Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dictatorships and double standards - Tough on Fiji, soft on Iran

By Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard

ON NOVEMBER 4, protesters gathered outside the gates of the US embassy in Tehran to mark the 30th anniversary of the hostage-taking. There were the usual government-backed "Death to America" protests--celebrating the then-young revolutionaries and their enduring fanaticism.

But there were other protests, too. Nearly six months after the fixed Iranian election brought hundreds of thousands of green-clad Iranian democrats to the streets, a few thousand brave souls gathered to challenge the corrupt Iranian regime. The crowd was smaller than in May, but their hopes were no less audacious. They had organised secretly to stage a protest to tell anyone who would listen that their democratic aspirations had not been snuffed out and that, despite the indifference of world leaders and the violence of the mullahs, they would persevere.

"Death to the Dictator," they shouted in Farsi, words that could get them killed. And in what the Associated Press described as "a new and startling appeal", the protesters spoke directly to the US President: "Obama, Obama," they chanted. "You are either with them or with us."

At least four foreign journalists were detained during the protests, and members of government-backed militias appeared in riot gear beating protesters with heavy clubs and arresting others.

Back at the State Department, spokesman Ian Kelly prepared to open his daily briefing with an unusually harsh condemnation. The United States "deplores" the "unprecedented" actions of an unelected leadership that "have undermined any opportunity for progress toward reengagement and constructive dialogue".

Fiji the target
These would have been the strongest words issued by the Obama administration about the Iranian protests if they had been about the Iranian regime. But they were actually about Fiji. Kelly said absolutely nothing about Iran.
What he was deploring was a decision by "Fiji's de facto government to expel New Zealand's acting head of mission as well as Australia's high commissioner." That last act, according to Kelly, was "unprecedented in that Australia now holds the chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum," so "the United States calls for the restoration of Fiji's independent judiciary and the rights to free speech and assembly that are essential to the country's return to democracy."

The burst of toughness left the reporters in the room perplexed.
REPORTER: Exactly what's the U.S. connection there? The government of Fiji expels diplomats from Australia and New Zealand, and you care because--

KELLY: We care because we care about the restoration of democracy in Fiji. Last April, they--the president abolished the constitution--


REPORTER: Yeah.


KELLY: and dismissed all judges and constitutional appointees and imposed emergency rule.

REPORTER: Yeah, that happened. But the operative word being there last when? Operative words? Last--


KELLY: April.

REPORTER: April, okay. And so--


KELLY: I mean, we have an interest in democracy returning to Fiji.

REPORTER: Well, I understand. But what does the expulsion of the diplomats from Australia and New Zealand have to do with the restoration of democracy?


KELLY: It was--we consider it be an unjust act to expel them out of the country.
It's encouraging that the Obama administration can get tough with someone--or someone other than Israel, Wall Street CEOs, and Dick Cheney--even if it's with a nation that boasts the population of Rhode Island and a GDP of $3.5 billion, less than Americans spend annually on cat food. But the Obama administration had no substantive response to the Tehran violence or the silenced protesters' message.

Earlier in the week both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had expressed hope that the Iranian regime would reverse three decades of antagonism and rejoin the community of civilized nations. Clinton, speaking to reporters in Morocco, particularly wished that Iran would accept an offer from the IAEA to ship some of its low-enriched uranium to Russia to show that Iran "does wish to cooperate with the international community and fulfill their international responsibilities".

The White House then sent out a statement commemorating the 30th anniversary of the takeover. It began, delicately, in the passive voice. "Thirty years ago today, the American embassy in Tehran was seized." (It was apparently too provocative to say by whom.)

Courageous hostages
The 444 days that began on November 4, 1979, deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice. This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.

There are other reasons for the suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation, of course. Iran killed hundreds of US Marines in a terrorist attack in Beirut in 1983. Iran sponsored and trained the terrorists who killed 19 American soldiers at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Iran harbored senior al Qaeda leaders in the months after September 11, 2001. It is training, arming, and funding the terrorists fighting US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. And last week Iran was caught red-handed delivering weapons--hundreds of tons of arms--to terrorists.

Mutual respect?

And there are brand new reasons for suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. In late September, the world learned that Iran had constructed a secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom. In announcing the breach, Obama noted: "This is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program." Yet he went on to affirm his commitment "to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue" through the international community.

Then, late Thursday came a bombshell report in the Guardian: The International Atomic Energy Agency has evidence that the Iranian regime had been working on an advanced design for a nuclear warhead. If perfected, the "two-point implosion" device would allow the Iranians to build smaller bombs with higher yields, which are easier to load and deliver by missile. If Iran's nuclear program were peaceful, as the Iranian government has repeatedly proclaimed (and virtually no one believes), there would be no reason for this kind of work.

The US intelligence community has had this information for weeks, according to several officials. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee was briefed on October 22 and the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee on October 29. The new information strongly suggests that Iran did not suspend its entire nuclear weapons program in 2003 as the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran claims.

End to mistrust
So on two separate occasions in the past two months, Obama publicly called for an end to the "mistrust" between Iran and the United States even as he was privately being presented with fresh intelligence showing that Iran has been lying about its nuclear weapons program and its intentions.

Obama's passivity is beginning to frustrate even members of his own party. Last week, the Senate Banking Committee unanimously passed a measure that would give the president more authority to impose harsh sanctions on Iran's importing of gasoline and other refined petroleum products. "It is clear that an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress now supports the imposition of tough new sanctions on the government of Iran," said Senators Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Jon Kyl in a joint statement. The legislation has 76 cosponsors in the Senate, including 38 Democrats. But the White House has not endorsed the measure.

The French are growing impatient, too. A month ago, French president Nicolas Sarkozy chastised Obama for his dithering on Iran. Then last week, in an interview with the New York Times, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner accused the Obama administration of avoiding the hard decisions on Iran. "Our American friends ask us to wait until the end of the year," he said. "It's not us." Kouchner told the Times that the White House wants to give Iran an opportunity for more negotiations. "We're waiting for talks, but where are the talks?"

There is only so much toughness to go around. And the Obama administration prefers to focus on the growing global threat from Frank Bainimarama, Fijian strongman.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. This article has been republished from the Vol 15, Issue 9, edition on November 16.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fiji: What I tell you three times is true



By Patrick Craddock

“THE QUESTION,” said Humpty Dumpty, “ which is to be master – that’s all.” Fiji’s Commodore Bainimarama is the Master, and has been since he took over the country in his coup of December 2006.

But Bainimarama is no fantasy story and his reality is getting more painful for Fiji as he publicly tries to humiliate Fiji-born academic Brij Lal, and Australia and New Zealand. At the same time the former head of Fiji’s land forces Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka tells the media he has applied for a protection visa to stay in Australia, as he would not be welcome back in his own country.

It’s nearly three years since Bainimarama’s coup. Promises were made, in large numbers. The coup had many supporters from all walks of life. Supporters? Perhaps that’s the wrong word - delete "supporters". Let me say that Bainimarama had support from good meaning citizens who wanted a better Fiji. They decided to give their backing to some of the changes the army commander promised: less corruption; respect for the rule of law; respect for the Constitution and an end to official racism.

Alas, the Constitution vanished, as did the aged and manipulated president who had given the army his support. But he left with some honour unlike the legal profession. Judges were sacked, some were reinstated, while others walked away.

Lawyers found their registration for their profession was being placed in the hands of a registrar. They shouted and raved, but to no avail.

Graham Leung, a Fiji lawyer, saw the interim government of Bainimarama leading the profession into a mess.
“The situation has been made worse by the dismissal of the judges and a judiciary which is now even more dysfunctional. More recently, the regime took over the licensing of lawyers, removing the power to grant licenses to practice from the law society to the Registrar of the High Court, an army appointed major.”(1)
Marching orders
Democracy was given its marching orders. It kept moving into the distance until it found the date 2014. Then Bainimarama said: “Stop”. Democracy paused. It is still awaiting a cue to talk.

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has been made President. That decision used to rest with the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), suspended in April 2007 by Bainimarama. After abrogating the 1997 Constitution he went on to tell the media: “There is no Great Council of Chiefs”.

Traditionally the country’s chiefs, the GCC, had entrenched provisions in the 1997 Constitution with powers to appoint the President and Vice-President. The GCC did not want Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as President. Their powers are now gone and rest with Cabinet.

The army man of choice is in the President’s seat and he is able and willing to tell the country which way to look and act, an example of the military ignoring a huge cultural factor in the history of Fiji which was the power of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). Even the colonial power understood the need to get chiefly support to maintain stability in Fiji. Bainimarama has walked all over the cultural heritage of the GCC. But, if he cares to think about his action, he can be sure that at this moment there are chiefs throughout all the islands of Fiji who want to see him removed and their power restored.

Democracy requires educated and intelligent civilians. But there are now four colonels in charge of regional administration, where before there were civilians in charge. It begs the question of why the civilians were ousted – were they incompetent or corrupt, or perhaps less pliable than colonels who would obey directives from the chief?

If the coup leader has an agenda for a better Fiji, when and how will it happen? The Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) is expressing concern about the role that the Chief Registrar, Ana Rokomokoti, is playing. Harsher critics of the military regime ask on their blog sites, what independent judiciary - where is it?

Loyal wishes
When the army abrogated the Constitution, it dismissed the judiciary. Later, some judges were reinstated. The ever-smooth Attorney-General also spoke about the independence of judges. Aha, say the critics, take the word “independent” and supplement it with the expression “and loyal to the wishes of the army commander.”

The CCF is expressing concern that a Decree gazetted on 20 July 2009 has given superior powers to the Chief Registrar, making that office more powerful than the highest court of Fiji.

It watches the role of the registrar going well beyond its traditional role.
“Any prosecutions by the Chief Registrar would violate the UN Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary and the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.” (2)
As the legal system faltered, the media was silenced. The reputable big voices of radio, TV and print have been monitored, each by minders. The pressure to stay silent was supposed to be there for only a few weeks, but now many months down the track the voices of media are politically quiet unless they decide to praise the leader and avoid criticism of his failure to deliver on his promises.

'Freedom to report'
In the last few days we have the obscenity of the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, insulting young student journalists at the University of the South Pacific by telling them that the media have freedom to report on all types of stories provided they are accurate and balanced. He asks:
“Is there a restriction? Are journalists being locked up? Are journalists exactly been told what to write? No”. (3)
Has Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum forgotten what happened to Netani Rika, now editor of the Fiji Times who was taken to the army barracks where he was threatened and intimidated? And what excuse can Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum give when professor Brij Lal, a leading authority on Fiji is picked up from his home by the military. Do they take him to the police station? No. He is interrogated in the army barracks and deported from Fiji the next day. None of this information is placed in the main media, but it is reported on numerous blogsites, dedicated to the coup aftermath. On the same day as Brij Lal is kicked out from Fiji, I access Radio New Zealand International and encounter an amazing statement.

Major Nemani Vuniwaqa says Professor Lal was not expelled.
“Dr Brij Lal was in Fiji on a visitor’s permit and according to our records he had left the country on a flight to Australia. He was not expelled from the country as claimed by him. (4)
Listen to more of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who during the last three years, has used his undoubted ability to prepare slippery reasons why Bainimarama is always in the right.
"The fundamental issue as far as the media control at the moment is concerned is that you do not have politicians being reported. That’s the basic thing.”
Basic freedoms
The “basic thing” is freedom of speech, surely and accuracy. While suppressing and monitoring news, the army media censors ignored a statement published on the website (Fijilive, 23 August 2009) from a Ministry of Housing and Squatter Settlement official, Peni Bakewa, who said at a workshop on housing that at least 40 percent of people living in Fiji’s squatter settlements are capable of buying their own homes.

Father Kevin Barr says it is untrue.
“It was a very irresponsible statement with no basis in research. It was simply a repeat of an old paper produced by the Ministry some years ago based on poor statistics and even poorer analysis. I confronted Peni about his statement and he admitted it was baseless and relied on old rumours within the Department.” (5)
Professor Biman Prasad, an economist at the University of the South Pacific, is calling on the military backed regime to lift the tough censorship on news media or risk growing corruption and a major financial institution collapse. He appealed to Bainimarama, saying his wish to create a “new Fiji” would be thwarted without a free media noting,
“The government’s attempt to stamp out corruption is laudable. However, without a free media, its attempt to do this will be thwarted.” (6)
Echoing a past coup, Biman Prasad said Fiji’s largest financial institution, the Fiji National Provident Fund, was at risk because of management and questionable investments.

He noted that shortly after the coups of 1987 - coups by Sitiveni Rabuka, the National Bank of Fiji collapsed and taxpayers lost F$250 million.
“Corruption flourishes in an environment where the media is curtailed. In addition, the government can have more legitimacy if it allows the media to operate independently. “This would help restore confidence in the country and we could see a faster level of economic growth.” (7)
Prasad mentioned “legitimacy”. Bainimarama would like that. It has evaded him and may do so for a long time, unless more civilians decide to serve in his interim government. But, civilians contemplating working for the interim government are justifiably worried that they may have problems in the future when they find out that they may be on the NZ banned list when they apply for visas. I took that point up with one observer of the Fiji situation. He commented sadly that until New Zealand lifts its travel visa ban on such civilians there would be a stalemate in relations between the two countries. His opinion is that it is up to NZ to make the first move. A fair point? Should civilians working with the interim government be eligible for visas? It could be a move towards developing a democratic regime in Fiji.

People's Charter
But we have to ask questions too about achievements that the interim government has made, or is working towards. During 2008 the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF), worked on the draft of the People’s Charter. Members said they were independent. But Commodore Bainimarama and the Catholic Archbishop co-chaired their main meetings and supplied the NCBBF with government funds. The draft of the People’s Charter is a Fiji version of the Declaration of Human Rights, but with specific recommendations on reducing poverty, resolving land issues, providing more jobs, improved educational opportunities and removing racial provisions from government legislation. It was put together by input from more than 200 people representing numerous factions of society in Fiji. Bainimarama and the Secretariat of the NCBBF acted fairly and these sectors of the community who did not give any input of ideas did so of their own choice. By December 2008 the draft of the Charter was approved. Bainimarama promised to get it up and moving at the earliest opportunity. Now, almost a year later the draft of the People’s Charter has survived the demise of the Constitution and the sticking plaster placed firmly on the mouth of free speech.

The draft of the people’s charter is an achievement, as it sets a guideline for what can be achieved. To call it a blue print is to grace it with more than it contains in content. It is riddled with rhetoric… we believe, we affirm, we reaffirm. But the message is lacking in detail although it set some guidelines, such as making land available for both housing in rural and urban areas with the government playing a key facilitating role.

A keen observer and worker on the progress of housing is Father Kevin Barr. In a presentation in July of this year he said that the Housing Authority (HA) is a commercial enterprise which charges reasonable market rates and seeks to make a profit. According to its mandate, it provides “commercial housing” for those who have incomes between $6500 and $16,500 and can take out loans of $20,000+. With only 17 percent of the workers in Fiji earning over $20,000 the HA has limited impact on developing housing for workers when 50 percent have incomes below $10,000 a year.

Barr asks the relevant question about how land lots and rental land can be made available to those families who live well bellow the $20,000 threshold required of the HA. He notes that there are plans to erect 1560 Public Rental Units and develop 4712 Housing Authority lots by the end of 2013 supported through a low interest loan from the Chinese Exim Bank.

But the poor are still left behind. With only $4 million maximum being provided to housing, and $23 million to tourism, it looks as if the present government lacks any effective policy for housing the poor. Barr says in his article that housing provides social and political stability. Each morning Bainimarama could look at the squatter figures for Fiji, with nearly a 100,000 people living in makeshift homes along the way from his office to the airport at Nausori, a one-hour drive. On resolving housing issues for the poor, the interim government barely seems to have got moving.

The draft of the People’s Charter recommended the setting up of a special council to see the progress of the Peoples Charter. That at least has been accomplished and the National Peoples Charter Advisory Council (NCPAC) is the body to monitor the implementation of the Peoples Charter. The Chairman has said that the NCPAC will receive reports every six months from Permanent Secretaries in all Ministries and Departments. Their next reports are due on his table next month.

Education funding and educational opportunity remains a key issue especially at this time of the year. Scholarship opportunities have been announced. The interim government in its the media releases make no mention of quotas for ethnic groups and states that ability will be the key part of criteria. For that decision many poor but able students will be grateful.

Educational drain
From outside Fiji it looks as if educational money is going down the drain. Fiji now has three universities for a population that is under one million people. There is the University of the South Pacific, which various Fiji ministers have tried to control and failed, as it belongs to the wider region of Pacific countries and gets most of its money from overseas countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The second, the University of Fiji gets much of its money from its the sponsor, the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, a body that has operated in the country for 100 years and has supported the provision of primary and secondary education. In its five-year development phase, it estimated that around $10 million is needed to develop the basic university facilities.

Now, we have a third. In November 2009 cabinet approved the Fiji National University Decree to establish the Fiji National University (FNU) to open next year, 2010. It will consist of six state-owned institutions: Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), Fiji School of Medicine (FSM), Fiji School of Nursing (FSN), Lautoka Teachers’ College (LTC), the Fiji College of Advanced Education (FCAE) and the Fiji College of Agriculture (FCA). It has not been made clear, but you can bet your last Fiji dollar that government will take good care of the finances of this organisation and control it too. But just what advantages are to be gained from joining these six institutions together and calling it a university. There will be costs. University number two said it requires around $10 million over the next five years. What will university number three cost?

The government already loads most of the education onto organisations other than itself. A report on education produced by its London Office of the Fiji High Commission observes that:
“Government operates only 2 percent of the primary schools, 8 percent of the secondary schools, 8 percent of vocational and technical education schools, and 2 out of the 5 teacher training institutions. The government realises that for ongoing economic development, the country needs an educated and skilled workforce.” (8)
Exactly. Fiji needs young people with good education and numerous skills. So why are there no penetrating questions being asked in the media by journalists about where a third university fits into the education system? Surely there is need for more and better primary and secondary education to benefit the nation than establishing a third university.

We come back to the media being gagged and intimidated. This is Sophie Foster associate editor of the Fiji Times, talking at the annual University of the South Pacific journalism awards on 28 November 2008:
“We live in a time when the media industry is under increasing attack on several fronts – we exist in a time of rapid changes in technology which are reshaping the revenue streams of those in the industry; we have had four coups in the last two decades – and this has placed direct pressure on the way we operate; we have a high migration rate which includes highly trained journalists and the skills they offer; we have also over the past two years seen journalists and other news staff personally threatened while doing the job that members of the public expect them to do.” (9)
One man in Suva, holding numerous government posts wants to lead the way. As I write this, Commodore Bainimarama has once again attacked both Australia and New Zealand through its diplomats. He is: Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service; People's Charter for Change; Minister for Information and Archives; Minister for Finance and National Planning and Sugar; Minister for Provincial Development, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs.

Except for one, all coups in Fiji have been conducted by the military and one of their unfortunate achievements is to ensure that every year since 1987 one percent more of the population moves into the slums of poverty. And it’s getting worse. You doubt it, Commodore?

Ask Wadan Narsey. He is a critic, but his homework or research is thorough. In his lecture he says
“…the incidence of poverty in Fiji has probably increased from the 35 percent it was in 2002-03 to more than 45 percent today.” (10)
The interim Attorney-General said recently over Radio Fiji that the fundamental issue with media control at the moment was that politicians were not being reported. Ironically, Sophie Foster would agree with him,
“There is no doubt that the media industry is facing a tremendous challenge trying to defend the right of people to freedom of expression. "Even as I speak, that challenge continues, as a group of civil servants systematically attempts to erase any trace of “dissent” or “disaffection” in the media. They arrive after 6pm and leave somewhere around 10pm. In between that time, they shred to pieces our intrinsic right to freedom of expression.”(11)
I am sure the media of Fiji, would be happy to question in depth the man who is Prime Minister and Minister for Public Service; People’s Charter for Change; Minister for Information and Archives; Minister for Finance and National Planning and Sugar; Minister for Provincial Development, Indigenous and Multi-Ethnic Affairs so they can freely report without censorship, to analyse and quote both the multi-minister and his critics on the state of the Fiji nation three years on from 2006.

Patrick Craddock worked in Fiji for more than 12 years at the University of the South Pacific in Suva in using radio for education and lecturing in broadcast journalism. During 2008 he prepared radio programmes in Hindi, Fijian and English for the National Council for Building a Better Fiji explaining the draft content of the People’s Charter for Peace, Change, Progress and Prosperity.

References:
1 Remarks by Graham Leung in paper for the Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress, Sheraton, Denarau, Nadi, 12 June 2009
2 Media Release. CCF, 28 October 2009
3 Radio Fiji. Interview, 30 October 2009
4 Radio New Zealand International News, 5 November 2009
5 Email interview, P. Craddock 8 September 2009
6 Pacific Media Watch Nius, www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz 17 October 2009
7 Pacific Media Watch Nius, www.pacmediawatch.aut.ac.nz 17 October 2009
8 Paper on Education (undated). High Commission of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, London
9 Sophie Foster. Presentation at USP, Suva. 28 November 2008
10 The Rev. Paula Niukula Lecture, 5 April 2009. Marine Studies Lecture Theatre, USP. (Rev Niukula died on 21 April 1996.
11 Fiji Women’s Rights Movement. Speech at Emerging Leaders Graduation, 28 May 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

PFF makes a blue with the Fiji regime's propaganda

MEDIA lobby group Pacific Freedom Forum shot itself in the foot this week with an over-the-top media release shorn of its usual measured tone. Aghast at the Fiji Attorney-General being given an “unchallenged” platform at the University of the South Pacific’s regional journalism programme to peddle the regime’s usual spin, the PFF fired off a media missile claiming that Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had “erased his own credibility with ‘delusional’ notions that Fiji has a free media”. What’s new?

The tone of this media release was along the lines of let’s fight censorship with censorship. In fact, the PFF itself lost some credibility with this latest release. The backroom scribes need to brush up on their Voltaire.

Also, there was a touch of disinformation in the release as well while praising the Fiji Times' “award-winning free speech campaign as announced on Friday night in Australia”. Café Pacific points out that this was an in-house award by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd group (he was even there for the occasion). This was not disclosed by PFF.

Also, it is interesting to see that PFF has little to say about the strategies of the two other Fiji dailies, the Fiji Sun and Daily Post – both very different from the Fiji Times, and some would say more focused on rebuilding the Fiji of tomorrow than playing the pathetic Australian and NZ interventionists’ card. Well, of course – the FT group is Australian owned.

A former Fiji Daily Post publisher, Ranjit Singh, who holds rather pungent views on the Fiji news media noted - while sarcastically commenting on the “prestigious award”:
The question that has been bugging me, and I suppose other like-thinking people, is this: Had the Fiji media been more responsible, more impartial, more balanced, more ‘outrageous’ [whatever he means by this] and more questioning in raising the issues of poor governance practised by Laisenia Qarase and his SDL government, would we have been able to avert the December 2006 takeover by Bainimarama?
Probably not. But that still doesn’t soften the case for a more balanced media. The recent publication of the "media and democracy" edition of Fijian Studies, the journal published by the Fiji Institute of Technology director Dr Ganesh Chand, canvassed many of the issues of media balance and quality over two decades of coup culture and poses fundamental questions of what has been learned by the media during that period. (The edition was edited by two USP staff - economics professor Biman Prasad and head of journalism Shailendra Singh). Some 26 contributors with wide-ranging research and views (including a senior Fiji Times staffer) provided in-depth fodder for the debate. Many journalists were on hand for the launch. Yet the Fiji media picked up on virtually none of it.

This volume, in fact, lays bare the Fiji media’s shortcomings – and strengths, but also contains much of the ammunition needed to challenge the AG’s rigid regime view of the news industry.

Café Pacific reckons Khaiyum’s host for the seminar, USP journalism, should take a bow for the activities it has been promoting in spite of Fiji's climate of censorship and self-censorship. The news on the ground was that some gutsy questions were asked by several of the student journalists – and also other media people present – but Pacific Scoop’s reporter on the spot, Nanise Nawalowao, didn't pick up on some of these in her story. According to staff:
Unfortunately, the AG seminar was confirmed just two days before the event and we did not have time for the best briefing with students. We are always training and urging students to challenge speakers.
An important point that commentators often naively overlook is that university students are just making a career start – they haven’t been around the traps like them. Students are often 10 to 20 years younger and nowhere near as experienced or mature as they may be. Pacific Islanders are often reluctant to question those in authority. It is often a reality in the Pacific media industry - and many a news conference.

But at least USP is actually engaging with all sides and trying to build up some balanced expertise among tomorrow’s journos. The university’s journalism programme has organised several seminars this year - and many over the years - including during the launch of Fijian Studies and one by this year’s PINA media award winners from Port Vila.

In just a few weeks, USP has staged three seminars on the media in spite of state censorship.

USP journalism has been more actively drumming up media debates than any other organisation - not just this year, but over the years. In fact, there has been more public discussion about the media in Fiji than in any other Pacific country, largely due to USP journalism efforts – even under the shadow of a coup.

A challenge lies there for other media sectors and Pacific journalists.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Suai massacre accused slips out of East Timor across border

SO it's finally official: After weeks of accusations and denials that one of the most wanted men for crimes against humanity in East Timor has been smuggled out of the country, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has finally come clean. Maternus Bere, the former militia leader accused of a massacre of dozens of women, children and priests in a church at Suai a decade ago is now safely back in Indonesia.

According to an Associated Press report, Bere arrived in Indonesia on Friday and was taken to a hospital with undisclosed health problems, said ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah. He faces no charges in Indonesia and will be a free man after treatment:
An Indonesian national, Bere was indicted by UN prosecutors in 2003 on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution, forced disappearances, torture, extermination and abduction.

More than 1000 people were killed by pro-Indonesian militias when East Timor voted to break from Indonesia in 1999, but more than 300 suspects remain at large, most of them in Indonesia.

Leaders from both countries oppose criminal trials so human rights activists have called for the establishment of a UN tribunal.

Bere was recognised during a visit to Suai, the town where the massacre took place in September 1999, and was arrested by Timorese police in early August.


He was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy at Jakarta's
insistence after negotiations between the two governments on August 30, the 10th anniversary of East Timor's vote to become an independent state.
The hypocrisy, particularly by the current administration led by Gusmao Xanana, a former resistance leader against the Indonesians, over the treatment of Bere and other accused has frustrated and angered many human rights advocates.

Pictured: Former pro-Indonesian militia leader Maternus Bere, c. 1999. Source: Tempo Semanal

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The politics of Fiji news media under scrutiny

A MAJOR question about publication of the latest edition of Fijian Studies dealing with “media and democracy” (the cover actually says, incorrectly, development) is why did it take so long to surface in public? It took a year for the November 2008 edition to be published and launched in a Suva restaurant.

Nervousness about how the authoritarian post-coup 4.5 Fiji regime might react? Where does a publication like this fit into the state censorship in Bainimarama’s Fiji?

Perhaps the publisher, Fiji Institute of Technology director and series editor of the Fiji Institute of Applied Studies, Dr Ganesh Chand, considered the political climate had stabilised sufficiently to publish this without too much reaction. Fair enough. There was barely a ripple in media – or state – circles, and hardly any newspapers engaged with this thought-provoking book.

A pity. There is a wealth of valuable information packed into the 297-page volume by more than a score of authors, mostly journalists, media academics and political scientists. Debate about some of the content would have been ideal before the Fiji Media Council independent review in February – and should have been available before the reviewers delivered their report (which unfortunately became redundant after the Easter putsch). It would have even been more useful for the regime too to have had access to this research before donning the newsroom jackboots.

However, a big bouquet for the publishers and editors in having the initiative and courage to go ahead with such an important volume at this time. It will be a very useful resource.

As well as the wide-ranging introduction by the editors themselves - head of journalism Shailendra Singh and economics professor Biman Prasad at the University of the South Pacific - most of the authors have provided important insights into the Fiji media, including the impact of digital media in a strained political environment.

Fiji Times associate editor Sophie Foster, for example, provides a study of the mainstream media and its approach to online publication and she calls for “greater emphasis on preparing journalists and their audiences to better use interactive options”. Hannah Harborow’s “Sites of resistance: Fiji’s untamed media” is an incisive examination of the post-coup blogosphere:
While the internet has the potential to empower citizens and communities in new ways that redefine governance, the susceptibility of bloggers to Fiji’s “coconut wireless” places this potential at risk. Like all media, bloggers tread specific ideological paths and are not necessarily straightforward propagators of the “truth”.
Politics lecturer Dr Rae Nicholl of USP in research on media treatment of women in the 1987, 2000 and 2006 coups found that women were “almost entirely absent from the press following the 1987 coup but their presence increased following the 2000 coup and increased still further following the 2006 coup”.

Susan Naisara Grey and professor of governance Graham Hassall, both also of USP, examined the print media’s coverage of the Office of the Auditor-General and concluded that news organisations are “not tracking issues raised in [auditor] reports, as they are considered – or not considered – by the relevant participating committees”. Only in a few instances, such as relating to the alleged misuse of funds within the Department of Agriculture, did the media provide sustained monitoring of an issue.

In a political economy review of the Fiji media and democracy, Dr Erik Larson, a visiting American academic at USP, found a model of “disengagement”. He concluded:
The dependence of news media on information from official sources also may make reporters more reliant on research and analysis from those outside the media. As a result, news items tend to be reactive and the news media does not perform its watchdog function as effectively.
Café Pacific publisher Dr David Robie contributed two articles, one a research paper around media accountability systems, or M*A*S, and he contrasted the methodologies of the controversial 2007 “review” of the Fiji’s news media industry with a genuinely independent review of the NZ Press Council undertaken during the same time frame. The editors also published his controversial “Press and the putsch” paper from a decade ago for the first time in Fiji (it had previously been published in Australia).

Daryl Tarte, who recently stepped down as chair of the Fiji Media Council after three terms, outlined the council’s role and the increasing challenges it faced. Among his concerns were deteriorating media standards and the lack of investigative journalism:
The coups from 1987 to 2006 have had a serious impact on the media in that journalists have been threatened and incarcerated by military regimes. This has led to the loss overseas of many experienced journalists. Standards have deteriorated for it takes time to train new people and give them the opportunity to gain experience.
While Tarte was given a big tick for his contribution to Pacific media freedom by both the Pacific Freedom Forum and Croz Walsh's Fiji blog, others, including Café Pacific, actually saw him as part of the problem as conflict between governments and media escalated during his term. His long reign at the Fiji Media Council coincided with cosy, self-interested cronyism in the media and a lack of proactive and visionary leadership. For example, the independent council review belatedly commissioned by the industry was more than two years too late to have any impact in derailing the regime from its censorship debacle. The council also short-changed the Fiji public on media responsibility issues. The review, headed by Australian Jack Herman, executive secretary of the Australian Press Council, noted:
[I]n 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…
Cartoon: Voreqe Bainimarama and the media, by Malcolm Evans of Pacific Journalism Review.

Friday, October 16, 2009

High points in media coverage of the Samoa tsunami


MEDIA reflections on the New Zealand media coverage of the September 29 earthquake in the two Samoas and in Tonga’s northerly Nuias have been few and sketchy. Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch had an item while the New Zealand Herald’s John Drinnan did a quick rundown on early reports. Crikey in Australia looked at the current phenomenon of quakes, tsunamis and flooding in the Pacific, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, not that there was any direct connection. John Minto wrote about the country's emerging sense of Pasifika identity.

But TVNZ’s digital Media7 programme takes the Café Pacific prize for its insightful and in-depth programme on the tsunami coverage. Two of the three journalists on the panel were Pacific Islands journalists themselves, reflecting a maturing of media coverage which is finally recognising the value of reporting the Pacific region with Pasifika journalists rather than relying on a sometimes skewed palagi perspective. In this case, two of the journalists had Samoan cultural and language ties – Tagata Pasifika’s Adrian Stevanon and Radio New Zealand’s Leilani Momoisea. The third commentator was TVNZ’s Lisa Owen, who has previous experience of reporting in so-called “trauma journalism” zones – such as the London tube bombing in 2005, the Madrid terrorist bombing in 2004 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In spite of her previous experience of reporting tragedies, Owen found herself on the first New Zealand flight to Samoa after the tsunami struck and immediately thrust into unfamiliar territory. Many grieving relatives were sharing that flight: “Journalists and victims, if you like, shoulder to shoulder.”

Stevanon, working for both TVNZ One News (as cameraman) and Tagata Pasifika weekly magazine programme (reporter), journeyed to Samoa not sure at that stage on the fate of many of his own relatives. (As it turned out, all his extended family were okay, even in the most devastated areas of southern Upolu). What about the challenges of his contrasting roles for his network?
Working for news, then it’s standard news. What is happening right here and right now? But for our audience [at Tagata Pasifika], they’ve already seen all that. So, in my mind, I couldn’t just show death and destruction, I needed to offer something else. I needed to do a Phoenix-from-the-ashes and that’s what people were trying to tell me anyway.
Tonga, unfortunately, was shunted aside in the media priority stakes – even though nine lives were lost on the remote island of Niuatoputapu. Some of the better distance reporting to make sense of events there came from Pacific Scoop and Pacific Media Watch’s Josephine Latu, herself Tongan.



Crikey tried to make sense of the Pacific-wide crises:
Over the past few weeks, the Asia-Pacific region has seen natural disasters of epic proportions. There have been typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes; the death toll climbing higher each day. Entire villages have seemingly been wiped out. The media coverage of the unfolding events has, however, been overwhelming. The Australian media predictably focused on the local angle, but which earthquake or tsunami happened first, where and why? And are they all connected?
Crikey pulled together a timeline to give an overview.

While generally complimentary about Radio NZs coverage – which has a key role in emergencies, John Drinnan, writing in his weekly Media column for the Herald, was less flattering about TVNZ in his “Not a good morning for advertorials” piece:
RNZ's counterpart - Television New Zealand - made some surprising decisions on the morning amid warnings a tsunami may be racing toward New Zealand and was due to hit Auckland at about 11.12am.
On
Breakfast, Paul Henry provided a sense of urgency and concern. Yet when Henry was finished, and with the tsunami potentially about to hit the East Cape within the hour, state television went live with its advertorial show Good Morning, albeit with newsbreaks on the half hour.
TVNZ rejected a suggestion it had underestimated the gravity of the situation and even rang the NZ government to offer a camera for the Beehive bunker used during emergencies.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fiji Times (the creative satire) offers an optimistic message



INTRIGUING to have a slightly satirical local edition of the "Fiji Times" on hand at this month's week-long exhibition featuring inspiration and oppression in the Salon in Auckland's funky K Road zone. Nothing like the real rag (fortunately), apart from a fleeting typographical resemblance to a masthead of yesteryear. Café Pacific dropped in to the launch and was pleased to see friends and colleagues from the old USP days, Luisa Tora and Sangeeta Singh. And to savour their creativity.

However, most inspirational was Torika Bolatagici Vetuna's "Protect Me" digital chromgenic print of a Fiji gag. (A tame poster version of this is pictured above). She has now donated the work to Tautai Trust Tsunami Relief Auction. Sangeeta's faceless and sombre "Resilience" was also appealing. And Luisa Tora's stark poster "Faith" (first instalment of a trilogy) featuring Police Commissioner Esala Teleni is now off to a new home in Christchurch.



All five Fiji women artists plus curator Ema Tavola essentially had an optimistic message in their creations. But it struck me what a sign of the times when a mood of censorship and vindictiveness abounds in Fiji leads mean-spirited countrymen back home to quickly bully their way onto the blogosphere.

Jone Kvie completely missed the point when he posted this on Pacific Scoop:
Debating and worrying about issues such as democracy, human rights and militarism are wonderful in the abstract, but actually mean very little to people in Fiji. I am quite sure an exhibition such as this held in Fiji would get the short-shrift it deserved from the majority of the population because it is speaking with an [un]authentic voice. It is not their voice, it is the voice of ex-residents who pride themselves in running Fiji down. Far from being part of the solution, these "so-called artists" are the problem.
But pleasing to see Ema Tavola bring him back to earth:

Thanks Jone for sharing your opinions. It’s a common perception that the modern arts are a frivolous waste of time, I agree in many cases. But in this case, I beg to differ.

Our website is http://FijiTimes.wordpress.com – the "so-called-artists" are largely qualified, respected, academic, loyal Fiji Islanders who use their visual arts practices not to run down Fiji but to understand, question and explore their personal relationships with Fiji and our political realities, from their positions of living in diaspora.

Since she joined Manukau City in New Zealand, Ema has been a cultural breath of fresh air. Vinaka vakalevu.

Fiji Times - the creative collective website

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