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?

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

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.

Last word on a tired controversy

Over at the PIMA.Nius google group, the Clydesdale controversy that stirred up such a fuss in May has been dubbed the "heavy horse" saga. Cafe Pacific hasn't bothered to focus much on this issue as the Clydesdale report was so far off the wall - and never deserved the media beat-up that it got in the first place. But it is good that the Human Rights Commission report this week has finally cleared the air. Here is Aaron Taouma's take on the affair:

Today was the end of the "Heavy Horse" saga or so I thought.
The New Zealand Diversity Forum 2008 ended with the presentation of a report back to the community from the Human Rights Commission and
delivered by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.
The report entitled
Pacific Peoples in New Zealand was commissioned in response to the events surrounding the release of Massey University lecturer Dr Greg Clydesdale's discussion paper and the subsequent frontpage publication on 20 May 2008 by the Dominion Post of parts of that paper.
The purpose of the review was to look into:

  • The release of the discussion paper and its impact
  • The available data on the social, economic, and cultural contribution of
    Pacific peoples to New Zealand
  • The available data on the current socio-economic situation of Pacific peoples
    in New Zealand, and
  • Media coverage of the discussion paper.

All this for a mere five paragraphs and a table. That's how much the commission says Clydesdale actually wrote specifically about Pacific peoples in his "report".
In fact, according to the commission, Clydesdale's press release to the media (which got everything going in the first place) was practically everything said in the paper itself – everything about Polynesian immigration that is.
In a 25-page report, supposedly about New Zealand immigration policies, five paragraphs and a table were presented about Polynesian immigration; yet it is this that he sent to the media. Question mark, here = ?
Thus the resultant headline (which I won't even mention because it was so ridiculous), the spun story and the explosion of bigotry that followed (in online blogs, forums and probably in people's bedrooms).
The commission's report outlines the Pacific community response as being, um "angry" and "dismayed." Ah, yeah. But anyway, more to that, it imparts several responses elucidating exactly why the Pacific community was angry, dismayed and pissed off (that's not from the report).
Not that it's just an emotive response. The Clydesdale discussion paper was poorly researched and poorly written. That's quite obvious. The Dom should have done more research into who was sending them a press release, how much credibility that person had and if the claims made in the release were in fact true.
The same goes for Massey University and their claims to uphold academic freedoms and freedoms of speech.
The amazing thing here is that it's not the first time Clydesdale has made statements against "Polynesian immigration" (mostly in The Press) and clearly he has an issue with it. A "race-based" issue.
I commend the commission, and in particular Joris de Bres, for taking up this review and for the thoughtful, well-researched and organised report that has been produced. But really, why on earth do we have to justify, argue and explain these things?

Meanwhile, there was some good stuff at the Media Diversity Forum with an intriguing range of voices - some recorded by Aaron Taouma for the Pacific Media Centre - and speakers such as Arlene Morgan, from the Columbia School of Journalism, and Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin calling for a two-way "conversation" with the Pacific.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Giving the Pacific press predators a taste of their own medicine

It took a while - and some fairly barbed promptings from annoyed journos over at the PIJO google group - but eventually PINA awoke from its slumber and slammed the latest act of censorship by the regime against the media. But this apparently isn't enough for some of the irked scribes who reckon the Pacific media is under the biggest threat to its freedom since, well, forever! So PINA dissidents sparked by the tireless energy and inspiration of Jason Brown and others have come up with their own ginger group, Pacific Freedom Forum. A statement was widely distributed, including on Malia Sio's Pcfjrno's webblog. The idea is for this group to not muck around waiting for some politically correct statements from PINA - if a statement even gets out - but to act promptly next time somebody like Fiji Times reporter Serafina Silaitoga (pictured) gets hauled in by Big Brother. They want to get in smartly to put the squeeze on Pacific press predators. One amusing statement from the new chair of PFF was a gentle poke in the direction of Pacific Media Watch, which has been keeping an incisive eye on the region's media for 12 years or so - in fact, since the 'Tongan three' were tossed in the slammer for "contempt of Parliament". (The jailing was ruled by the Supreme Court to be an illegal act and Kalafi Moala, pro-democracy MP and publisher 'Akilisi Pohiva, and Taimi 'o Tonga subeditor Filokalafi 'Akau'ola were set free). Susuve Laumaea said:

"There's something else that keeps making noises out there and purports to represent the same - or almost the same - agenda PFF is pursuing. It's called Pacific Media Watch."

Actually, not correct. As co-founder of Pacific Media Watch with Peter Cronau in 1996, I stress that our initial objective was to start developing a media freedom resource for the region at the University of Technology, Sydney, and our first campaign was in support of Kalafi and co. (a petition of more than 100 journos around the Pacific called for their release). Since then, PMW established a website on c2o community server in Sydney (no longer updated since April 2008) and the entirely voluntary service has now been taken over by AUT University to develop as a DSpace digital archive. This collection is being expanded to include audio, video files, Pacific media theses, book chapters and regional media documents and resources - all available free on a creative commons licence. An ideal resource for j-schools. More than 5000 files are part of this archive and are in the process of being loaded. In other words PFF and PMW have quite different briefs - but complementary in the struggle against the predators. Good luck to both!
Sifting through all the rhetoric over the Fiji media issue, University of the South Pacific's Shailendra Singh has produced the most thoughtful piece - an overview of a history of repression against the scribes. Bainimarama's crowd is just the latest bunch of authoritarian gatekeepers and certainly not the most sophisticated.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reinado's death - shoot-out or execution?

Are the murky circumstances of the killing of East Timor rebel leader and cult hero Alfredo Reinado and a top henchman starting to unravel? Did they die in a shoot-out with security forces during a presidential assassination attempt - as the authorities would have us believe - or were they executed?
An autopsy report points to their execution, rather than being shot by security forces during a presidential assassination attempt, according to Paul Toohey in The Australian. His report was widely picked up by international news services and monitoring agencies. The autopsy showed rebel soldier Leopoldino Exposto was shot once in the back of the head at "close range" following the February 11 assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, according to The Australian.
Reinado, the 42-year-old army major who led a rebellion against the former Fretilin government, was also shot and killed at Ramos-Horta's presidential compound and four bullet entry wounds showed he was also shot at extreme close range. "There were multiple complex gunshot wound (sic) on the left face surrounding the left eye, base of nose, upper cheek and forehead with laceration and blackening of the skin," Reinado's autopsy said.
Reports of executions by security forces could stoke fresh tensions in the fledgling country, where ethnic tensions are still raw. Interviewed by Radio New Zealand, Toohey ran through various scenarios alleging the Australians, Indonesians and other foreign hands in the deaths.
East Timor has been unable to achieve stability since its hard-won independence, with the army splitting along regional lines in 2006, triggering violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes. Reuters reported:
The autopsy said burning and blackening around Reinado's wounds in the eye, neck, chest and hand suggested he had been shot at a distance of less than 30 cms, rather than by guards standing 10 metres away, which is the official version of events.
"Burning and blackening is a feature of very close-range shots, probably from less than a foot away. If you see burning and soot-type burning, it indicates that the barrel of the gun was very close to the skin's surface," David Ranson, of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, told the newspaper.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ramos Horta was critically wounded in the assassination attempt and he spent two months recovering in Australia, where he was flown for life-saving surgery.
The attack also targetted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped injury.
The autopsies were conducted by forensic pathologist Muhammad Nurul Islam, who wrote that Exposto and Reinado were killed with a high-velocity rifle. Nurul said Reinado's wounds featured "blackening/burning" especially so in his left eye, where the marks covered a large 10cm x 9cm area, possibly indicating a point-blank shot.
New Zealand's Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers Phil Goff Goff and Winston Peters said they were awaiting briefings on "new and possibly dangerous developments" in Timor-Leste.

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