – Fiji 2009 and I believe that was subsequently withdrawn.

A note here about Pacific Media Watch, an independent company comprising a mix of journalists, editors, media workers, who express themselves as ‘dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region.’

An organization after my time I do admit: however it would be nice to see the occasional censor comment, of people like Michael Field. Maybe I missed one somewhere?

I did, however, read one item of criticism of Michael Field's reporting coming from Radio New Zealand.

In a later chapter of mine there is comment by Ian MacNeill taken from his publication ‘Modern History of the Solomon Islands.’ Strangely enough this man sums up my situation in the Islands. Much more interesting in depth accuracy than what one reads from Michael Field.

And a full page letter was published in the Solomon Times newspaper written by Kanaka Kaitolo from Mount Tamalapasi which follows in the more appropriate chapter covering local journalism.

The occasional journalistic type subject book is fine.

However, one would ask these journalists to try to put together subject matters that have depth, perception and are accurate.

Maybe over time they could fit in work like that produced by Kate Romer and Dr Andre Renzaho; ‘Re-emerging conflict in the Solomon Islands? The underlying causes and triggers of the riots of April 2006.’ Or works by Clive Moore, Sinclair Dinnen, Judith A Bennett, Elsina Wainwright and Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka to name several writers who produce very readable material based on both fact and understanding of their subject matter.

Yet others – Field's Australian and New Zealand competitors have been around the same regions, handled the same stories; however they have all emerged with different levels of reputation and respect than Michael Field.

To be continued…


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.