Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rabuka’s legacy and the seduction of Bainimarama

ROBBIE ROBERTSON, author of two books on Fiji’s coups and a former professor in governance at the University of the South Pacific, isn’t too impressed with Graham Davis. The Fiji-born journalist’s controversial article about “dealing with the dictator” has won a lot of traction in some quarters. At the very least, it balances much of the weight of media coverage in Australia and New Zealand, which has been so simplistic. But while New Zealand seems to be softening its stance towards the regime, at least to possibly open the door to some future dialogue, Robertson warns against being seduced by regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama merely “because of what he promises”. In a message to Café Pacific, he says: “I fear that even if he delivers, the result may not be what we wish for.” Robertson, who co-authored Shattered Coups about 1987 with his wife Akosita Tamanisau, and co-wrote Fiji: Government by the Gun in the wake of George Speight in 2000, has been so troubled that he penned a letter to The Australian. Here is his reply to Davis:
Fiji’s political kingmaker
GRAHAM Davis ("Dealing with the dictator", Features, 16/4) exhibits a very common fallacy about Commodore Frank Bainimarama's reconstituted coup. Bainimarama's goal of instituting a non-racial system of voting may be a very laudable objective in a country whose recent history has been riven by racial division. But the means chosen to implement that goal is entirely inappropriate.

Many people thought that Sitiveni Rabuka's 1987 coups (and that of George Speight in 2000) had similarly laudable objectives. They were designed to uphold the rights of indigenous Fijians who feared being swamped by Indo-Fijians. In fact, as Davis rightly points out, this was largely a myth perpetuated for more mercenary goals.

The consequence for Fiji was a political storm far worse than today's, but within 10 years it had retreated from ethno-centrism and introduced a new Constitution in 1997 that it could rightly be proud of. Speight in 2000 was a bloody reminder of the danger the Rabuka path would always hold for Fiji if institutions succumbed to its logic.

Fiji emerged from those political storms stronger than ever, with a hugely sophisticated and active civil society, a dynamic free media and a strong legal system. Yes, the old Fijian nationalist Laisenia Qarase was not as wise as he should have been when in office, but his rule was no dictatorship. He eventually agreed to a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition Labour Party as the Constitution required, and that decision was popular. If allowed to continue, it might have transformed Fiji's politics and helped to break down the racial divisions both leading parties still reflect.

In other words, change was already in the air, not least because the purported threat Indo-Fijians posed to Fijian dominance has dissipated. Indo-Fijians comprised nearly half the population in 1987; by 2006 only 37 per cent. It is estimated that their proportion may fall to under 25 per cent by 2020. Under these circumstances, electoral systems will have to change, and such change was already being publicly debated before Bainimarama chose to overthrow the recently elected parliament in which power was being shared for the first time among the representatives of 80 percent of the population.

The danger Bainimarama poses lies not in what he says he will do but what he does. Here is a man who claims he and the military forces he represents have the right to interfere in the political process whenever they, and they alone, choose. This is the Rabuka legacy, and if Bainimarama succeeds in recreating Fiji's democracy in five years' time, he will have confirmed for all time the role of the military as Fiji's political kingmaker.
Robbie Robertson
Meanwhile, seasoned Australian Pacific affairs journalist Sean Dorney has wowed students at Queensland University of Technology. According to Alan Knight's blog DatelineHK, Dorney says the Fiji media are being forced "to buckle under" and censorship is being branded as the “journalism of hope". In New Zealand, the Television New Zealand Maori affairs programme Marae has featured Bainimarama’s elder brother, Sefanaia. Others on the panel were former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Ltd chief executive Sireli Kini and Nik Naidu, spokesperson for the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji.

Pacific Media Centre news blog has posted an insightful backgrounder about Fiji's woes by advocate against poverty Fr Kevin Barr, who explains the People's Charter process. Also, Violet Cho offers a roundup of reaction. A new media blog, Fijiuncensored.wordpress.com , is focused on Fiji.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

'Toxic and irresponsible' troops comment by Key

UNBELIEVABLE! NZ Prime Minister John Key's statement about the military is astonishingly inflammatory, given his own remarks a few days ago about how volatile the situation was in Fiji. He said NZ would consider sending armed forces to Fiji if they were "needed to stabilise the peace". Café Pacific considers he means the peace that NZ's foreign policy has contributed to destabilising in the first place. Contributor Pat Craddock writes:
Why on earth does John Key shoot his mouth off by saying that New Zealand would consider sending armed forces troops into Fiji if they were needed to stabilise peace as part of a multi-lateral action?

This uncalled for statement is unworthy of the man many citizens voted into power last year. He would have been better informed to keep quiet. Any moment now, he is possibly going to relapse into quotes from a former leader and say you are with us or against us.

Fiji has enough problems of its own. This inflammatory language by our Prime Minister can only feed into the unfortunate poisonous rhetoric of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama about our country and its politicians.

Mr Key, you are my Prime Minister now. Fiji is our neighbour and New Zealand must try to keep dialogue open. How do you do it? I don't know. But I sure can recognise toxic and irresponsible language from our top leader?
Picture: Flashback to cartoonist Tom Scott's view of an earlier phase of Bainimarama's coup -- Dominion Post, 9 November 2007.

NZ 'would consider sending troops to Fiji'

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fiji censorship crackdown featured on Media 7

MEDIA 7's Russell Brown puts the tough questions about the crackdown on media freedom in Fiji to TVNZ Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver, Pacific Media Centre director David Robie and Ranjit Singh, a former Fiji Daily Post publisher and now chief reporter of New Zealand's Indian Weekender. But the "gloomy" programme about Voreqe Bainimarama's dictatorship ends with an impassioned tribute to Fiji's young journalists.

Radio New Zealand's Sunday Group also looked at the Fiji challenge this week: Moderated by Chris Laidlaw, the panel comprised Janet Walker (a Wellington lawyer who represented the Great Council of Chiefs), Waikato University academic Dr David Neilson (who was part of the Fiji Human Rights Commission inquiry into alleged irregularities in the 2006 general election), RNZ Pacific affairs reporter Richard Pamatatau and former University of the South Pacific academic professor Crosbie Walsh (he publishes one of the best blogs on Fiji).

Tyrant or crusader against corrupt democracry?

AFTER THE bula welcome this week for "approved" journalists, Liz Jamieson of the London Times has filed a piece from Suva about "terror and threats" at the hands of a tyrant. This should give the sulu censors a choke or two around the yaqona bowl. She describes the recent molotov cocktail season.
“We are afraid for our lives,” one of the victims, who would not be named, told The Times. "My wife and I don’t sleep at night, we are always wondering when the next bomb will come or when they will come for us with their guns. I have been imprisoned and beaten all over my body and face; they told me that the next time they come for me my wife can pick up my body from the morgue.” This is not Zimbabwe or Burma. This is Fiji, the tourist jewel of the South Pacific and, until recently, the most sophisticated of the island nations in this region.
A world away from the Fiji described a couple of days earlier by the Fiji-born Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist Graham Davis. Previously working with the Nine Network’s Sunday programme, Davis, 56, is now a principal of Grubstreet Media. His article, "Dealing with the dictator", in The Australian had far greater depth and insight. As you would expect with a journalist with much better grasp of the root causes of Fiji’s despair. Most journalists are reporting the crisis as if it is something that just brewed a couple of weeks ago, or at the most a couple of years or so ago – when Voreqe Bainimarama staged the first round of his coup and ousted the “democratic” prime minister Laisenia Qarase in December 2006. No sense of the history of the past two decades, or indeed the deep structural political problems and injustice bequeathed to Fiji by the British at independence in 1970. Davis challenged Australian (and other?) media to interrogate the “good guy, bad guy” narrative in a country that under Qarase turned two-fifths of its population into second class citizens.
The bad guys, of course, are held to be Bainimarama and his patron, Fiji's octogenarian President, Josefa Iloilo, who have defied the courts by ruling out any popular vote until they can change the electoral system. The good guys are those calling for an immediate election: a coalition of lawyers, human-rights activists and elements of the local media, plus the man Bainimarama deposed at gunpoint in 2006, former prime minister Laisenia Qarase. It's time to dispense with this simplistic premise because a compelling argument can be made that, in fact, the reverse is true; that Bainimarama and Iloilo, for all their flaws, are embarked on the more worthy crusade. Or certainly more worthy than they're being given credit for by their burgeoning number of foreign opponents. The Fiji saga, by its very nature, defies simplicity, yet stripped to its bare essentials presents the international community with a stark choice between upholding the principle of democracy now and sacrificing racial equality in the process. Wait five years - maybe less if some international agreement could be brokered - and we might get both.
His article won applause from Fiji’s chief information manipulator, Major Neumi Leweni, so it’s probably the kiss of death for Davis. In fact, he immediately copped abusive flak from some of the more rabid Fiji blogs. But it is refreshing to have this perspective from Davis, given that most media have not been giving the full story as partially aired on Media 7 and Shine TV this week. Croz Walsh's blog is still the most useful for a running analysis without all the vitriol.

One of the most bizarre events of this week of paranoia and the crushing of free speech was the spectre of the man who started Fiji's coup culture, Sitiveni Rabuka, calling for a free media. Rabuka - who staged both of the original coups in 1987 and then was elected prime minister twice – also called for the regime to relax its crackdown and open the door for foreign journalists. However, to his credit, after the rough times he dealt the press in the barracks' year zero, he mellowed and his charismatic style and openness was genuinely liked by most media people. A contrast to Bainimarama.

Ironically, his military boss (and chief) whom he ousted as a commoner (unthinkable then) in the double coup in May 1987, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, is now Vice-President of the Easter regime.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fiji - real issues behind the 'democracy' crisis

THE OTHER side of the story: Fiji's Commodore Frank Bainimarama has outraged other members of the Pacific community with his actions to maintain control in the island nation. Associate Professor David Robie of AUT's Pacific Media Centre tells Nzone Tonight's Allan Lee about the background to the current unrest and explains its huge significance to the region. Nzone Tonight is broadcast every weeknight at 6.30 and 9.30 on Shine TV, Sky digital channel 111, a network of the Rhema Broadcasting Group.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bula for global journos, crackdown locally

THE FIJI regime hasn’t stopped at booting out three Australian and New Zealand journalists. After a raid on the regional news service Pacnews, another journalist has been detained and others are on the “wanted” list. Ironically, this comes just when the regime’s Ministry of Information has put out a statement claiming that international reporters are “most welcome” to come to Fiji – providing they report “accurately and responsibly”.

Pita Ligaiula was escorted out of his Pacnews newsroom in Suva earlier today ago by two police officers and senior Ministry of Information officer Viliame Tikotani. The regime isn’t too impressed with the stories running under his byline for the American news agency Associated Press. Two other local journalists reportedly in the regime’s sights are Ricardo Morris (stringing for Radio Australia) and Matelita Ragogo (Radio New Zealand). He is now free after spending 12 hours in police custody.

Meanwhile, Information Secretary Major Neumi Leweni says in a statement that the regime now welcomes foreign journalists. He says the regime didn’t stop foreign media representatives before the 30-day emergency regulations were imposed. The statement appears to contradict the regime Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama who told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report yesterday foreign journos didn’t need to go to Fiji. Just ask him the questions, he said. This followed the expulsion of three media people from Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday – ABC’s Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney and New Zealand TV3’s Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith.

Leweni claims Fiji is like many other countries where entry by journalists is controlled: "Fiji is no exception. Journalists who have been deported because they breached the visa conditions will not be allowed back into the country."

Reporters Sans Frontières and many other media organisations (including the Pacific Media Centre) have made strong condemnations of the regime’s assault on free speech and media freedom, RSF claiming that Fiji’s media had been dealt a “mortal blow”.
The military government is heading dangerously towards a Burmese-style system in which the media are permanently subject to prior censorship and other forms of obstruction. We appeal to the international community, especially the European Union and United Nations, to respond to this manifest desire to restrict the free flow of news and information by speaking out and firmly condemning media censorship.
Many media colleagues and former workmates at the University of the South Pacific are reporting to Café Pacific on their deep anxiety about developments. Comments one:
I guess back in 1987 or even 2000 some people were saying that the coup was all right because it was for indigenous rights. Even before the 2006 coup the president of the Fiji Labour Party said that the next coup would be different because this time it would be for the Labour Party. Well now we have that coup revealed finally for what it always was, and regardless of Frank's democratic motivations it is still a coup, people have been killed, jobs lost and rights removed. For me it's hard to imagine what sort of Fiji Frank will allow. Even if he is true to his word and he changes the constitution to remove racial voting (a good thing) he and his military will have established their pre-eminence politically and will always sit in the wings deciding which government should come in and which should go.
But we have been here before.
A handy news blog (published by journalists) for updates is coup four point five and an independent roundup of blogger views is at Global Voices. For a more balanced assessment of developments than most of the media, check Croz Walsh's Fiji and Gordon Campbell and Shailendra Singh's backgrounders on the complexities are also useful. Graham Davis, writing in the Australian, about "dealing with the dictator" is also far more perceptive than the simplistic narratives being served up in the New Zealand media.

Graphic: Malcolm Evans cartoon for PMC's Pacific Journalism Review adapted by Josephine Latu for Pacific Media Watch.

Barbara Dreaver, David Robie and Ranjit Singh talk Fiji censorship on Thursday night's Media7

'Sulu censors' at work in the Fiji gagging regime

MAKING news in Suva is what’s not making news, reports Rebecca Wright for New Zealand’s TV3 Lateline show. The only story on Fiji Television to make it past government censors was about 24 people being held in policy custody for minor offences.

One of those in custody was one of the station’s own young journalists – Edwin Nand, detainedfor two nights for questioning about sending material to New Zealand media outlets. But he's now free. According to Wright:
3 News reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith were not jailed, but they were harassed and then deported when their efforts to report on Fiji's latest political crisis upset the regime of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. “They want nothing but positive stories about the regime, the interim government. Anything outside that is just not allowed,” says Ms Aston.
Wright went on to quote Pacific Media Centre director David Robie: “It’s a classic situation that if you're going to have full out military control, you've got to have control of the hearts and minds of people and control information.” But only a couple of sentences or so were used out of quite an extended interview. Robie actually had quite a lot to say about the “sulu censors” and the latest censorship regime back in Fiji that vanished into limbo. Incidentally, the TV3 anchor for this story was ex-Fiji TV presenter Rebecca Singh.

Tonight, Russell Brown’s Media 7 team did another programme about the Fiji crisis with TVNZ Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver, former Fiji Daily Post publisher and columnist Thakur Ranjit Singh and David Robie. Watch out for it on Thursday night on the digital channel TVNZ7.
Meanwhile, Reporters Sans Frontières have come out with another tough statement against the regime, accusing it of dealing a “mortal blow” to press freedom and moving to a Burmese-style militarised system of prior restraint and censorship. In another development, journalism and media schools have now broken their silence over the Fiji crisis with a timely statement supporting expelled Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Sean Dorney and Fiji journalists who are being harassed and intimidated. See professor Alan Knight's DatelineHK blog for the full statement and 44 journalism and media educator signatories.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Repressive Fiji regime forces return to 'news by blog'

Open letter by Pat Craddock

Dear Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama,

So – only good news can be reported. Wow –perhaps the army can try and shut down Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN too? I notice their reporting doesn't praise the army for their actions.

Fiji journalists must be finding it hard to discover what good news there is to report on the army?

Commodore, your actions this week have surely given a new lease of life to Fiji blog sites. For us in NZ – and Oz and elsewhere – where else should we now look for news on Fiji, but through the blogs? I read tonight on a blog site that the army is taking petrol from gas stations without payment – true or untrue? How am I to assess the truth of this comment – not from the Fiji newspapers, surely? They won’t be allowed to print that type of bad news, even if it is true?

So… a wait until possibly 2014 before the citizens of Fiji can vote for the government they want? Most governments voted by the people, would not get that lease of life with long term promises to improve the lives of their citizens. From 2006 until 2014 is eight years… a long time for a visionary leader to prepare policies of political change. Too bloody long.

It’s surely time for citizens (and those who wear army uniform too) to tell you, Commodore, about the real world of politics.

Last year, the now defunct National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) initiated by you, put together a draft of a People’s Charter. More than 200 citizens from all over Fiji helped to draft the “pillars” that defined the content of the charter.

John Samy, of the NCBBF Secretariat, worked through these ideas and put together a draft charter. The secretariat then set about spreading the ideas among the public for them to comment upon.

The work involved printing and distributing between nearly 200,000 of copies of the draft People’s Charter in the three main languages; setting up TV interviews and approving a radio campaign of over 100 mini-programmes and adverts on the draft charter content. I know about the radio side as I put the radio programs together. Some of them were repeated more than five times a day for several months on English, Hindi and Fijian language radio stations.

It may be useful for you, Commodore, to look again at the draft of the People's Charter - especially Pillar Eight. My draft copy says that the “way forward” includes reducing the incidence of poverty by 50 percent by 2015. Nearly 200,000 of your people live in squatter camps.

If the scenario of a democratic election does not take place in 2014, a new government will take one look at this worthy Pillar and say… it was your responsibility Commodore – you were in total control of Fiji since 2006! There will also be serious questions to ask the President, but will he be around to answer and give his point of view? He is an old and frail man.

Commodore – you chose to be a politician. You will be judged by the people of Fiji on your achievements, i.e. providing jobs, housing, health care and education, and not by rhetoric and your ability to dance around kicking the constitution and journalists.

I’m from New Zealand, we have a democracy – it is flawed – all democracies are. But our politicians are judged and returned or replaced by us – even if it is only once every three years. Helen Clark was voted out and left quietly, if John Key loses the next election, he too will bow out with grace. Democracy is far from a perfect system. But even giving you credit for doing what you did with the best of intentions, you may well end up in your old age looking back and seeing that the forthcoming 2014 elections did not solve the serious problems of Fiji.

And, in case I forget, the Fiji media will report that news in great detail!!!!

You kicked out the Constitution, why not just pass a decree changing the voting system and putting the draft of the People’s Charter into law. All it needs now is a stroke of the pen – or ink on the muzzle of your gun. You could do the task in five minutes.

Patrick Craddock is former lecturer in broadcast journalism at the University of the South Pacific and former social media educator for the National Council for Building a Better Fiji.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What on earth did the Fiji Appeal Court expect?

Pictured, the Fiji Times in a happier mood on the day before the Appeal Court judgment ruling the regime illegal - and the subsequent clampdown on press freedom. Once again, the New Zealand media has failed to give a wide enough range of analysis and opinion on the complexities of the Fiji crisis. While this major upheaval (albeit predictable) is happening right on our doorstep with enormous consequences for the region, the country's largest daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, could only find room for two short single column stories tucked inside the print edition. Both had local angles only - the first on Saturday in the Weekend Herald summed up Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully's view (on page 4) while eight pages of foreign news carried not a word about Fiji. Today's coverage highlighted Australian PM Kevin Rudd's reaction on page 2 and six pages of foreign news were astonishing for the absence of Fiji. Café Pacific offers a commentary from longtime NZ academic in Fiji Croz Walsh whose blog provides many insights that no other local media provides.

Open letter by Crosbie Walsh

I WOULD have preferred a few days to reflect on Good Friday's developments but given that others are not disposed to do so, I add my thoughts for consideration.

Leave aside for the moment the rights and wrongs of events of Friday, 9 April 2009: the Appeal Court's decision that the President's appointment of the Interim Government in 2007 was unlawful; Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama's apparent acceptance of the decision; the President's abrogation of the Constitution, and the reappointment of the Interim Government, together with decrees dismissing the judiciary and limitations on media freedom. These are matters we can address later.

For the moment the most important questions seem to be:

First, what on earth did the court (and Laisenia Qarase who had challenged the earlier High Court's decision that the Interim Government was lawful) expect? That an adverse decision would see the President comply with the Appeal Court ruling -- which may yet be appealed? That Bainimarama, the military leaders and the Interim Government would abandon their 2006 takeover objectives and hand everything back to Qarase so that things would be just as they were before, bowing to the racial and religious extremism that had infiltrated the Qarase regime? Because that is exactly what a new election under the existing undemocratic and racially-skewed communal voting system would produce.

Abandon the work done on the People's Charter and the President's Political Dialogue Forum; a fairer electoral system; provision for tri-lingualism in schools and government offices, that could lead to a more tolerant and inclusive Fiji? Abandon work on the renewal of land leases, the sugar industry, rural infrastructure, the NLTB, fairer land rent returns to ordinary Fijians, a minimum wage, and the work on poverty reduction that could lead to a fairer, more equitable Fiji? Abandon work (that has proved exceedingly difficult due in part to the denied absence of overseas forensic accountant experts) to expose corruption and clientism at the highest levels, but which most surely benefits sections of the business and chiefly elite? Throw two and one-half years' work, opposed at every turn by Qarase and others who could have cooperated had they really believed in democracy, into the old Lami rubbish tip?

Secondly, how are the (new) Interim Government, their opposition, the media and "moderate" NGOs, going to handle this new situation? The answer to these questions, at the moment, seems to be: "very badly." Commodore, it is essential the emergency regulations are implemented with restraint and removed as soon as practicable. Akuila, I have respected you since the mid 1970s when you protested the expulsion of the Malekula squatters at Flagstaff. And Netani, who I have never met, you have blanked your Fiji Times pages in protest of censorship. I respect your courage and intent but surely neither of you, Akuila and Netani, support the return of a racist regime. That, ultimately, is the choice. Look at the bigger picture, beyond the clumsiness, provocations and abuses of power by the Interim regime. Continue your protest but with judgment. Keep the end in sight. Think. What, in this new situation, is best for Fiji? This is not a moment for prevarication. Now, you have to decide between the known racist and undemocratic stance of the Qarase regime, and the suspect but probable good intentions of Bainimarama. Negotiate and be patient for space to comment objectively. For freedom of the press. A hard stance now could see all doors closed, and your important contribution to Fiji's future denied. This may soothe your justifiable pride, but it will not help Fiji.

Thirdly, what is going to be the reaction of the "international community"? Well, here at least there are no surprises. They are handling the new situation as they did before, within the narrow blinkers of supposed "democracy" and "media freedom." They, who earlier rejected the findings of the Fiji High Court (because it did not support their position), now accept without question this decision of this first Court of Appeal, because it does (even though it yet may also be appealed).

From my New Zealand, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, a total denial of realities. Honestly, Minister, what do you know about Fiji? Who, if anybody, are you listening to? In MFAT or in the NZAid you would see ended? To my friends, if I may call you that, Jim Tully on media and Rod Alley of the Beaglehole-Somerset-Alley conjoined clans, other than your illustrious ancestors' contributions to liberal causes, what is your special expertise on Fiji? And to my friend Toke Talagi, chairman of the Pacific Island Forum, why has Australia and New Zealand spoken with no reference to you? Do they chair the Forum? What also of other Forum members? Are their opinions of less importance than NZ and Australian commentators?

The role of the international community is important but not necessarily decisive. Fiji will resolve its own problems in its own way. But the community is in a position to help or hinder, to see whether or not ordinary Fiji citizens, in the key sugar and tourist industries, and their downstream cousins, will suffer unduly. Australia, New Zealand, the ECC and the Commonwealth can devastate the Fiji economy, but still see no "return to democracy." And their continuing inflexible opposition to Bainimarama will further buttress and encourage the Qarase opposition to do what we do not know --- and dare not imagine.

My Lords, Justices of Appeal, safely back in Sydney (whose judgment I will later address, because it seems, to this layman, to contain inconsistencies favouring Australian and Qarase positions), how now do you see what your detached, removed, judgment has achieved? Would you not agree that Fiji --ordinary, everyday Fiji, impoverished, bereft, isolated Fiji -- not you or Australia, face the consequencies of what you, in your lofty legal wisdom, judged to be not "chaotic"? And how does this situation, that you have helped create, differ from that the President sought to control early in 2007, using powers you claimed he did not have?

Professor Crosbie Walsh is a development geographer who was former director of the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University and then headed a similar programme at the University of the South Pacific for five years.

Bouquet from the Oceania group

FOR THOSE with a genuine interest in what is going on in Fiji without feeling an obligation to self-polarise, there are two blogs that seem to me to be making a sincere ongoing effort to present a distillation of the totality of news from and about Fiji. Neither is afraid to label the
regime's excesses for what they are and condemn them roundly, nor to acknowledge whatever evidences there might be of positive achievement when they emerge. David Robie (who coordinated the journalism programmes at the University of Papua New Guinea and University of the South Pacific during the 1990s to 2002, and has half a dozen books on the Pacific to his credit) has put up Cafe Pacific which seems balanced and deals with the whole of the Pacific, including Fiji. Also, the new Fiji blog put up by Crosbie Walsh (who put together the Encyclopaedic Atlas of Fiji) seems to me to be making a brave attempt to make sense out of what is, after all, a fundamentally senseless situation. - Oceania group

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fiji's political figleaf ripped aside – censorship bites

THE FIGLEAF in Fiji has finally been ripped aside. Now we have an unashamedly naked military dictatorship back in power. Inevitable, of course, given the shortsighted Australian, New Zealand and Forum policies that had boxed an increasingly intransigent regime into a corner. But disappointing given that the recent political dialogue had been providing a glimmer of hope.

The Court of Appeal judgment was the final straw for the regime. The Easter “New Order” imposed by the ailing President Ratu Josefa Iloiloie. the regime old order back in a new guisehasn’t flinched from the original mission. Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama still clings to his pledge to change the country’s electoral system away from the flawed race-based system in place since independence (changed after the 1997 Constitution but with no real fundamental difference) and to end corruption.

But the rule of the gun cannot force a change in the people’s mindset and in the long run will be counter-productive. According to law professor George Williams at the University of New South Wales, who had a hand in the 2001 judgment heralding a return to democracy from Bainimarama’s post-Speight military rule, the “pretence of acting within the rule of law [and upholding the 1997 Constitution] has been stripped away” leaving a profoundly uncertain future for Fiji:
The trigger was Thursday's decision of the Court of Appeal, which ordered a restoration of democracy. In 2001, the same court overturned an earlier coup by Commodore Frank Bainimarama. On that occasion the military stood down, the 1997 constitution was restored and fresh elections were held. Many had hoped that history would repeat itself.
Based on his definition of a coup (Bainimarama’s in 2000 after Speight was really the fourth, followed by the fifth in December 2006), Fiji has just had its sixth on Good Friday.

In the meantime, editors, journalism and the news media have an unenviable job ahead of them – trying to pick their way through the Fiji minefield and maintain some level of media freedom and independence in the current climate of censorship and self-censorship. Expulsion of expatriate Australian publishers under the glare of immediate glare of international media publicity over the past year was one thing, the day-to-day unsung hard graft and risks now facing courageous local journos is quite another. Café Pacific believes Fiji is now entering a sinister era where journalists are stepping out of the regional rhetoric of media freedom and may face real dangers as suffered in many other developing nations.

The regime has ordered news media to comply with a new 30-day emergency rule regulation which restricts coverage. Police and soldiers along with Ministry of Information censors have been placed in the capital Suva’s newsrooms to check stories being broadcast, printed or posted online. The censors have been dubbed the "sulu subeditors". Media have been ordered not to run anything negative about the President’s abrogation of the constitution and the return of Bainimarama as prime minister. The military chief said:
We must be patriotic. The necessary regulations are in force. I’m sure we will all – including the media – cooperate with the authorities.
"Cooperation" was displayed with today's edition of the Sunday Times, which reportedly carried a blank page two, five stories missing from page three and a blank political cartoon. The Fiji Times has decided to not publish any items that have been censored. It displays a bold box on page two declaring: "The stories on this page could not be published due to government restrictions." However, it is understood that editorial management have been ordered to meet with the Deputy Secretary for Information, Major Neumi Leweni, and he has told the Fiji Times to drop the blanks or face complete shutdown. Fiji Television's 6pm news bulletin tonight was also gagged.

Ironically, buried in the Appeal Court judgment by the three expatriate judges - Justices Randall Powell, Ian Lloyd and Francis Douglas – was a strong statement defending the independence of the Fiji judiciary, including a rebuke against some commentators – including journalists – for their “ sustained and virulent” personal attacks on the country's judges:
Some of the commentators have descended into personal attacks, sustained and virulent, against Chief Justice Gates and several other High Court judges. This has not, to the close observation of members of this court, deflected the Chief Justice and other High Court judges from their judicial oaths, their duties, and their endless work in bringing Fiji a fair and functioning judicial system. It must be remembered that a fair and functioning legal system can substantially alleviate the situation of a people who aspire to democratic rule in times of instability.
And now, the rule of law has been removed - and elections shunted back until 2014.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gangs, guns, drugs and a Samoan media backlash

BARBARA DREAVER’S exclusive TVNZ report from Samoa this week on gunrunning and drug peddling featuring a group of kids (some masked) has struck a chord in the region. A bit too much in Samoa. One of the young bloods featured in the programme was forced to drop his bravado and apologise in tears. Savali ran a story questioning the integrity of the report. And now TVNZ has issued a statement defending the story as ripples flowed through the Samoan community both in Aotearoa and NZ. Editor Paul Patrick declared:
TVNZ stands by the investigative story it aired on Monday [April 6] night exposing gangs engaged in smuggling drugs and guns into Samoa from NZ and the USA. We believe the story was a very real, accurate and fair portrayal of the criminal activity happening in Samoa and will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Protecting news sources is of the highest priority to TVNZ News and you cannot underestimate the seriousness with which we take this fundamental journalism ethic on a story such as this – therefore we will not comment on any aspect of the story or how we sourced it, including our news crew’s movements in Samoa.
Tupuola Terry Tavita, writing in Savali, described how since the screening of the One News item, an alleged gang member, Vaitagutu Lefano, interviewed by Dreaver, had claimed they were asked by the reporter to "play act American gangsters". He also claimed the alleged cannabis they had been smoking was instead "just rolled-up tobacco".
The whole episode was staged, claims Lefano. "She told us to act like American gangsters and we thought she was shooting a movie. We didn't know she was doing the news." Not so, says Barbara Dreaver in a telephone interview with Savali. "We took video footage the moment we stepped off the car and those boys were already heavily into it…we also asked them to cover up they faces but they didn’t want to."

On supposed rolled-up tobacco, Dreaver says, "well it didn’t smell like it."
Dreaver describes the knife and axe-wielding youths she interviewed "as little guys and not the major players." "They were just guys who sold drugs." A teary-eyed Lefano, who appears in his teens, made a public apology on TV One last night "for the misery our stupidity had caused the country". "We're not gang members, just a bunch of harmless boys messing around.”
Police Commissioner Papalii Lorenese Neru told Tupuola that the youths' actions on television amounted to public intimidation and were being investigated. The saga reminds Cafe Pacific of an event in Fiji in 1998 when Monasavu landowners - unhappy about the lack of state royalties for the Wailoa dam in the Viti Levi highlands that supplies 80 percent of the country’s electricity - staged an “intimidating” protest. Daubed in warpaint and wielding traditional clubs, spears and machetes, their protest sparked a complaint to the Fiji Media Council against Fiji Television for screening the item. But clearly for the average viewer it was theatre and not at all threatening.

And, finally, Happy Easter!

NZ drug trade fuels Samoa gun smuggling
Guns, drugs and gangs in Samoa: Barbara Dreaver explains

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In defence of Fiji media freedom - and responsibility

AT LAST, a credible and constructive media review in Fiji. After all the rhetoric, grandstanding and manipulative misinformation on both sides in the sordid Jim Anthony affair, we finally have a report that has sliced through the smokescreens and come up with a workable proposal for the immediate future. It won’t please everybody, of course, but it ranks well alongside the very credible New Zealand Press Council review in 2007 – same year as the long-delayed Anthony report.

Full marks to the Fiji Media Council for deciding to commission its own independent review. But it was a bit late – the initiative had been stolen by the regime supporters. Strangely, the mainstream media has remained rather muted about the report since it became public last week. Could it be that the rather mild criticisms are a bit too much for an industry that has prided itself in its self-absorbed “quality”? There are some high moments for the local media, but there are also some embarrassing lows. And the lows have much to do with the the routine “he said/she said” reports, churnalism and the large number of high school leavers who enter newsrooms with minimal education and limited media training.

The review’s report card acknowledges the fine effort “against the odds” in support of media freedom in Fiji, but for the balancing “media responsibility” category and relations with the government, its verdict is effectively: “Must try harder.”

A “proactive” move by the Fiji Media Council to pre-empt the Anthony report would have saved a lot of angst in the first place. In fact, being more proactive is one of the prescriptions offered by the review team – Australian Press Council executive secretary Jack Herman, Suliana Siwatibau, chair of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity (not actually mentioned in her report biography note) and former chairman of Munro Leys, The Fiji Times legal firm: “This is particularly so in the area of press responsibility.”

The review quite rightly dismisses the Anthony report, commissioned by the Fiji Human Rights Commission, as “chillingly Orwellian in its main theme: he argued that the only way to preserve media freedom and independence was to sacrifice them.” Anthony's Singaporean model “Media Tribunal” would “inevitably become another arm of government control of the Fiji media”. The review also doesn’t agree with the Anthony conclusion that “self-regulation has failed”. But it does go on to raise several suggestions for improving self-regulatory processes in Fiji so that they are more credible.

Panel members looked back to an earlier media industry review (Thomson Foundation, 1996) for some guidance and noted several points raised then which they believe still need to be addressed:
The main concerns are that the council is not of sufficiently high profile, that it has not been active enough in pressing for improvements in media standards, and it has appeared more frequently to be vocal about the need for media freedom, without a concomitant voice of media responsibility.
The main obstacle cited was a lack of funding, with the council relying on the “goodwill” of a voluntary chair and secretary and no professional administration or office. The review complimented inaugural chair Daryl Tarte and secretary Bob Pratt in “seeking to safeguard the freedom and independence of the media in very challenging circumstances” in the wake of four coups over two decades.
But in the absence of regular [council] reports, and of the council being as outspoken on the occasional lapse in media responsibility as it is in defence of media freedom, the perception has emerged that the Media Council has not performed up to its own high ideals … This need to better balance the freedom and responsibility aspects of its activities was a constant theme in submissions…
The review also questioned the media organisations’ commitment to the council. It called on members for stronger observation of “ethics and standards” and to at least double the financial commitment (from the current F$30,000 a year budget).
There is no doubt that the Media Council, to be effective, needs to raise its profile within Fiji society – and to be seen as a body committed equally to press freedom and press responsibility. All sections of the society to whom the review spoke, including government, want to see free media informing the public on matters of public interest and concern. A robust and well-respected Media Council will greatly assist that task: there will be less need for sections of the society to issue calls for a regulatory oversight of the media where a high-profile Media Council is seen as effectively and efficiently carrying out its tasks, and offering a free complaints procedure to the consumers of media.
Recommendations include:
  • Appointment of a paid chair and executive secretary to deal with complaints quickly and attentively;
  • Offer of face-to-face mediation as an alternative dispute resolution;
  • Clarifying the basis of complaints;
  • Restructuring the complaints panel to make it more independent of the council
  • The complaints panel to be chaired by an independent convenor, not the Media Council chair as at present;
  • Complaints hearings to be arranged "without delay";
  • Reducing use of the legal waiver to cases where "contemporary legal action is likely";
  • Setting a 30-day limit for complaints;
  • Supplementing adjudication with a "series of graduated penalties", including censure (as recommended by the NZ Press Council review in 2007); and
  • Allowing public members of the council to act as “proactive” media monitors.
Among other recommendations, the review panel called for a “working journalist” to be a representative on a restructured, more streamlined council, The panel also noted in a section about training that the council “might well play a part in improving work conditions – and thereby standards”.

So what now of the media law “promulgation” long promised/threatened by the government? Hopefully, it will be tossed into the regime’s waste bin. Give the Fiji Media Council a chance to get its house in order.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

French nuke compo plan cynical sham for Tahitians

GLOBAL reaction has been applauding France. Media and politicians have given Paris a big tick for finally coming to terms with its post-war militarist legacy with a compensation plan for the Algerian, French and Tahitian nuclear veterans - some 150,000 of them - after a half century of nuking remote parts of the Sahara and the Pacific. Not so fast... On closer scrutiny, the bill unveiled by Defence Minister Herve Morin is revealed as something of a cynical sham. Café Pacific's David Robie talked about this today in an interview with Radio Live host Finlay Macdonald.

The 10 million euros (about NZ$24 million) compensation plan pales into insignificance when compared with the US$500 million paid to the Marshall Islands (and the Marshallese are agitating for a further $2 billion). "French governments believed for a long time that opening the door to compensation would pose a threat to the very significant efforts made by France to have a credible nuclear deterrent," Morin told Le Figaro. "But it was time for France to be true to its conscience."

However, Roland Oldham, president of the French Polynesian nuclear test veterans movement Moruroa e Tatou, dismissed the plan as "peanuts". He told Radio New Zealand: "It really is peanuts when you compare how the French government spends a lot of money on defence." The Algerian veterans are juat as unhappy. According to Abderahmane Laksassi, head of the 13 February 1960 Association - named after the date of the first French nuclear test near Reggane in the Sahara desert - "It's a good first step but I'm not satisfied." He dismissed a "little pension" for victims as inadequate compensation. "We want France to build a hospital for the victims," he added.

Also, the Morin bill is a poor imitation of an earlier draft law that had gained universal acceptance from all parties in the French National Assembly. The veterans' groups were much happier about this.

In mid-October 2008, the lobbying group Vérité et Justice (Truth and Justice) had outlined a draft bill that gained support from Moruroa e Tatou and all political parties. Features included:
  • The "presumption principle", which changes the proof so that workers and military personnel from the test sites suffering designated diseases and illnesses will be compensated without long drawn out court hearings;
  • The creation of a special fund for compensation;
  • the establishment of a monitoring committee made up of parliamentarians, independent experts and representatives of the government, veteran' and workers' associations.
Nic Maclellan backgrounded this draft law well in a paper posted at the Medical Association for Prevention of War website. Just days before this draft law was due to be tabled and debated in the National Assembly, the Morin bill was introduced instead. And the three key elements above have been removed or watered down. The cynical view is that the Morin bill in in fact designed to reduce the number of eligible people to bring compensation claims. While in metropolitan France descendants of a victim can still bring a compensation case, in Tahiti only surviving widows can do this.

In September 2008, an industrial relations tribunal in the Tahitian capital of Pape'ete ruled that France must account for the consequences of nuclear testing on the health of the Maohi people. Three former workers who claim leukemias, or blood cancers, were caused by nuclear testing will try to prove their case. Five Tahitian widows of five workers who died of leukemia also have legal cases pending against France.

France conducted 210 nuclear tests over more than 40 years - four atmospheric tests and 13 underground tests in Algeria (1960-1965), and 46 atmospheric and 147 underground tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls (1966-1996). The Greenpeace environmental flagship Rainbow Warrior was bombed by the French secret service in Auckland on 10 July 1985, an act of state terrorism that hastened the eventual end of nuclear testing in 1996.

Footnote: According to the New Zealand Herald, one of the French secret agents involved in Operation Satanic against Rainbow Warrior, Dr Xavier Maniguet, 62, died in a plane crash in the French Alps last week. He was one of four men who smuggled the limpet mine explosives into New Zealand on board the yacht Ouvea.

Graphic: The Malcolm Walker cartoon of the French secret service DGSE at work was published in David Robie's 1986 book Eyes of Fire. A memorial edition was published in 2005.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chronic violence, media elitism and double standards

A COUPLE of landmark events have been an inspiration for media diversity in New Zealand this week – but if you relied on the mainstream media for information, you would be sorely disappointed. Journalists in the Pacific region are not usually the most literate of characters and not too well known for depth and insight when it comes to far-reaching ideas with major implications for the region. So milestones like these are refreshing. One event was the launch of a new book by one of the doyens of Pacific publishing and media freedom; the other was the publication of a new newspaper, Indian Weekender, aimed at both the 120,000 Indian diaspora and the mainstream in New Zealand.

Although few books have been written by Pacific journalists, when one does appear it is often a gem. This is the case with Tongan publisher, author, broadcaster – and now philosopher – Kalafi Moala whose second book was published in Auckland this week, In Search of the Friendly Islands. The turnout was great at the Onehunga Community Centre in spite of competing with one of the stellar Pasifika events of the year – Polyfest, which attracts some 90,000 people drawn to the Maori and Pasifika schools cultural spectacular.

Moala, who irked the pro-democracy movement in Tonga with his takeover of the state-owned newspaper Kalonikali (Chronicle) last week through a fuzzy management contract, has written arguably the most brutally honest book to come out of any South Pacific country in recent years. And it takes a perceptive journalist to do this. He is certainly courageous. And the storytelling is engaging. The book has lifted the lid on many hitherto tabu Pacific topics as he examines the psyche of contemporary Tonga and searches for solutions. Pacific Media Watch reviewer Josephine Latu, herself Tongan, sums up his “ideology of domination-oppression”:
In less than 150 pages, the book probes the gross contradictions found in Tongan culture - chronic violence, elitism, and religious hypocrisy, among others, interweaving historical accounts, philosophical reflections, and political analysis with lucid real-life stories. It’s what Moala calls the “Pacific mode of story-telling”.

He argues that the traditional Tongan culture is rooted deep in a system of domination and oppression. But importantly, more than just politics, it involves the power of “men over women, parents over children, aristocrats over peasants, nobles over commoners, teachers over students, priests and ministers over laity, and rulers over people”. It’s how Tongans relate to the world.
Turning to the legacy of “Black Thursday” – the apocalyptic riot in November 2006 (only one chapter is actually devoted to this tragic event that cost eight lives) - Moala is particularly scathing about the current pro-democracy leadership and the foreign “parachute journalists” whom he believes have been misled by rhetoric and self-interest. The book is being launched in his beloved Tonga this weekend.

A day after the Moala book launch, the Indian Weekender was introduced to the crowd at the Holi Mela festival in Waitakere Trusts Stadium by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. This bright and breezy community paper (with the hint of a lurking political edge) has two old Fiji hands as the key people in the editorial team. Editor Dev Nadkarni is a former coordinator of the journalism programme at the University of the South Pacific and an Islands Business stalwart while his chief reporter is Thakur Ranjit Singh, a former Fiji Daily Post publisher and now a Waitakere community advocate and current columnist for several publications. Between them, they contributed most of the articles in the first edition of the fortnightly paper.

Nadkarni had a lead story, “Setting the Kiwi summer on fire”, about how cricket and Bollywood are inseparable for Indians. India’s cricketers are currently touring New Zealand and thrashed the locals in one day internationals and in the first of three tests. Nadkarni highlighted a local paper’s headline: “Runslog Millionaires”. He also had articles about the Western world’s double standards over democracy and terror in sport. Singh analyses latest developments in Fiji, the significance of Race Relations Day in New Zealand and explains what happens “when the rhino rages”.

This new paper is a welcome addition to the ethnic publishing scene in New Zealand and another marker reflecting the growing maturity of diversity media. Of course, Bollywood features strongly – some seven pages out of 32, including a fullpage portrait of “The sexiest lucky mascot”, Katrina Kaif.

Top picture: Kalafi Moala signing a book for Café Pacific publisher David Robie; above: Indian Weekender chief reporter Ranjit Singh (left) and editor Dev Nadkarni. Photos: Del Abcede.

In Search of the Friendly Islands, by Kalafi Moala, published by:
Pasifika Foundation Press, Hawai'i, and
Pacific Media Centre, Auckland. RRP NZ$34.95.
Order from South Pacific Books Ltd.

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