- Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific by David Robie
Above all, David Robie’s Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific is a damning indictment of the parlous state of affairs in parts of this region. The book is also a telling account of the continuous failure of leadership on a fairly grand scale, with ordinary people bearing the brunt of it.
Robie, a professor of journalism at the Auckland University of Technology and director of the Pacific Media Centre, deals with the vital issues of environmental degradation, media censorship, social chaos and human suffering (largely caused by bad governance), various types of violent and nonviolent conflicts, and colonialism and neocolonialism. Allegedly apathetic international and local media also attract some flak. Robie, who has a long record of service in the Pacific Islands, laments that a region with so much promise due to its relative tranquility, natural beauty, and richness of culture has been in such a prolonged state of decline, despite the postindependence optimisms.
That tranquility has been shattered by coups, civil uprisings, and corruption; the region’s pristine environments damaged by nuclear testing, wanton resource exploitation, and the specter of climate change; and indigenous cultures threatened by the twin forces of neocolonialism and neoliberal economics. These adversities are superimposed on growing incidences [End Page 511] of human rights abuses and draconian media legislation in some countries. The looming threats of global warming and sea-level rise only complicate matters.
Robie has been reporting these trends in the Asia-Pacific region since the 1980s, both as a journalist and as a media educator, covering self-determination for indigenous minorities in New Caledonia, the struggles in Timor-Leste and West Papua, the Bougainville rebellion, nuclear testing in French Polynesia and the Marshall Islands, and the ethnically motivated coups in Fiji.
Some of these conflicts are documented in his earlier books: Blood on the Banner (1980) highlighted indigenous Pacific Islanders’ struggle against the remnants of colonialism, while Tu Galala: Social Change in the Pacific (1992) depicted a continuing battle against environmental catastrophe, communal unrest, growing militarization, ongoing poverty, colonialism, and neocolonialism.
In Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face, Robie reproduces some of his previous writings as a yardstick and a backdrop for deeper insights into the Pacific’s seemingly intractable problems. Reflecting on his two-and-a-half decades of Asia-Pacific coverage, Robie intones, “Sadly, not a lot has changed” (6). He adds, “Political independence has not necessarily rid the Pacific of the problems that it faces, and in many cases, Pacific political leaders are themselves part of the problem” (27). One of the more startling statistics, at least for the uninitiated, is the deaths of an estimated 120,000 Pacific Islanders in various disputes over the past quarter-century, plus another 200,000 when Timor-Leste is included (311). If the narrative sounds depressing, it is regrettably all too predictable: long-term ethnic and political tensions coupled with low growth rates and underdevelopment are usually fodder for violent conflict in fragile states (see Securing a Peaceful Pacific, by John Henderson and Greg Watson ).
Robie is forthright in putting the blame for these serious issues squarely on various corrupt Pacific Island leaders, whom he views as having been part of the problem for far too long. But it is not only rogue Pacific Island leaders who are causing problems. Robie also faults leaders from developed countries for their inaction in the face of what he describes as a litany of tortures, murders, exploitation, rapes, military raids, and arbitrary arrests. Most affected is West Papua, where the brutal repression of the native Melanesians by the Indonesian security services is well documented.
The book reminds us why the Pacific is still struggling despite copious amounts of bilateral aid over the decades. It is in the interest of nuclear powers France and the United States to...