Monday, February 7, 2011

Fiji blogs and The Fiji Times

AN OPEN letter from outgoing Fiji Times publisher Dallas Swinstead explains why he left the country's leading newspaper after rescuing it for the Motibhai Group following the buyout of News Ltd last year. The Australian-based Murdoch subsidiary was forced to divest 90 percent of its interest to local ownership under the terms of the controversial Fiji Media Industry Development Decree in September. But News Ltd elected to sell up completely:

People keep telling me I’m getting the occasional mention on blogs (which I don’t read). Anyway, it would be a good idea to share with anyone who is interested why I left The Fiji Times.

1. Motibhai, the new local owners of the paper, could not organise insurance nor medical evacuation for me, a requirement of our contract.

2. This became an issue for both them and I and they agreed to pay out the remainder of the work permit, four or five weeks.

3. I am tremendously proud, in fact exhilarated, by what I achieved with the full-blooded co-operation of some 160 The Fiji Times employees, as they embraced the job of resuscitating the newspaper the government intended to close.

4. The newspaper published its editorial charter on October 9 in which we stated that we supported the Prime Minister’s dreams of One Nation One People. We made it clear we would not be kissing arses but nor would we be instinctively kicking them. Like every decent paper in the world we have kept that promise.

5. The government continues to subsidise the opposition newspaper, the Fiji Sun with about 3000 pages of advertising a year. In return it publishes verbatim, mostly, all government releases. It is a shameless, even dangerous, publication.

6. Depending on what happens in Fiji in the weeks ahead, I may, or may not, fill in the details of that journey other than to take this opportunity to thank those dozens of the business, academic, legal, diplomatic and public servicemen and women who shared frank and revealing conversations with me about the way Fiji works.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In Egypt, the 'lamestream media' shows its courage and value


By Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post

THE TURMOIL in Egypt has been a lesson in the fragility of a right we so often take for granted: to speak.

It also has been a reminder to those who deride the "lamestream media" as the enemy, traitors and worse that many members of that maligned tribe are also very brave.

A list of journalists who have been assaulted, beaten, harassed and arrested in Egypt since demonstrations began would consume the balance of this column. They include attacks on CNN's Anderson Cooper, as well as reporters and photographers from The Post, Fox News, the New York Times, and numerous other publications and broadcast organisations from around the world.

The attacks have been well organised and strategic, suggesting something more than an organic eruption from the street. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), founded in 1981 to protect press freedom and journalists, has added its voice to those asserting that the attacks were arranged by Hosni Mubarak's government.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, reported Wednesday that:
The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions. The government has resorted to blanket censorship, intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs. The situation is frightening not only because our colleagues are suffering abuse but because when the press is kept from reporting, we lose an independent source of crucial information.
Outrage expressed
Outrage that journalists are being targeted has been appropriately expressed by various heads of state, including President Obama.

Attacks on journalists are nothing new. Five have been killed already this year, including one Friday in Cairo. Since 1992, 850 have died in the line of duty. Of those, more than 500 were murdered with impunity, according to CPJ. An additional 145 journalists are in prison worldwide for the offense of reporting.

What is new to most eyes are these real-time attacks on people we know. Watching Katie Couric being harassed and shoved by a crowd of angry men in Cairo was especially jarring. Our little Katie? Make no mistake. Perky Katie is also brave Katie.

For journalists, there's no adrenaline rush like Being There. There's something in the constitution of those who sign up for Journalism 101 that makes them want to be part of the action but also to do something of value. The bias so many recognise in the media is, among other things, a bias toward the underdog, whether that's an unwed mother or an oppressed people. That government thugs want to silence reporters in Egypt is understandable. The camera is focused on the powerless masses who want to unseat their pharaoh.

Bear witness
This is to say that those reporters who put their boots on the ground go willingly. I'd wager that every reporter confined to a cubicle at this moment wishes he or she were there, even with a touch of quiet gratitude for being safe. It isn't only to be where the action is but also to bear witness to history and to the eternal human struggle to be free.

It is rare to get to see our constitutional rights (and responsibilities) so starkly displayed or to have the courage of our convictions tested, if only vicariously. The Egyptian people are brave, too, but it is their fight. Another lesson: Democracies have to emerge from the passions of their own constituents. Freedom may be God-given, but, like life, it has a gestation period and is usually born with much pain. Afterward comes nurturing through the conscientious exercise of human will and institutions yet to be conceived.

Fundamental to this process, as our own Founding Fathers understood, is the freedom to gather and to express oneself. Every day we tolerate posers, pundits and porn along with klanners, clowns and clambering ninnies for the greater good of a free society where no one gets his head bashed for speaking truth to power.

Not so lucky are the hundreds or thousands of Egyptians who have suffered blows (or death) as they have sought their own route to liberty. Reporting from Cairo, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof tells of a carpenter named Mahmood who had needed medical treatment seven times in 24 hours. His arm was in a sling, his leg in a cast and his head was bandaged. He was going back for more.

Kristof was "awestruck" when Mahmood told him: "I'll fight as long as I can."

We should all be so awed - not only by the Mahmoods, but also by the Kristofs.

Cartoon: "Stop intimidating journalists," says the newspaper headline in Arabic. Source: Menasset.com

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NZ ‘honour killing’ bandwagon a case of ethno-media values?

ASTONISHING how quick some mainstream news media in New Zealand were to latch on to the catchy phrase “honour killing” over the cruel and tragic death of an Indo-Fijian nurse working at an Auckland hospital last month.

Twenty eight-year-old Ranjeeta Sharma (pictured) was found burned to death at the side of a road near Huntly, in rural Waikato, Her husband Diwesh, 29, fled to Fiji with their four-year-old son the following day. But he was brought back to New Zealand and faces murder and other charges.

The persistence of some New Zealand media in speculating over an “honour killing” even after police insisted that they were simply investigating a homicide – a particularly gruesome one, admittedly - and various Indian and Indo-Fijian media and community commentators argued that this was extremely rare in the region, if not unknown, was unfortunate.

After two days of media hype, one television network online editor fired off a query to Café Pacific saying:
Some people are calling it an honour killing, but many Fijian Indians are saying this doesn't exist in Fiji in the same way it does on the subcontinent. On the other hand I have anecdotal stories from some people who have fled Fiji fearing a similar fate.

Could you shed some light on this or know anyone who could talk knowledgeably? Are honour killings in existence in Fiji - even if they are rare?
Use of the term “honour killing” stirred a spate of criticism in the ethnic press and radio over “insensitive” mainstream media. Clearly the sensationalist reporting of the issue has undermined progress in cross-cultural reporting made in NZ in recent years. Indian Weekender editor-in-chief Dev Nadkarni , a onetime coordinator of the University of the South Pacific’s journalism programme, condemned NZ media reporting of the killing:
Nearly every major news outlet played along with the honour killing angle, interviewing ethnic Indian workers of women’s and social organisations to record their general statements about honour killings and linking them to this case.

At the time of writing, no media outlet had clarified the investigation team’s present position – that it was being treated as a homicide. Follow up reports persisted in linking the honour killing angle.


One would expect the media to try to break stereotypes, not reinforce them.
Former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh was even harsher, describing it as a case of Indian and “Hindu-bashing” by news media:
This report and similar “stereotyping” reports in other media prompted concerned Indo-Fijians and Indians to call meetings in Auckland to show their concern and disappointment at the “media-bashing’ of a community.
Singh noted that the new Hindu Media Watch group, formed out of frustration with NZ media reporting of cultural minorities, was considering laying complaints with the Broadcasting Standards Authority and NZ Press Council.

In the Herald on Sunday, Deborah Coddington wrote:
It's truly horrible that nearly 600 years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, in supposedly civilised New Zealand a 28-year-old educated woman is burned alive and tossed on the roadside like rubbish.

Poor, wretched Ranjeeta Sharma, an immigrant from Fiji. Nobody deserves this, least of all amid speculation she may have been the victim of a so-called "honour killing".
Fortunately, Radio NZ’s Mediawatch and Bruce Hill’s Pacific Beat report for Radio Australia provided some clarity, context and sanity about the issue. In an interview with Hill, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre director Shamima Ali said:
There are honour beatings [in Fiji] - we could term honour beatings when … young women don't adhere to what their parents want, what the community they belong to want and so on, particularly in terms of falling in love with someone outside of that community or someone undesirable perceived by the parents. So often girls are brought back and beaten quite badly, sometimes locked up and forced to marry other people. So that has occurred and continues to occur in Fiji.

… But as far as honour killing - strictly honour killing - has happened in other communities, particularly Muslim communities in Fiji, I haven't heard of one.
A Canadian 'honour killing' controversy

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dodging the censors – an ungagged recipe to rescue Fiji’s national pension fund


HOW BIZARRE. The Fiji censors have gagged a perfectly reasonable and well-argued article about how ordinary Fijians can help their much-maligned national pension fund. Almost two years ago, the University of the South Pacific economist and former MP Professor Wadan Narsey penned an article in The Fiji Times about the “circling coup wolves”, which were putting the Fiji National Provident Fund at risk. His accompanying cartoon depicted the FNPF as a cash cow laden with pensions with a bunch of wolves snapping at its hooves. (By law, some 16 percent of Fijians wages and salaries must be paid into the fund - savings amounting to F$2.5 billion and with assets on paper worth $3 billion). The introduction said:
contributors and pensioners should be concerned. Perhaps worried. Perhaps frightened. Because our FNPF life savings are under threat.

While outlining the threatening wolves and the potential harm they could cause the FNPF, he also pointed out the lack of representation for the country’s contributors and pensioners:
We the FNPF contributors who own the savings do not have a single direct representative on the FNPF board who can be accountable to us. Why don't we?

We remain quiet at our peril.

But this fresh article on Pacific Media Centre Online today has a far more positive tone, more in the vein of what Fijians can do for the country’s fund (to rescue it) rather than what the fund can do for them. A visionary recipe for development. Yet the regime’s censors gagged the article from a Fiji Times edition last week – they “took it away and didn’t return it”. Narsey says:
Can Fiji National Provident Fund contributors and pensioners assist it become more viable?

With a stagnating economy, FNPF revenues have been severely constrained. Few new jobs have been created and existing incomes have not grown; many loans are non-performing; returns on FNPF investments have been declining; and large amounts of capital values have been written off because of mismanagement.


But collectively, FNPF contributors and pensioners remain the largest group of spenders in the Fiji economy.


Here is the challenge: can FNPF contributors and pensioners direct their consumption expenditure towards FNPF investments, and change FNPF policies for the better?

And Narsey made a number of suggestions about how the fund can be restructured, provide fairer representation and also about strategic help. This was a very positive and constructive article. As the author notes:
Why would the Bainimarama regime ban this article from a daily newspaper? What greater damage is being done to our people’s welfare which the papers are stopped from reporting, every day? Why do we Fiji citizens continue to suffer this daily loss of our basic human right to freedom of expression, without even a whimper?
Fiji’s draconian media censorship has to stop.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fiji rugby scandal and a stake in French Euro club dominance

IN AN extraordinary development, the Fiji Rugby Union’s entire board is resigning next month in a funding scandal to clear the way for the military-backed regime to hand over threatened funding for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year.

The regime had threatened to withhold F$3 million in pledged grants for World Cup unless the board quit following an official probe by the consumer watchdog Commerce Commission had found the union had mismanaged a fundraising lottery.

Sport Minister Filip Bole said the RFU would elect new officials at a special general meeting before the end of February.

Meanwhile, a host of Fiji rugby players plying their trade in France have made a key contribution to the French clubs’ domination of the European competitions. At the start of this weekend, French clubs topped three of the six pools in the top-tier Heineken Cup while French clubs also headed all five pools in the second-tier Challenge Cup pools.

The article below from the Wall Street Journal sums up how “big money, star players and English tactics” have given French rugby unprecedented domination of global club rugby.

Pictured is Toulon's Gabriele Lovobalavu playing against Stade de France (taking on the opponent in pink). He was voted seventh on Rankopedia out of the top 11 Fiji players in France in the 2009 Top 14 competition. (Clermont Auvergne's Napolioni Nalaga was voted top Fiji player.)

FRENCH RUGBY RULES EUROPE

By Jonathan Clegg

Not so long ago, European rugby union was dominated by English teams whose gameplans involved kicking for field position and tackling anything that moved. But not anymore.

In today's club game, the best teams have three things in common: star-studded rosters, a swarming defense, and they all play in France.

Between them, French clubs provided four of the eight quarterfinalists in the Heineken Cup last season—a record—as Toulouse won its fourth title. Nobody else has more than two.

This week, as club rugby's biggest tournament resumes, French teams top three of the six pools in the Heineken Cup and five out of five in the Challenge Cup. In European competition this season, clubs from the country's Top 14, the top division, have a combined winning percentage of .707 and a record of 41 wins, one draw and just 16 defeats.

It's a period of unprecedented dominance, but will it last? The French say the commercial clout of their clubs and the passion for the game will sustain it. But spiralling salaries and a new homegrown player quota instituted by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, which governs the professional game, could pull the country's soaring teams back down to earth.

Nevertheless, for the moment, France has stolen the game of club rugby from the rest of Europe and it doesn't look likely to give it back anytime soon.

"I don't know if it will right itself," said Jim Mallinder, the Northampton Saints director of rugby. "The gap is certainly there and it's quite evident. It has become increasingly difficult [to compete]."

It wasn't always like this. Though France supplied the Heineken Cup's first two winners—Toulouse and Brive—it couldn't maintain that dominance. Toulouse has won a further three titles, but no other French club has triumphed since 1997—a period in which four English clubs and all three participating Irish provinces lifted the trophy. In the 2008-09 season, France has just one representative in the Heineken Cup quarterfinals.

The chief reason for the turnaround is that French teams once famed for their flair have developed a reputation for discipline and punishing defense.

France has always produced players with the capacity to dazzle on a rugby field, but that style was rarely accompanied by steel. These days, that's changing. When London Saracens played Clermont Auvergne in a Heineken Cup game last October, for example, Clermont recorded 121 tackles to Saracens' 50 as the French team prevailed.

Indeed, there have been more tries on offer in the Aviva Premiership and the Magners League, with an average of 3.61 and 3.72 per game respectively, compared with 3.46 scored in the Top 14 so far this season. "The French teams have become more English in their approach," said Serge Blanco, the former France national team player and now president of Biarritz. "The Top 14 clubs now play a game that combines running rugby with disciplined defense. They've learned to be streetwise."

But for all their physical strength, French clubs owe much of their success to financial muscle. Armed with a rich domestic television deal and booming attendances, the Top 14 teams operate on an entirely different economic level to their cross-channel counterparts.

France introduced a salary cap of €8 million ($10.4 million) per club this year, a figure which dwarfs the wage ceiling of £4.2 million ($6.6 million) in the Premiership. In addition, salaries in French rugby have risen tenfold in the past 15 years. The average wage in the Top 14 is now €132,000—almost 60% higher than the Premiership average of roughly £75,000.

Combined with the strength of the euro against the pound, that purchasing power has made French clubs hugely competitive in the international transfer market. In the past two years, superstars like Francois Steyn, Carl Hayman and Jonny Wilkinson have all been recruited from overseas clubs.

The influx of big-name players has produced other advantages: In France, the average crowd for Top 14 matches this season is 13,493, an increase of 2.5% on last season. By contrast, figures released by Premier Rugby this week show that Magners League and Aviva Premiership attendances are down 7% and 4% respectively compared with the same stage last season.

"There are more people watching and more interest in the newspapers," said Philipe Saint-André, the Toulon coach. "It looks a little bit like the English Premier League."

French teams have also developed deeper reserves of talent. While Leicester Tigers, the English title-holder, named a squad of 33 players this season, clubs in the Top 14 can have as many as 45 players at their disposal. Clermont, the reigning Top 14 champion, included 30 international players in its nominated squad list of 38 for the current campaign.

All of which helps to explain how the French championship came to replace England's Premiership at the pinnacle of club rugby: Since Premiership clubs first participated in the Heineken Cup in 1997, England had always been represented in at least one European final. Last year, that sequence was broken during a dismal campaign as England provided just one quarterfinalist—its worst record in 13 years of continental competition.

Yet some people are starting to wonder whether French rugby's reign is built to last. Salaries in France have risen by roughly a third since 2007 and Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of England's Premier Rugby, warns that the level of spending is unsustainable.

"I don't think it's sustainable position, but it will take three, four more years to work its way through," McCafferty said.

The spiralling cost of competing has already claimed some casualties: Montauban was thrown out of the Top 14 last year and relegated to the amateur leagues after failing to provide evidence that it could clear a €1.7 million financial shortfall in its season budget.

If heavy spending doesn't tackle French dominance in Europe, new player quotas might. Starting this year, Top 14 clubs will have to increase the number of homegrown players in their squads to 50%, rising to 70% next season in an effort to safeguard the future of the national team. In addition, many clubs French clubs see the domestic championship—which dates back to 1892—as more important than the quest for European glory.

"For me, the Heineken Cup is not the priority," said Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon president, ahead of his club's game against Munster on Sunday. "I am first a child of the [Top 14] championship."

But whatever the future holds for the rugby teams in France, the era of French superiority in Europe shows no sign of coming to an end just yet.

"The French teams are still the ones to beat," said Will Greenwood, a former England player and now a rugby analyst. "It's almost impossible to pick anyone else."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Don't let the numbers get in the way of a good story, Fiji Sun

MORE from Croz Walsh, this time a scolding for the Fiji Sun for doing a hack job on an "exodus" of doctors. And more evidence on how many Pacific journalists - all over the globe, for that matter - are challenged when it comes to numeracy. Walsh writes the "botched figures" items:
You can't altogether blame the moderate anti-government blog Fiji Today for getting its facts wrong when it reported: "Recent statistics released by the Ministry of Health shows that out of the 850 trained doctors in the country 400 have left for greener pastures last year." They were merely quoting the Fiji Sun. But they said this equated to more than one doctor per day and really rubbed it in by adding "Good one, Frank. You are building a better Fiji." Click on both hyperlinks above to check that I've got this right, and then read on...

The figures they cite are completely wrong, and the journalists responsible have no good excuse because they should immediately have queried obviously suspicious figures and because there were quick ways to do so. I looked at the figures and thought 850 trained doctors? Fiji only has 8000 teachers and they can't possibly outnumber doctors by only 10:1.

So I checked the Bureau of Statistics website that showed there were only 416 doctors in 2009, and as a further check I consulted the Ministry of Health's website. Their Strategic Plan for 2011 states that it aims to maintain the number of doctors at 54 per 100,000 population. This would give 480 (not 850) doctors in an estimated 2010 population of 888,000. So the Fiji Sun and Fiji Today are way off the mark.

And then, incredibly, they made a second error by saying the loss of 400 doctors occurred in one year, when the figure is for the past 10 to 15 years, that gives a loss of between 40 to 27 doctors a year. Still a large number but locally graduating doctors and overseas recruitment should make up much of the loss.

I hope the Fiji Sun and Fiji Today editors blush with shame.
And give their reporters and subs an in-house statistics workshop.

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