Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two views on Rika and the ANU

Crosbie Walsh: Netani Rika off to not so ivory tower

During the Vietnam war, anthropologists in northern Thailand and Laos were unsuspectingly passing on information about the Hill Tribes that helped the US war effort. Over a longer time period, banks of audio equipment in laboratories at the East-West Center in Hawaii helped students learn hundreds of languages, many spoken by people in politically unstable areas of interest to American Intelligence. Further back, prestigious colleges at Oxford and Cambridge offered scholarships and training for Britain's Third World Elite, and Harvard produced a worldwide generation of right-thinking economists and businessmen, who we now see got it all wrong.

Further south, in Australia, the National University (ANU) has programmes, scholarships, workshops and conferences to inform and support its government's policies and "win the hearts and minds" of overseas scholars from countries in which Australia has a special interest. Fiji has moved up this list in recent years. It is largely thanks to ANU that we have heard the opinions of ANU academics, Jonathon Fraenkel and Brij Lal, both vociferous opponents of the Bainimarama government. It was ANU that gave former Fiji Land Force commander Jone Baledrokadroka a scholarship to research the military. And it is ANU that has just given former Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika a scholarship to write up his memoirs.

The Australian reports that Rika will "spend time in Canberra writing his account of the almost four years he has spent contesting military government control of the media." Intrigueingly, Rika said: "We were always willing to print both sides of the story. But the censors allowed only one side. In such cases, the paper spiked the stories altogether to spare readers being misled."

I have little doubt he truly believes this but an independent, objective content analysis of the paper from 2006 on (and before for that matter) would, in my opinion, show most definitely that if both sides were printed, they were never printed equally. I stand by my crude assessment of a 3.5:1 ratio of opposition to government. Content analysis is a research method where qualitative data are measured and quantified, in this case by categorising the frequency, placement, coverage, extent and "bias" of newspaper headings and articles.

Professor Crosbie Walsh is the retired former director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific. His blog is Fiji: The Way Was, Is and Can Be

Scott MacWilliam: 'Fish and chips' wrapping paper

Regarding Netani Rika's move from Fiji to ANU. It is of course pure mythology that universities are or have been ivory towers, if that means unconnected with countries' political economies. This is especially the case where universities see themselves central to the formulation and implementation of government policies, as most do. However, universities are also often complex and diverse institutions: it is not often the case that a homogeneous or monolithic "line" appears over a whole institution.

One part of a university may take one direction, and in the case of the military regime and Australian policy toward Fiji become almost blinkered in pursuing that line, while other academics and parts of the institution take other positions on the same question. Especially where students are post-graduates with considerable employment experience and may even be on leave from important jobs in their home countries, it is unlikely that they will be too greatly influenced by academics who try to sell 'a correct line' against the students' own experiences and views.

As a senior ni-Vanuatu public servant, enrolled in a class in another part of the ANU than that where Netani Rika is to be lodged, said just last year: "I will always be grateful to AusAID, the Australian government and people for the education I am receiving at ANU. However I am also a Melanesian and my loyalties lie back home. We don't agree with Australia and New Zealand on Fiji and the support I have received from AusAID does not change that."

Who knows - Rika's views may even become better informed by contact with a more diverse range of views as are held by other South Pacific people at ANU, of whom there are quite a few who don't agree with Australian policy either. If not, he is unlikely to influence anyone other than those who already concur with him.

As for the "old" Fiji Times from the late 1990s, including when Rika was working there, it was largely just "fish and chips" wrapping paper.

Dr Scott MacWilliam lectures on development policy in the Crawford School of Economics and Government in ANU and was formerly at the University of the South Pacific.

Pictured: Netani Rika (centre) with forner colleagues at the Fiji Times. Photo: FT.

Check out the views on Pacific Scoop of former New Zealand diplomat Gerald McGhie, who is now an independent commentator and who says essentially that Australia and New Zealand should keep a low profile on Fiji and leave it to other Pacific countries to resolve the impasse - their way.


Liu Muri said...

Appropriately, any newsroom needs to refelct the make up of the country. Does the photo of Rika with his team reflects the make up of Fiji? Or it also misses the other 40% of the populastion that are never reflected on tourism brochures as well. How healthy is it for a multi racial developing contry to have a good racial balance reflecting the make-up of the country in its newsrooms?

Anonymous said...

liu muri makes an excellent observation. This is no accident, it's what people like Rika want by design.

Anything less, impinges on their 'freedom of speech'. What about the right of minorities to be a part of newsmaking?

Perhaps the intellectually stimulated community at ANU can bring this up.

Just one question? Which one of the white handlers at ANU will take the drivel this man will produce at the Australian taxpayers expense and turn it into something half intelligible?

Rika represents the vindictive brand of journalism that is responsible for ethnic-nationalism taking hold in Fiji.

He is directly responsible for the bloodshed of the 2000 coup as it was the lies and innuendo reported by his newspaper that saw the masses manipulated into violence.

Lastly, as someone with a connection to the ANU, I feel a great sense of shame that an institution of learning could stoop so low.

Coralia said...

Netani Rika was a man working under intense media censorship at The Fiji Times however I stand to agree that the Fiji Times had been strongly influenced by its Australian ownership which clearly undermined the operations of the Fiji Times as an unbiased and transparent media outlet. This was what had triggered the Media Decree that forced the Fiji Times sellout to Motibhai Group.

Netani Rika deserves to write a memoir of his experiences at The Fiji Times...however not in ANU or any other Australian institution for that matter. It clearly questions the credibility of this memoir...and Rika as a veteran journalist should have known.

It's obvious that there's a very unhealthy ally that has been formed between Rika and the Australians, and is highly likely that Rika's memoirs will tell Australia's side of the story on the Fiji Times saga.

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