Friday, September 3, 2010

Has Rupert Murdoch declared war on Fiji?

By Michael Hartsell

The four-year battle between the Fiji Times and Fiji's military backed government will soon come to a head as new media laws will force the sale of the 141-year-old paper that is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited.

The Media Industry Development Decree, passed in late June, stipulates that 90 percent of ownership of Fiji's media companies must be made up of Fiji citizens. While Rupert Murdoch declared US citizenship in the mid-1980s to get around foreign media ownership rules in that country, there has been no talk of the Australian-born media mogul becoming a Fiji citizen.

Thursday, August 26, marked the deadline interested parties could make bids to purchase the Fiji Times. This comes at the height of a months-long war-of-words between various Australian publications — mostly owned by Murdoch's companies — and Fiji's government. “News Limited, which owns the Fiji Times, continues to wage a hostile media campaign against Fiji, this time directly targeting the nation’s tourism industry and economy,” Fiji's Permanent Secretary for information, Sharon Smith-Johns told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme.

Smith-Johns specifically referred to an article by former Fiji Times editor-in-chief Rory Gibson, writing in the Murdoch-owned Brisbane Courier-Mail, comparing Fiji's present government to a “military dictatorship little better than any apartheid regime operating in South Africa's dark ages.”

Smith-Johns wondered aloud if the Australian government was behind some of the bad publicity Fiji's government has received:

Questions have been asked here, is the Australian government behind it? The Australian Government has turned around and said that it will not penalise Fiji, but obviously now News Limited certainly is. It's attacking our economy and it's attacking our tourists. It's a concerted campaign. It's not just one story, it's several stories that have been run in quite a few different papers.

Bloggers who cover Fiji (and their commentors) wonder whether Fiji's military government will weather the poor public relations storm by forcing the sale of such a well-known newspaper.

A comment from FRE in the Fiji Today blog:

Imagine the adverse publicity that will occur if the dictatorship actually does force the Fiji Times to close. There would be headlines in all the newspapers in both Australia and New Zealand. The credibility of the dictatorship would be severely damaged. Can the dictatorship actually afford that damage? Is the dictatorship so blind as to be unaware of the consequences?

The battle between government and media behemoth also spurs a debate on the often inflamed coverage of Fiji in the mainstream press around the Pacific. The Fiji Democracy Now blog complains that Smith-John's words are also inflamatory:
But we cannot let the latest public pronouncement get away, which asks us to believe that, somehow, Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire, News Ltd, has become a “tool” of the Australian government. The mouthpiece states: “It begs the question that most in Fiji are asking. Is the Australian government using News Limited as a tool to punish Fiji and cripple our economy?” Wow! Has anyone told Rupert that his multi-billion dollar company is actually the PR lackey of the Aussie government?
A commenter to the blog Fiji: The Way It Was, Is and Can Be defends Smith-Johns, but points out that objective reporting and Fiji's future is more important than the current tussle:
[Smith-Johns is] saying the articles are deeply biased and could impact negatively on tourism which employs many thousands of Fiji citizens. One looks to the mainstream media for information, balance and objectivity but with almost all News Ltd articles (and indeed most other foreign media reports) on Fiji, this has generally not been the case. Rory's piece is hyperbole, not journalism as I know it. This is not about whether you or I support or oppose the 2006; it's about trying to understand the situation and help it move forward for the benefit of all Fiji citizens.
- 7018 Pacific Media Watch

Michael Hartsell is a regular contributor on Fiji issues to Global Voices. Link to his original GV article here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fiji coup-within-coup rumour mill - the price of censorship

By Crosbie Walsh

PACIFIC SCOOP has a well earned reputation for solid journalism. When it publishes opinions they are invariably reasoned and supported with evidence and insight. Until two days ago. When it published a purely speculative article (supported by not a shred of evidence or any indication of the reliability of unnamed sources) about a supposedly looming Fiji coup-within-the-coup.

The article was written by Tupuola Terrence Tavita, editor of the Samoa government newspaper Savali. It is not Tupuola's first trip into virtual space and I doubt it will be his last. Stories are easy to write when you can pull them out of the air. Investigative journalism takes longer.

I draw the article to readers' attention, not for its content, but for the flood of comments it generated. I urge you to read them by clicking here. At my last count, no one agreed with him.

The article does, however, raise the possibility of a coup-within-the-coup. This is nothing new. It has always been a possibility. Support for what the Fiji government is doing and trying to do seems to be increasing (see my blog) but Fiji remains a divided nation with enough "loose cannons" to cause immeasurable harm.

The longer overseas governments, most especially Australia and New Zealand, continue to act in ways that work against Fiji's economic recovery and internal stability -- and fail to support the government's much-needed reforms -- the longer the possibility of another coup will last. This prospect should cause Australia and NZ serious reflection: if the 2006 coup is unable to establish the conditions for long-term stability, it will not be Fiji's last coup, not by a long chalk. As one reader observed:
The next coup d’etat will sink the Ship and all of those on board. Without a shadow of a doubt. It will be violent and many people will be killed. That is what the International Community’s fiddling and stand-off is bringing on.
Adjunct professor Crosbie Walsh, formerly of the University of the South Pacific, publishes his Fiji blog here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bloggers and the Paris 'anti-censor shelter'

TOMORROW is International Blog Day – and already an innovative venture by Reporters Sans Frontières is more than two months old. While Café Pacific's publisher was in Paris visiting RSF, the media freedom organisation was launching a new tool to protect the identities of bloggers exposing truths unpalatable to some regimes.

The world’s first “anti-censorship shelter” was launched in mid-June in a clever new attempt to foil oppressive regimes. Take note, Fiji bloggers. The shelter tries to ensure that online journalists and bloggers can freely publish while staying anonymous.

RSF pledges "an active commitment to an internet that is unrestricted and accessible to all”. Its strategy for doing this is to offer censorship victims a way of protecting their online information.

The organisation has partnered with a security firm, XeroBank, to form what it describes as a "virtually untraceable high-speed anonymity network". Traffic is mixed with that of thousands of other internet users from country to country, making detection impossible.

RSF has also created a website for hosting “forbidden material” in order to outwit global censorship.

As many regimes have become more suspicious of bloggers and ever more oppressive, the online writers continue to publish news and information that traditional media dares not cover. Online sites, like CoupFourpointFive, have provided a key safety valve and clearing house for the Fiji opponents of dictator Voreqe Bainimarama.

Last year, RSF published a handbook offering practical advice and techniques on how to create a blog, make entries and get the blog to show up in search engine results. It gives clear explanations about blogging for all those whose online freedom of expression is subject to restrictions - and it shows how to sidestep state-imposed censorship measures. Writes editor Clothilde Le Coz:
Let's acknowledge that blogs are a fantastic tool for freedom of expression. They have loosened the tongues of ordinary citizens. People who were until now only consumers of news have become players in a new form of journalism, a "grassroots" journalism, as expressed by Dan Gillmor, that is "by the people for the people".

Blogs are more or less controllable for those who want to keep them under surveillance. Governments that are most up to do date with new technology use the most sophisticated filtering or blocking techniques, preventing them from appearing on the Web at all. But bloggers don't just sit back and let it happen. The essential question becomes how to blog in complete safety.

And that’s where the new RSF blogging tool comes in. RSF is also helping journalists in other practical ways too, like hiring out media flak jackets at a fraction of the commercial rates.

Pictured: RSF graphic; flak jackets in the RSF headquarters in Paris, near La Bourse; RSF's Asia-Pacific coordinator Vincent Brossell (centre) and colleagues with the PMC's David Robie. Photos: David Robie

Monday, August 23, 2010

Opening eyes to a Fiji 'free press' blindside

AN ITEM that popped up today on Croz Walsh's Fiji blog taking the mickey out of a "profound shame" article by a former Fiji Times editor-in-chief, Rory Gibson, in the Brisbane Courier-Mail. It ran under this heading:

Don't give me that nonsense about the media freedom in the Mickey Mouse press

Q. What does the Fiji Times, the Townsville Bulletin, the Australian and the Courier-Mail have in common?

A. They are all owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd and they've all employed Rory Gibson as editor, editor-in-chief, chief subeditor or senior journalist at some time or other.

Rory has the reputation of writing humourous articles. If you're a kookaburra, you'll really laugh at his latest effort, Australian tourists turn a blind eye as Fiji's best people persecuted in the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

He writes that "it should be a source of profound shame to our country that Australians are going on holidays to Fiji in record numbers".

Why? Because they are gifting "dollars to the coffers of a nation that is run by a military dictatorship little better than any apartheid regime operating in South Africa's dark ages".

Forget that most of the dollars stay in Oz and that thousands of ordinary Fijians live on what's left. Just think back to Soweto, S. Africa, 1976. Police open fire on 10,000 protesters. Fiji today: No guns fired. Apartheid South Africa: All ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela imprisoned, many for life. Fiji: Short-term arrests but no political prisoners; former Prime Ministers drinking coffee in Downtown Suva.

And who is the cause of the shame in Fiji? "We can all laugh," he writes unblushingly, "that our Melanesian neighbours are ruled by a bloke with a name that sounds like an '80s girl band, and assuage our consciences by believing Commodore Bainimarama's claptrap about restoring fairness to Fiji's racist electoral system." Girl band? Claptrap? Restoring? It wasn't a racist electoral system?

And what are the effects?

"This Pacific tragedy isn't about whether the Fiji Times is being edited under the baleful glare of one of Bainimarama's gun-toting thugs [Oh, No?], or that an expat gets his marching orders.[Definitely not!] It's about people like Imrana Jalal and her husband Ratu Sakiusa Tuisolia."

And the rest of his long story is about these "best people" and a court case in which Jalal was acquitted.

His conclusion? "Going on holiday there while this sort of abuse is happening would be like sitting in a cafe sipping a coffee while a mugger attacked a pregnant woman on the footpath next to you, and you ignored it."

So, that's all for the moment from Rory Gibson, former editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times, defender of media freedom. One wonders what his journalist colleagues think about this.

Rory Gibson's article

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Pacific's new PacMA - a vision for media freedom

A FLURRY of messages. First the announcement of yet another Pacific media freedom group - PacMA, born in Samoa. Plus backpatting messages from supporters around the region. And then a riposte from the incumbent media "freedom" body, PINA, in Suva, claiming it has the strongest membership it has had for five years - 21. One wit from the Solomon Islands wrote:
First we started the PFF which was to be the watchdog which PINA wasn't, has it achieved that? And now we are starting the Pacific Media Association. What's next? PPA, PFP, PMF, PIFA, we have a problem in Fiji and, as crude as this may sound, whatever we do outside of Fiji cannot bring international attention to the plight of Fiji media. It is the Fijian media itself, on the ground in Fiji, who have to take Pacific journalism to the next level - that is put their lives on the line, if they are to get international recognition.
But this time there is optimism that this new body will have some serious clout - and actually use it. Over at the Pacific Media Centre in Auckland, PacMA's deputy chair Kalafi Moala has outlined the vision of the new body. Café Pacific republishes it here:

By Kalafi Moala

In the days immediately following the announcement of the launch of the Pacific Media Association (PacMA), the question has often been raised about why Samoa was chosen as the place to register this new organisation.

Last week on August 10, several media owners and journalists from the Pacific region met in Apia to form the new association. A new constitution was formulated and registration of an incorporated society was sought with the government of Samoa.

In addition to a new code of ethics for the organisation and its members, a set of bylaws is being currently written to guide the conduct of the affairs of the organisation.

Headed by probably the Pacific region’s most successful and experienced media owner and journalist, Samoa’s Sano Savea Malifa, the men and women that make up the organisation promise to be the embodiment of PacMA’s mission to promote and defend values of media freedom, ethics and good governance, and provide training for all media in the Pacific region.

Malifa plays a major role in the selection of Samoa as the founding ground for PacMA.

But it is more than that. Samoa hosts some of the most effective media operations in the region – be it print, broadcasting, or on-line. And these operations are not flash-in-the-pan overnight sensations.

They have paid the price in years of covering the hard yards. In the case of Malifa and his print media enterprise, he has suffered in previous years many obstacles, including countless lawsuits, physical attacks, the burning down of his press plant, and other disheartening inconveniences.

Samoa, however, has gone through its own quiet reform in so many facets of its political, economic, and social life. The result has been an environment conducive to the development of media freedom and journalistic professionalism.

The National University of Samoa is running a journalism school, and who knows what other educational development in media is ahead at this growing institution?

Free media environment
The government of Samoa has not only given the island nation comparable political and social stability, but has been largely responsible for creating a free media environment.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has himself been a staunch supporter of media freedom. Despite having been at times scrutinised by the local media, he has been a mature and responsible leader in his response.

On the evening that marked the launch of PacMA, Tuilaepa, despite a busy schedule, and another function he needed to attend, “dropped in” and congratulated the founders of PacMA, encouraged the members in its stand for media freedom, and gave a speech that welcomed the organisation.

He was especially thrilled that the new organisation was founded and will be operating out of Samoa.

It was hard to think of too many other island nations in the Pacific that can match the welcome, the hospitality, and the media freedom environment that Samoa offers.

What makes PacMA a unique media association is that it is to be primarily driven by media owners, the journalists and media practitioners who work in the industry. Too often organisations end up being run by bureaucrats whose ties to the actual professional services provided for people are no longer there.

It is time a media association is run primarily by people who are engaged in media as part of their everyday occupation.

Another major facet of the PacMA ethos that is fundamental to its formation and ongoing practice is that of independence from the aid infrastructure in the region that often results in “funding traps” in which service organisations become entangled and unable to fulfil their mission.

Obviously, there is no organisation that can survive without funding. But PacMA has chosen to be self-funded, and allow Pacific generosity to be a sustainable provider. There will be specific projects, however, from time to time, for which the organization will seek funding assistance.

The consensus at the founding meeting was: “We will not let funding dictate our vision and mission agendas.”

So be it. PacMA wants to be independent of what has become a very dangerous trend in NGO and regional organisational operations, which is a total dependence on donor funding agencies.

PacMA has its work cut out, not only in reestablishing the traditional media association roles and responsibilities in the region, but also how to wisely facilitate the new realities of emerging new media, gender driven media initiatives, and the future of our industry rooted in the growing youth media practitioners that need all the encouragement and help they can get.

Kalafi Moala, publisher and chief executive of the Nuku'alofa-based Taimi Media Network, is deputy chair of PacMA and himself a key campaigner for media freedom Pacific-style. Photo: Kalafi Malifa - Josie Latu/PMC/File.

Note: PacMA has been renamed the Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Running out of patience with the Murdoch media camp

REPUBLISHED from the Fiji Sun. Food for thought, especially when the Sun was singled out by The Australian. News Ltd's own title, The Fiji Times, also gave "saturation coverage" to the charges. It carried a half page photo. FT is hardly a pro-government newspaper. "Callick is being rather selective," as a prominent media watcher from Fiji has indicated to Café Pacific:

The viewpoint on Fiji The Australian won't print

A riposte to two articles by Pacific correspondent Rowan Callick in The Australian newspaper, like the Fiji Times owned by Australia's News Limited. They were submitted to the newspaper [by an academic with specialist knowledge on Fiji] but not acknowledged or printed, he says.

Reading Pacific correspondent Rowan Callick's two articles on Fiji (Weekend Australian, 24/5/ July), one readily understands why Frank Bainimarama has run out of patience with the Australian media and Murdoch press in particular.

I confine myself mainly to Callick's piece in "The Nation" section.

First: the fact three former Fiji PMs have "been penalised" since Bainimarama took control in 2006 is not evidence of itself of judicial malpractice.

In his other article, in the "Focus" section, Callick refers to a general history of poor leadership in the Pacific.

In which case, is it not at least possible that three former PM's of Fiji do have possibly valid allegations to answer for?

Second: Callick says Chaudhry's recent court appearance got "saturation coverage from the regime's propaganda outlets".


For most here, including myself, it came somewhat unexpectedly.

For though it was the front page story in the pro-Bainimarama Sun newspaper, it was reported without frills.

(Editor's note: Mr Chaudhry denied all the charges against him and is contesting them in court).

Third: Callick quotes (Australian) Foreign Affairs Minister Steven Smith's spokesperson as saying Chaudhry's arrest was "of concern".

That it had "obvious political implications". That Foreign Affairs would "be watching this case closely". News? More to the point there's no allowance here for the possibility that Chaudhry might just have something to answer for.

Nothing but the bleeding obvious, either, in Foreign Affairs saying the case held out "political implications".

Not allowing for the fact, perhaps, just perhaps, however remote, that these very serious allegations may have already had "political implications" for governance and the rule-of-law in Fiji.

Fourth: Callick cites Amnesty International for the government's dismissal of judges and magistrates. Fair enough. Such removal is of concern. But so too is how sections of the judiciary, during former P.M. Qarase's tenure, succumbed to political pressures. Most notably, by releasing early from goal, men sentenced for conspiring with George Speight (and others unnamed or involved in politics) in the 2000 coup.

No mention was made of either of those in the police in 2000, along with mutinous army units, who made the coup possible. Nor any reference to those others in the military who later almost succeeded in assassinating Bainimarama for what his clean-up might reveal.

One must acknowledge that Bainimarama breached the rule of law in December 2006. To hold however, as Callick does, that Bainimarama's "authorities have no respect for the rule of law" today is, to say the least, simplistic. It overlooks the Qarase government's own disregard for the rule of law and the threat to social order certain of his policies favouring the indigenous presented.

The military takeover of any elected government always falls somewhere between "unfortunate" and "disastrous". But when elections are based not on the principle of one-person-one-vote, but on communal grounds, and one of those communities - itaukei or ethnic Fijian - has superior numbers who are then promised favoured treatment, and are incited to bully, burn, and expel Indians and their property then, I suggest, the usurpation of "democracy" ranks at the 'unfortunate' end of the spectrum.

Fifth: Callick says the Fiji government has stopped Rabuka's pension to shut him up.

He doesn't mention that it revoked that decision and that Rabuka has been publicly contrite and supportive of Bainimarama.

Sixth: We are told Chaudhry describes Bainimarama as "autocratic and dictatorial".

There's no mention of the fact that some people in Fiji (rightly or wrongly) condemn Chaudhry for his own arrogant and insensitive, some would say self-serving, leadership.

First as a unionist parliamentarian and then as Prime Minister: the kind of behaviour unhelpful to the creation of civil society.

Callick also forgets that Fiji's universally esteemed first Prime Minister, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, sometimes spoke of the need for "benign dictatorship" in Fiji in the post-independence years. It was deemed compatible with traditional authority and useful to the creation of his own brand of multiculturalism. I don't recall any foreign powers objecting then.

As best I can judge, and it is impossible to be sure, right now most Fijians (the government, by the way, recently declared an end to ethnic labels: all its citizens are "Fijians") regard Bainimarama not as a malign dictator, the kind Canberra and Wellington would have us see. Rather they see him as the right man in the right place, a harbinger of hope.

Seventh: Callick is right to say Bainimarama's recent "Engaging Fiji" meeting, in Fiji, with the Melanesian Spearhead Group - Plus, was a "public relations coup". But it wasn't seen as "tumultuous" here.

Furthermore, it was arguably a victory not just for Bainimarama personally, or even the MSG but also for that rather - forgotten concept - "the Pacific Way", minus of course Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands which are desperately dependent on New Zealand.

Like Bainimarama's Fiji, the "Pacific Way" is imperfect but until politicos, foreign affairs journalists, diplomats, and policy advisors get their heads into the history and lived-reality of culture in the South Pacific, folk in Australia and NZ will go on being subject to the myopia and entrenched views their professions seem to involve.

Lastly, Australia and NZ's call for quick elections is dangerous folly.

They would bring a return of the political and economic opportunists, impelled to stir up ethnic fears via the bogey and lies of problematic "race".

The result would be social mayhem on a greater scale than has yet been seen.

Exodus and claims to asylum would follow. It is a scenario that the two Tasman neighbours seem intent on ignoring. Exactly why is another matter.

The duty of any state, Michael White wrote recently in The Guardian Weekly (18 June 2010), is first to protect its people from hostile foreign powers, and second to ensure internal social order: the sort of stability, harmony, and peace-of-mind most in Fiji are presently grateful for.

Dr Christopher Griffin describes himself as a student of Fiji society for 35 years. He originally taught sociology at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, and till recently social anthropology at Edith Cowan University in Australia, where he is today an Honorary Senior Fellow.

The viewpoint on Fiji the Australian won't print

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