Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fiji's Christmas message - 'it's war'

"IT'S WAR", declared the Fiji Times in its melodramatic Christmas Eve response to the tit-for-tat mutual diplomat expulsions with New Zealand. The new blow to relations between the two countries was an irony given that barely 24 hours earlier the media was welcoming an apparent warming up and the threat against acting NZ High Commissioner Caroline McDonald seemed to have dropped onto the back burner. But fed up with Australia and New Zealand's alleged "bully boy" tactics, the regime gave McDonald her marching orders yesterday and NZ retaliated a couple of hours later by expelling her Fiji counterpart in Wellington, Ponsami Chetty. Both were given a week to leave. Writes Mary Rauto:

Like the case with Michael Green [expelled last year], the interim government gave no reason for the expulsion, especially when the decision came a day after interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum called for reconciliation and better dialogue with Fiji's neighbours — Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum denied that the expulsion had anything to do with the travel ban imposed on members of the interim government, the military and their family members.
In the last few weeks, the interim government has attacked New Zealand for refusing to allow three people –– the children of military officers and interim government appointees –– to enter the country on sports and study leave.
One of the victims was George Nacewa, son of Rupeni Nacewa, the secretary to the President.

The expulsion order on McDonald followed further accusations by the regime of Australian and NZ diplomats meddling in Fiji politics and spying. One of the interesting stories in the lead-up to the twin expulsions, was Vernon Small's account of NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully's staged leak with selected journos. "McCulliavelli's" ploy backfired when TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver was detained last week and sent packing back to New Zealand. Pictured: Fiji Times image taken outside McDonald's home in Suva.

Meanwhile, back to the festive season. Café Pacific wishes readers and followers a Hepi Krismas and fruitful 2009! Check out Pacific Media Centre during the break.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finally a review for the Fiji Media Council - but will it do the job?

HARD on the heels of the Fiji regime's latest PR debacle this week by kicking out one of the finest Pacific journos - TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver (pictured) - a review of the Media Council is finally officially on the table. This is something that has been drastically needed for some time to restore some balance into the Fiji media landscape - and to help blunt the regime's continued assault on media freedom. The $10,000 Ausaid-funded exercise will have a reasonable three-member team on the job. Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman, lawyer and former Fiji Electoral and Boundaries Commissioner Barrie Sweetman and the chairperson of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, Suliana Siwatibau, will begin the four-day review on January 19. But will four days and a limited terms of reference allow them do justice to the task? Hardly. Café Pacific has previously pointed to the 2007 New Zealand Press Council review (first in 30 years) as a good benchmark for such a controversial mission. (A research paper comparing the Fiji and New Zealand self-regulatory media climates is being published in the next edition of Fijian Studies.)

Undoubtedly, this Fiji panel will come up with a far more robust report and recommendations than the discredited Jim Anthony report. But its limited brief is unlikely to satisfy those civil society groups and commentators who are highly critical of the Fiji media, nor is it likely to quell the regime's frustration with what it sees as a one-sided news media industry.

The muted terms for reference for the Fiji media review include looking into:

  • how the Fiji Media Council has carried out its responsibilities as provided for under the constitution
  • the complaints process
  • the relationship with the government
  • its responsibilities to the public
  • the administration of the council and the role and remuneration of the chairman and secretary
  • the funding of the council

Probably the most insightful commentary about what ought to be done with the Fiji Media Council was presented last month by Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster at the University of the South Pacific journalism awards.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why UN bodies are failing over human rights

THE world marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week. Media freedom group Reporters San Frontières issued its own report on December 10, giving a poor mark to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the main UN body concerned with the issues. Says the RSF:

The UN Human Rights Council is doing little better than its predecessor, the now-abolished Commission on Human Rights, which was completely discredited over
the years, especially when it named a Libyan as its president. The council has the failings of all UN bodies, where member-states are both judges and judged.
States with repressive governments are elected to the council and thus tasked with ensuring respect in other countries for rights they themselves are abusing on a daily basis. Until this absurd situation is ended, the United Nations cannot be said to be fulfilling its goal of protecting human rights.
The use of human rights by countries for their own purposes will not end until the UN Security Council and the whole system of world governance is reformed and enlarged. This issue has been highlighted by the present economic and environmental crisis.
If the UN does not manage to end it, the council will
fail in its mission.

Check out the full RSF report.
Human rights in post-coup Fiji - Why might is not right
Pacific media human rights issues
The Witness take on human rights

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making the Fiji media more transparent

IS FIJI well served by its Media Council? Not proactive enough, say some. Not visible enough, say others. Has the complaints process been rigorous enough? Is it really doing its job on behalf of media freedom? Is the relationship with the industry too cosy in the public mind? For self-regulation to work fairly and in a balanced way, it has to be seen to be genuinely working in the interests of all stakeholders in the Fourth Estate - and that includes the grassroots public, not just the owners, publishers and broadcasters. One of the more reflective Fiji journalists to emerge in the country's moment of need is Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster who gave a thought-provoking speech at the annual awards of the University of the South Pacific's regional journalism programme. While presenting a measured overview of how hell-bent the regime is on pushing through the misguided media law promulgation - and it is all about drafting a law before consultation - Foster said it was about time the self-regulatory Media Council was reviewed:

We suggest a far better approach, and one that will not end up costing the government anything, is to review the Media Council itself, including ways to streamline its processes and make its complaints mechanism more proactive and efficient – and ultimately more effective.
We believe that self-regulation is the way to go. But we also recognise that our detractors believe that self-regulation makes the industry a law unto itself. It is necessary to remove these fears and allay all suspicions in this regard.
As such, the media must make itself more transparent and more accessible to members of the public.

Ironically, this view echoes a conclusion I had reached in a paper - Freedom of the gatekeepers - comparing the 2007 reviews of the NZ Press Council and the Fiji media (Anthony report) presented at the Public Right to Know 7 conference in Sydney in mid-October.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Malo AUT digital student journos!

IT'S GREAT to see all these young Pasifika journos in the making getting into story telling in digital formats. John Pulu, Alistar Kata and Paul Fagamalo have just done us proud with a short news piece on the PIMA 2008 conference and the planned coming (if the the Nats elections debacle hasn't derailed it) of Pasifika television. There was a bit of a delay because of the enormous end-of-semester course pressures. But to me this is what it's all about - producing good quality news and current affairs. You can see it on the Pacific Media Centre YouTube channel. There was a great mood among the media students at AUT University at the time of the conference last month and this should eventually feed into the Pasifika media industry's new generation. Another short programme, done as part of the AUT television course, focused on the ancient Tongan rituals around kava. John Pulu is doing really well - another John Utanga perhaps. Malo guys! Pictured: Some of the PMC and PIMA gang. Photo: Alan Koon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bias over the Fiji charter legal rebuff

YET ANOTHER example of local Fiji media bias ushered in the weekend editions of the press, this time over the High Court ruling that all work must halt on the People's Charter for Change, Peace and Progress. The Daily Post, for example, editorialised in its front page splash story "Charter halted": "Fiji is finally moving forward."

Inexcusable for an intro on the court ruling purporting to be fact. Of course, the next sentence attributed the opinion to deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (who incidentally became appointed caretaker prime minister after the George Speight coup in May 2000, thanks to the military). Now, the editorial handling of the story wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the media group is steered by Qarase's first cousin while the editor is his son-in-law.

Secondly, a ruling hours later by the Court of Appeal's Justice John Byrne actually imposing a stay on the judgment by Justice Filimoni Jitoko (until a substantive appeal hearing on Thursday, November 20) didn't get mentioned in the story. (However, it was flagged in a downpage strapline). The regime is seeking a judicial review on the ground that under the Proceedings Act the court cannot order an injunction against the state. Fijilive reported it this way as main news item: Charter work to continue, stay granted: "The interim government has successfully acquired a court injunction that will allow the National Council for Building a Better Fiji to resume work on the People’s Charter."

Other local coverage wasn't much better. Fiji free press at work? Some of the international media coverage was an improvement. Australian Associated Press reported: "Fiji's High Court has delivered a blow to the country's military-led government, ordering it to halt work on a document that would usher in constitutional changes." But even then, it didn't reveal all the fishhooks involved in the legal minefield.

Over at Avaiki Nius, Jason Brown has highlighted a persistent Pacific media problem - no-shows at donor expense. Another good read at the Pacific Media Centre is the latest fallout from the Niu FM saga earlier this year. But things are definitely on the mend. Pere Maitai is doing some great things in rebuilding the news service.

Global Voices version of the contempt letters affair

IRONICALLY, possibly the most informative summary of how Fiji bloggers have reacted to the "draconian prosecution" of the press, has been written by one, John Liebhardt, who has filed a few recent "overview" blogs on Global Voices about Fiji, ranging from the People's Charter to the environment. It doesn't seem to bother Liebhardt that he has been filing from (of all places) Ouagadougou in the African state of Burkina Faso - where he has lived for the past four years. (The IFJ statement statement is still the most direct challenge.) His latest blog on the contempt letters affair involving the Fiji Times and Daily Post kicks off:

For the second time this month, Fiji’s military government has threatened to send a newspaper editor and its publisher to prison for publishing a letter to the editor alleged to be in contempt of court. In mid-October, the Fiji Times and Fiji Daily Post printed a letter from a certain Vili Navukitu of Queensland, Australia, complaining about a recent high court ruling that legitimized the actions of the country’s president in dissolving the Parliament, and the elected government of Laisenia Qarase, immediately following the December 2006 coup that brought into power Commodore Frank Bainamairama.

The item has a few selected quotes from blogs, most anonymous and critical of the regime, but doesn't acknowledge that (1) the letter is arguably in contempt in the first place (although the response of the regime is overkill over what is vigorous debate); (2) contempt doesn't only apply to current court proceedings and the potential for impacting on a case, but also involves "scandalising" a court; (3) news media in Fiji clearly need to lift their game over the professional editing of letters. In countries like New Zealand, news media routinely check the bone fides of letter writers and edit letters over matters such as good taste and potential defamation (and potential contempt). There are also frequent allegations of bias over editorial selection of letters. In fact, letters is the largest category for complaints over fairness and balance against newspapers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Draconian Fiji responses to 'contempt'

FIJI'S JUDICIAL responses to contempt by two local newspapers become sillier and sillier. The contempt laws for scandalising the court were never meant to stifle vigorous debate about court rulings. Citizens Constitutional Forum chief executive Rev Akuila Yabaki says the draconian prosecutions "stifle free speech in an oppressive manner". The paranoid climate around the judiciary following last month's controversial High Court judgment declaring the post-coup regime to be legitimate is deteriorating. The contempt proceedings against the Fiji Times, after the newspaper's apology about an online letter to the editor, and now the action against the Daily Post are vindictive. The Attorney-General's office is pressing for the jailing of publisher Rex Gardner and editor Netani Rika.

Quite rightly, the actions have drawn protests from the International Federation of Journalists, representing some 600,000 journos worldwide - which has also taken the opportunity to challenge the regime's plans for a "media promulgation" law. IFJ said it was deeply concerned that "while Fiji's military government is spruiking its draft media law as a means to encourage media freedom and freedom of expression, an independent newspaper is being forced to defend contempt charges for publishing the opinion of a member of the public with which the government disagrees."

For the record, former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry has not dropped his F$1 million defamation case against the Fiji Times as reported by the paper - he has merely amended the claim to drop the parent company, Murdoch's News Limited, from the proceedings.

A-G given 14 days to submit on Fiji Times penalty
Another Fiji daily held in contempt
IFJ statement
Push to jail Fiji Times editor
'We're in contempt' - and full text of the offending letter
Chaudhry's lawyer files amended claims

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vigilance for media freedom in East Timor

PETER CRONAU, one of the co-founders of Pacific Media Watch, has just done an interview with PMW's Josephine Latu about the state of media freedom in the Pacific 12 years on since the group's campaign to free Kalafi Moala from jail. (Moala was imprisoned unconstitutionally for contempt of Parliament). Cronau is busy writing a new book about East Timor and the case of the Balibo Five, the shameful murder by the Indonesians of five Australian-based journalists (including a Kiwi) back in 1975. He and his ABC Four Corners team won a Gold Walkley in 2006 for their programme Stoking the Fires about the bitter post-independence political rivalries in East Timor. This book is certain to rock the media and political establishments in Canberra with its revelations.

While there have been a few hard-to-find improvements in media freedom over the past decade or so, Cronau warns newshounds not to sit on any Pacific laurels. Vigilance is the name of the game. Peter - at the time director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) - and Café Pacific's David Robie - then head of journalism at the University of Papua New Guinea - founded PMW at a particularly rocky time 21 years after the Balibo massacre:

Persistence by some journalists ... saw them reporting the Indonesian preparations for the invasion - and six media workers [the sixth, Roger East, was executed later on Dili wharf] paid with their lives for reporting this truth.

I guess the lesson to take from the book is that like all freedoms, freedom of the press is lost unless guarded vigilantly. That's the essential reason we set up Pacific Media Watch in the first place.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Media freedom - by government edict!

FIJI'S regime, albeit "legal" nowadays, is pressing ahead with its controversial media law "promulgation". It will have a draft amalgation of media laws on the table by next month. Naturally, the local news media are back on the warpath. They are trying to broker some consultation before this media law gets too far down the track. Unfortunately, while the media has been quick to use its power, newsprint, airwaves and cyberspace to air its self-interested views, it hasn't done anywhere such a good job about canvassing the views of civil society and those who are so critical. Why are other stakeholders so intent on seeing the media perform better? Perhaps if the media had done something more proactive about getting its house in order - a bit like the NZ Press Council did with its first independent review in 30 years in 2007 - the stand-off wouldn't have got to this stage. A few quick words from Peni Moore, one of the civil society advocates commissioned to review the media (separately from the Jim Anthony fiasco), in her conclusion for the People's Charter:

To say the media was angry [over the Anthony report] is to understate their point of view. Radio, TV, newspapers and magazine editors and executives voiced their indignation, anger and disappointment at the report. Perhaps the Fiji TV best summarised the many media points of view, saying, that the FHRC seems to share the concern of all political parties and leaders that have been at the helm of power to have “controls that will weaken and severely dilute the rights of the media and individuals as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution”.
Fiji TV said that Anthony Report did not provide specifics on how the media have failed to meet their obligations, and said there is a tendency to heap most of the blame for Fiji’s political problem on the media. “This is quite unfair and below the belt”, commenting that media cannot allow themselves to be mouthpieces of
the government, politicians and political parties.
As a panacea or cure or stimulant toward improving media standards, the National Committee for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) recommended a number of changes which included the establishing of the Media Tribunal, that legislation to be enacted to ensure the development and regulation of professional standards of journalism and a levy to be raised to cover the costs.

This, surely, is a pointer to where the promulgation is heading. Ironically, just yesterday Fiji Media Council chief Daryl Tarte reckoned that "self-censorship" had been declining in Fiji. Also yesterday, the Fiji Times admitted it was in contempt over publishing a letter chastising the High Court over its controversial ruling about the legality of the regime.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hot chili courts - Happy Diwali!


MORE from one of Café Pacific's "coconet wireless" correspondents with a satirical touch:

One can love Fiji. It truly is unique among the Pacific Islands. After more than 20 years and four or five coups, three High Court judges decided that the acts of the President after the December 2006 military coup were lawful; that the President had reserve power to ratify the acts of the military in the takeover; to grant immunity to those who did the coup; and that he could act without any specific authority derived from the Constitution.
Hot on this decision by the courts arrives a comment by Pacific Islands Forum Chairman Toke Talagi that the court ruling on the legality of the interim Government and its promulgations will
perpetuate Fiji's coup culture.
I am so excited as I really thought that the coups in Fiji were going to end. That's what the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) have been telling me and they must be worried. For just on a year they have been talking about change, peace and progress and a better Fiji for all. The draft charter - all 200,000 copies of them all say in English, Hindi and Fijian - we love you all - Indo-Fijians, indigenous Fijians and Others. I fall into that last category, I am sure.
Fiji is special. There is plenty of generosity and it comes from unusual sources. Mick Beddoes, big in body and even bigger in generosity has just returned the $100 he received from the NCBBF when he attended one of its opening meetings. At that time he obviously believed in building a better Fiji, but then perhaps he thought better of that dangerous idea and left.
Since then he has been accused of taking the $100 meeting attendance money and using it for his own benefit. His cry to the moon and the nation at large that he had to cover his transport costs went unheeded.
So now, the money comes back to the government. The media quoted
Mick Beddoes saying that he was requesting a payment of only 46 cents an hour. Good old Mick. We need more people like him. But he could have been more generous and given the money to the poor and his 46 cents too, when he gets it. After all we have one in three people here living in poverty. Even 46 cents buys half a loaf of bread. The poor can fish anyway. Who knows what good could be done with half a loaf and some small fish?
I noted in my newspaper reading that Manasa Lasoro, one of the leaders of the Methodist church was lamenting that many of the prison inmates in Fiji prisons are Methodists. I would advise him not to worry. There are long term benefits. The government pays for food and accommodation of those members who wander in a wayward manner from his flock. That allows more money for him and his leaders to travel around the country band to denounce the People's Charter with its message of love, jobs, housing, education, health care and equal votes.
I would also advise Manasa Lasaro to also see his problems with his wayward flock in relation to the National Census of last year that shows that the Indo-Fijian population has decreased by 27,227. Now, I think many of those people went overseas, as they are obviously not in prison with his Methodist flock. Besides, I assume they were possibly Hindus.
If the Methodist Church waits long enough they will surely get rid of all those annoying Indo-Fijian families who were born here and work hard to educate their children, to toil in the canefields and to worship in small temples that are destroyed in a regular manner, by, I assume, Methodists - no, I had better say wayward Christians.
Getting rid of these annoying people is merely a matter of time and some army support. All we need are more army coups and more time to can raise the migration figures of Indo-Fijian to go overseas until there are none of them left. Then we will have completed two tasks. every Indo-Fijian and their religion too will be gone and
the coups will stop.
But, and here is the irony. We need many more coups before every Indo-Fijian will have migrated to those two horrible places called Australia and New Zealand. There are still 311, 591 Indo-Fijians in the country, according to the last census. We have a task ahead.
How many years will it take - this equation includes - some more racism, certainly a few coups and more education for Indo-Fijians so as to increase the pace of migration and make them more acceptable to New Zealand and Australia.
What names would I advise to sit on any Royal Commission on Fijian Migration? I could start with Mr Qarase and a few leaders from the Methodist Church who for the last two years have been talking as if they are the only Gods and know the correct answers. Yet, these are the very people who befitted from the actions of one Mr George Speight, a former coup leader who is still in prison.
When all Indo-Fijians have left the country, Mr Speight could then instruct the forever increasing Methodist population of the prisons to rise up and protest. And guess what, the army would then have some nasty suppression work to do, while the Indo-Fijians, who will be now Indo-Aussies and Indo-Kiwis will celebrate their Diwali in peace.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

'Rabuka's legacy' - nice one, Mosmi

LETTER in today's Fiji Times ... from former journo now civil rights advocate Mosmi Bhim:
Rabuka's legacy
There is a loophole in our laws through which treasonous acts can be carried out with impunity. This loophole was discovered by the father of coups in Fiji, Mr Sitiveni Rabuka, who got himself immunity from prosecution for the 1987 coups.
Till today, Rabuka can't stop gloating about his cleverness in getting immunity, which is glorified through the weekly opinion columns in the daily media.
George Speight also got himself immunity from prosecution in 2000 - but his immunity came with conditions. Imagine if George Speight had not violated the conditions, he would have been like Sitiveni Rabuka - gloating about his unprosecuted crime every week.
It was no surprise when Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama [pictured] and his comrades secured immunity as a first step, even before they created an interim regime.
They remembered the lesson from Rabuka.
What do we do about this loophole in our laws? It is essential that we have an Executive Head of State with reserve powers that can be utilised in times of emergency. But surely, granting of immunity for treason and takeovers of government should not be a permissible activity for any President.
Rabuka's legacy lives on through the taint on the office of the Fiji President.
Mosmi Bhim
Suva

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pasifika TV - David pulling a fast one on Goliath?

SO Will 'Ilolahia stole a march on the big boys at Television NZ and TV3 during the Pasifika media fono today. During a panel devoted to the future of a Pasifika TV channel when TVNZ and TV3's own ideas were floated - interesting but not very convincing - maverick broadcaster Will 'Ilolahia rose and spoke from the floor about a Pacific TV channel which he says will be streaming on the internet by November 1. His announcement came like a bombshell at the fono, leaving Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin and TV3 Pasifika consortium's Innes Logan (Spasifik publisher) almost speechless.
"We know there are a lot of PIs around the world who are dying to watch Kiwi films and that kind of stuff," Will explained. When asked why he kept the establishment of the channel secret, 'Ilolahia told the Pacific Media Centre's Dominika White that he had wanted to wait until his organisation had something concrete. "To be honest, I came here to hear about the competitors. That's why I got up and said it," he said. Under the moniker of Kiwi Television, the new channel will be available at: http://kiwitv.streamstaging.co.nz/ (yet to go live). Check out Will's response.

Full marks to Pacific Islands Media Association's Aaron Taouma and his PIMA team for a lively and stimulating conference at AUT University, the best in years. From the "mainstreaming" session in the morning - which included newcomers like the New Zealand Herald's South Auckland reporter Vaimoana Tapaleao to the doyen of television news producers Tati Urale - to the final "future directions" panel, including heavyweights like Taimi 'o Tonga publisher Kalafi Moala and the National Pacific Radio Trust's Fa'amatuainu Tino Pereira, the fono was a great success. Moala's challenge to PIMA was to step up its regional Pacific role. The "Pac2thefuture" theme was a real winner and so were the lower registration fees - especially for students. It was a buzz to see so many younger faces, and students came from Whitireia and the NZ Broadcasting School in Christchurch as well as the usual AUT crowd. A bonus was the announcement of AUT's new Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism, the first Pasifika media education initiative in almost two decades - since the early success of the old Manukau journalism course.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bye bye Qarase - a bula morning in the Fiji High Court

A BOMB threat cleared the Fiji High Court today, but the end result was a damp squib for the coup critics' camp. Coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama won his ruling in court and it was bye bye Laisenia Qarase. The deposed prime minister's attempt to have the December 2006 coup declared in breach of the 1997 constitution failed. One of Café Pacific's e-scribes was on hand to record some wry impressions:

In offices they listened and watched as Fiji TV carried the court findings live and radio boomed out around the nation. On the streets they listened. On the island of Laisenia Qarase, people were glued to the live radio broadcast.
It was Judgment Day - and a big one too.
Qarase lost his case. The Fijian Constitution still stands and that’s that.
The President has direct powers to rule. He has used them and he has the right to use them until the next election is ready.
He was given a long lead time – at least no date was hinted at for the election. When the time is ready for the elections, it’s ready.
Bainimarama must be laughing all the way to his office today, dancing and firing guns in the air. The kava bowls will be filled over many times.
So goes the judgment. And there was not implied - but direct criticism - voiced against both Australia and New Zealand for their travel bans against the interim government.
As for the judge who read the judgment, it took him around two hours in all with a break for coffee and biscuits. And was it wordy? – Oh yes.
We had references to precedents in England, Scotland,
the Philippines, Colonial India and World Two in Burma.
I heard the name John Locke and 1688. I lost the plot now and again, and returned to it between my cups of coffee. But then the three judges needed breaks too.
At the end of the judgment, the judge apologised to the various legal counsel for small typographical errors, and said he was would send electronic correct copies to them during the afternoon.
He also gave a gentle barbed reply on trees, conservation and paper to a counsel who asked about getting a corrected printed copy of the judgment.

The Fiji interim regime wasted no time in calling for cooperation and support for its election plans and constitutional legal specialist Professor Bill Hodge, of Auckland University, says many governments previously opposed to the regime can now be expected to recognise the government as legitimate.

Meanwhile, University of the South Pacific political scientist Steve Ratuva has done a handy analysis on the real power plays at work in Fiji - something vastly better than has been seen from the local flacks for months.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Public right to know - from Possum to the Pumpkin

MAKE sure you get hold of the latest Pacific Journalism Review, due out next week. With the theme "The Public Right to Know - Reporting Futures", this edition has a host of interesting articles. Among them is Chris Nash's fascinating insights into political blogger Possum Pollytics and the critical impact he had on the reportage of last November's Australian federal election. (Check out his new blog). Too bad we don't seem to have a blogger in his league in New Zealand as we approach our own election on November 8. Tony Maniaty has an article analysing the impact of the evolutionary technologies and breathtaking media change on television war reporting:

The fall of free-to-air ratings continues apace, and, with it, the vast resources needed to deploy large teams into the battlefield to mount comprehensive audience-gripping coverage. This relentless quest for real-time war drama has much to answer for, shifting increasingly precious resources away from more nuanced and informative reportage.

In Maniaty's view, "big" media is struggling to sustain "comprehensive coverage". He reckons the "smaller-scale, independent output of video journalists" is becoming the new trend-setter.

In other content in PJR, Robbie Robertson reviews two new challenging books on the Pacific (and Asia) media, which should have the flacks talking, while Sarah Baker and Jeanie Benson offer a refreshing take on NZ media reporting of Asian crime - "The suitcase, the samurai sword and the Pumpkin". The edition is jointly published with the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vijendra's memory lane and a welcome gong

ONE of the satisfying presentations of the recent FAME awards in Fiji was the long-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award media recognition for Vijendra Kumar, first local editor of The Fiji Times. He held that post for about 16 years from 1975, bridging the mellow Mara years during the height of the placid "Pacific way" era and through Rabuka's two military coups. He finally resigned and headed for Brisbane to join his family.

Kumar wasn't there in Suva to collect his gong, but many spoke warmly of his contribution to Fiji media. A few years ago, he spoke candidly to doctoral candidate Anthony Mason who was working on a thesis examining the Fiji coups and the Australian media. Among his reflections published in Pacific Journalism Review was a scathing assessment of international media covering Fiji:

They had absolutely no idea. Few of them knew very much about Fiji, except that it was a South Sea island where they went for a holiday. Very few of them knew much about the political system or the names of the leaders. So it was a surprise for us, and I think it was a big learning experience for the Australian and New Zealand journalists. The NZ journalists had a little more knowledge about Fiji than the Australians, because NZ had closer contacts. Fiji got a lot of coverage on New Zealand radio and in NZ newspapers even before the [1987 Rabuka] coup. But Australian newspapers never reported anything that happened in Fiji, as far as I remember, unless it was something sensational.
Has anything changed that much? Picture: Mason/Pacific Journalism Review

Michael Field has taken a pathetic cheap shot over at Discombobulated Bubu (and on his own website) while attempting to put a sanitising spin on the recent Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling against him. It seems his own reading skills are rather limited. He claims: "... given that organisations like NZPA, the Fiji media and AUT's David Robie cannot be bothered to read the BSA ruling, and prefer to take the Fiji government assessment of the situation, I will try to at least put some context into it all." In my case, he is totally wrong. He is referring to a Pacific Media Watch monitoring item reporting his own news organisation Fairfax Media's website Stuff account of the adjudication. Had he bothered to check, he would have also found that PMW published the full adjudication on its database (but he knew this anyway as it had been pointed out to him later). This is plain mischief-making and disinformation on his part - wasn't "accuracy" at the very core of the BSA complaint over Field in the first place? My only previous comment on this issue was right here on Café Pacific.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Muckraking honours and short memories

MUCKRAKERS have a long and proud tradition stretching back to Progressive era in the late 19th century United States. The term (from the Man with Muckrake in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress) was coined to describe those investigative journos exposing social ills and terrible conditions such as in slums and prisons, sweatshops, along with issues like child labour and food processing cheats. Some also exposed fraud and abuse in politics and corporations. Bethany McLean's Enron expose was a classic example in contemporary times.

And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.

There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:


The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.

As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):

This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.

A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).

Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Media blood-letting over fairness and the Fiji regime

THE FIJI regime and some of the Suva media have had a field day this week ... castigating Fairfax Media's international journo who covers Pacific issues - Michael Field. The fallout came after the regime's Ministry of (dis)Info gleefully jumped the gun and circulated a media release noting that a complaint against Field had been upheld by NZ's Broadcasting Standards Authority over his views about Fiji expressed in Radio NZ National's Nine to Noon programme on 7 March 2008. The BSA didn't uphold a complaint by Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde against Radio NZ Ltd under principle 4 (balance), but it did uphold the complaint under principle 6 (accuracy). It ruled that four inaccurate statements had been made during Field's discussion of how Fiji was reeling from "all the signs of true military dictatorship". Complaints committee chair Joanne Morris didn't impose any order. She said publication of the ruling would "serve as a reminder to commentators that they must ensure the accuracy of factual statements".

Many of the local media in Fiji were quick to seize on the regime handout about the adjudication. Radio Fiji summed it up by saying "controversial journalist Michael Field has been rebuked by the BSA ..." Fiji Daily Post ran an article by Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, claiming - unfairly - Michael Field "'wings' it when he can" in an article under the headline "The writing on the wall". Even NZPA circulated a piece that largely echoed the Fiji government line that was also run on Field's own media organisation's Stuff website. Kiwiblog highlighted the actual inaccurate statements and sparked a handful of responses, one posting noting that the Fiji regime should be recognised as the "nearest thing there is to a benign military junta". Field himself, according to an email to Pacific Media Watch, regards the reporting "shallow" and the adjudication itself as "interesting". Bruce Hill also gave the issue an airing on Radio Australia's On The Mat.

Meanwhile, in other blood-letting about the Fiji media and politics, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh has been riled by Kamal Iyer's one-sided monologues in the Fiji Times about life under the regime. He has written an alternative view of balance and fairness. Singh also takes a potshot at conflicts of interest in the Fiji media.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fisky beat-ups detract from the real deal

IT'S remarkable how a non-story refuted by a couple of throwaway lines by British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk over a non-meeting with accused members of the so-called Tuhoe 16 became a beat-up in two media outlets at the expense of hard news this week. In an hour-long AUT University dialogue (mostly monologue - but riveting, inspiring and entertaining), Fisk only spent 31 seconds on the topic - and this was in response to a question from a student about a posting on David Cohen's notorious (non)blog at the National Business Review claiming he was going to meet Tame Iti and others at Te Tirahou marae.

Fisk dismissed it out of hand, saying nobody had discussed it with him. He said he had no time to be involved in local stories: "I'm 62, have 22 countries and four wars to cover, I don’t have time for anything that does not involve the Middle East". While he did talk to Ahmed Zaoui when in NZ three years ago, it was "clearly an Algerian story". The beat-ups (following the original mischievous Cohen beat-up) were in Scoop, who was asking for the "real leak" to stand up (not a bad idea, but it won't happen), and NZ Herald Online. Fisk launched into an attack on the internet, saying the medium was out of control and lacked the integrity of the printed paper. As far as he is concerned, the internet is a "system of hate" and fuels the risk of an extreme act by a nutter against outspoken journalists such as him.

Here's a story that came out of the seminar that does have some substance - the transformation of the US Soldier's Creed to the Warrior's Ethos ... war without end! Of course, little was reported about that. This video clip is thanks to the Pacific Media Centre team of Kate Morse, Joe Rixon, Naveena Baratharaj and Jim Marbrook on the PMC YouTube channel - and there are a couple of other good ones '50/50 journalism' and 'weapons of mass destruction'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tabs goes for a publishing strike three!

ALL power to Warkworth's Tabs Korauaba and his Tuvaluan partner, who have launched a new pan-Pacific paper this week. Café Pacific hopes the monthly Pacific Community News succeeds where other ventures have failed. Tabs, originally a broadcast journalist from Kiribati, got his print creds the hard way - by publishing Tematairiki and Rodney Today. Both went under. The reason? No team, no mission, no funding, he admits. But Tabs reckons he has now absorbed the tough lessons from the two previous publications. Third time lucky?

It is a highly competitive market. It's also hard to judge a readership across several distinct Pasifika communities. The Samoa Observer is making big inroads into Auckland and now has its own Auckland Pacific Today publishing on Fridays. However, this time Tabs does have a team and a clear business goal. He has teamed up with a successful businessman who will handle accounts, marketing and advertising while Tabs looks after the editorial side. He also has a couple of English first-language speakers to do the proof-reading. He says:

Some pan-Pacific papers have been launched before and they went under. I think the problem was that they didn't have enough planning, didn't have a committed team, were impatient and, of course, they didn't have enough advertising. But that's in the past. This is today. I always remind myself that being a publisher means not dwelling on the past so that it doesn't control the future. We talked with some businesses and they liked our positive vision so they came on board. And after six months ads will really start to roll.
Asked about Samoan journalist Malia Sio's "breaking away or breaking in?" comments about Pacific vs mainstream media on her blog, Tabs says:

That's her view. But I am not very keen on 'talking' - I am a doer and I always experiment on new things. But she musn't worry, because we're not going to hide bad stories about Pacific Islanders. We'll let the community talk about its own problems and its own solutions. Reporting about crimes and negative stuff are not helping at all. Successful people achieve their potential because they are positive throughout their lives.

Right on, Tabs. Go for it!

Robert Fisk's recipe for young journo success

TRUE believers? A host of them trooped in for the Robert Fisk lecture/ student news exchange organised by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University. Where were the sceptics?

Apart from the core of AUT student journalists, radio and TV students and staff who had ditched their mid-semester break to come along to be challenged, inspired - and even entertained - by Fisky, there were academics, civil rights activists and many others. Robert Fisk was in NZ for a promotional tour for his latest book, The Age of the Warrior.

The AUT booking was thanks to Amnesty International. The lecture theatre (chosen for its intimacy and which normally seats 160 people) was packed out with at least another 40 or 50 people for the hour-long lunch date. Just as well there were no health and safety hawks drifting around. Fisk was at his inspirational best - it's quite extraordinary to see a journalist having such a cult following. Many editors were sighted in the audience, including the NZ Herald's former editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis, who chose the AUT rather than his own University of Auckland bash, which was charging $25 a head for a Fisk Amnesty fundraiser.

Fisk had plenty of gems on offer for his audience including anecdotes about his contempt for how the internet has become "a system of hate". Scolding media for not reporting the full truth about the Middle East, he also had some advice for the neophite journos that wouldn't go down too well with either the digital natives or the digital grandstanders:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Treason? I've got a little list

More from one of Café Pacific's Laucala correspondents who keeps a reality check on Fiji with a touch of satire ...

Fiji is funny. The coup is now generating humour and the past politicians are becoming hilarious. Eighteen months after the coup of December 2006 Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister was kicked out of government, his government house and his government car. He has now realised that something is wrong and become so incensed that he filed a treason complaint with the police on the grounds that the December 6 coup was illegal.

Treason. Doesn’t the word make you cringe, go pale with fear at being hanged, drawn and quartered or at least exiled for life to the island of St Helena where you will view the house where Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his glorious past, France, freedom and failure?

Qarase
lodged his treason claims against a formidable group of people that include the Interim Prime Minister who led the coup, the Chief of Police who was an army officer and part of the coup. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you it was the coupmaster who made him Chief of Police.

But there are civilians on the alleged traitors list too. It includes the aged and dignified Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca and the 45 members of The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). One name on the list is John Samy, the gentle spoken boss of the NCBBF Secretariat who has led the way writing the People’s Charter with its message of love thy neighbour.

Dear John also appeared on the front page of (
The Fiji Sun, September 6) with his photograph and the headline "Coup was illegal: Samy". He denies saying that, but it brings a smile or scowl to the face, but which face or faces!

I’m not sure who all the 45 members of the NCBBF are but they include Mahendra Chaudhry, who must have got wind of the treason charge as he resigned from the council a few weeks ago and is now defending himself with a phalanx of political jargon. There are another 44 other people on that guilty council list. They include academics, traditional chiefs, business people, trade unionists, a woman from an NGO and a priest who has spent many years helping the poor.

Obviously this is a meddling priest. We all know that there only around half the nation live in poverty or damn near it. This priest says so little about the other half of the population. Now, there is prejudice for you, and as we learned from Qarase – treason!

Mick Beddoes, the former leader of the Opposition, is an interesting guy. Big in body, bold in voice and so convinced that he is right. He has now publicly supported the treasonous charge brought by Qarase and company against the army and those nasty NCBBF members.

But, wait, there is more. If you had watched the
Fiji TV news on Monday, September 8, there was a news item saying that Mick, the man, has joined the NCBBF when it started. He attended the meeting, took the allocated allowances and then resigned. So Mick, the man must also want to be in court in the defendants’ box when the treason trial begins. Good man, that Mick is, he recognises the error of his ways, and is preparing to suffer the consequences. I don’t know if he is Catholic or Methodist or whatever, but on St Helena, I am sure the Archbishop will give Mick good Christian counselling.

This Mikado story took another turn today. A former Fiji police commissioner said in a serious voice, so we would not laugh, that it would be difficult for the present police commissioner to be impartial in his investigations of the Qarase accusations, when he is also mentioned in the complaint, as being implicated in the coup.

Let me end with Major Lewini, the government spokesperson who seems to be
always lost for words, but who can make up for it with scowls and a few mumbled key phrases. Today he inferred that Qarase and his team are having foul fun and no good would come out it. Other men make the humour, Lewini is the straight man. We do need a reality check in Fiji, or at least in Suva, where all this stage cavorting is going on.

Last Sunday on TV, the interviewer was conducting a serious discussion on proposed new rules for the next general election. He said to one of the participants who was talking about recreating part of the political past, that the boat has already left the wharf. A neat metaphor.

The way I see it, the boat left the wharf during December 2006 and it’s getting further away. It’s difficult to see when it’s going to return and when it does, will it hit the wharf with a great wallop and damage both the people and the goods on board?

From endangered Pasifika journos to chiefly titles

IT wasn't so long ago that Malia Sio was lamenting on her recent blog over the apparent "demise" of Pacific journos, especially from her Aotearoa viewpoint after swapping her radio work and on the Samoa Observer plus the Tribune for a NZ j-course. She noted that only two other Pasifika students out of a programme of 25 were with her doing journalism at the revamped Whitireia course. But actually, this is better than most in NZ. (AUT has 54 media students but that's out of a programme with a total of 800 plus students. The good news though is that AUT now has a dedicated Pacific journo course on the books - the first in NZ for 17 years!) Malia has also had a crack at the lack of understanding and respect by some NZ media of the use of matai and other Pacific chiefly titles. For example, Pacific Island Affairs Minister Luamanuvao Winnie Laban would correctly be addressed as Luamanuvao throughout a news story after the first instance when the full name is given. Prominent journalist Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin (Tagata Pasifika) is another example - but his chiefly title is rarely given the respect it deserves in the media. The price of being a journo? But in these days of muddled name styles, many papers that usually dispense with honorifics, also ditch titles - regardless of whether they're Pasifika or palagi.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

TVNZ upgrade planned for Pacific partners

IT'S good to see Television New Zealand taking the Pacific region more seriously. Economic self-interest for sure - just look at the Olympic success of the Pacific Service. But there is also a sincere attempt at contributing to New Zealand's aspirations in the region as the basis of its report to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee - in a rather more holistic way than Australia seems to manage. A pity that our newspapers don't follow the lead with better regional coverage.

New Zealand was actually a television pioneer in the region. It first set up broadcasts by the fledgling Niue Broadcasting Service in 1988. And it quickly followed this pilot project with TV start-ups in the Cook Islands (1989), Nauru (1991), Fiji (1991) and Samoa (1991). The 1991 Rugby World Cup was an impetus for this. TVNZ also provided nightly feeds of Network News gratis to these broadcasters until 2005, when it lost the use of the satellite providing the transmission. Then higher costs forced TVNZ to take a good hard look at its overall model for the region. Over the past few years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has footed the bill for seven hours of news broadcasts a week and a grab-bag selection for four hours a week - programmes like Close Up, Tagata Pasifika and Mucking In being in the mix.

Now, mindful of the competition in the region from broadcasters like the ABC and Australian Television with far more resources, TVNZ is stepping up for the challenge to boost the NZ presence in the region. Its proposal, first raised in October 2007, and reworked the other day before the select committee, offers three scenarios:
  • Immediately expanding the current service from 11 to 15 hours a week - and then to 20 hours a week further down the track. The bill? $320,000 a year.
  • Creating a Pacific Broadcasting Trust starting in the 2008/9 financial year. About $1 million would be spent over three years to "assist broadcasters in the Pacific increase the numbers of viewers they can reach".
  • Developing a dedicated TVNZ Pacific Channel from the 2009/10 financial year. And this would cost around $2.24 million a year. Expect this to be one of the topics for discussion at PIMA 2008.
The state-owned broadcaster sees a definite payoff for the country: "An expansion of the Pacific Service would be a simple and cost-effective (as it would extract greater value out of the public funding already spent on TVNZ7) New Zealand foreign policy initiative in the region."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Roll on PIMA - 'Pac2theFuture'

IT'S countdown time again for the PIMA fono at AUT - this year's theme is "Pac2theFuture"! Aaron Taouma, Chris Lakatani and team are planning a big day with artists and the new media as well as a shakedown on life in the mainstream for Pasifika journos. Dawn Raid, King Kapisi and Onesian are in the frame. Great stuff. It's being planned for the AUT conference centre on October 10 with networking drinks after all the raves. More info over at PIMA's new look website and Google group. And watch for the AUT student journos on the scene, and John Pulu with BCS2 mates who are planning a video effort.

Last week's Media Diversity Forum, organised by the Human Rights Commission and the Pacific Media Centre on the Nga Wai o Horotiu marae (AUT), was a success with the highlights being Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin and Asia Downunder's Bharat Jamnadas. Not too many palagi mainstream media movers, but plenty of Pasifika shakers ... and a host of brown students! None of the eight tenured palagi journalism staff from AUT were there - all "too busy" to get a fresh view outside the square. If j-schools can't set the pace, then what hope is there for changes out there in mahogany row? Fiji-born Jamnadas regaled the audience with amusing anecdotes of resistance in mainstream TV because of his "accent" and experiences, but gave an insightful account of the progress of a programme that leaves TV3's Sunrise, for example, for dead. His experiences echoed those of many Pacific journalists who have migrated to NZ from the region with strong reputations but battle to even get a look in with monocultural newsrooms. (And his story was picked up as lead "highlights" item on AMIC's Alternative Media portal in Singapore. Scoop also linked to the PMC coverage).

Sometimes Pacific journos eventually get a break, like Rebecca Singh as weekend news anchor of TV3. She was the best news presenter on Fiji TV, and she's now the best on TV3 too, if only they would fully recognise it. Cafe Pacific reckons she should quit NZ and team up with Al Jazeera, the best Asia-Pacific news programme broadcast in this country (but only scheduled snippets on Triangle) by far! Sometimes the Pasifika expatriates head back again, like Fiji's best political reporter, Riyaz Sayed-Kaiyum, who ended up back in Suva as Radio Fiji's CEO after a stint with Asia Downunder. But this political appointment created a loss to the journalism cutting-edge.

During the forum, a couple of new Pacific media books were launched by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres - Media and Development (25 Pacific contributors) and South Pacific Islands Communication (15 contributors) were "courageous" publications, he said. What a contrast with the single so-called "Diversity" chapter in the recently revised edition of the JTO journalism textbook Intro - this is so underdone it isn't much use as a teaching resource. Incidentally, congratulations to Justin Latif (Western Leader) and Melissa Davies (TV3) who won runner-up prizes in the Whitireia diversity reporting award this week - both AUT graduates and they were among the AUT graduates and current students who made up half the award shortlist, far more than any other j-school. Picture: Alan Koon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fiji: Love thy neighbour as a last resort

The “chilling” of a free press in Fiji means local journos are often reluctant to come out with their frank views so they turn to blogs like this as an outlet. I get frequent dispatches from a variety of local journos, and here is one about the "Fiji Magna Carta" Café Pacific would like to share:

The Fiji military had only a few warm days of love from the public after they had executed the fourth coup in December 2006. Many Fijians and Indo-Fijians welcomed the army intervention into their lives as they watched Prime Minister Qarase and his government leave their official homes and hand over their government issued four-wheel drives.

The army quickly accused Qarase of corruption. Chief Justice Fatiaki was also accused of corruption and suspended on full pay, but 18 months on little has happened to prove either man guilty or innocent. The courts seem clogged up or fogged up in their decision-making. They have still even answered the basic question - was the Constitution abrogated when Bainimarama and his gun-toting soldiers took over the nation? The government was kicked out with guns pointing at them, the President dismissed and then reinstated. Yet we have had a key organisation like the Fiji Human Rights Commission saying the Constitution might still be in place and we should await a decision from the courts. Really!

Even a number of judges are convinced the Fiji Constitution has gone the way of all flesh, and they are not waiting for the High Court to tell them otherwise. Justice Gerard Winter said the “risk to the maintenance of the rule of law was too great a price to pay” and Justice French questioned the ethics of taking up a job in Fiji with the comment that “it comes at too high a price”.

The military has been active during its reign. CEOs have lost their jobs overnight. Others have been appointed, then dismissed without warning and replaced. This has been the modus operandi in Fiji for the last 18 months. Two expatriate publishers working for the two main newspapers have been deported on the first plane out of the country without their families. The full reasons for deportation have never been given.

An army officer soldier is now the police chief. TV has an army officer watching them on a daily basis. Journalists get regularly taken to the army camp to be intimidated with soldiers strutting around, enduring long interrogations and spending time in a cell. The most recent case was a newspaper journalist who was several months pregnant.

Files are seized without warning from offices during sudden raids. Few files are returned and few charges have been laid. The feeling among thinking citizens is that the army is gradually tainting its reputation by acting as if it always has had the moral high ground. The most recent example was when the army commander, who is also the interim Prime Minister, collected just under $200,000 for his untaken leave. In any other organisation he would have been forced to take the leave or he would have lost it.

The army decided to make its own summer. It established a 45 person committee to prepare a
People's Charter, a modern Fiji Magna Carta to help the poor and oppressed, make jobs and eliminate racism and corruption. The People’s Charter is to reform Fiji and lead it onward to a prosperous and harmonious future. That is the sales pitch. It proposes to help the poor and there are certainly enough of them. One third of the nation lives below the poverty line. Many of them struggle to make a livelihood in dirty inhumane conditions. Five years ago a survey identified 182 squatter settlements, today there are more than 200 with a population of around 100,000. According to Wadan Narsey, an economist and academic, the poor have been expanding at 1% a year since 1987. Mr Rabuka, are you listening?
When it was drafted it was to be presented to the people for their approval. Many good citizens agreed to help with its work – academics, lawyers, church officials, business people and some NGOs. The draft of the People's Charter devised by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) is now out and about and being distributed around the country. There are 200,000 copies printed in three
languages.

The draft charter has numerous recommendations for improving health, education and helping the poor, but there are only a few recommendations in it requiring legislative changes. One key proposal is for the electoral voting system to be reformed to a proportional representation system with each person having only one vote for one candidate in any general election. Racial elements in the voting system are to be dismembered.

All citizens will be called Fijians and all government records reflecting racism will be erased. And at this moment a huge campaign has begun by the NCBBF to spread the word around the country about the content and principles in the draft charter. The public are invited to read the charter and attend a series of public meetings. At the end of these meetings the public will be offered a form to sign saying that they approve or disapprove of the charter. On the surface this seems a harmless action, but both the Secretariat boss of the NCBBF and an academic of the University of the South Pacific have publicly said that if more than half the population think the Charter is a good idea, and they say so by ticking the approval part of their forms, this action could be seen as taking part in an unofficial referendum. If over half the nation says they approve of the charter ideas the military will love them and so will the NCBBF.

While the NCBBF seems to be full of good men and women who are doing their best to lead Fiji forward by “change, peace and progress”, it is apparent that the hard work of consultation and listening to the views of the nation means damn all to the military, who have already made their minds up that the charter will become the blueprint for developing Fiji.

Now events have moved towards a bitter winter of discontent. The military want the charter to be accepted. Other groups want it to fail. Former Prime Minister Qarase has denounced the charter and he has a big following with his political party. The Methodist Church with its dubious record of supporting previous coups, but not the present one, has become moralistic and pure and talks about democracy. This is the most important church in the country as far as the indigenous Fijians are concerned. Recently, NCBBF took around copies of the charter to the Methodist church office only to have them refused and returned.

Ironically, this event was caught on cameras and made the 6 pm news.
The Methodist leaders rejected the Charter without even discussing it. Some traditional chiefs have also come out against the charter. Each day the newspapers have yet another article about the charter and numerous letters.

So where do we go from here? There are meetings planned by the NCBBF to take place in most of the towns and villages in Fiji. Here they will gather public opinion. Their hard work comes to a peak in October when the President will be presented with the draft of the People’s Charter and any amended recommendations. It will then be up to the ailing President and the army commander to say what the next moves will be. My guess is that the army will quickly want to get the electoral system changed to one with proportional representation. Only then can an election day can be scheduled and the military will be able to say with a straight face that they are planning to return the country to democratic rule. In the meantime they bluster, bully the media and blame Australia and New Zealand for not supporting a coup!

What will to be decided after October is crucial to Fiji’s future. Decisions made by the President, the army commander and his hidden supporters will clearly be undemocratic, but they should lead towards a sunny summer day of democracy in either 2009 or 2010.

Do the citizens of Fiji live in hope? All, I hope, live so.

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