Sunday, September 21, 2008

Muckraking honours and short memories

MUCKRAKERS have a long and proud tradition stretching back to Progressive era in the late 19th century United States. The term (from the Man with Muckrake in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress) was coined to describe those investigative journos exposing social ills and terrible conditions such as in slums and prisons, sweatshops, along with issues like child labour and food processing cheats. Some also exposed fraud and abuse in politics and corporations. Bethany McLean's Enron expose was a classic example in contemporary times.

And now the Fiji Sun is idolising itself for the muckraking feat of their absentee award winners - publisher Russell Hunter and investigative writer Victor Lal. Hunter, booted out by the Fiji military-backed regime in late February, and UK-based Lal, were honoured at the annual FAME media awards in Suva at the weekend over the inquiry into Mahendra Chaudhry's controversial offshore accounts and tax issues. The judges said: "Mr Hunter’s leadership and support for Mr Lal and the Sun’s editorial team provided the professional context for what is arguably the best example of investigative journalism in the history of the Fiji media." No doubt this was an excellent piece of investigative journalism worthy of an award. (And The Fiji Times also deserved recognition its own parallel investigation and naming the then accused minister - leading to publisher Evan Hannah also being deported.) But to devote the entire front page to a back-slapping effort is over the top coverage for any newspaper. News or merely PR hype? And there is another dimension to this saga, as former Fiji Daily Post publisher Ranjit Singh rightly points out, in that the Fiji media never pursued the corrupt practices of the Qarase government with the same zeal reserved for Chaudhry. Cafe Pacific would also take issue with "arguably the best example of investigative journalism" in Fiji claim.

There have been several muckraking achievements over the years in Fiji. But the dearth of investigative work in recent years has masked this. What about Yashwant Gaunder and The Review's dogged investigation of the National Bank of Fiji, for example? Have our scribes forgotten about this already? Three leading Australian investigative journalists - Wendy Bacon, Peter Cronau and David McKnight - had this to say back in 1996 when they awarded the first Pacific Investigative Journalism award to The Review for its July 1995 edition:


The article pieced together the maze of relevant facts, unearthed new information, and interviewed major players in the matter, to provide the reader with a compelling account of corruption and incompetence within a country's major financial institution. The journalist used a range of investigative techniques from relentless pursuit of a wide range of sources, to researching companies and individuals associated with the bank. The story added to the public understanding of a major political and business crisis in Fiji society.

As one Fiji newshound noted today about the ongoing significance of that report into Fiji corruption (backgrounded well in a Pacific context by lawyer Richard Naidu):

This was the first and best example of investigative journalism in Fiji. The Review obtained and published the ‘confidential’ Aidney-Dickson report on the National Bank of Fiji. Through the publication of the report, the nation came to know that their national bank was technically bankrupt. The Review published an exhaustive, 14-page account. It also publicised the full list of debtors and amounts owed. Businessmen, politicians and relatives and clients of the bank’s employees had been fleecing the institution unnoticed. The names of companies and individuals read like a "who's who" list in Fiji and created a huge furore. The subsequent loss of Rabuka’s SVT government in the 1999 election was partly due to the scandal. Losses eventually amounted to more than $350 million. The economy has never quite recovered.

A disappointing aspect about the media's performance in reporting the FAME awards is that while they are self-congratulatory about their own successes, they're reluctant to give credit where credit is due to their rivals. Not one newspaper (or radio station or website) has given a satisfactory overview of the awards. The Fiji Media Council ought to step in and run a "neutral" news report on its website to be fair to everyone. (Only the 2007 winners were listed on their website when checked today).

Other key winners:
Print Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Radio Journalist of the Year- Vijay Narayan
Television Journalist of the Year- Anish Chand
Business Journalist of the Year- Stanley Simpson
Student Journalist of the Year- Riteshni Singh/Nanise Nawalowalo
Best News Website - The Fiji Times

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Media blood-letting over fairness and the Fiji regime

THE FIJI regime and some of the Suva media have had a field day this week ... castigating Fairfax Media's international journo who covers Pacific issues - Michael Field. The fallout came after the regime's Ministry of (dis)Info gleefully jumped the gun and circulated a media release noting that a complaint against Field had been upheld by NZ's Broadcasting Standards Authority over his views about Fiji expressed in Radio NZ National's Nine to Noon programme on 7 March 2008. The BSA didn't uphold a complaint by Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde against Radio NZ Ltd under principle 4 (balance), but it did uphold the complaint under principle 6 (accuracy). It ruled that four inaccurate statements had been made during Field's discussion of how Fiji was reeling from "all the signs of true military dictatorship". Complaints committee chair Joanne Morris didn't impose any order. She said publication of the ruling would "serve as a reminder to commentators that they must ensure the accuracy of factual statements".

Many of the local media in Fiji were quick to seize on the regime handout about the adjudication. Radio Fiji summed it up by saying "controversial journalist Michael Field has been rebuked by the BSA ..." Fiji Daily Post ran an article by Fiji Human Rights Commission director Dr Shaista Shameem, claiming - unfairly - Michael Field "'wings' it when he can" in an article under the headline "The writing on the wall". Even NZPA circulated a piece that largely echoed the Fiji government line that was also run on Field's own media organisation's Stuff website. Kiwiblog highlighted the actual inaccurate statements and sparked a handful of responses, one posting noting that the Fiji regime should be recognised as the "nearest thing there is to a benign military junta". Field himself, according to an email to Pacific Media Watch, regards the reporting "shallow" and the adjudication itself as "interesting". Bruce Hill also gave the issue an airing on Radio Australia's On The Mat.

Meanwhile, in other blood-letting about the Fiji media and politics, former Fiji Daily Post publisher Thakur Ranjit Singh has been riled by Kamal Iyer's one-sided monologues in the Fiji Times about life under the regime. He has written an alternative view of balance and fairness. Singh also takes a potshot at conflicts of interest in the Fiji media.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fisky beat-ups detract from the real deal

IT'S remarkable how a non-story refuted by a couple of throwaway lines by British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk over a non-meeting with accused members of the so-called Tuhoe 16 became a beat-up in two media outlets at the expense of hard news this week. In an hour-long AUT University dialogue (mostly monologue - but riveting, inspiring and entertaining), Fisk only spent 31 seconds on the topic - and this was in response to a question from a student about a posting on David Cohen's notorious (non)blog at the National Business Review claiming he was going to meet Tame Iti and others at Te Tirahou marae.

Fisk dismissed it out of hand, saying nobody had discussed it with him. He said he had no time to be involved in local stories: "I'm 62, have 22 countries and four wars to cover, I don’t have time for anything that does not involve the Middle East". While he did talk to Ahmed Zaoui when in NZ three years ago, it was "clearly an Algerian story". The beat-ups (following the original mischievous Cohen beat-up) were in Scoop, who was asking for the "real leak" to stand up (not a bad idea, but it won't happen), and NZ Herald Online. Fisk launched into an attack on the internet, saying the medium was out of control and lacked the integrity of the printed paper. As far as he is concerned, the internet is a "system of hate" and fuels the risk of an extreme act by a nutter against outspoken journalists such as him.

Here's a story that came out of the seminar that does have some substance - the transformation of the US Soldier's Creed to the Warrior's Ethos ... war without end! Of course, little was reported about that. This video clip is thanks to the Pacific Media Centre team of Kate Morse, Joe Rixon, Naveena Baratharaj and Jim Marbrook on the PMC YouTube channel - and there are a couple of other good ones '50/50 journalism' and 'weapons of mass destruction'.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tabs goes for a publishing strike three!

ALL power to Warkworth's Tabs Korauaba and his Tuvaluan partner, who have launched a new pan-Pacific paper this week. Café Pacific hopes the monthly Pacific Community News succeeds where other ventures have failed. Tabs, originally a broadcast journalist from Kiribati, got his print creds the hard way - by publishing Tematairiki and Rodney Today. Both went under. The reason? No team, no mission, no funding, he admits. But Tabs reckons he has now absorbed the tough lessons from the two previous publications. Third time lucky?

It is a highly competitive market. It's also hard to judge a readership across several distinct Pasifika communities. The Samoa Observer is making big inroads into Auckland and now has its own Auckland Pacific Today publishing on Fridays. However, this time Tabs does have a team and a clear business goal. He has teamed up with a successful businessman who will handle accounts, marketing and advertising while Tabs looks after the editorial side. He also has a couple of English first-language speakers to do the proof-reading. He says:

Some pan-Pacific papers have been launched before and they went under. I think the problem was that they didn't have enough planning, didn't have a committed team, were impatient and, of course, they didn't have enough advertising. But that's in the past. This is today. I always remind myself that being a publisher means not dwelling on the past so that it doesn't control the future. We talked with some businesses and they liked our positive vision so they came on board. And after six months ads will really start to roll.
Asked about Samoan journalist Malia Sio's "breaking away or breaking in?" comments about Pacific vs mainstream media on her blog, Tabs says:

That's her view. But I am not very keen on 'talking' - I am a doer and I always experiment on new things. But she musn't worry, because we're not going to hide bad stories about Pacific Islanders. We'll let the community talk about its own problems and its own solutions. Reporting about crimes and negative stuff are not helping at all. Successful people achieve their potential because they are positive throughout their lives.

Right on, Tabs. Go for it!

Robert Fisk's recipe for young journo success

TRUE believers? A host of them trooped in for the Robert Fisk lecture/ student news exchange organised by the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University. Where were the sceptics?

Apart from the core of AUT student journalists, radio and TV students and staff who had ditched their mid-semester break to come along to be challenged, inspired - and even entertained - by Fisky, there were academics, civil rights activists and many others. Robert Fisk was in NZ for a promotional tour for his latest book, The Age of the Warrior.

The AUT booking was thanks to Amnesty International. The lecture theatre (chosen for its intimacy and which normally seats 160 people) was packed out with at least another 40 or 50 people for the hour-long lunch date. Just as well there were no health and safety hawks drifting around. Fisk was at his inspirational best - it's quite extraordinary to see a journalist having such a cult following. Many editors were sighted in the audience, including the NZ Herald's former editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis, who chose the AUT rather than his own University of Auckland bash, which was charging $25 a head for a Fisk Amnesty fundraiser.

Fisk had plenty of gems on offer for his audience including anecdotes about his contempt for how the internet has become "a system of hate". Scolding media for not reporting the full truth about the Middle East, he also had some advice for the neophite journos that wouldn't go down too well with either the digital natives or the digital grandstanders:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Treason? I've got a little list

More from one of Café Pacific's Laucala correspondents who keeps a reality check on Fiji with a touch of satire ...

Fiji is funny. The coup is now generating humour and the past politicians are becoming hilarious. Eighteen months after the coup of December 2006 Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister was kicked out of government, his government house and his government car. He has now realised that something is wrong and become so incensed that he filed a treason complaint with the police on the grounds that the December 6 coup was illegal.

Treason. Doesn’t the word make you cringe, go pale with fear at being hanged, drawn and quartered or at least exiled for life to the island of St Helena where you will view the house where Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his glorious past, France, freedom and failure?

Qarase
lodged his treason claims against a formidable group of people that include the Interim Prime Minister who led the coup, the Chief of Police who was an army officer and part of the coup. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you it was the coupmaster who made him Chief of Police.

But there are civilians on the alleged traitors list too. It includes the aged and dignified Catholic Archbishop Petero Mataca and the 45 members of The National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). One name on the list is John Samy, the gentle spoken boss of the NCBBF Secretariat who has led the way writing the People’s Charter with its message of love thy neighbour.

Dear John also appeared on the front page of (
The Fiji Sun, September 6) with his photograph and the headline "Coup was illegal: Samy". He denies saying that, but it brings a smile or scowl to the face, but which face or faces!

I’m not sure who all the 45 members of the NCBBF are but they include Mahendra Chaudhry, who must have got wind of the treason charge as he resigned from the council a few weeks ago and is now defending himself with a phalanx of political jargon. There are another 44 other people on that guilty council list. They include academics, traditional chiefs, business people, trade unionists, a woman from an NGO and a priest who has spent many years helping the poor.

Obviously this is a meddling priest. We all know that there only around half the nation live in poverty or damn near it. This priest says so little about the other half of the population. Now, there is prejudice for you, and as we learned from Qarase – treason!

Mick Beddoes, the former leader of the Opposition, is an interesting guy. Big in body, bold in voice and so convinced that he is right. He has now publicly supported the treasonous charge brought by Qarase and company against the army and those nasty NCBBF members.

But, wait, there is more. If you had watched the
Fiji TV news on Monday, September 8, there was a news item saying that Mick, the man, has joined the NCBBF when it started. He attended the meeting, took the allocated allowances and then resigned. So Mick, the man must also want to be in court in the defendants’ box when the treason trial begins. Good man, that Mick is, he recognises the error of his ways, and is preparing to suffer the consequences. I don’t know if he is Catholic or Methodist or whatever, but on St Helena, I am sure the Archbishop will give Mick good Christian counselling.

This Mikado story took another turn today. A former Fiji police commissioner said in a serious voice, so we would not laugh, that it would be difficult for the present police commissioner to be impartial in his investigations of the Qarase accusations, when he is also mentioned in the complaint, as being implicated in the coup.

Let me end with Major Lewini, the government spokesperson who seems to be
always lost for words, but who can make up for it with scowls and a few mumbled key phrases. Today he inferred that Qarase and his team are having foul fun and no good would come out it. Other men make the humour, Lewini is the straight man. We do need a reality check in Fiji, or at least in Suva, where all this stage cavorting is going on.

Last Sunday on TV, the interviewer was conducting a serious discussion on proposed new rules for the next general election. He said to one of the participants who was talking about recreating part of the political past, that the boat has already left the wharf. A neat metaphor.

The way I see it, the boat left the wharf during December 2006 and it’s getting further away. It’s difficult to see when it’s going to return and when it does, will it hit the wharf with a great wallop and damage both the people and the goods on board?

From endangered Pasifika journos to chiefly titles

IT wasn't so long ago that Malia Sio was lamenting on her recent blog over the apparent "demise" of Pacific journos, especially from her Aotearoa viewpoint after swapping her radio work and on the Samoa Observer plus the Tribune for a NZ j-course. She noted that only two other Pasifika students out of a programme of 25 were with her doing journalism at the revamped Whitireia course. But actually, this is better than most in NZ. (AUT has 54 media students but that's out of a programme with a total of 800 plus students. The good news though is that AUT now has a dedicated Pacific journo course on the books - the first in NZ for 17 years!) Malia has also had a crack at the lack of understanding and respect by some NZ media of the use of matai and other Pacific chiefly titles. For example, Pacific Island Affairs Minister Luamanuvao Winnie Laban would correctly be addressed as Luamanuvao throughout a news story after the first instance when the full name is given. Prominent journalist Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin (Tagata Pasifika) is another example - but his chiefly title is rarely given the respect it deserves in the media. The price of being a journo? But in these days of muddled name styles, many papers that usually dispense with honorifics, also ditch titles - regardless of whether they're Pasifika or palagi.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

TVNZ upgrade planned for Pacific partners

IT'S good to see Television New Zealand taking the Pacific region more seriously. Economic self-interest for sure - just look at the Olympic success of the Pacific Service. But there is also a sincere attempt at contributing to New Zealand's aspirations in the region as the basis of its report to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee - in a rather more holistic way than Australia seems to manage. A pity that our newspapers don't follow the lead with better regional coverage.

New Zealand was actually a television pioneer in the region. It first set up broadcasts by the fledgling Niue Broadcasting Service in 1988. And it quickly followed this pilot project with TV start-ups in the Cook Islands (1989), Nauru (1991), Fiji (1991) and Samoa (1991). The 1991 Rugby World Cup was an impetus for this. TVNZ also provided nightly feeds of Network News gratis to these broadcasters until 2005, when it lost the use of the satellite providing the transmission. Then higher costs forced TVNZ to take a good hard look at its overall model for the region. Over the past few years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has footed the bill for seven hours of news broadcasts a week and a grab-bag selection for four hours a week - programmes like Close Up, Tagata Pasifika and Mucking In being in the mix.

Now, mindful of the competition in the region from broadcasters like the ABC and Australian Television with far more resources, TVNZ is stepping up for the challenge to boost the NZ presence in the region. Its proposal, first raised in October 2007, and reworked the other day before the select committee, offers three scenarios:
  • Immediately expanding the current service from 11 to 15 hours a week - and then to 20 hours a week further down the track. The bill? $320,000 a year.
  • Creating a Pacific Broadcasting Trust starting in the 2008/9 financial year. About $1 million would be spent over three years to "assist broadcasters in the Pacific increase the numbers of viewers they can reach".
  • Developing a dedicated TVNZ Pacific Channel from the 2009/10 financial year. And this would cost around $2.24 million a year. Expect this to be one of the topics for discussion at PIMA 2008.
The state-owned broadcaster sees a definite payoff for the country: "An expansion of the Pacific Service would be a simple and cost-effective (as it would extract greater value out of the public funding already spent on TVNZ7) New Zealand foreign policy initiative in the region."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Roll on PIMA - 'Pac2theFuture'

IT'S countdown time again for the PIMA fono at AUT - this year's theme is "Pac2theFuture"! Aaron Taouma, Chris Lakatani and team are planning a big day with artists and the new media as well as a shakedown on life in the mainstream for Pasifika journos. Dawn Raid, King Kapisi and Onesian are in the frame. Great stuff. It's being planned for the AUT conference centre on October 10 with networking drinks after all the raves. More info over at PIMA's new look website and Google group. And watch for the AUT student journos on the scene, and John Pulu with BCS2 mates who are planning a video effort.

Last week's Media Diversity Forum, organised by the Human Rights Commission and the Pacific Media Centre on the Nga Wai o Horotiu marae (AUT), was a success with the highlights being Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo'o Stephen Stehlin and Asia Downunder's Bharat Jamnadas. Not too many palagi mainstream media movers, but plenty of Pasifika shakers ... and a host of brown students! None of the eight tenured palagi journalism staff from AUT were there - all "too busy" to get a fresh view outside the square. If j-schools can't set the pace, then what hope is there for changes out there in mahogany row? Fiji-born Jamnadas regaled the audience with amusing anecdotes of resistance in mainstream TV because of his "accent" and experiences, but gave an insightful account of the progress of a programme that leaves TV3's Sunrise, for example, for dead. His experiences echoed those of many Pacific journalists who have migrated to NZ from the region with strong reputations but battle to even get a look in with monocultural newsrooms. (And his story was picked up as lead "highlights" item on AMIC's Alternative Media portal in Singapore. Scoop also linked to the PMC coverage).

Sometimes Pacific journos eventually get a break, like Rebecca Singh as weekend news anchor of TV3. She was the best news presenter on Fiji TV, and she's now the best on TV3 too, if only they would fully recognise it. Cafe Pacific reckons she should quit NZ and team up with Al Jazeera, the best Asia-Pacific news programme broadcast in this country (but only scheduled snippets on Triangle) by far! Sometimes the Pasifika expatriates head back again, like Fiji's best political reporter, Riyaz Sayed-Kaiyum, who ended up back in Suva as Radio Fiji's CEO after a stint with Asia Downunder. But this political appointment created a loss to the journalism cutting-edge.

During the forum, a couple of new Pacific media books were launched by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres - Media and Development (25 Pacific contributors) and South Pacific Islands Communication (15 contributors) were "courageous" publications, he said. What a contrast with the single so-called "Diversity" chapter in the recently revised edition of the JTO journalism textbook Intro - this is so underdone it isn't much use as a teaching resource. Incidentally, congratulations to Justin Latif (Western Leader) and Melissa Davies (TV3) who won runner-up prizes in the Whitireia diversity reporting award this week - both AUT graduates and they were among the AUT graduates and current students who made up half the award shortlist, far more than any other j-school. Picture: Alan Koon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fiji: Love thy neighbour as a last resort

The “chilling” of a free press in Fiji means local journos are often reluctant to come out with their frank views so they turn to blogs like this as an outlet. I get frequent dispatches from a variety of local journos, and here is one about the "Fiji Magna Carta" Café Pacific would like to share:

The Fiji military had only a few warm days of love from the public after they had executed the fourth coup in December 2006. Many Fijians and Indo-Fijians welcomed the army intervention into their lives as they watched Prime Minister Qarase and his government leave their official homes and hand over their government issued four-wheel drives.

The army quickly accused Qarase of corruption. Chief Justice Fatiaki was also accused of corruption and suspended on full pay, but 18 months on little has happened to prove either man guilty or innocent. The courts seem clogged up or fogged up in their decision-making. They have still even answered the basic question - was the Constitution abrogated when Bainimarama and his gun-toting soldiers took over the nation? The government was kicked out with guns pointing at them, the President dismissed and then reinstated. Yet we have had a key organisation like the Fiji Human Rights Commission saying the Constitution might still be in place and we should await a decision from the courts. Really!

Even a number of judges are convinced the Fiji Constitution has gone the way of all flesh, and they are not waiting for the High Court to tell them otherwise. Justice Gerard Winter said the “risk to the maintenance of the rule of law was too great a price to pay” and Justice French questioned the ethics of taking up a job in Fiji with the comment that “it comes at too high a price”.

The military has been active during its reign. CEOs have lost their jobs overnight. Others have been appointed, then dismissed without warning and replaced. This has been the modus operandi in Fiji for the last 18 months. Two expatriate publishers working for the two main newspapers have been deported on the first plane out of the country without their families. The full reasons for deportation have never been given.

An army officer soldier is now the police chief. TV has an army officer watching them on a daily basis. Journalists get regularly taken to the army camp to be intimidated with soldiers strutting around, enduring long interrogations and spending time in a cell. The most recent case was a newspaper journalist who was several months pregnant.

Files are seized without warning from offices during sudden raids. Few files are returned and few charges have been laid. The feeling among thinking citizens is that the army is gradually tainting its reputation by acting as if it always has had the moral high ground. The most recent example was when the army commander, who is also the interim Prime Minister, collected just under $200,000 for his untaken leave. In any other organisation he would have been forced to take the leave or he would have lost it.

The army decided to make its own summer. It established a 45 person committee to prepare a
People's Charter, a modern Fiji Magna Carta to help the poor and oppressed, make jobs and eliminate racism and corruption. The People’s Charter is to reform Fiji and lead it onward to a prosperous and harmonious future. That is the sales pitch. It proposes to help the poor and there are certainly enough of them. One third of the nation lives below the poverty line. Many of them struggle to make a livelihood in dirty inhumane conditions. Five years ago a survey identified 182 squatter settlements, today there are more than 200 with a population of around 100,000. According to Wadan Narsey, an economist and academic, the poor have been expanding at 1% a year since 1987. Mr Rabuka, are you listening?
When it was drafted it was to be presented to the people for their approval. Many good citizens agreed to help with its work – academics, lawyers, church officials, business people and some NGOs. The draft of the People's Charter devised by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF) is now out and about and being distributed around the country. There are 200,000 copies printed in three
languages.

The draft charter has numerous recommendations for improving health, education and helping the poor, but there are only a few recommendations in it requiring legislative changes. One key proposal is for the electoral voting system to be reformed to a proportional representation system with each person having only one vote for one candidate in any general election. Racial elements in the voting system are to be dismembered.

All citizens will be called Fijians and all government records reflecting racism will be erased. And at this moment a huge campaign has begun by the NCBBF to spread the word around the country about the content and principles in the draft charter. The public are invited to read the charter and attend a series of public meetings. At the end of these meetings the public will be offered a form to sign saying that they approve or disapprove of the charter. On the surface this seems a harmless action, but both the Secretariat boss of the NCBBF and an academic of the University of the South Pacific have publicly said that if more than half the population think the Charter is a good idea, and they say so by ticking the approval part of their forms, this action could be seen as taking part in an unofficial referendum. If over half the nation says they approve of the charter ideas the military will love them and so will the NCBBF.

While the NCBBF seems to be full of good men and women who are doing their best to lead Fiji forward by “change, peace and progress”, it is apparent that the hard work of consultation and listening to the views of the nation means damn all to the military, who have already made their minds up that the charter will become the blueprint for developing Fiji.

Now events have moved towards a bitter winter of discontent. The military want the charter to be accepted. Other groups want it to fail. Former Prime Minister Qarase has denounced the charter and he has a big following with his political party. The Methodist Church with its dubious record of supporting previous coups, but not the present one, has become moralistic and pure and talks about democracy. This is the most important church in the country as far as the indigenous Fijians are concerned. Recently, NCBBF took around copies of the charter to the Methodist church office only to have them refused and returned.

Ironically, this event was caught on cameras and made the 6 pm news.
The Methodist leaders rejected the Charter without even discussing it. Some traditional chiefs have also come out against the charter. Each day the newspapers have yet another article about the charter and numerous letters.

So where do we go from here? There are meetings planned by the NCBBF to take place in most of the towns and villages in Fiji. Here they will gather public opinion. Their hard work comes to a peak in October when the President will be presented with the draft of the People’s Charter and any amended recommendations. It will then be up to the ailing President and the army commander to say what the next moves will be. My guess is that the army will quickly want to get the electoral system changed to one with proportional representation. Only then can an election day can be scheduled and the military will be able to say with a straight face that they are planning to return the country to democratic rule. In the meantime they bluster, bully the media and blame Australia and New Zealand for not supporting a coup!

What will to be decided after October is crucial to Fiji’s future. Decisions made by the President, the army commander and his hidden supporters will clearly be undemocratic, but they should lead towards a sunny summer day of democracy in either 2009 or 2010.

Do the citizens of Fiji live in hope? All, I hope, live so.

Last word on a tired controversy

Over at the PIMA.Nius google group, the Clydesdale controversy that stirred up such a fuss in May has been dubbed the "heavy horse" saga. Cafe Pacific hasn't bothered to focus much on this issue as the Clydesdale report was so far off the wall - and never deserved the media beat-up that it got in the first place. But it is good that the Human Rights Commission report this week has finally cleared the air. Here is Aaron Taouma's take on the affair:

Today was the end of the "Heavy Horse" saga or so I thought.
The New Zealand Diversity Forum 2008 ended with the presentation of a report back to the community from the Human Rights Commission and
delivered by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.
The report entitled
Pacific Peoples in New Zealand was commissioned in response to the events surrounding the release of Massey University lecturer Dr Greg Clydesdale's discussion paper and the subsequent frontpage publication on 20 May 2008 by the Dominion Post of parts of that paper.
The purpose of the review was to look into:

  • The release of the discussion paper and its impact
  • The available data on the social, economic, and cultural contribution of
    Pacific peoples to New Zealand
  • The available data on the current socio-economic situation of Pacific peoples
    in New Zealand, and
  • Media coverage of the discussion paper.

All this for a mere five paragraphs and a table. That's how much the commission says Clydesdale actually wrote specifically about Pacific peoples in his "report".
In fact, according to the commission, Clydesdale's press release to the media (which got everything going in the first place) was practically everything said in the paper itself – everything about Polynesian immigration that is.
In a 25-page report, supposedly about New Zealand immigration policies, five paragraphs and a table were presented about Polynesian immigration; yet it is this that he sent to the media. Question mark, here = ?
Thus the resultant headline (which I won't even mention because it was so ridiculous), the spun story and the explosion of bigotry that followed (in online blogs, forums and probably in people's bedrooms).
The commission's report outlines the Pacific community response as being, um "angry" and "dismayed." Ah, yeah. But anyway, more to that, it imparts several responses elucidating exactly why the Pacific community was angry, dismayed and pissed off (that's not from the report).
Not that it's just an emotive response. The Clydesdale discussion paper was poorly researched and poorly written. That's quite obvious. The Dom should have done more research into who was sending them a press release, how much credibility that person had and if the claims made in the release were in fact true.
The same goes for Massey University and their claims to uphold academic freedoms and freedoms of speech.
The amazing thing here is that it's not the first time Clydesdale has made statements against "Polynesian immigration" (mostly in The Press) and clearly he has an issue with it. A "race-based" issue.
I commend the commission, and in particular Joris de Bres, for taking up this review and for the thoughtful, well-researched and organised report that has been produced. But really, why on earth do we have to justify, argue and explain these things?

Meanwhile, there was some good stuff at the Media Diversity Forum with an intriguing range of voices - some recorded by Aaron Taouma for the Pacific Media Centre - and speakers such as Arlene Morgan, from the Columbia School of Journalism, and Tagata Pasifika's Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin calling for a two-way "conversation" with the Pacific.

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