Monday, March 31, 2008

Extraordinary insights in Scott doco about Fiji

Author Owen Scott and filmmaker Annie Goldson should be congratulated for An Island Calling, their compelling yet sensitive portrayal of the tragic double murder of John Scott and Greg Scrivener in Fiji in 2001 in the wake of the George Speight coup. This is a very courageous film and is likely to have very low-key screenings in Fiji. It was deeply shocking at the time and just as disturbing seven years on. Goldson and Scott have conveyed some extraordinary insights into Fiji's coup culture, the fundamentalist Christianity that has taken hold since Rabuka's first coups in 1987 and the cultural complexities of a troubled nation. Prime Minister Helen Clark was at the premiere at the weekend. For an account of the film and the debate around it, check out AUT student journalist Claire Rorke's piece. She writes:
One of the film’s central ideas is that Sitiveni Rabuka’s coups of 1987 ignited a wave of religious extremism and anti-democratic politics.
These have played out as coercive and repressive agents in Fijian society in the years since.
Rabuka was a Methodist preacher and regularly invoked God as being the hand that guided him to oust the Fiji Labour Party-led government with strong Indo-Fijian support in favour of indigenous Fijian interests.
Asia Downunder journalist Bharat Jamnadas says many Fijians are ardent churchgoers and evangelical influence extends from the pulpit through to Parliament.

Friday, March 21, 2008

New light on Fiji's John Scott political tragedy

Annie Goldson's new film on Fiji's coup number three and imprisoned frontman George Speight premieres next weekend during the World Cinema Showcase in Auckland. It will be watched with interest. Associate Professor Goldson, from the University of Auckland’s Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, has produced a feature-length documentary, An Island Calling, which traces the 2001 killings in Suva of Fiji Red Cross director-general John Scott and his partner Greg Scrivener. Goldson's media release says:
"The murder of this openly gay couple is still clouded in rumour and political mystery. Scott, a fourth-generation, Fiji-born European, was the repatriated prodigal son of a powerful colonial family. As the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross, he had gained international attention during the coup of 2000 when he went to the assistance of hostages trapped in Parliament for 56 days. Guided by John Scott’s brother, Owen, the film features friends of the couple, lawyers, Fijian gay activists, and seasoned Fiji observers. The film also includes interviews with the family of 22-year-old Apete Kaisau, who was ultimately charged with the killings."
Bill Gosden, director of the NZ Film Festival Trust, which organises the World Cinema, describes the film as "excellent and level-headed". He sees the film as placing this tragedy within Fiji’s volatile heritage of colonial privilege, evangelical Christianity, immigrant work force and indigenous entitlement.
Shortly after the festival release, a shorter (44-minute) broadcast version of the film, entitled Murder in the Pacific, will air on New Zealand’s TV3 and Australia’s SBS-TV.
Pictured: Speight's gunmen "escort" Fiji Red Cross director-general John Scott from Fiji's Parliament building in 2000.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Horror from the past - a new twist on My Lai

As Economist picture editor Celina Dunlop writes, the name My Lai has become synonymous with "massacre" and atrocity. Contemporary US military atrocities are compared with what happened in the little Vietnames hamlet four decades ago and are often billed as a "modern-day My Lai". As Dunlop says: "The name is shorthand for slaughter of the defenceless, the benchmark of American wartime atrocity. The murders of 504 men, women, children and babies happened in a northerly province of South Vietnam on 16 March 1968. It proved to be a turning point for public opinion about the Vietnam War."
For me, there is a tragic sense of deja vu also for publication of photographs of that massacre in an Australian weekly newspaper, the Melbourne Sunday Observer - the same week as Life magazine in 1969. At the time I was chief subeditor. The editor, myself and the newspaper were prosecuted for "obscenity" (the case was eventually dropped) for publishing the horrendeous images. Yet for all of us working on that paper during a prevailing newspaper climate supportive of Australian involvement in the US colonial war, it was an "obscenity" that US, Australian and NZ troops were in Vietnam at all.
Dunlop writes about the so-called Peers Inquiry (chaired chaired by Lt Gen William 'Ray' Peers) that interviewed some 400 witnesses and tape-recorded their testimony: "In 1987, [the tapes] were shipped to the US National Archives, as one small portion of a massive group of records of US Army activities in Vietnam. There they remained hidden, never catalogued, never investigated, never uncovered - until last year.
I spent many months trying to track down the tapes.
Again and again, I was told they did not exist, but after much persistence, 48 hours of recordings from the key witnesses were declassified and made available to me."
The Peers findings set the benchmark for future guidelines for the US military in dealing with civilians.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Niu FM in the hot seat over its news credibility

Sadly, Pacific Radio News - which seemed a hot new prospect on the media scene in New Zealand last year, culminating with a commended recognition at the annual NZ Media Peace Awards event for its coverage of the Fiji and Tonga upheavals - is now itself embroiled in a crisis. PR stalwart Vienna Richards is now in charge and the PRN news service was dumped for a week while being "reviewed" - unheard of in the Kiwi media scene (although a RadioLIVE news package filled the gap). Some news staff are unhappy and worried about the future of the station's news credibility and survival. Pacific Radio News was back on air this week, but skipped a few bulletins. Listeners have commented on the drop in standards.
Parent company Niu FM was itself in the news last night with a Barbara Dreaver TVOne report angled on the station's "political appointment". The brother of Richards is William Sio, Labour Party candidate contesting the crucial South Auckland seat of Mangere for this year's general election. Political columnist Chris Trotter said: "The Labour government is funding this station, and they've just moved the news director aside to put in the candidate's sister in an election year. I think they really will have to reverse this decision."
Jason Brown filed a report for Pacific Media Watch, which gave a comprehensive coverage of Niu FM's chief executive Sina Moore's defence - but Sina was hardly convincing.

ALSO, congratulations to Jason and Courtenay Brooking who have won the AUT/PIMA Pasifika Communication Scholarships for this year. Courtenay is starting a three-year Bachelor of Communication Studies and Jason is launching into a Master of Communication Studies degree. Cafe Pacific wishes them both well.
Pictured by AUT student journalist Dominika White at the AUT awards last night are Courtenay and Jason, backed by PIMA chair Aaron Taouma (left), Courtenay's mum and dad, and PIMA deputy chair Chris Lakatani.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fiji Times 'voice of the people'

One of my Fiji journo colleagues has brought to Cafe Pacific's attention a few interesting letters on the Fiji Times Online website. An extract from one, headed Media bias, contrasted the lack of zeal in the investigative stakes when Qarase was in power compared with the Chaudhry expose:
"Yet here we have our deposed Prime Minister (Laisenia Qarase) charged with crimes during his tenure with FHL.
Why does the media not investigate Mr Qarase's case further?
It's been discussed in all sectors in the House of Representatives since early 1990s yet the media has done little to report this to the public.
I challenge the media to show what investigative reporting they have done so far with Mr Qarase's case or other cases such as Fiji Water."
Signed by Robert Rounds, of Lautoka.
An editorial response from the FT: "Mr Qarase's case is before the courts and we cannot report on it at this stage. We welcome information from the public which will help us with our investigations."
A bit more investigative probing at the time would have been helpful!
Another reader took a blast at ther local reporting and wondered why the coverage of the commission against corruption wasn't getting a better run.

Responsible media
"I NOTE the call for more responsibility in the media.
On a visit to Fiji, I must say I was shocked to see the newspapers taking an obvious bias against the interim Government.
Of course this administration has made mistakes (what government hasn't?) but it faces a constant chipping away by the press in particular
Surely the good things to come out of the interim Government such as the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) are worthy enough to note.
Responsibility in the media must include the exercise of discretion when to print and when not to print a story.
Just one week's reading of this long-time journal's output provides irrefutable evidence that your editorial board has never read the book on discretion."
Paul K. Madigan
Hong Kong

National crisis
"YOUR FrontPage headline (FT 12/2) alleges that the National Council for Building a Better Fiji is in a crisis.
We have many crisis in Fiji serious crime, poverty where more than one third of the population are struggling to survive below the poverty line, in schools with 10 per cent of our children not attending classes, lack of confidence in an economy on the decline and many others on the same scale of seriousness.
A difference of views between two national council members, even if expressed very robustly, will not register on the same scale. This is by comparison, a crisis in a tea cup.
The national council, from the outset when it first met on January 16, encourages robust debate.
Its members will not be frightened by a bit of honest emotion over a matter that may, in the end, be easily resolved by a quiet conversation and constructive dialogue.
They keep a sense of proportion in their discussions about what is really important and what is not.
The national council, at the least, deserves a sense of proportion and fair reporting from journalists and the mainstream media.
In the report, the headline and contents of your first paragraph [don't] show any relationship to the rest of the news.
The story was about a certain business deal and had nothing to do with the national council."

John Samy
Head of TASS

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fairness and the Fiji media

"Anonymous" has taken me to task by claiming that my recent quickfire criticisms of the James Anthony report (and the Fiji media) were "typical" in that that "the racist part was overemphasized by [me] and the media elite. What is racist about the term 'white'?"
Actually, I would have been just as critical if such a "detached" report was addressed in such extreme emotive terms relating to any race.
"Should fairness in the media also mean proportionate representation?"
We're under no illusions, there is little fairness in the media in Fiji. There never has been as long as I have been writing about Fiji, and I also lived in Fiji for five years. After 40 years in the news media and having lived and worked in some 15 countries, my experience of the Fiji media is that it is the least fair and balanced of any media that I have encountered. Much of this has to do with the lack of basic training and education compared with many other countries. This is being gradually addressed by the two j-schools at USP and FIT but there is also a constant drain of experienced people. Still there are many outstanding journalists in Fiji.
This leads me to the next criticism from the reader:
"Seems you have turned on a dime, comparing your views on the Fiji Times post-2000 coup. I wonder why the media, including you have not commented on the glass ceiling of the Fiji media."
No, Mr Anonymous, I haven't turned at all. My criticisms stand and many others have echoed that analysis. A far fuller and documented case is made in my 306-page book Mekim Nius: South Pacific media, politics and education, published by the University of the South Pacific in 2004. It is available at But that isn't the point. In my blog posting, I was addressing some of the flaws of the Anthony report.
"Anonymous" makes a few other points too - read them.

A new book about the state of the media in the Pacific today should be out by May. Co-edited by Evangelia Papoutsaki (formerly of the Divine Word University, and now of Unitec, NZ) and a former Fiji journalist, now media academic, Usha Sundar Harris, South Pacific Islands Communication: Regional Perspectives, Local Issues, it is jointly published by the Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore, University of the South Pacific and AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. More information about this at the PMC.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fiji's 'how to gag the media' report

It is ironic that Jim Anthony's flawed report for the Fiji Human Rights Commission should be dubbed with an Orwellian title "Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji". It is far more like a "How to gag and shackle the media" report. It's the sort of report that gives even military-backed regimes bad reputations. A great pity. A constructive, well-researched and useful - but genuinely independent - examination of the Fiji media is long overdue. A 2007 review of the NZ Press Council is an example of the sort of thing that can be done. But the Anthony report doesn't show any interest in "free media" models that work well - he has been seduced by authoritarian straitjackets. Perhaps he isn't even aware of the M*A*S* work of the late Professor Claude-Jean Bertrand, the pioneer of global media accountability systems. A report as racist, provocative and ill-informed as this - with not even elementary referencing or sourcing - is rather embarrassing.
However, much of the media response in Fiji is also extraordinarily defensive and hypocritical, even bordering on hysterical. Why do they even bother to take such a report seriously? Surely the Anthony report deserved to quietly fade into oblivion - hardly worthy of any serious response. Yet some of the over-the-top reactions have ensured the Anthony report has gained far more international attention than it ever warranted. And certainly the spotlight is on foreign influence in media ownership. But the public deserves more than the defensive bleatings from self-interested media and political voices - where are the independent commentators and analysts for balance? The Fiji Times is one of the few to publish the odd independent reaction, such as from the Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA), which criticised the media for being the 'mouthpiece of the elite' and also for poor journalism standards. We also wonder about the timing of the report's release, given that it was made available hurriedly just three days after the arbitrary deportation of Fiji Times publisher Russell Hunter. Ousted Opposition leader Mick Beddoes described Dr Anthony as "paranoid", saying some of his "accusations and conclusions are not worth the paper they're printed on". A former deputy PM in Mahendra Chaudhry's People's Coalition government deposed by George Speight in 2000, Dr Tupeni Baba, dismissed the report as biased.
Dr Anthony told Radio New Zealand International that media and government relations had broken down, and for years the media had poured venom into Fiji's body politic: "Playing crybaby over this report isn't really going to wash. The media representatives, the media barons, were invited to participate in this report; they chose to boycott the inquiry. In my opinion, that was a fatally flawed decision."
Pictured: Fiji's Interim Minister for Labour and Tourism Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau is interviewed by Dr James Anthony during the media "inquiry". Source: Fiji Human Rights Commission website.
A quick summary of the report's recommendations:
  • Expatriate journalists living in Fiji would be banned from working in the country under recommendations by the country's human rights commission.
  • A media tribunal would be established independent of government control.
  • A Fiji media development authority would be established based on a system in Singapore to monitor media organisations and train journalists.
  • A 7 percent tax on media advertising and license fees would be imposed to fund the tribunal and authority.
  • New sedition laws would be introduced.

Too many whites in media, says academic - audio - Anthony's defence of his report on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Media report calls for training authority
A Fiji Times breakdown of the FHRC media report into handy pdf morsels - and a summary of media reactions
The Ecumenical Centre for Research Education and Advocacy (ECREA) response
Report author condemns failure of media to take part
Fiji should ban expat journos: report
Fiji media walks the fine line
Freedom and Independence of the Media in Fiji - The Anthony report (FHRC website)
David Robie on Pacific media freedom under siege

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