Sunday, May 9, 2010

The unapproved Fiji military dictionary (Part 2)

COUP: A Fiji custom first started in 1987 where the celebrants promise a better future. It is held about every five years

Example: The banker said to the coup leader please take this F$200 million and say nothing about it, as the bank does not want it back.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Guns paid for by the taxpayers of Australia and New Zealand and given to the coup leaders who say prayers and promise to protect babies, old people and the poor.

Example: We say prayers so that they will leave us alone to enjoy our poverty and ill-health in our own hovels.

China: A generous donor who is yet to show us their weapon of mass destruction.

Example: We are communists, and one day you will share all your wealth with us.

Fiji Sevens:
Formerly the personal property of Waisale Serevi; a game that provides supporters temporary amnesia when they contemplate Fiji’s future.

Example: I used my weekly pay to go to the match and Traps Bar afterwards. I then went home and beat my wife. I was angry because she asked for money when she knew I had already spent it.

Newspaper publisher: One who is damned to live somewhere else after publishing the news (see Dante’s Inferno for more examples).

Example: He was sent back to Australia although he wanted to live in Suva.

People’s Charter: The eleven pillars or commandments given to Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama with the help of the Catholic Church.

Example: Moses broke the tablets given to him by God ... The modern way is to shoot holes through them and win the heart and minds of the population.
Attorney-General: A person who has the ability to wear all the colours of the rainbow and use all the letters of the alphabet in any one day and smile and smile and smile.

Example: I do not talk out of the side of my mouth, because that would be too obvious to anyone who was looking and listening to me. My totem is a tsunami, and I invite all my critics to come to the beach and see it when it arrives.

Contributed by Patrick Craddock. Cartoon: Malcolm Evans and Pacific Journalism Review.

Fiji military dictionary (Part 1)

Friday, May 7, 2010

PNG ombudsman the toast of media freedom

By David Robie in Brisbane

Five months ago, he was the target of would-be assassins. Now he is the magnet for politicians wanting to rein in the powers of his state corruption watchdog.

But Chronox Manek is one of the most popular public figures in Papua New Guinea and thousands of ordinary citizens flocked to a peaceful protest this week against a controversial draft law aimed at curbing his powers.

And he charmed his way to the hearts of freedom of speech and free media advocates gathered in Brisbane for the annual two-day UNESCO World Press Freedom Day conference marking May 3.

Manek, Papua New Guinea’s Ombudsman, is the scourge of the coalition government led by founding “father” Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare – and a problem for Opposition politicians as well.

However, many journalists and public activists see him as a courageous and determined campaigner against corruption by public figures.

More than 7500 citizens took part in Tuesday’s Port Moresby protest against legal amendments – the so-called Maladina Bill, named after the sponsoring MP Moses Maladina – they claim will undermine the Ombudsman Commission.

Corruption epidemic
After marching on Parliament House in Waigani, the demonstrators delivered a petition of 20,000 signatures demanding a halt to the legislation curbing the commission’s powers.
The petition follows several weeks of public protest and condemnation over what critics describe as serious erosion of governance in this country where corruption is an epidemic.

Maladina’s Parliamentary Committee into the Ombudsman Commission tabled amendments impacting on both the commission and the so-called Leadership Code governing conduct by politicians and top civil servants.

One of the critical changes block the commission’s current powers to freeze public funds suspected of being used for corrupt or improper purposes.

The bill also imposes a four-year time limit on investigations, effectively blocking the ability of the commission to probe historical corruption cases.

Another provision means that politicians and civil service heads that breach the Leadership Code will no longer be able to be tried in criminal courts.

The bill has passed two readings with unanimous parliamentary support in spite of the public criticism. However, although the last vote was 83 to nil in favour of the draft law, the Opposition now says that it had been misinformed over the provisions and is now opposed.

Prime Minister Somare, Treasurer Patrick Pruaitch and several prominent government figures are currently being investigated by the Ombudsman Commission.

'Speading misinformation'
Somare has accused the Ombudsman Commission of “spreading misinformation” about the bill, but the final reading has been delayed until July.

Transparency International recently ranked PNG as the 151st most corrupt out of 182 nations.

In Brisbane, Manek spoke in two freedom of information panels in the conference hosted by the University of Queensland.

While saying the free expression and free press provisions in Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration were enshrined in the country’s constitution and that the courts enforced these rights, he added there was a major problem.

“This is about the availability of records – it is very low priority for government business,” Manek said.

“It is all very well being entitled to the information, but in many cases the government is unable to supply it because of the poor state of official records.”

At the time of independence in 1975 and for several years later, the importance of records and information management had been in good health.

'Fell off the rails'
“But somewhere along the way it fell off the rails,” Manek said.

He said it was the duty of the government to provide basic information to its citizens and to build trust.

The role of the media was important too.

“The government uses the National Broadcasting Corporation with talkback and radio and television to get policies across to the public. That’s a good start,” he said.

“But with media freedom goes great responsibility for the news media.
“Freedom of the press is not a privilege, but a responsibility.”

The media could do more to get information before the public and “we need more investigative journalism”.

He challenged the upholders of the nation’s information policy to recruit “honest” people to rebuild the open culture.

Last December, Manek was left for dead after several gunmen opened fire on him outside his home, gangland style.

They blocked his car as he waited for his driveway gate to open and fired through the windscreen of his Nissan Patrol.

He was hit in the shoulder but he told The National newspaper after the attack that a point-blank shot aimed at his chest glanced off the vehicle door.

Photo of Chronox Manek by David Robie

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An open letter to the commodore

Bula Frank,

I AM sure you prefer being called by your first name, rather than being than being called coup leader. I know you see yourself as a saviour – but may I say that you seem to be a slow saviour. You move … snail slow towards democracy, vinaka. From 2006 to 2014 is tomorrow and then Election Day – a special day, which I hope will be long, prosperous and full of fair play to the people.

Your media decree is a genuine way to boost the economy. Over the next four years you will be able to make a considerable amount of money from media organisations by collecting F$100,000 from journalists when they refuse to disclose their sources about their news story with the person who said in a mild manner… that your policies
Encourage people to think carefully and restrain themselves from voicing their negative views of the army.
To pay your fines, senior journalists will be able to mortgage their homes, take their children away from school, postpone paying the doctor, ignore their donations to the church and cut back on the food budget.

But… Frank… I see you have been thoughtful of the needs of journalists and left a loophole. Non-payment of the $100,000 fine will allow any journalist to go to jail and be clothed and fed at state expense. Good thinking.

I am sure your self-appointed judges will ensure married journalists with children will get a priority to go to jail before young single reporters. Perhaps, you can lock up the junior journalists at the army barracks. Your men know to do that.

The numerous $500,000 cheques collected from the media organisations will mount up and you will soon have enough money to legally buy The Fiji Times. With a little bit of luck (or military strategy) by 2014 you will own all the media in Fiji except perhaps the internet.

Internet story
It will be sad for you to miss out on owning the internet. It is among your harshest critics and I know that sometimes the information is wrong and often offensive. But, then how else do the people of Fiji, and the rest of the world finds out about Fiji in all its black, white, grey and khaki colours?

A short story for you about the internet. During 2000 when George Speight had his coup, the big Fiji media of radio, TV and the newspapers were uncertain about how to deal with him. The limited information they could glean was crucial for the public to hear and crucial too for the outside world. Getting information out to the rest of the world was difficult.

At the time I was working at the Media Centre of the University of the South Pacific. We managed to record news reports from radio and TV. That information along with on-the-spot reporting by student journalists was forwarded several times a day through the internet to media organisations in New Zealand, Australia, the US and Britain. This process continued for many days even after the overseas journalists arrived. Some of those students now hold key media positions in Fiji.

I no longer teach journalism to students in Suva, but if I was, I would still be helping them understand, learn and practise the Fiji Code of Ethics. It’s a sound code. I would want them to be fearless and to ask questions on the many facets of the problems and needs of society.

Young journalism students could ask… why do you need so many years in power to develop a new Constitution?

I would encourage them to think on questions about how you are dealing with the growing number of poor people in Fiji. Various blogsites tell me the poor are now half the population. Why are there more poor people now than in 2006 – you and your soldiers have been in charge of the country for a long time?

I would get students thinking too, on why we need so many military men in key administrative posts. Hopefully, they are all working towards putting themselves out of work and replacing their jobs posts with civilians. Are they?

About elections
Student journalists may ask you questions on democratic practice? In New Zealand, there are elections every three years. When the voters dislike the government, they tell it to go … and the government goes. Helen Clark went, John Key will go too.

Citizens in Britain are in the middle of a cliffhanger election to decide who they will want to lead the country for the next few years. The citizens’ decision this week does not bode well for the present government, but then democracy is difficult.

I hope you agree with me? If not, what will happen after 2014 when a decision by a civilian elected government angers you or perhaps a junior officer who has modelled himself on your behaviour?

To close off the tutorial and leave students thinking, it would be useful for them to reflect on this recent statement on democracy.
Pacific Beat Story from Radio Australia March 2, 2010
Fiji's military backed regime has announced that any politician, who has played a role in the country's politics, since 1987, will be banned from contesting the promised elections in 2014. The announcement has been made by interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama ...
A reply would be appreciated. Please post it on your favorite blog site

Patrick Craddock

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fiji censorship by 'legal camouflage'

ON World Press Freedom Day's eve in Brisbane, the Australian journalists union - Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) - threw a party for Aussie hacks and the UNESCO flacks attending the two-day conference at the University of Queensland. A "South Pacific soirée" to be exact. Guest speaker Sean Dorney had to compete with a cacophony of riverside fireworks to be heard. The latest "press freedom" edition of the Walkley Magazine was launched there too. Along with a 13-page report card on the state of media freedom in Australia, the following article on Fiji was also published:

No colonel of truth in Fiji

For a year, journalists in Fiji have had to live with censors posted in the newsroom. Now a new media decree threatens huge fines and and five years in prison for reports against the national interest. It's a dangerous precedent for the entire Pacific region, says David Robie. Cartoon by Peter Nicholson.

When an Indo-Fijian academic and former trade unionist turned up on Fiji’s shores from Hawaii by invitation to conduct a media industry “review” in June 2007, few took him seriously. Whatever Dr James Anthony’s expertise in other fields, news media was certainly not one of his strengths. Also, it had been decades since he had lived in Fiji and he seemed out of touch.

And then there was a niggling question about the legitimacy of his mission. He had been commissioned by then Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem – no friend of Fiji news organisations – to study media freedom and the future of the industry in the Pacific country.

“Negative reactions of the media industry to human rights scrutiny in the public interest are not unique to Fiji,” Shameem said. “Other human rights commissions have faced similar obstacles – such as the South African Human Rights Commission.”

Anthony immediately clashed with local news media companies and the self-regulatory Fiji Media Council and they refused to cooperate with him. He persevered in an atmosphere of hostility and produced a 161-page report branded by his opponents as “racist” – for a sweeping claim that the industry was dominated by eight white expatriates – and “riddled with inaccuracy”.

Ironically titled “Freedom and independence of the media in Fiji”, the report was discredited and appeared to have sunk into oblivion. Yet now Anthony has come back into focus. His recommendations were adopted as the basis of a draconian draft decree widely regarded as a sinister threat to the future of a free press in Fiji and across the South Pacific.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum claimed the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 “takes the already established rules of professionalism, of media behaviour – or how they should behave – and gives it teeth”.

Decree 'teeth'
The “teeth” includes rolling Anthony’s primary proposals for a Singapore-inspired Media Development Authority and an “independent” Media Tribunal into this proposed law along with a radical curb on foreign ownership, wide powers of search and seizure and harsh penalties for media groups and journalists breaching the decree.

The authority and tribunal would be empowered to fine news organisations up to F$500,000 and to fine individual journalists and editors up to F$100,000 – or imprison them for up to five years – for violations of vaguely defined codes such as publishing or broadcasting content that is “against public order”, “against national interest” or “creates communal discord”.

Foreign ownership is retrospectively restricted to a 10 percent stake in any media organisation and directorships must only go to Fiji citizens who have been residing in the country for five of the past seven years, and nine of the past 12 months.

Many critics see this as a vindictive section aimed at crippling the Fiji Times, the country’s largest and most influential newspaper and owned by a Murdoch subsidiary, News Limited.
The regime wants to put the newspaper, founded at Levuka in 1869, out of business, or at least effectively seize control and muzzle its independent stance – seen by the military-backed government as “anti-Fiji”.

Two Australian publishers of the Fiji Times have been deported on trumped up grounds since military commander Voreqe Bainimarama staged the country’s fourth coup in December 2006. The High Court also imposed a hefty F$100,000 fine against the Fiji Times in early 2009 for publishing an online letter criticising the court for upholding the legality of the 2006 coup.

While international responses have focused on the serious impact for the Fiji Times group, the terms of the decree will also hit the country’s two other dailies – the struggling Fiji Daily Post (it hasn't been publishing lately), which has 51 per cent Australian ownership, and the Fiji Sun, which has taken a distinctly “pro-Fiji” (that is, pro-regime) stance but also has some expatriate directors.

John Hartigan, chief executive of the Fiji Times' parent company News Limited, warned the decree raised “important commercial issues” for the newspaper. “We have made representations to the Fiji authority to find a way to resolve these issues and are awaiting the outcome,” he said.

Mixed responses
The draft decree follows 12 months of “sulu censors” - so-called because of the traditional Fijian kilt-like garment some officials wear - keeping tabs on newsrooms after the 1997 constitution was abrogated by the regime in April last year and martial law declared.

Responses to the proposed law have been mixed within Fiji, but other media groups have strongly condemned it. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders criticised the regime for tightening its grip on media, noting that Fiji had fallen 73 places in its annual freedom rankings. Fiji is now placed 152nd out of 175 countries.

The Pacific Media Centre branded the draft decree as “draconian and punitive” and the Pacific Freedom Forum said it would “deal a death-blow to freedoms of speech”. The International Federation of Journalists criticised the regime for investing authorities with the power to define the meaning of “fair, balanced and quality” journalism.

Most Fiji journalists were reluctant to speak out publicly with their jobs potentially on the line. But many contributed postings to some of the 72 post-coup blogs about Fiji or shared insights with their Pacific colleagues on cyberspace networks.

Dangerous precedent
Other Pacific journalists see the draft law as a dangerous precedent for the region, one that could be emulated by unscrupulous politicians in other countries as a strategy to control the media.

Already the Suva-based Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) and its regional news cooperative Pacnews are facing a dilemma – to stay and risk being compromised, or to leave but have less lobbying influence on the regime. Vice-president John Woods, editor of the Cook Islands News, has called on the organisation to relocate out of Fiji, describing PINA as “dysfunctional” and “kowtowing” to the regime.

One Suva old hand who had been a star reporter at the time of the first two coups in 1987 admitted there were some good aspects to the decree, such as encouraging training and enforcing the codes of ethics: “But it simply continues the censorship – although now in a camouflaged form.”

Dr David Robie is an associate professor in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies, director of the Pacific Media Centre in New Zealand and editor of Pacific Scoop. He was formerly head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. His media blog is Café Pacific.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fiji regime stands firm over draft media decree

By Shailendra Singh in Suva

Fiji’s draft media decree continues to be criticised from within and outside the country, but the government is showing no signs of backing down or softening any of its provisions.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has described international coverage of the draft decree as unbalanced and bordering on the hysterical. He told Radio Fiji recently: "(Again), I would suggest very strongly that most of these sorts of comments are not objective but
actually political in nature."

"I would also attribute some of this hysteria to some local media organisations that are probably whipping up this frenzy and trying to portray an image of Fiji that is far from the truth," he added.

Breach of content regulation or disclosure provisions of the proposed law could lead to a maximum fine of $F500,000 (about US$258,000 ) for the media company concerned, and a maximum fine of F$100,000 (about US$52,000) or a maximum jail term of five years, or both, for publishers, editors and reporters.

Critics of the government say that it has no one to blame but itself for any negative perceptions about Fiji or the draft decree.

After all, it was only last year that then President Ratu Josefa Iloilo abrogated the country’s charter, formed an interim government that is to remain in power until 2014, and then reappointed as prime minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who has ruled Fiji since staging a coup in 2006.

Freedom of expression and of the press have also been under heavy strain under the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) that, said the Suva-based Citizens’ Constitutional Forum, would only be replaced in name by the proposed Media Industry Development Decree 2010.

Censorship continues
According to the forum’s executive director, Rev Akuila Yabaki, the draft decree only "allows strict media censorship to continue in Fiji".

"PER and censorship must be lifted so that citizens of Fiji can enjoy the right to receive and impart information and diverse opinions," Yabaki said.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), for its part, said that the draft decree invests all power of interpretation over the meaning of fair, balanced and quality
journalism to officers and authorities appointed by the Bainimarama regime.

"This decree is clearly focused on the regime retaining control and entrenching its highly oppressive restrictions, not only on the media but (also) on members of the public who might wish to express dissenting views," the IFJ said in a statement.

At the same time, IFJ general secretary Aidan White said it "strictly limits the ability of Fiji’s media to regain its role as a critical watchdog on the accountability of power-holders, and must be substantially rewritten or withdrawn".

Among other things, the draft decree calls for the formation of a Media Development Authority whose powers would include compelling media outfits to disclose the documentation they performed for their stories. The body would also be exempt from legal proceedings unless it can be shown that it acted in bad faith or without care.

Offences outlined in the decree meanwhile include publishing or broadcasting material that is against public interest or order, offends good taste or decency, or creates communal discord.

Wide-ranging powers
The draft decree’s miscellaneous provisions also hand the minister concerned wide-ranging powers to stop broadcast or publication in an emergency. Precisely what constitutes an "emergency," however, is not defined.

The same minister gets to appoint, as well as dismiss, the director of the Media Development Authority.

According to Prime Minister Bainimarama, the proposed decree will set a better relationship with the media.

But the draft law was already clouded in controversy even before it was tabled on April 7, withmedia organisations and interested parties complaining that they were not given enough time to scrutinise the 49-page document.

Those who registered for the consultations were asked to collect copies of the draft at 8 a.m. or 90 minutes before the consultations began at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Suva.

They were also not allowed to make copies of the document, which they all had to return afterward.

The international media monitor Reporters Without Borders, however, apparently read enough to issue a statement on April 8 that said the draft decree is an "authoritarian imposition by a regime with no democratic legitimacy".

Grip tightened
"Nowhere is press freedom mentioned in this proposed decree, which appears to be designed to enable the military government to tighten its grip on the media – control of media ownership, control of content, and control of the dissemination of news within the country," the organisation said.

The draft decree is reportedly modeled after Singapore’s media laws – which has not exactly provided any comfort to the local and international media.

In the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Singapore was ranked 133rd out of 175 countries.

Then again, it still bested Fiji, which fell 73 places from its position the previous year and landed on the 152nd spot in the index.

It remains to be seen whether the draft decree would improve or worsen that ranking.

What looks certain, however, is the draft becoming law. Although Attorney-General Khaiyum has not given any timeframe or date for its promulgation, he has said that it would be implemented in due course.

Shailendra Singh is head of journalism at the University of the South Pacific. This article was originally published with the Inter Press Service. Cartoon: Malcolm Evans, Pacific Journalism Review.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fiji Times 'buy out' - who are the jackals?

THE jackals are circling around the great Fiji Times carve-up, but no serious contenders have so far emerged. The Australian news group, wholly owned by News Limited, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's US-based News Corp, is still hoping for a reprieve. Although the military-backed regime is insistent that the newspaper must be ready to divest 90 percent of its shareholding to local Fiji interests when the draft media decree becomes law, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says there is no need for the country's largest and most influential newspaper to "close down".

Sections of the draft Fiji Media Industry Development Decree 2010 relating to media ownership include:
s36(1): In every media organisation -

(a) in the case of a company, all the directors and in the case of any other legal entity, partnership, joint venture and of an individual, any person or persons holding analogous powers shall respectively be citizens of Fiji permanently residing in Fiji;

(b) up to 10 perce
nt of the beneficial ownership of any share or shares in a company or any interest in the nature of ownership, partial or total, of any other person holding any interest in a media organisation may be owned by foreign persons, but at least 90 percent of the beneficial ownership of any shares or shares in a company or any interest in the nature of ownership, partial or total, of any person holding any interest in a media organisation must be owned by citizens of Fiji permanently residing in Fiji, whether any such interests subsist at the present time or are sought with a view to future ownership.
A key Fiji entrepreneur, Mahendra Patel, has scoffed at rumours linking him to a buy-out of the Fiji Times:
A prominent businessman has denied rumours that his company is interested in leading a buyout of Fiji Times shares. Mahendra Patel, of Motibhai & Co Limited, laughed off rumours that the company was interested in the newspaper.

Speaking from his Nadi office yesterday, Mr Patel said the rumours were news to them.

“We did not even know that Fiji Times was on sale,” he said when queried about the rumours.

“We are not interested and there have been no negotiations whatsoever.”

Australian newspaper company News Limited owns the Fiji Times.

However, under the draft of the Media Industry Development Decree, 90 per cent of such ownership must be held by local interests.
Meanwhile, the Fiji Sun, which editorially takes an opposing view to the Fiji Times and is seen as being more pragmatic and accommodating to the regime, has condemned the Samoan prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, over an "erratic" attack on regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama.
A message should be sent to Tuilaepa not to waste his time commenting on issues about Fiji...

Tuilaepa talks about democracy. Yet he ruthlessly presides over the closest thing in the Pacific Islands to a one-party state.

It takes a brave person in Samoa to take on Tuilaepa’s party machine.
Tuilaepa talks about media freedom.

Yet he shamelessly presides over some of the most draconian media laws in the Pacific Islands.

They constantly threaten freedom of expression in Samoa.

In fact, Tuilaepa still has much to learn, especially about leadership in the region.

Tuilaepa would do well to learn from prime ministers like Papua New Guinea’s Sir Michael Somare, Vanuatu’s Edward Natapei and the Solomon Islands’ Dr Derek Sikua ...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Whale Oil highlights NZ hypocrisy over Fiji

WHILE the New Zealand Herald has published an editorial declaring the "emasculating" media and amnesty decrees in Fiji mean that NZ must "stand firm", Fiji-born blogger Whale Oil has reminded the country about government hypocrisy over press freedom and human rights. His blog points out while NZ "waves the finger" at the military-backed Fiji regime in the Pacific, it quite happily engages in treaties with other authoritarian countries and those that have a repressive track record in media freedoms and human rights. When New Zealand has much to gain from trade, it remains curiously silent and pragmatic. Whale Oil writes:
There has been a great deal of angst over Com­modore Bainimarama’s draft Media Indus­try Devel­op­ment Decree 2010 which fea­tures harsh penal­ties for jour­nal­ists and news organ­i­sa­tions which breach vaguely worded con­tent reg­u­la­tions. Being a free­dom of speech kind a guy, I can see too why this isn’t a good thing. How­ever, Fiji isn’t New Zealand and each coun­try has its own solu­tions to par­tic­u­lar issues of the time.

It is extremely hyp­o­crit­i­cal of us to wave the fin­ger at Fiji over press free­doms while at the same time hav­ing free trade agree­ments with other, far more author­i­tar­ian regimes. Cur­rently we have:

New Zealand-Hong Kong, China Closer Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (NZ-HK CEP was signed on 29 March 2010 but not yet entered into force)

New Zealand-Malaysia Free Trade Agree­ment (MNZFTA was signed on 26 Octo­ber 2009 but not yet entered into force)

ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agree­ment (AANZFTA) – 2010
New Zealand-China Free Trade Agree­ment (NZ-China FTA) – 2008 Trans-Pacific Strate­gic Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (TransPac) – 2005
New Zealand-Thailand Closer Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (NZTCEP) – 2005

New Zealand-Singapore Closer Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (NZSCEP) – 2001
Australia-New Zealand Closer Eco­nomic Rela­tion­ship (CER) – 1983

Of those, only Aus­tralia has true free­dom of the press. The Asean Nations (Indone­sia, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land, Brunei, Burma, Cam­bo­dia, Laos, and Viet­nam) with the sole excep­tion of the Philip­pines, and even that is mar­ginal, re true demo­c­ra­tic coun­tries, the rest, includ­ing Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and Thai­land are author­i­tar­ian.

If you don’t think Thai­land is, then try and write some­thing in the press against the King of Thai­land and see where that gets you. There are no free­doms that we take for granted in Hong Kong and China yet we have deemed it desir­able to have a FTA and also to not com­ment on their inter­nal politics.

So why is Fiji dif­fer­ent. is it because gov­ern­ment was formed at the point of a gun? Yes? Then what about China? Their gov­ern­ment was formed at the point of a gun when the Com­mu­nists over­threw the legit­i­mate Kuom­intang gov­ern­ment in 1949.

At the moment we are also busily nego­ti­at­ing anti free­dom treaties like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agree­ment (ACTA), a law and treaty at the behest of big busi­ness, but I don’t notice Keith Locke or Labour rail­ing against that. We are also nego­ti­at­ing an FTA with coun­tries from the Gulf States, (Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia, the sul­tanate of Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emi­rates.). Autoc­ra­cies the lot of them with­out exception.

And so I come to Fiji again. For some rea­son New Zealand has a fix­a­tion, mostly for the neg­a­tive for Fiji. As I have demon­strated we want and have FTA’s with coun­tries with far worse polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, far worse human right records, and yet we impose sanc­tions upon Fiji and travel bans. The lat­est out­cry has been over press free­doms yet in our own coun­try of New Zealand we have gov­ern­ment organ­i­sa­tions cur­tail­ing free­doms with a self imposed censorship.

These are media organ­i­sa­tions that con­tinue to spread rumour, innu­endo and straight out lies about the sit­u­a­tion in Fiji and Radio New Zealand, in par­tic­u­lar, has taken a line of shut­ting down any dis­sent­ing voice from the polit­i­cal group think about how “we” are sup­posed to think about Fiji.
The other half of Whale Oil's column picks up on Café Pacific's recent posting about Radio NZ's Nights programme host Bryan Crump "dumping" one of the better informed Fiji analysts, Crosbie Walsh, formerly director of development studies at the University of the South Pacific. A case of silencing one of the dissenting voices that don't fit the politically correct view of Fiji?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Media7 spotlight on reporting of Pacific issues

turned to the Pacific for a change this week and profiled coverage of the region in the wake of the unveiling of the draft media freedom decree in Fiji. The controversial Barbara Dreaver report on Samoa's "gangs, guns and drugs" also got an airing - with some tart criticisms of the Broadcasting Standards Authority from the panel. Here is Media7's blurb on the programme (running four times over this weekend on digital TVNZ7). Watch it on YouTube - Part 1 and Part 2 - or on TVNZ on demand:
New Zealand television viewers were this week served up the first instalment of the $200-million dollar drama series, The Pacific.

But what about the real life dramas that are being played out in the Oceanic region and the millions of New Zealand dollars and other nations' foreign aid money that is spent to prop up various Pacific nations?

The reporting is patchy at best, given the shrinking budgets of mainstream media and the difficulties inherent in reporting from this sensitive region.

News organisations are finding it hard to report Pacific issues and hold regional governments to account in the face of increasing media censorship and repression.

Some of the problems can be put down to a clash of cultures.
But journalists and editors face a daunting task when reporting on the actions of a military dictatorship, a semi-feudal monarchy and a group of emerging nations where tribal and clan loyalties are often at odds with basic democratic rights.

The Royal Commission into the sinking of the Tongan ferry, Princess Ashika, has opened up an unsavoury can of worms and the latest "media rules" about to be imposed by the Fijian regime will further stifle debate in that country.

Media7 this week surveys the media landscape in the Pacific with David Robie, Barbara Dreaver and Tim Pankhurst joining Russell Brown in the studio.

Dr Robie is director of the Pacific Media Centre and convenor of Pacific Media Watch. Dreaver is a seasoned Pacific affairs reporter who has experienced the heavy hand of a Pacific Island politician on many occasions.

Pankhurst, former
Dominion Post editor and now chief executive of the Newspaper Publishers' Association, is a fierce advocate of media freedom in the face of threats and intimidation, such as we are seeing in Fiji.
  • Media7 is recorded in front of a live audience in the TVNZ Auckland Television Centre on Wednesday evenings at 6pm.

  • Also, hear David Robie commenting on the Fiji media and the proposed draft decree on Radio NZ's Mediawatch, hosted by Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections of a Fiji Times old hand

WITH all the kudos being handed out to The Fiji Times in the context of the Great FT Firesale being heralded in regime circles due to the foreign ownership cutback to 10 percent in the controversial media decree, it is important to reflect on the other side of the ledger. What has the newspaper actually done in terms of future development of the country and training of the media? Café Pacific has received a bagful of off-the-record comments about the Fiji Times. While it is a very mixed bag, a general theme comes through about the Media Industry Development Decree 2010: The chickens have finally come to roost for the Murdoch newspaper group - owned through an Australian subsidiary, News Ltd. The reflections here of a former staff person are worth sharing:
During my time I do not recall anyone going on any kind of training. There was no such thing as an in-house training programme. We were thrown in the deep end, which was at the time traumatising.

The paper has not invested much in training and staff development. While it claims it has invested in training, it never discloses any figures.

Unlike other News Limited publications, in Australia, there is no such thing as a transparent salary structure at the
Fiji Times. You couldn't move up the salary scale on an annual basis (since there was/is no such thing as a salary scale).

Pay increases were made at the editor’s/publisher’s whim. Because there was no salary scale, two, three or more years could pass before one received a salary increases. You had to ask/argue for a salary increase. Rarely, if ever, was it automatically granted.

Management wilfully used this tactic to keep salaries low since it is not easy to go up to the editor to ask for an increase. When salary increases were granted, they were marginal; sometimes not even enough to cover the rate of inflation. It was worse than the civil service where the salaries were annually adjusted to the inflation rate.

Does News Ltd operate in this manner in Australia?
The Fiji Times was never keen to retain experienced staff. Instead, it let them go so younger inexperienced people could be hired at a cheaper rate. The Fiji Times thought it was clever but this penny-pinching has caught up with it and bitten it in the backside.

Despite claims by Ann Fussell that they are 100 per cent pro-Fiji, the company has used lack of legislation etc in this county to exploit its employees.
It has done little to uplift standards.

Foreign publishers tried to outdo their predecessors in increasing annual profits in order to better their prospects at News Ltd. Their own career prospects were the driving force for foreign publishers — lifting journalistic standards or treating staff decently was not a priority as this lessened profits.

The Fiji Times became so mean that it [frequently] stopped sending its sports reporters to places like Hong Kong Sevens, South Pacific Games and on national soccer team tours. The Fiji Times has not had a decent editor since Vijendra Kumar left [who was in the editor's chair at the time of the first coups in 1987 - he retired to Australia].

Editors have blatantly used their positions to further personal agendas and to support political parties they favour.
This took a dangerous and sinister turn during [first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister] Chaudhry’s term in government in 1999/2000. I am no fan of Chaudhry, but the then editor-and-chief and a certain reporter were clearly out to topple the Coalition government.

At such times, the Australian company headquarters should have intervened, given that the reporter concerned was having an affair with the prime minister who had been ousted by the Labor Coalition, and she clearly had a vendetta.

Nevertheless, The Fiji Times [founded in 1869] is still a Fiji icon and it should not close. All these problems outlined above can be resolved with the right goodwill. Sustainable local ownership of The Fiji Times is a pipedream and it will be a disaster for both Fiji and the Pacific region if the current owners are forced to bail out.

Media independence and the Fiji PC brigade

WHAT ON earth has happened to Radio New Zealand? Or rather, Nights host Bryan Crump? He has apparently dumped professor adjunct Crosbie Walsh, the most informed New Zealand-based blogger and commentator on Fiji affairs (naturally you would expect this calibre as former and founding director of the development studies programme at the University of the South Pacific). Walsh is such a tonic after the plethora of one-eyed and sensationalist anti-Fiji blogs that clutter cyberspace.

According to Walsh, Crump rang him last night, saying he didn't want the blogger/commentator on any more on Nights programmes. Why? Apparently because Walsh "feels too strongly" on Fiji issues (why not? ... he lived there for more than eight years) and he "borders on the emotional" for this programme.

Crump added: "It's not what a lot of my colleagues want to hear." Take this as you wish. Three more planned programmes on nights for Walsh for June, September and November have been canned.

Crump (pictured right - Radio NZ image) reckons the Nights spot works best with "commentators" and Crosbie is seen as an "advocate". In fact, Walsh goes to great lengths to get some sort of balance in his blog commentaries, something sorely missing with many media commentators on Fiji. To be fair to Crump, he did invite Walsh to a symposium on Fiji later this year and, according to Walsh, was keen to interview him early next year.

From all reports, Walsh had an enthusiastic response to previous Nights programmes. This has got Café Pacific wondering, especially when it is considered how unbalanced both Radio New Zealand and Radio Australia frequently are on Fiji commentaries. Opponents of the regime regularly have a field day, but many commentators who try to provide a bit more depth into explaining the Fiji "revolution", as Auckland University's Centre for Pacific Studies political sociologist Dr Steven Ratuva described it last week, or are not sufficiently PC or are too "soft" on the regime, are sidelined.

A good example of this was a "stacked" Radio Australia feature by Bruce Hill marking the anniversary of the abrogation of the Fiji constitution one year on - four interviewees with a vested interest against the regime: Deported Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter - an Australian now living in Apia and is currently development editor of the Samoa Observer; an Australian judge, Ian Lloyd, who ruled against the regime; Australian National University professor Brij Lal - one of the three architects of the abrogated 1997 constitution; and Fiji Law Society president Dorsami Naidu versus Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum. Where was the independent commentator to balance this line-up?

[Fast forward: Since this item was posted, Café Pacific has been challenged by Bruce Hill. In fairness, Bruce is one of the best public affairs broadcasters on Pacific issues in the region and this item was not meant to malign him in any way. The posting objective was to question a general unbalanced trend with public broadcasters in both countries over Fiji. While the comments specifically addressed an online ABC feature, they should also have pointed out the wider retrospective historical basis for the on-air version of the feature. Read Bruce Hill's comments here. And more on the PC brigade here.]

Incidentally, this piece challenging "media freedom" in Fiji as peddled by the Suva media old guard, is likely to ruffle a few feathers. Highlighted on ABC's In The Loop is the University of the South Pacific's Shailendra Singh talking sense about the Fiji media. And tonight's Media 7 on digital TVNZ7 also features the media and the Pacific - from the blurb:
New Zealand television viewers were this week served up the first installment of the $200-million dollar drama series, The Pacific. But what about the real life dramas that are being played out in the Oceanic region and the millions of New Zealand dollars and other nations' foreign aid money that is spent to prop up various Pacific nations?

The reporting is patchy at best, given the shrinking budgets of mainstream media and the difficulties inherent in reporting from this sensitive region. News organisations are finding it hard to report Pacific issues and hold regional governments to account in the face of increasing media censorship and repression.

Some of the problems can be put down to a clash of cultures. But journalists and editors face a daunting task when reporting on the actions of a military dictatorship, a semi-feudal monarchy and a group of emerging nations where tribal and clan loyalties are often at odds with basic democratic rights.

Media 7 this week surveys the "media landscape" in the Pacific, featuring AUT's Dr David Robie, TVNZ Pacific affairs reporter Barbara Dreaver and former Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, now chief executive of the Newspaper Publishers Association and a "fierce advocate" of media freedom in Fiji and the Pacific. Watch for the Media 7 programme here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Draft Fiji media decree in profile on 95bFM

LINK to Pacific Scoop to hear Café Pacific's David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, talking about the controversial Media Industry Development Decree being ushered in by the military-backed regime. 95bFM’s Will Pollard interviews Dr Robie on the implications for the future in Fiji - and also around the Pacific region.

Coup 4.5 reports on what it says are casualties of the decree climate:
Two senior journalists at Fiji TV have been moved to lesser roles under claims they were biased against the Frank Bainimarama government.

It is believed Merana Kitione and Anish Chand were sidelined because of their links to the National Federation Party. Kitione, Fiji TV's manager news current affairs and sport, is married to former
Fiji Times journalist and administrative officer for the National Federation Party, Kamal Iyer.

She is now acting training and development manager.
Another senior journalist, and close colleague, has been moved with her - desk editor and team leader news, Anish Chand, who is now in production.

Chand has friends in the National Federation Party.
Kitione's old job has been filled by Tukaha Mua, who used to manage the programmes and distribution section, while Chand's position has been filled by Emily Moli.
The Australian's Asia-Pacific editor Rowan Callick has filed a comprehensive article about the decree and the implications for the The Fiji Times, a subsidiary of the News Ltd media stable.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wise counsel and fresh view of Fiji media role needed

FIJI WATCHER Crosbie Walsh has come up with his own assessment of the draft Fiji Media Industry Development Decree and concludes "wide counsel" is needed to address the plethora of issues raised in this proposed law. Among the many considered points he makes is how sections of the Fiji media - particularly the Fiji Times - have in his view failed to report fairly the changes taking place in the country. Excerpt:
The [Fiji regime's] Roadmap aims to develop the institutional and economic infrastructure to benefit Fijians irrespective of race; it has taken a number of measures to reduce poverty and promote rural development; expose and punish rampant corruption and abuse of office; produce more harmonious relations between the major races; and in the 2014 elections all votes will be of equal value.

In pursuit of these objectives, those who used their office or status to gain preferential advantage for sections of the ethnic Fijian elite (not all ethnic Fijians as they claimed), such as the SDL [
Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua] party, the Great Council of Chiefs and the upper echelons of the Methodist Church, and their counterparts in the civil service have been effectively sidelined.

How was all this reported by the Fourth Estate? Between 2006 and the the Abrogation of the Constitution and the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulations (PERS) in 2009, the media - but most especially the
Fiji Times - was totally hostile.

On any reported issue, my count was that about four anti-government people to one government spokesman would be cited. On no controversial issue was the government position fairly reported.

Fiji Times position was that this was an illegal government, and by definition, nothing it did could be "good." Following the imposition of PERS, the Fiji Times published almost nothing (positive or negative) about what the government was doing.

The de facto government had ceased to exist. But when, on the rare occasion, mention had to be made, the PM and other government people were referred to without their proper titles. This, however justifiable, was a deliberate insult that unwisely invited government retaliation.
Walsh makes a wide-ranging assessment in his analysis and also critiques Western assumptions about the role of the media in a developing country such as Fiji, espousing the need for a development communication model rather than the more familiar Pacific "watchdog" approach. In this context, the Singaporean-inspired model for Fiji isn't quite as extreme as it has been portrayed in Australia and New Zealand:
A third assumption is that western notions of media freedom usually provides the public with access to all information, presented in a fair and balanced manner.

This is only partly true. Most media organisations are run as businesses, owned by businessmen and big business shareholders, and directed by people appointed by these same businessmen and shareholders.

Rarely do we see the media speaking up for the poor, the underprivileged, consumers, the trade unions, workers on strike, or left-leaning governments.
The Fiji Times most certainly did not when Fiji Labour Party-led government was in power. Media ownership and the extent of media freedom are linked.

>>> Café Pacific on YouTube


>>> Popular Café Pacific Posts