Pike River Book Wins Top Jesson Award

A planned book on the Pike River mine disaster by Christchurch journalist Rebecca Macfie has won this year’s top Bruce Jesson journalism award.

Macfie, the South Island correspondent for the Listener, has covered the Pike River story ever since 29 miners died on 19 November 2010 in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster in almost a century.

The Bruce Jesson Journalism Prize, set up after the death of journalist Bruce Jesson in 1999 to support investigative journalism in New Zealand, will contribute $4000 towards Macfie’s costs of researching and writing an in-depth book on the tragedy for Wellington publisher Awa Press. Macfie will take leave without pay from the Listener to write the book, which will be published next year.

“This is exactly the kind of work that the prize exists to support, and we are very proud to be able to back this important book,” said Bruce Jesson Foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey.

Meanwhile Auckland writer/photographer Karen Abplanalp has won the foundation’s $1000 Emerging Journalist Award for an outstanding article in Auckland’s Metro magazine in December 2011 on the NZ Superannuation Fund’s investment in the Grasberg mine in West Papua, written while she was a postgraduate journalism student with AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre.

The article, “Blood Money”, asked how the Super Fund could justify investing in a project, owned by US-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, that depended on regular payments to the Indonesian military and other unethical practices. Two striking Grasberg miners were shot dead by police in October 2011.

The Super Fund defended its investment to Abplanalp, arguing that it had a policy of “engagement” with the mining company to improve its ethical practices.

But on 26 September this year the Super Fund announced that it had sold its $1.28 million investment in Freeport McMoRan because of “breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces”.

It also sold much smaller investments in three other companies “for severe breaches of the fund’s responsible investment standards where engagement was unlikely to be effective”.

The convenor of the Jesson Foundation’s journalism awards subcommittee, Camille Guy, said Karen Abplanalp’s article was a stunning exemplar of the crucial role of journalism in all countries of holding authority to account.

“If Karen hadn’t investigated the true conditions behind the profits coming out of the Grasberg mine, it is unlikely that more than a handful of New Zealanders would have been aware of what their public pension fund was supporting. NZ Super Fund managers themselves probably did not know the full truth,” Guy said.

“Karen Abplanalp and Metro magazine have performed an important public service in bringing these conditions to light, and I am delighted that the Super Fund has now pulled out of this investment.”

Rebecca Macfie and Karen Abplanalp will receive their awards at this year’s Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by investigative journalist Nicky Hager at Auckland University’s Maidment Theatre at 6.30pm on 31 October. Hager’s lecture, “Investigative journalism in the age of media meltdown: from National Party Headquarters to Afghanistan”, will look at why New Zealand needs investigative journalism, how it is done, and what it will take to have more of it.

Further comment:

Camille Guy, 09 378 7553

Prof Jane Kelsey, 021 765 055

Rebecca Macfie, 021 704 717

Karen Abplanalp, 0275 448 838

The Bruce Jesson journalism awards

The Bruce Jesson journalism awards are both made annually to encourage “critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism or writing which will contribute to public debate in New Zealand on an important issue or issues”.

The senior award, worth up to $4000, is paid in advance to contribute to the costs of researching and producing a work which could not be completed without this support. It is open to anyone, both professional journalists and the general public, recognising that the late Bruce Jesson produced most of his incisive investigative work outside mainstream professional journalism.

The emerging journalist award, worth up to $1000, is for published work by a student journalist. Entries must be nominated by a journalism programme leader at a NZ educational institution.

More detail: www.brucejesson.com