Monday, June 16, 2014

Media brandings, spin, propaganda & other mischief

So this post is re-visiting the US Guantanamo debate, which is very complex but important insofar as it is a robust examination of detention conditions, torture and human rights - and, moreover, it is an examination that is being openly conducted by the public (& world media), based on the highest expectations of that public about democratic standards, humaneness and judicial independence. However, the focus on Guantanamo Bay conditions in this post, is merely to illustrate their parallel to the human rights conditions for detainees in Australia, and, in other places of custody. 

Australia has three main media monopolies, one of which is so powerful & pervasive that it, effectively, rules the governments around the world. Hence, these vast, modern day authoritarian institutions, dictate a type of censorship by trivia that gags all reasonable and balanced discussions of human rights in Australia. So, the Guantanamo Bay discourse on torture lends vital analysis that just isn't available here for discussion by any columnists and reporters willing and brave enough to talk about the 't' word, and all aspects of post-'t' word-life. (Even on the rare occasion that the 't' word- torture - is proven in Australian courts, it almost invariably is never mentioned as such, by journalists - who usually opt for the warmer, fuzzier & heavily-spun, govt-pleasing -term, 'mistreatment'.) 

It is important to note, that while there are vast numbers of Aussie reporters who are really more like spin doctors, there are some fantastic mainstream journalists around. If Australia defends its media industry and improves workplace conditions and the diversity of media ownership, these journos may stand a fighting chance of doing a reasonable job that holds the powerful to account & protects the public - without bias.

The intent behind the collaborative approach to stigmatizing suspects/accused/detainees, is inseparable from the conditions they experience afterwards - whether guilty, verballed or innocent. There is a flow-on effect for friends and relatives of accused persons. Generally, the law officers involved in the initial investigation relating to a named suspect, will create the building blocks of discrimination upon which, that stigmatization & 'public fear' can develop. This is evident in their media statements and the strategies behind their timing and content. The same approach is applied by all government agencies, and as such, it is applied to suspects of all varieties - not just those of the ilk that have ended up in GTMO. 

At a local micro-level, this practice is able to be seen in the work of some amazingly ethically-flexible journalists, who I term the Three Stooges. For the salary of a check-out operator, these 3 persons guarantee the success of corrupt police verbals, sure thing, every time - usually accompanied by cover-page placement, huge photos of the faces of the accused, and defamatory story titles that run prominently and in large font. If those accused don't end up convicted, then that fuels further public sensationalism & shaming of honest justice employees.

Interestingly, despite what the public knows about private military contractors, like Blackwater, involved in the seizure of individuals later sent to GTMO - namely, that the apprehension was ad hoc and run by commission per person (more suspects = more $); and, despite most of those detainees being found innocent and repatriated; any contact with that highly publicized controversial environment taints their public image and their security profile, and those of their relatives and friends. This is also true for detainees and accused persons from other types of security and custodial environments, as well. This tainting effects the employment prospects, potential stability of accommodation, and the financial security of an accused individual, and his/her friends, relatives and dependants. 
'Thirty-four of our respondents said they were unemployed...' (Fletcher & Stover, 2009, The Guantanamo Effect, p.104).  Six had jobs, one reported optimism about job prospects, some were in training. Seven reported unsuccessful efforts to get a job. One reported that employers noticed a three-year gap & their interest waned when he divulged he had been held in custody. 
The stigma of Guantanamo interfered with the ability of several Afghan former detainees to regain their former positions. Those who were government employees found they could not reclaim their jobs. "The government authorities think we are terrorists," said one respondent. "I want my job back," exclaimed another. "I want my rights like the salaries I was supposed to receive..." [...] Another respondent, a highly educated man, expressed frustration that his time in Guantanamo indelibly marred his reputation and career. He was a a practicing physician, who had operated a clinic before his arrest. Now he had to "start again from a drugstore so that people can trust me." (Fletcher & Stover, 2009, pp.104-105)
Additionally, former detainees complained about the effects of the bad detention conditions & torture-related injuries on their health and mental wellbeing, which were averse to them holding down permanent employment or operating at the same capacity that they had, before they were allegedly wrongly seized and renditioned (Fletcher & Stover, 2009, p.105-106). An Australian former GTMO detainee, David Hicks, described in his biography, post-torture "baggage" that was virtually a "full-time job" to cope with. Said baggage included: physical damage to teeth, bones, & spine and kidney function, and severe, difficult to manage, post-trauma (PTSD) and anxiety (Hicks, My Journey, pp.404-405). However, several detainees did not even survive the mental anguish of their (likely - no one will ever know) wrongful GTMO imprisonment, & there is quite a bit of information about the facility's deaths in custody, which I'll discuss at some later point. As mentioned - there are some close parallels to other countries' detention regimes.  
{Interestingly, last year the US prison system trialled wall-mounted heart rate and vital signs sensors, to reduce their rate of deaths in prison custody. The sensor was found to be 86% accurate (Rutkin, New Scientist, May 31, 2014, p22). Nonetheless, in most custodial death inquests data shows staff fail, or, in court they claim to have failed, to monitor the equipment provided to reduce prison deaths. So the helpfulness of such a device hinges on the attitudes and willingness of custodial staff to reduce harm. Regularly, those witness claims are debunked by evidence (or general lack thereof), or investigations that fail to call key witnesses or gather appropriate evidence - with no penalties or systemic & internal pressure for reform.}
The Australian media is affluent and powerful and has the resources to scrutinize the credibility of government spin about a suspect (but seldom does). Keep in mind, however, that mostly, Australia's journalists are so poorly treated and overworked that realistically they have no capacity to function in a legally or ethically defensible manner. Such poor OHS conditions further strengthen govt 'propaganda', which can stay unchallenged & unquestioned for decades - sometimes, forever. 

Now I know those of my readers who are big-media-naysayers will be thinking that 'propaganda' seems like a lofty, grandiose, inaccessible term - 'spin' is used more frequently. But, 'spin' doesn't really convey the life-shattering impact of untruths when they're propelled from official mouths for the purposes of gaining political mileage. {If you need it explained in accessible terms MSM ppl, then read Richard Flanagan.} 'Propaganda'/'spin' can take the micro-form of an unofficial comment from a detective, speaking out of turn to a favoured police-rounds-reporter to bias a court; or, at the other end of the scale, it can take the form of powerful official policies and statements providing strategic misinformation/disinformation. Either way, the negative impact of this is not just on one individual scapegoat - some poor sucker who has his/her life turned upside down - the considerably more serious and insidious impact, is on the public & the safeguards we have, to ensure just outcomes & an independent judiciary. 

Government resistance to accurate truths empowering media consumers and the public, can be seen in the unduly harsh punishments and witchhunts aimed at whistleblowers. One of the methods commonly used to gag whistleblowers, is detention. Whistleblower legislation in Australia, jails journalists for equal/longer than classified government whistleblowers - presenting another example of a govt agenda that manipulates the type of information made available to the public. 

Since 'Cablegate' 'high-profile' mainstream journalists are targeted by defamation, intimidation & jail, whereas previously, that flak had been mostly reserved for independent journalists, who had refused to tow the government propaganda line. When freelance journalist, Avon Lovell, unearthed tax documents proving numerous prostitutes were paying money to the state's chief detective - presumably as part of a protection racket - those documents were subsequently supplied by a journalist at The West Australian, to the local police. The police protected the corrupt police chief, but facilitated the jailing of Lovell, by colleagues from the Australian Federal Police. Eventually, he was released and compensated (Litany of Lies, 2011). He is not the only journo to be jailed in Australia, and history proves that scrutinizing corrupt police is yet another OHS hazard for media.

Negative, defamatory or prejudicial media depictions create a reactionary response. The resultant 'fear of crime', in turn, creates a public need that has to be addressed, politically, and then, politicians benefit from this media circus by appearing to be 'tough on crime' - all of which, probably, did not exist in the first place, or was exaggerated to sell news. Each generation of media consumers has its bad guys, or a small range of stereotyped 'baddies'. To make it easier for readers to recognize - this type of everyday, common 'propaganda' will use sexy, marketable catch phrases that are chronically simplified, shameful or fear inducing, and they are streamlined to create a permanent public 'branding' of an individual, minority or group. 

As the dollar is king in the media market, the best way to stop unethical, corrupt media practices that hurt and divide the community, is simply by not buying or consuming news from a media outlet that you think is manipulating their content, being racist, or not treating people fairly. People who are labelled as 'bad guys' and suspects in the news - in fact, all people named in news, have a legal right to comment in that story - so, if you see a story that trash talks someone, & shows their photo, or says they're bad people, etc, etc, but then does NOT allow them to have a say, or defend themselves, then readers can be pretty sure that they're reading 'spin', or 'propaganda'.  ###

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Reconciliation week: Echoes of Stolen Generations

Having researched contemporary and past historic cases of unlawful child removal by the government - past and present, one of the things that remains consistent in that data, is the complete lack of transparency of individual workers, who can act unlawfully, with total impunity.

DCP's claims of 'neglect' can be flexuously wielded as means of racial dominance, in what is the equivalent of authoritarian napalm.

Racism is an ugly, vile thing to witness and it is the very last thing that should ever slip through, in shortfalls in government accountability measures.

Historically, In Australia, documents were systematically destroyed to protect the criminal and sadistic actions of government workers. This occurred even though paedophiles were knowingly embedded within government departments like the Department of Child Welfare. Thus, this renders even the non-offending executives of DCW , accomplices via complicity & inaction.

Through researching cases from more recent times, I have been privy to the bureaucratic side-stepping of media enquiries relating to the placement of ATSI children with non-indigenous carers - which is, contrary to the law.

Pursuant to the Stolen Generations and Forgotten Australians eras, strict policy dictates that Aboriginal children must be placed with Indigenous carers, if they must be removed from their families.

In the case that no Indigenous carers are available then equally strict protocols require the children to be educated and socialized in relation to their heritage.

Despite easily demonstrated cases of the Department of Children Protection (a tragically ironic title, all things considered) not complying with its own policy in this regard, and, in doing so causing evident physical suffering in children subsequently neglected in care - DCP point-blank refuses to account for their non-adherence to the laws that govern their own actions.

Repeatedly in WA a lack of internal and independent disciplinary measures facilitate human rights abuses against black minorities. There is no pressure for reform from Australia's mainstream media, and so no reform results and people continue to suffer.

This authoritarian response (in the clip below) to Indigenous protest on the national day of reconciliation with Indigenous people, clearly demonstrates the unique political dichotomy that exists here between the public, and unaccountable government departments.

One of the few constitutional rights Australians do have is a right to protest.

The police in this You Tube clip and possibly those who ordered them to storm in and arrest mothers and grandmothers, are perhaps not so aware of Australia's constitution.

Is it an unreasonable expectation on the part of the voting public, that people employed to work in government positions actually know the laws and policies that they are meant to abide by? Or that they are familiar with those rules they're meant to use to govern? They should at least know what is private and public property, shouldn't they?

Just as usual, really excellent & challenging independent journalism work here from GLW & Alex Bainbridge.

##NB In Australia, 'sorry' not only speaks of reconciliation (that is the context it was used in, when the National Apology to the Stolen Generations occurred) 'sorry', also relates to sadness, loss and grieving. It's a term that is used among Aboriginal First Nation Peoples here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

'Sorry' seems to be the hardest word - ##NB Warning - there are images of deceased persons at the end of this post

Why is 'sorry' more relevant today than every before? 'Sorry' really isn't about just yesterday. It isn't just about the Stolen Generations anymore. It is quite a complex thing to understand - it's about today, & what we allow to happen in our society, today.

##NB Warning - be aware if you scroll down the page, that there are names and images of deceased persons, towards the end of this post

Today, poor mental health, anxiety, depression and self-harm are very prevalent. But instead of paying for appropriate Aboriginal organizations to administer support and healing services, the government channels its funds into non-indigenous bodies that alienate people from their understanding of their own identities. Groups that can help, don't get the funds. This leads to escapism through a variety of measures and imprisonment instead of getting help to get sorted out.

This is a photo from Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, which provides help for those in crisis

In a court case last year the WA Supreme Court sided with the government, and refused to compensate a family who was tortured and traumatized by government racists who stole the children.

Most Stolen Generation documentation was destroyed by the government, but it is needed if you want to go through the non-indigenous court process, successfully.

Glenys Collard fought a long hard battle to
have injustices that were committed to her family,
recognized in the WA Supreme Court
- image copyright
The government offered $45k to children who had been abducted and abused by its staff, via the Redress WA Scheme. When the government changed hands however, they halved the amount of compensation. The application process was traumatic, and the revocation of promised funds was demeaning and a shock to those who had already disclosed their worst nightmares, in trust.
Redress WA protest 2011 - image copyright

Like so many before him, Kevin Spratt, was tortured in both police and prison custody.
The mentally-ill man has continually struggled with homelessness.Though he has been
rearrested twice since the Corruption and Crime Commission proved he was tortured
and wrongfully convicted, poverty and mental illness have been ongoing factors in his 
re-imprisonment. The media, and the police hierarchy, have raised repeatedly that
because he has a record, it lessens his right to safe treatment in custody.
This is contrary to the law.

Taser torture victim, Kevin Spratt, at the Rally for Humaneness, 2011 -image copyright

An Aboriginal mines worker was stabbed to death by a non-indigenous man, in a back alley, in Perth's nightclub district. Though the man had three dozen outstanding charges for theft (held over for more than two years), he alleged the black mines worker was robbing him. He was found not guilty of manslaughter. The three dozen theft charges were only heard after the manslaughter trial. Under Australian law, the Supreme Court that was hearing the manslaughter trial was not permitted to know that the man had given a statement to police stating that he had a condition that made him steal. No other journalists followed up the theft charges, but a story I wrote, got cut to ribbons by a non-indigenous media boss, and prevented adequate transparency of the matter.

'Uncle' Ben Taylor addresses the CHOGM Rally, 2011, image copyright
The office of the Inspector of Custodial Services of WA told the WA Parliament that the state's only juvenile detention centre needed fixing, in every possible way. It cost too much to fix and nothing was done to make the place more inhabitable. When the children got angry and rioted, they were punished by being sent to an adult men's prison. To make it safe, Corrective Services put up a wire fence between the units. Media who reported fairly on the case were hounded, those who reported favourably were given on-site press access to say how good the arrangement was for the kids. When it went to court for a judicial review, Corrections said the kids had 'kids stuff' to keep them distracted from being in an adult jail. It later emerged that none of those distractions were available & the courts began shortening sentences to compensate for the inappropriate detention facilities.

Protesters lost a brother, uncle, dad and friend in police
presence. He had no record of violence but died covered in bruises.
Evidence contradicted police testimony,
but nothing was done about it
- image copyright

Veronnica died in prison custody. Police didn't even know how long she was in their lock-up cells, and neither police nor corrections cared that she had special medical needs when they locked her up in a men's jail. She was found hanging, but the last four people to see her alive, who entered her cell late at night, never had to give evidence at her inquest.

Three decades of SA justice history: Derek Bromley

April 28th marked 30 years since the prison gates slammed shut behind South Australian man, Derek Bromley. A victim of the government's 'Stolen Generations', Bromley's supporters are the first to admit that as a youngster, Bromley epitomized the 'rebel without a cause'. They would probably contend that it was his larrikin background, plus his Aboriginal heritage, and, hearsay evidence, that were central in determined detectives making his conviction stick. If that eventuates to be the truth, he certainly would not be alone among Australia's ATSI prisoners. Past ground-breaking CSCR research has shown that some suspects pass through the Magistrates' Courts in a matter of about 3.5 minutes, enroute to lengthy jail sentences.
In 1984 he was sentenced to murder with a bottom of 22 years, although that was adjusted upward in 1994. Coincidentally, this also followed Bromley's activism in relation to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He has reached his parole date and his applications have repeatedly been refused. Robert Moles, a professor of law & an expert in wrongful convictions, said Bromley won't give the board an acknowledgement of guilt and has always maintained he never committed the murder. Moles said he believes the evidence used to gain Bromley's 1984 conviction was unsafe. If that is the case, it too, would not be an isolated event.

Derek Bromley, pic courtesy of Net K website & supporters
So many 'what ifs' exist in South Australia's justice system. Other states have had standard legal protections and justice safeguards for decades. In SA there is no independent corruption watchdog, and the state's history is rife with cases that document corrupt government dealings. Some high profile SA murders have been buried for decades in red tape, red herrings and political mischief. As hard as SA's independent MPs try to legislate to get safeguards in place, the bureaucracy claws its power back. It's a no man's land for Federal enforcement agencies. The only overarching body with that authority, was closed down due to corruption so inherent it could no longer fulfil its mandate.

Legislation was passed only last year that allows prisoners to appeal if they have new evidence. Previously, they relied on filing a petition with the Attorney General for him to exercise his 'Prerogative of Mercy', to give inmates an opportunity to seek justice remedies, where the system had made an error. Needless to say, appeals didn't happen a lot. While several cases have persuasive evidence of evidentiary flaws in convictions, few have been examined - even by the media. Mostly, those alleged wrongful convictions that have been identified in the news media, did not relate to Aboriginal prisoners. Justice Kirby noted the likelihood that the largest group for which the legislation would be useful, was of course, Aboriginals. Extraordinarily, and with the weight of Bob Moles' reputation behind it, mainstream media outlet, Today Tonight, ran a series on Bromley.

All states officially restrict entry to jail for journalists and, unofficially, they also hinder and obstruct prison access to social justice advocates that speak to reporters. In South Australian history, however, two murder convictions that hinged on flawed evidence were exposed with the help of journalists. Ted Splatt, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, worked closely with Adelaide journalist Stewart Cockburn, and was exonerated via Royal Commission, despite initial systemic resistance & threats from public servants. The murder conviction of Arrernte man, Rupert Max Stuart, captured the attention of journalists, advocates and lawyers alike. Murdoch's 'News' ran with it. Public pressure via their media campaign prompted Stuart's death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence and the state then tried to convict Murdoch and his editor for seditious libel.

South Australia's forensic laboratory, like others around Australia, had difficulties in its early days. Policing methods, likewise, were generally pretty rough around the edges. Career detectives - rather than university-trained specialists, still use every avenue in their power to follow up on a hunch, or a bias, or witness speculation, in lieu of much needed reliable, untainted forensic data. Beyond the often flawed practice of using criminal informants as credible witnesses, police have also had their dilemmas with DNA evidence and racial bias. Whether such issues were factors in the Bromley case is yet to be seen, but questions have been raised repeatedly about the veracity and accuracy of witness evidence in the prosecution.
Media coverage relating to contested convictions, swings wildly from one end of the spectrum of bias to the other. In the Bromley case, his supporters have suffered three decades of morally outraged reporters who seek to appease and to please their powerful SA police sources, not realizing that they have an obligation to their readers to balance that 'official' point of view. SA's print and online media, presently, is tabloid-dominated. What this means credibility-wise is that anyone accused, convicted or suspected, suffers the news-media equivalent of being dragged into the town centre for public shaming in the stocks. {This sentiment was explained to me early in my career by a local crime reporting dinosaur, one of a tabloid trio, I opt to call the Three Stooges - "there's gotta be a good guy and a bad guy in a story"... thanks mate, very technical.}

It also makes it very difficult for journalists to function in the role of the Fourth Estate. {The 'Fourth Estate' is a term that describes traditional reporting for the people, by the people. Journalists, when they act in that role, protect the public from overly powerful authorities and thus, protect democracy by arming the public with the truths it needs to make informed decisions about the government that is the ruling power. That 'need' defines 'public interest'. Now, despite being subject to: lousy checkout-operator pay, crabby editors and snobby authoritarian sources, journos often forget that they are just ordinary people, who represent the public & have an obligation to the truth & to the public interest.}
Fortunately, Bromley's diehard supporters have been able to muster considerable interest among the independent media and public broadcaster SBS through their persistence and the strength of their argument. Sadly, this type of interest and support is not usually the case, and ATSI injustices occur silently, and regularly, and almost invariably fall well short of independent or mainstream media interest - if, in fact, ATSI prisoners can actually get their message to the outside world at all.

Over the coming weeks and months we'll see the first of a litany of SA cases that will review evidence identified as potentially unsafe. In the meantime, Derek Bromley sits in his cell every day waiting for the justice system to live up to its name and allow him a chance to present the other side of the story - 30 years on. There will be skeptics, there always is. Ten years longer, and Bromley will have waited as long as Ryan.

##UPDATE - Bob Moles had this to say this morning in response to this post (many thanks for the link):

"It wasn't eye witness evidence only. There was forensic evidence, but that too was seriously flawed.
The problems with it have been set out in Derek Bromley's petition:
Also, one of Bromley's old friends this morning also offered her own personal perspective in response to this post. I have left out her name to preserve her privacy:
"Both forms of evidence were not valid enough to prove him guilty. He should never have been accused or convicted in the first place. It was a gross case of error on the behalf of the justice was definitely a miscarriage of justice, no qualms about it.
Hopefully people start caring enough to make a revolution happen on the subject of this type of injustice, I think it's on the cards anyway, with placards of justice in the streets of capital cities."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Catching up

A few substantial obstructions to blogging have cleared in the last fortnight, not least of which has been some outstanding issues from uni that have been revisiting me.

Two days afterwards, my poor old long-serving notebook died of repair-start-loop-related-heat-exhaustion. We've been together so long the new rig will take a little getting used to. I miss XP already (I insisted on keeping it last time I updated my hardware)

Sniff, sniff, sob, sob...
There's been a few changes lately - I have begun a twitter feed, which of course is absolutely scintillating. Some of you have stopped by (hi, all you spammers - so loyal...) and it adds to the immediacy of the medium.

I've noticed that there is quite a bit of traffic relating to a few issues in particular.
Over the months ahead I will host a few e-books on those issues on this page that you can purchase (via Amazon) and/or you can read an abridged version here for free. So keep checking in, there will soon be a lot more material available on those special true crime topics that appear to hold your interest so thoroughly. If there's some topic in particular that you especially want to see, you can email me or tweet it.

I have a post that I am preparing for this weekend. One of my sources and his support network reached a big turning point, a few weeks ago.

While the Innocence Project achieved some notable victories in New York, in Australia, this human rights activist marked his 30th year in jail, for a conviction that a lot of people believe is wrongful.

As it stands, appeal processes in that particular Australian state are tenuous but recently, legislation was passed to free up official justice remedies. Prior to this, permission to appeal hinged on the attorney general (a politician) granting a prerogative of mercy. It didn't happen often.

Australia's early forensic methods have yielded several wrongful convictions. It is tragically ironic that the state in question has one of the worst known forensic track records (in all areas of the investigation process), but the least scope to remedy the problems it (potentially) caused (even very old DNA errors will still need to be proven in court).

Historically, two very notorious wrongful convictions stem from that state system, which were corrected as a result of the persistence of journalists who acted in an independent remedial capacity.

Readers may be surprised about who was involved.