Friday, May 22, 2009

A case for change, peace and progress in Fiji

This despatch has been filed by a regular contributor to Café Pacific who was at Thursday’s meeting at the Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University, and supports being a “Friend of Fiji”. As certain journalists and news sources have provided misrepresentations of this meeting and of John Samy’s report, a link below provides the full 75-page document in the interests of fairness and balance:

Commodore, will you dance with me?
THERE was no protest at all when two people who had worked closely with Fiji coup leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama began talking at an informal meeting held on the University of Wellington campus on May 21. Their purpose. How do we improve the New Zealand relationship with Fiji?

The meeting of nearly 40 people was conducted under Chatham House rules. In short, that means people attending the meeting agree keep their mouths shut about who said what and about what was said. So I have to be careful how I explain what happened.

Holding the interest of the audience were Jone Dakuvula and John Samy. Jone Dakuvula is an indigenous Fijian with long links to New Zealand. He has family here and his working life includes holding government posts and non-government posts in Fiji, and he has at times been a human rights advocate and a media commentator.

During the early days of the George Speight ethno-nationalist coup in 2000, Jone was working for the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum in Suva. Jone opposed the coup. One evening he went on Fiji Television to express his disapproval about what had happened. He left the building immediately after this TV broadcast and just missed the chanting crowd of Speight supporters who were incensed at what he said. They had gathered at Parliament, then began walking down the road chanting and firing guns. At the TV building they marched in, smashed the TV studio and looked for Jone.

After the 2006 coup, Jone joined the Secretariat for the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). This was established through Commodore Bainimarama, the army chief. He said the work of the NCBBF in creating a People’s Charter would be one of the key steps towards making Fiji a better country for all.

Who was the other speaker? John Samy. He was born in Fiji and was working for the Fijian government in 1987 when a young army officer called Sitiveni Rabuka seized the country with the first army coup. John was unpopular with Rabuka and soon lost his job. As a highly talented development economist, he went on to join the Asian Development Bank, eventually becoming deputy director-general. Later, he settled in New Zealand, but his links with his home country remained strong.

Key figure
Commodore Bainimarama then took his turn to have a military coup in December 2006. It was not long before John Samy was back in Suva. After talking with the commodore, he became the key figure in the Secretariat for the NCBBF. He worked with Jone Dakuvula and many others to put together a draft of the People’s Charter, a proposed blueprint for the future of Fiji.

People around the country talked about the “pillars” in the proposed charter. Some opponents kicked it all over the media. The NCBBF listened. Two hundred thousand copies of the draft of the People’s Charter were printed in the three different languages, English, Fijian and Hindi, and sent it far and wide all over the country. People were invited to sign a paper saying if they agreed with the draft, disliked it or wanted to change this and that part of it.

Six out of every 10 adults in Fiji approved the ideas in the proposed People’s Charter, and said so, by signing a response form. This was good news for both John and Jone. The army liked the draft charter too and so did the NCBBF members. After a final meeting the NCBBF closed up shop, its work done. Fiji now seemed to be ready to move forward towards restoring democracy

Alas, the country has been adding to its woes since the draft charter was approved. Fiji is now under martial law. There is to be no general election until 2014. People who disagree with the army are either beaten up, threatened or they shut up to save their own skins. Diplomats have been kicked out of the country – New Zealand has been kicked twice with the diplomatic boot.

New Zealand and Australia have been curt, saying they expect Commodore Bainimarama to have a quick general election and then go back to his barracks along with his troops. He thumbed his nose at Australia and NZ – and although we are not shooting at each other, but … if words were bullets…well!

So, as you can see, there was a good reason for these two caring men to meet on that cold Wellington morning and ask, how can we get out of this deepening quagmire?

Creating momentum
I can’t tell you who said what at the meeting – Chatham House rules and secrecy prevail – but the solution seems to start with getting a small group of people in New Zealand and the Pacific region together to begin working behind closed doors to build bridges between Fiji and New Zealand. As one person put it, we need to create a “Friends of Fiji” group.

One speaker commented that the public service of Fiji is weak and has been getting weaker ever since 1987. It needs strengthening and support, otherwise how can any future stability be created and become lasting?

The economy is sinking, said another. Just recently the currency was devalued by a fifth. That decision doesn’t help the four of 10 people in Fiji who live on and near the poverty line. It may cost them up to 20 percent more when they buy essential food items such as tea, coffee, rice and bread.

Another speaker felt the Fiji economy would collapse further and further. He went on to say it wouldn’t do NZ any good either, to see Fiji drop down into a dark hole.

Oh, said another person, China is not only there in the wings, it is already helping Fiji and Commodore Bainimarama. So we may have another factor to cope with as this powerful world player wets their toes on the beaches and political sands of Fiji.

The 1997 Constitution of was abrogated by the President. Judges have been dismissed. After the meeting ended, one academic was heard to say quietly that a “Friends of Fiji” group would need a constitutional lawyer in their small secret team.

Bainimarama is determined to change the electoral voting system in Fiji to make it fairer. So some help is going to be required with the drafting of the new electoral Act. The same person said – we will have to see how much of the abrogated Constitution can be saved or salvaged.

Setting guidelines
A key point of discussion revolved around the President’s dialogue forum, a gathering of all political parties which met to set and accept some guidelines for starting a process back to democracy. There have been at least two meetings, but there are problems. Laisenia Qarase, the former Prime Minister and the leader of the biggest indigenous political party in Fiji, is fighting for his future political life with the army commander. Qarase says he is the rightful elected leader. He won a court appeal, supporting his position.

With the Constitution abrogated it looks like a fight to the finish. Commodore Bainimarama keeps saying Qarase is politically finished. So will these two powerful men talk to each other, and will either listen? That question was certainly in the minds of some of the speakers at the meeting.

So how do we start to go forward and get Fiji and New Zealand talking again…with respect! Someone – a friend – a good friend will probably have to persuade John Key and his Foreign Minister to keep their mouths shut for a while. Someone will have to get the army commander to do likewise. Then the serious talking can begin. Dialogue needs contact between people. The bosses in Fiji will at some time have to come face to face with the bosses in Wellington.

But…but… said someone… there is a travel ban on the Fiji coup leaders and their relatives. Somehow, that restriction needs to be lifted, or become “inoperative” or twisted into “diplomatic jargon” to allow the leaders in Fiji to talk with the new leaders in Wellington.

No one must lose face. That is a Pacific requirement. And if you and I do care about Fiji and its future relationship with NZ – we may have to shut up too when we find out that this dialogue is underway.

Pictured: Top: John Samy (Radio Fiji); Jone Dakuvula (Café Pacific).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'Bula Frank - stop punishing your people in Fiji'

Reporters Without Borders | Reporters sans frontières

Open letter to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama

Commodore Frank Bainimarama
Interim Prime Minister

Suva, Fiji Islands

Dear Prime Minister,

Reporters Without Borders would like to refer you to the decline in press freedom since you promulgated the Public Emergency Regulations 2009 on 10 April, initially for a period of 30 days. These regulations have officialised prior censorship.

Criticism of your government has disappeared from the Fijian media. Political, social and economic news is still being covered but journalists are not able to play their role as Fourth Estate. Fear has taken hold within the news media following a number of arrests of journalists and threatening statements by officials.

The Public Emergency Regulations 2009 give the permanent secretary for information, Lt. Col. Neumi Leweni, full powers to prevent the media from publishing or broadcasting reports that could “give rise to disorder” or “promote disaffection or public alarm.” He has warned on several occasions that those who fail to respect the rules will be arrested and prosecuted. The media have been told to limit themselves to providing “positive” news.

As a result of the regulations, which have been extended until 10 June, soldiers and Information Ministry officials have installed themselves in newsrooms in order to control content and prevent undesirable reports. Around 10 journalists and bloggers have been arrested and several foreign journalists have been expelled.

The journalists who have been detained include Shelvin Chand and Dionisia Turaganbeci, who were arrested on 9 and 11 May for writing an article for the FijiLive news website that was “negative” about you, and Theresa Ralogaivau, who was arrested on 14 May because of an article in the Fiji Times.

Joseph Ealedona, head of the Suva-based regional news agency Pacnews, announced on 14 May that it would be temporarily relocated because of the political situation in Fiji. Journalists based in Suva have told Reporters Without Borders about the fear reigning in newsrooms. Some journalists even refuse to talk as they are scared by the possibility that someone could be monitoring what they say.

Your government seems to be considering taking direct control of certain programmes on Fiji TV and using the Fiji Sun newspaper to publish official information. This would be a veiled and arbitrary form of nationalisation that jeopardises years of editorial independence for these privately-owned news media.

As you know, the international community has adopted sanctions in response to the promulgation and strict implementation of these regulations. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has tried to give Fijians an explanation. He sent all the Fiji news media an editorial on 13 May about the reasons for your military-backed government’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum. None of the media in Fiji carried the editorial, presumably because of censorship.

Your recent decisions suggest that you only tolerate the news media when they do not question your management of the country’s affairs and your government’s legitimacy. Fiji is heading dangerously towards a system of permanent prior censorship.

These policies prevent the international community, including the European Union, from resuming close cooperation with your country. The repressive regulations that you have introduced are punishing the Fijian people and jeopardising the development aid that Fiji’s economy and society need. You have a duty to stop exposing your country to this danger.

We ask you to lose no time in repealing the Public Emergency Regulations, especially articles 16 (1) and 16 (2), which violate the international human rights accords that Fiji has signed. We also urge you, as Prime Minister, to order the security forces to withdraw from newsrooms and to stop arresting journalists.

We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.

Respectfully

Jean-François Julliard
Secretary-General

RSF
47 rue vivienne - 75002 Paris (France)

Tel: 331-4483-8484 / Fax: 331-4523-1151

asia@rsf.org
www.rsf.org


Veteran media freedom champions speak out

New Pacific media freedom group plugs the gaps

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From Fiji to the kanaka Maoli struggle against corporate media














REFRESHING to see West Papua make it into this month's Apia declaration on Pacific media freedom:
Initiate constructively critical awareness programmes supporting media freedoms in areas of high priority like Fiji, West Papua and some small island states including Tuvalu.
However, just why West Papua is mentioned alone outside of the Pacific Islands Forum countries or territories isn't entirely clear. Café Pacific would also similarly bracket the world's youngest nation, East Timor; French-ruled Tahiti and New Caledonia; and the US state of Hawai'i. All of these countries, territories and states have critical indigenous and cultural freedom of expression and free media issues too. On the topic of Hawai'i, Pasifika Foundation Hawai'i executive director Ana Currie, one of the delegates at PFF, has shared an impassioned statement among colleagues. Now it is also being shared on Café Pacific:

Aloha kakou,

When focusing on protecting the freedom of expression of the peoples of the Pacific, it is important to expand the borders of our minds and hearts to include Hawai'i Nei – Ka Pae ‘Aina – in the circle of Pacific island nations in very real need of our attention and inclusion.

There are often statements in the Pacific about Hawai'i being “too American,” but just as you would never reject Tahiti and her islands as being “too French” or West Papua for being “too Indonesian,” it might be helpful to reflect on the fact that the sovereign, independent nation of Hawai'i, which has never been legally extinguished, is suffering under a very heavy load of occupation and deprivation of rights. The fact that Hawai'i is considered a state of the USA is a painful one, and one which would hopefully never be used as a reason to exclude Hawai'i from Pacific regional organisations. For those of who who are interested, I’ve included a short summary of the statehood vote fraud after this comment.


While the dangers of media freedom in Hawai'i are much different from those of, for example, Fiji, where media suppression is done at the point of a gun, it may be very instructive to examine what has happened to news in Hawai'i, where the flow of information is increasingly under control of mainland US corporate control. You will never see kanaka Maoli issues accurately or fairly reported in mainstream television or print news in Hawai'i. As in the rest of Pasifika, we are very grateful for the growing influence of internet-based media, but the fact remains that the majority of people receive their news from the corporate outlets, which have their own various agendas – making it very difficult for the average consumer of news to develop anything even close to an informed opinion about Maoli issues.


The Pacific has already had a small taste of these kinds of effects with the controversy over the Barbara Dreaver "guns, gangs and drugs" in Samoa story. Although Dreaver has attracted a lot of personal animosity in Samoa for this story, in my mind the issue is not about Dreaver at all, but about the style in which the story was presented by ONE News; although the basic facts of the story may be true, the real issues are almost lost in the dramatisations, which are more like “info-tainment” than real news.

I’ve watched over the years as the American corporate trend of sensationalising news has crept into the New Zealand media. Dreaver’s story was just like every single news item one could watch on American television every night. In this case, the story happened to come up against the national pride of Samoa and thus became a issue in and of itself, but hundreds of stories like this are aired every week in the US and generally the subjects don’t have the critical mass (as in the case of Samoa) or the energy or funds, to lodge a protest about the way the story was told. People have just come to accept it.


This trend is something we need to find a way to resist if true Pacific media freedom is to be achieved. While situations like those in Fiji need priority support, we also need to be on guard against Pacific media becoming gradually overtaken by corporate interests from outside the region and/or being submerged under the tidal wave of dumbed-down, sensationalised pseudo-news, a trend that started in the US and is sweeping across the planet. If we allow outside corporate media to frame and control perspectives and information, the voice of the Pacific may be lost in the din.


Part of the work that Pasifika Foundation Hawai'i does is to encourage and support independent Maoli media in Hawai'i. One such initiative is The Hawaii Independent, a new print and online publication launched by a current PFH staff member, Ikaika Hussey. This publication seeks to report mainstream and Maoli news and to “set a new standard for Hawai'i-based media, with a fundamental ethic of non-partisanship, probing investigation and analysis, robust debate, and democratic dialogue.”


Aloha pumehana, malama pono,

Ana

The Hawai'i Statehood Fraud
In 1945, leaders of nations gathered to sign a UN Charter which called for self-governance of territories under colonial-style conditions, and in 1946, the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 66 in which specific U.N. members and the respective territories under their rule were named. The United States became obligated under a "sacred trust" to bring about self-governance to Alaska, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Panama Canal zone, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

Over the years, the term “self-governance” was clarified to mean that the people of the territory must be offered choices of how they would relate to the UN member - integration, free association, or independence. Many countries around the world began to emerge from de-colonisation through this process. But in Hawai'i, the legal process went totally awry. Rather than permitting the three choices called for by the U. N, the United States limited the choice, placing only one question on the 1959 statehood ballot, "Shall Hawai'i immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?" A yes response resulted in Hawai'i’s integration into the US as a State. A no vote would have resulted in continued territorial status in the US (also a form of integration). The choices of free association or independence were never presented to the people. The vote was boycotted by many kanaka Maoli and the members and families of the occupying military forces were allowed to cast votes!

The United States then reported to the UN General Assembly in 1959 that Hawai'i had exercised its right to self-governance and in doing so, elected to become a State, it convinced that assembly to remove Hawai'i from the list of territories subject to self-governance. This was nothing less than outright fraud.
Picture: Kanaka Maoli activists, including Hawaii Independent publisher Ikaika Hussey, protesting at the University of Hawai'i over an intrusion by the US Navy in 2005. Photo: Uriohau

Barbara Dreaver fights off smear campaign
'Gangsta paradise' story and a Samoan media vendetta
PIMA chair resigns in fallout from Samoa story
The Hawaii Independent

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sugar-coated offers from Beijing?

SO THE 30,000 Fiji Islanders directly affected by the sugar industry are now being made to suffer – along with another 200,000 people whose livelihoods are in some way linked. Just days before the harvesting season seriously gets under way. While the politicos and media flacks in New Zealand and Australia are rubbing their hypocritical hands with glee, cane growers are wondering how to survive. Now that the European Union has confirmed it will not be paying the 2009 sugar allocation for sugar industry reform (worth more than $US30 million) for the second year running, it is a matter of looking to Plan B. The EU has blocked the sugar assistance because of the military-backed regime’s refusal to return the country to democratic rule (until 2014).

When the funds were first suspended, Fiji was found to have breached the Cotonou agreement between the EU and the ACP bloc of countries (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific). Speculation was rife about whether Fiji regime censorship would gag this story, but it has at least slipped past the censors on Fijivillage News and Fiji Daily Post websites. Fijivillage added that it had been told that regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama said – before flying out to sugar meetings in Guyana and Brussels - that the governments of Australia and NZ were “trying to collapse the Fiji economy”.

Sabotage in other words. And yet another relentless push into railroading Fiji further into the arms of China and chequebook diplomacy. Chinese aid to Fiji has soared after the December coup - from $US23 million in 2006 to $US160 million in 2007 and still climbing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fiji media freedom - news from another angle

By Crosbie Walsh

RADIO NZ reports that the Fiji government will soon sign an agreement with Fiji TV for a government channel to broadcast from two to seven hours a week. Government also plans to sign an agreement with the Fiji Sun to include a 12-page weekly report on government policies and programmes. A new media law decree is also likely to be introduced when the emergency regulations expire next month.

Government stands internationally condemned for its "infamous" emergency regulations -- and restrictions on "media freedom" that were the main purpose of the regulations. Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) would even like to see the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) remove its offices from Suva because of current press censorship.

There is no question that, in normal circumstances, the media should be free, and no question either that in all circumstances the media should publish fair, honest, informed and balanced reports. Anything less is media negligence, media licence or sheer propaganda, not media freedom. It is not enough for people within the media to protest. Freedom has to be earned. Others, outside the media, will decide where the pendulum rests between "freedom" and "licence."

My crude "contents analysis" of the Fiji media since my blog started is that it often fell short of its stated goals. Its idea of balance, as stated in earlier posts, was usually to publish one statement from the government and one each from up to five government opponents, making the tally not 1:1 but 1:5. Its selection of news was also biased, focusing far more frequently on what someone said government got wrong than on what the government was trying to do.

While not in agreement, I have some sympathy, therefore, for Permanent Secretary of Information Lt. Col. Neumi Leweni when he said: “If I was given the choice, I’d leave [the censorship controls] there for the next five years, ” thereby making it clear that Fiji media should not expect to go back to reporting the "irresponsible" way they did prior to April 10 when the Public Emergency Regulations were enacted. He said the controls would be lifted if media organizations agreed to willingly follow the direction that was being set by his ministry.

While this may seem Orwellian and outright draconian, Leweni does have a point. Much reporting, he said:
constantly focused on the negative ... [and] carried one-sided and sensationalised stories in its coverage of politics, crime and most other events.

The government’s position is you feed the public with bad things and it registers. In some instances it could lead to people doing whatever is being published. You’d be surprised if you asked the police for statistics on people breaking the law. They’ll tell you it’s dropped tremendously in the past month. It’s to do partly with the media. You feed the public good things and shape public perception with positive things, they will react accordingly. When you dish out negative issues and a lot of other things like crime, etc, it gets to people and in the end they produce those sorts of activities themselves.

From my discussions with people on the streets, they actually appreciate the news more now with a lot of positive issues being addressed ... and it’s also come from government departments that they’re now getting calls from reporters on positive stories whereas before, a lot of them were reluctant to answer questions because it was based mostly on negative issues.

It [is said] bad news sells [but] the media is still selling their newspapers....and there are a lot more positive issues being addressed in the media now.
Professor Crosbie Walsh is a former director of the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University, New Zealand. He lived in Fiji for five years and built up the Development Studies programme at the University of the South Pacific. His research interest is as a population and development geographer and in globalisation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meet Herb Bell, a Samoa radio star in the making

ONE of the highlights for Café Pacific’s David Robie at last week’s media freedom seminar in Samoa was meeting up with an 18-year-old blind journalism student – and being interviewed by him live on Fetu FM radio. Herb usually teams up with Ikoke Tauga on his own new current affairs programme. But due to a squeeze on David's other commitments, Herb piggybacked his interview on a special edition of Cherelle Jackson’s popular News in Focus show. The topic? Media issues raised by one of David’s earlier books, The Pacific Journalist (2001), which he produced with a team from the University of the South Pacific and around the region. It is used as a standard text at the USP and National University of Samoa j-schools (and at many other institutions). Café Pacific just heard the other day from USP that it has now sold the last copy.

Herb asked David did he have plans for another edition. The short answer was no, certainly not in that form. A regional resource like that is useful, but it's best for j-schools in the Pacific to develop their own culturally specific books and resources. David is working on another book, but this is very wide-ranging and will undoubtedly be controversial in media circles.

All his life, Herb has wanted to be a journalist. Right from a young age he was inspired by the “Talofa lava, here is the news” voices and vowed to do the same one day. Secondary schooling at St Joseph’s College served to boost his journalism ambitions. “TV stuff like script writing, documentaries and voice overs, like at the South Pacific Games, gave me some opportunities,” he says. He has a natural voice and an acute sense of politics, social justice and issues – arguably more so than others of his own age. He has topped a current affairs class and has generally hovering around the top of his other classes.

Initially, he had a hiccup on getting into the j-programme at NUS because of the lack of resources for students with disabilities. Fortunately, an appeal was lodged and he got a second chance and as well as being a model student himself, he has taken a lead at NUS in developing Braille software and other facilities for fellow students.

Herb shared time at the seminar with other NUS students, such as Beauman Fuimaono Reti, Martha Taumata, Unumoe Esera and Lanuola Tupufia. For all of them, rubbing shoulders with some of the region’s media freedom “champions”and hearing insights from them was an inspiring experience.

Herb and Ikoke’s young programme is heard live on Thursday evenings on Fetu FM 93.7 and 104.1 from 7.30pm to 8pm. It is a lively blend of “music and attitude” - hip hop, r & b and rock, requests and some “good listening” commentaries. And already in its short life, the show has stirred some controversy. An item about “young people drinking during school time” earned the wrath of some Apia parents. Why did Herb have to name and shame the school involved, they asked? Course tutor Vicky Lepou, one of David’s journalism graduates from USP, deserves a mention here in support of Herb’s emerging career. So too, Cherelle, for her encouragement for young journos in the making like Herb.

Future plans? Herb hopes to get a job with the radio station when he graduates and eventually go to the United States and learn from radio greats. All power to you, Herb and Ikoke, you’re an inspiration to the new media generation.

Pictured: Top and middle: Herbert Bell (NUS journalism student) and David Robie on Fetu FM. Above: David Robie with former students Francis Pituvaka (Solomon Islands), Vicky Lepou (Samoa) and Esther Tinning (Vanuatu) at the Pacific Freedom Forum seminar in Apia.

Netani Rika's brand of Fiji 'courage under fire'

OUTSPOKEN Cook Islands publisher and broadcaster George Pitt ruffled a few Pacific feathers with the most unpopular comment of the week at the highly successful UNESCO-funded Article 19 media freedom seminar in Samoa. Speaking after an off-the-record session about the future of PINA, he stunned Pacific Freedom Forum stalwarts in Apia by branding Fiji journalists as a “bunch of wimps” for their allegedly compliant acceptance of the military regime’s draconian censorship since Easter weekend.

Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika replied on behalf of the four-member Fiji contingent: “I have been threatened, bullied and intimidated. My car has been smashed, my home firebombed. Despite this, my staff and I are still there. We remain committed to the ideals of a free media. I resent the allegation that we are wimps.” A day earlier, Rika had given an impassioned and inspiring plea for the defence of a free media in Fiji.

He spoke of the difficulty of making such a public address at the seminar when “you know that everything you say has the potential to be a threat to the very existence of 180 people with whom you work and close to 1000 who depend on them for a living”. He soundly criticised the inconsistencies of the censors and police henchmen:
In Fiji it is often the case that rules can change from day to day without warning or explanation. As days and weeks have passed, the number of censors has increased, as has the number of police officers. These enforcers of the law are no longer in plain clothes and sometimes take on the duty of the censors, deciding what we are permitted to print.

What, you may ask, are we permitted to print?
Basically any story on government must put the interim regime in a positive light or it will not be permitted. No views contrary to those of the interim government are permitted – even if balance is provided in the form of a comment from a minister of state or a senior public servant.
After the ill-fated “blank stories” edition of the Sunday Times – when the paper was threatened with closure if it repeated this protest, the Fiji Times group was forced to strategise on how to deal with the censorship.
What, then, do we do next? We have decided to go about our daily assignments in the normal manner. Our journalists and photographers cover every possible assignment attempting to get as many sides of the story as possible. Yes, we continue to cover stories which do not portray the interim government in a good light. Those stories are assigned to pages and go to the censors each day. More often than not these stories are declared unfit for consumption by the people and are knocked back by the censors.

The next day we cover every assignment again – including the stories which the interim government does not want – and inundate the censors with copy.
Sometimes the stories get through, at other times they are spiked. It is an extremely frustrating exercise.

Last week a domestic airline was forced to close because of financial difficulties which are not linked to the current regime.
Our business writer prepared comprehensive coverage, covering all angles of the story, providing fact files, historical background – a masterpiece from a young journalist. The censor on duty did not allow our reports to run unless we carried a quote from a specific minister. We refused and pulled the story.

The following day we placed the same stories in front of a different censor – No worries, the issue was covered, albeit a day late.
It is safe to say that the greatest challenge we face with censorship is inconsistency. What we may or may not cover is at the discretion or more often the whim of the censor on duty.
On May 10, the Public Emergency Regulation was extended for a further 30 days.
A plethora of blog sites has sprung up spewing Fiji stories, rumour, gossip and speculation into cyber-space. Most of this news is accessible only to the small portion of the community which has access to the internet. Unable to halt the onward march of the bloggers, Fiji’s rulers have resorted to ordering the closure of internet cafes from 6pm each evening in an attempt to stem the tide.

But how does it stop the coconut wireless which for generations has provided steady – if not entirely factual – news in countries around the region?


But we gather this week to discuss courage under fire.
To say that Fiji’s media has been under fire since December 2006 is no exaggeration.
Picture of Fiji Times editor-in-chief Netani Rika in Samoa by David Robie.

Rika's courage under fire
The 'sulu censors'
Too much pressure

Sunday, May 10, 2009

'Gangsta paradise' story and the Samoan media vendetta





IF YOU believed the partisan Samoan press about TVNZ’s Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver over the past month, you could be forgiven if you thought she was about to be dispatched on a a witch’s broom to a fiery rendezvous, or simply burnt at a stake outside Aggie Grey’s. She has become Samoan tourism and the media’s public enemy number one. Her April 6 TVNZ report on “guns, gangs and drugs” has been getting a terrible hammering lately in the Apia press and around the media traps. Such is the level of venom, that the issue even forced its way as chief topic at a talanoa session one evening at the UNESCO-funded media freedom conference last week. (A welcome relief from the focus on Fiji). The TVNZ report (and sequel) has generally been branded as a “hatchet job” by Samoa's Newsline, for example, and a Sunday Samoan “editorial” referred to the “evil side of journalism”.

A series of articles, distorted, and – in many cases – clearly defamatory and malicious, have made Barbara Dreaver the target of hostility. Such has been the level of animosity that Dreaver was even reluctant to travel to Apia to take part in this Pacific Freedom Forum debate. She had fears for her safety. How sad and demeaning for Pasifika journalism that one of the people who has worked so hard to build up the Pacific affairs media profile – mostly very positive – in the New Zealand television media scene should be treated in such a vindictive and unprofessional manner. Café Pacific’s David Robie said as much at the Apia talanoa.

The TVNZ programme does have flaws, of course – as much journalism does, once it is put under an intense public forensic microscope. But there is due process to follow here – file a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority and get an independent adjudication based on the facts, not selective and emotive personality attacks. (At least, the Samoan government has finally embarked on this process). How quickly some of the region’s journos descended to the dog-eat-dog level has been a disappointing spectacle. Perhaps some of the Samoan editors have selectively forgotten about “fairness and balance” and they appear to have a perfunctory grasp of media law. Newsline in its May 6 edition even repeated many of the defamatory statements with a frontpage headline claiming “Barbara Dreaver threatens Newsline” (when she is merely trying to get her side of the story heard). Newsline’s Pio Sioa, in an editorial note, offers a lame duck explanation about why the newspaper didn’t run Dreaver’s side of the story in the first place (namely her sworn affidavit of April 22 publicly released by TVNZ in the absence of actually talking to her):
The [daily] Samoa Observer published the affidavit in an issue ahead of [weekly] Newsline and it left little recourse but for Newsline to make reference to it only.
So fairness and balance at Newsline has deteriorated to the level of making a judgment based on what the opposition newspaper has done? Nonsense. Also, maybe nobody told the editor that while a lawyer’s “defamatory” letter is protected by privilege, republishing the statements in the paper is not. Café Pacific notes that Barbara Dreaver has engaged one of New Zealand’s top media barristers, Simpson Grierson’s William Arkel, in her corner. Good luck, you media fellas in Apia, we hope your anti-gangsta vendetta doesn’t take you to the cleaners.

Not everybody in Samoa is deluded by the Samoan pro-tourism press smokescreen. Take this indignant blog posting as a footnote:
Barbara Dreaver [has] exposed a weakness in our culture … dissenting youths who are on fringe of society!!
The clampdown on the Barbara Dreaver [programme] is all about ensuring the reputation of Samoa to tourist is seen as gangsterless and ok under matai control. All for big dollars eh? How about the safety of the locals? None whatsoever is there any media concerns about our people's safety. When the Vaiala government paid pulenu’u (village mayor) and his gang attack innocent women children over disputed lands, the government did not give a sh%*t about the local women and children's welfare! Now everyone's jumping on the bandwagon of tourist safety as a justification for denying Dreavers article on the existence of gangs in Samoa! As a Samoan who had been abused and clamped down by Samoan gangsters led by Samoan public servant, the pulenu'u, I would say, Ms Dreaver exposed the truth about Samoa which some of us have suffered at the hands of government-endorsed gangster like the Vaiala pulenu'u who continues to harass and exert power over helpless women and the disabled ....
- Barbara Dreaver debater!
Picture of Barbara Dreaver by Pacific Media Centre's Alan Koon.

Pacific reporter fights off smear campaign
NZ drug trade fuels Samoa gun smuggling [video 4:51]
Drugs, guns and gangs in Samoa: Barbara Dreaver explains
[video 2:50]
Barbara Dreaver on journalism and integrity


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Media freedom advocates advise Pacnews: Dump Fiji















PACIFIC media freedom advocates meeting in Apia, Samoa, this week did their best to keep the Fiji censorship problem in proportion and give other regional issues a good hearing. But it was tough. The Fiji challenge kept bubbling to the surface, leading to a spirited debate on the future of PINA at one session and feisty calls for the regional news service Pacnews to get out of Suva at others. Fiji dominated all the speeches on the opening day with several of the region's media freedom heavyweights giving the regime a hard time - but they also warned that the young generation coming through into the industry should not be seduced by government freebies. Some quick thoughts:

Savea Sano Malifa (Samoa Observer): Go for the hidden stories without compromise.

Netani Rika (The Fiji Times): “How do we build ... courage? Simply, by not backing down.”

Kalafi Moala (Taimi Media Network): PINA and Pacnews must not stay silent.

Russell Hunter (Samoa Observer): It's "appalling" that Pacnews and PINA are staying put in Fiji.

The Pacific Freedom Forum made some tremendous advances at this UNESCO-funded seminar. More in a later blog, but in the meantime Pacific Media Centre has a report and here is the final communique.

Picture: Participants at the Article 19 media freedom seminar in Samoa. Photo: PFF.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

'What do you expect, a kiss on both cheeks?'

PREDICTABLY, the Fiji military regime reacted defiantly over the inevitable Pacific Islands Forum suspension. Acting PM Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum seized on the lack of protocol, condemning the PIF for announcing the move by press release first before delivering a diplomatic note to the regime. He also pointed out the hypocrisy in the light of the original coups in 1987 when Sitiveni Rabuka never held elections for five years but didn’t face suspension by the Pacific political body. The entire region is the loser for this action - the first suspension of a PIF member in 39 years. A leading academic from the University of the South Pacific, Dr Steven Ratuva, says the suspension could hurt small Pacific nations more than Fiji. While the international responses have come thick and fast to Fiji’s increasing isolation, Café Pacific notes John Boonstra of UN Dispatch tried to sort out misleading statements by Australian PM Kevin Rudd earlier this week about the Fijian peacekeepers:
For those who may have been following the strange saga of whether or not Fijian troops have been barred from UN peacekeeping missions, the tale may -- or may not -- have taken a twist the other day, when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced rather unequivocally that the UN was not accepting any troops from Fiji.

At issue is the fact that the government of Fiji, which came to power in a coup two years ago, still has not held elections. Since troops going to UN peacekeeping missions would come from Fiji's military, this would indirectly lend support to Fiji's military junta.


Australia and New Zealand have a problem with this, and they have led the effort to make sure that no new Fijian troops join UN peacekeeping missions. Except... Fijian peacekeepers haven't been deployed to new missions since the 2006 coup, and even under current policy, Fijian troops currently deployed -- such as 500 in Iraq -- will not be forced to leave. So it's unclear whether Rudd was articulating standing UN policy, or was calling for stricter measures against Fijian peacekeepers.

The military leader of Fiji, for his part, kindly told Prime Minister Rudd to bug off. We'll see where this goes.
Back in Suva, Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis filed a colour piece along with his exclusive Sky News and Australian interview with military leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama (pictured) giving his 11th hour plea for face-to-face talks with Rudd and NZ Prime Minister John Key – they didn’t take him seriously. The report gave some interesting insights into life with the commander in his lair – the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, where he survived an assassination attempt in November 2000 by rebel elite forces supporting coup leader no 3 leader George Speight:
[Bainimarama] has just shown me the bullet holes that riddle the timber panels of his office in an adjacent building that came under attack by rebel soldiers during the mutiny of 2000.

"We leave it unrepaired to remind us just how close we came to disaster. It was only because I was at lunch in the mess that I survived," Bainimarama says.

"When we realised we were under attack, my security detail rushed me through the back door and down the hill to safety. We were dodging bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. Three loyal soldiers died that day, and we must never forget."

Bainimarama readily concedes that five captured rebels were beaten to death, but denies reports that one had his penis cut off, another his tongue ripped out. Any mention of extrajudicial killings is curtly dismissed. "These people came to kill us. What do you expect, a kiss on both cheeks?"
Meanwhile, tomorrow is World Media Freedom Day – and it has been silenced in Fiji this year following the Easter putsch. A strategic media freedom workshop planned for Suva with UNESCO backing was banned and a hurriedly organised alternative programme was conjured up in Apia, Samoa, thanks to the efforts by Pacific Freedom Forum’s facilitator Lisa Williams-Lahari and her team. But over in Tonga, the fallout from a controversial libel lawsuit has many of the local editors more concerned about a 'wake up call' over media responsibility.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Australia, NZ kick Fiji into the forum dead ball zone

SO THE countdown begins – the moment of truth arrives. By midnight on May Day, the Fiji military regime of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama faces suspension from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum. And given that the regime leader has thumbed his nose at the Forum May 1 deadline for an announcement of elections and a poll by the end of the year, it seems the inevitable will take place. And then the 53-nation Commonwealth, which will take its cue from the forum, undoubtedly will follow suit. The regime is optimistic that the forum won’t take this drastic step right now. Bainimarama wrote an 11th hour letter to the forum explaining the regime’s roadmap ahead leading to a 2014 vote.

But the optimism doesn't appear well founded. Bainimarama's strongest supporter in the forum, PNG prime minister Sir Michael Somare, has apparently deserted the regime and is siding with the Australian and New Zealand isolationist push. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gloated over the claimed United Nations decision not to award any more peacekeeping duties to the Fiji military. The hypocrisy of Australia and New Zealand is deafening. And this can only end badly, even disastrously for the region. The regime is likely to respond with anger. Will it be time to toss out the Australian high commissioner? The forum has never taken such drastic action against a member in almost four decades of virtual “Pacific way” consensus. If it does so this time – excluding the most influential and crossroads island nation of the region – the isolationist policy will come back to the bite the forum in most unpredictable ways.

It will also open the door to a dramatic rise in Chinese influence in the region, at the expense of Canberra and Wellington. It was interesting to see the turnout for the swearing in of Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as Vice-President – ironically the chief was ousted as military commander when Sitiveni Rabuka staged his double coup in May 1987 (against both Dr Timoci Bavadra's Labour government and against his own two higher ranked army officers). Present for Nailatikau were the high commissioners of India, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea and the ambassadors of China and Kiribati. As one of several Fiji correspondents to Café Pacific noted in response to Rudd’s combined statement with Somare about peacekeepers, the media and the forum, the Pacific’s failed policies will simply ratchet up the response and counter-response until what … a counter-coup and ruin for the region?:
It is this form of conduct towards Fiji that has elicited the response we now have. The seriousness and the severity of response will continue apace. So why not choose a smarter approach?

My own view is that the position taken towards Fiji is “lazy”. It is knee-jerk and quite “unsmart” - unless, of course, complete destruction of the Fiji Islands as a state is intended? It appears to be.


In the face of increasing aid from China, it is hard to imagine how or why such an un-nuanced position would be adopted at this juncture? That is precisely why I believe the Commonwealth connection is of paramount importance. All our historical ties are to the Commonwealth of Nations and they have the capacity to understand how to engage with Fiji.


Painting a military regime into a corner is jousting with fire. The fire is already lit. Why would one continue with such utter folly? However, there is obviously an ultimate end in sight. I shudder to think what it might be. No good will come of it. And those of us on the ground in Fiji who have an inkling of what is intended will never ever forgive such an approach.


I should like to remind all those at the Australian National University and in the Australian government that Fiji is not a rugby ball with which one may play as one sees fit. The ordinary people of Fiji deserve better than that. They have suffered for years from what I might call a gung-ho, flippant and off-hand approach from those in this region who ought to have a deeper, more decent, humanitarian concern.


Delivering us all into the furnace is scarcely that?
In a Correspondents' Notebook blog posting earlier this week about the forum deadline, Radio Australia's Bruce Hill leapt to the support of Australia and New Zealand:
For a pair of neo-colonial, ignorant, un-nuanced, non-indigenous bullies with a political system transplanted from the other side of the planet and imposed at musket-point, Australia and New Zealand are very popular places for Pacific islanders to live.
American Samoan congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has hit back at criticism of his meeting with Bainimarama. He has again condemned Australia - and also New Zealand's "shameful" policy over Fiji citizens, saying that Fiji needs dialogue now at this critical time. Café Pacific notes a couple of pieces worth checking out at the Pacific Media Centre - David Robie's round-up of Fiji censorship and David Brooks' focus on the blogosphere. Over at Global Voices, Michael Hartsell examines the crisis of the forced retirees - all those in the civil service over the age of 55. While the Public Service Commission has said more than 1600 public servants are affected by today's deadline (Bainimarama, who turned 55 earlier this week, is exempt), one blog has estimated that the true figure is closer to 2200.

Picture of Voreqe Bainimarama in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, in 2007 in more optimistic times by Scoop co-editor Selwyn Manning.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fiji news media stripped of the usual tempo









FIJI news media seem so banal these days, deprived of their usual gutsy, punchy and lively political stories and debate. Sport has taken over on many front pages. “Gateway” Fijilive – the website that took the world by storm during the George Speight coup in May 2000 – offers headline stories such as hotel bank loans may be linked to local and environmental value, a downtown jewellery theft in Suva and five being held over a murder. But the global scare of the moment on swine flu virus has an impact here too. The odd story like defence chief Ratu Epeli Ganilau being in Tonga (he says the military doesn’t need downsizing) for a regional “security” strategic meeting gets a run. And, of course, a chief headline on Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and his top brass getting gongs for “services to humanity”. A handful of international journalists and some are doing a fine job on the ground - Philippa Tolley of Radio NZ for example. In a Listener article this week, entitled "Sticking to his guns," Rebecca Macfie asks while Bainimarama says he wants a racially fairer electoral system, "are his more self-serving motives catching up with him?"

The regime plans to review the martial law parameters now that the country has endured two weeks of censorship. Hopefully the decrees will be relaxed.

Café Pacific notes a couple of recently posted stories on why many Fiji islanders are turning to the blogs again in droves in an effort to keep abreast of both factual info and the rumours. More fact-based blogs, like Coup Four And A Half have emerged and Croz Walsh’s Fiji continues to do a fine job on analysis (he has just posted a scathing condemnation of TVNZ's Lisa Owen and her parachute beat-up about "civil unrest"). Former Fiji Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Sireli Kini is quoted in the David Brooks story on blogs for AFP as saying:
It's human instinct, people want to know what's happening and when somebody spreads a rumour it spreads like wildfire and it's very destructive… [The blogs] have taken over the role of the conventional journalism by informing the members of the public.
In another article, Pacific Media Centre’s David Robie wraps up the state up of play with the crisis. While the local media remain gagged, more international journalists have filtered in –providing they were” approved” by not being in the regime’s bad books (ie. filing earlier stories that annoyed the military and/or some of its civilian henchmen). He notes that the media have become rather muted, but not for long. He has spoken on the creativity and adaptability of Fiji journalists and opined that they would find other ways to dodge the gag.

Pictured: Colonel Mohammed Aziz (Chief of Staff), Prime Minister Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Commander Land Forces Colonel Pita Driti and Warrant Officer Semesa Leweni at Government House after receiving their awards. Photo: Fiji government portal

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