Thursday, January 31, 2013

Could I even stoop that low?

As a long-time journalist and now a scholar, I am used to basing my articles on solid quotes. Scholars like to quote from published sources and quote verbatim. As a blogger and online journalist, it is nice to be able to provide a link to the source of the quote so that readers can read the whole thing and decide if it backs up what I am saying or whether I am instead misconstruing it or quoting something out of context. But I am not sure I could bring myself to descend as low as some Pacific journalists and, sad to say, media scholars have recently. We have already established that the journalism standards of Graham Davis are very low. Davis seems content to quote a single anonymous source in a full-page smear job, as he did with Yash Ghai. One of Grubby's favorite tactics is to solicit defamation by email and then publish it anonymously. We shouldn't be surprised that a gutter journalist like Davis stoops this low. What is surprising is that one of the region's supposedly foremost (maybe fivemost) media scholars apparently subscribes to the same low standards. I refer, of course, to David Robie's attack on me yesterday. This assault was unprovoked by me and was prompted, from what I can tell, by my blog entries of recent weeks shining some light on the Fiji regime's propaganda efforts. Why the esteemed Professor Robie would object to that, I am not quite sure, but apparently he does not approve. He seems to suspect an ulterior motive on my part and solicited one or more of his correspondents to get to the bottom of it. One of the complaints he came up with was that apparently I like to think that I know what I'm talking about. Quoth one correspondent: "Colleagues said he came to Fiji with a 'superior attitude' and [was someone] who believed he 'knew better than the locals'." Well, I am sorry about that superior attitude of mine. Bad habit. I'll try working on that. It has been mentioned before. Here's something else that might seem like a valid criticism.
“He claims to be standing for media freedom and democracy,” said one Fiji media insider in an email to Café Pacific. “Looks like he doesn’t understand terms. Or is he a hypocrite pretending to fight for media freedom while using the MDA [Media Development Authority] when it suits him?”
The reference here is to my complaint to the Media Authority over the execrable treatment I was subjected to by Legend FM last September. This was at the height of the smear campaign against me. I had dared to state publicly what several others were saying, which is that the Fiji media were obviously practising self-censorship due to uncertainty over how the Media Decree will be applied. It is true that there are things about the Media Decree that I don't like, such as the six-figure fines and two-year prison sentences it provides for journalists. But there are also some things I like about it, including the limits it puts on foreign ownership and cross-ownership of Fiji media. I think that its Code of Conduct for journalists could be a positive feature if it encourages media responsibility, which of course is the necessary flip side of media freedom. And all I'm asking for is a correction and an apology. But the biggest complaint Robie and his chorus seem to have is that I am somehow making all this fuss, such as in my recent interview with Radio Australia, to bolster my claim that I was run out of Fiji by the regime and its propaganda machine.
“Marc sits in Canada rewriting the history of all of this for his own benefit,” one regional media critic notes. “He is creating both the vehicle (RA and Bruce Hill) and the narrative (blame Qorvis/Davis) to build his case that he was drummed out of Fiji for being a regime opponent. He will quote all of this to add lustre and a veneer of believability to whatever account he eventually writes.”
Well, I can only assure you that the reason I left Fiji was indeed the escalating number of complaints by the regime over this blog, which put both my work permit and my safety in jeopardy, according to credible information that reached my ears. There is a concerted attempt to suggest otherwise on the part of people like Professor Robie and Grubby Davis (I just hope they don't sic WhaleOil on me), but this fiction has to be wearing thin by now given the obvious nature of the smear campaign that has been conducted against me by them and others. They somehow seem to think that they can counter my arguments by attacking me personally. Who knows, maybe it'll work. But I got to thinking today that maybe I should follow their lead and publish on this blog some of the nasty things that people tell me about them. Could I stoop that low? It would be difficult for someone who has always tried to adhere to high ethical standards in journalism for 40 years now. I could probably do it, but I'm not sure how good I'd feel about it. Maybe I should just try it once and see how it goes. After all, they're doing it to me. What's sauce for the goose, etc. OK, here goes. I have been sent a number of sympathetic emails since the smear campaign began last April. They come from those who have been subjected to the same kind of treatment by the same scoundrels. Let's leave Grubby Davis aside for a moment, because that would be kinda like piling on. Here is what one regional journalst had to say about David Robie.
When he was in PNG at the Uni he used the newspaper there, Wan Solwara, as a huge promotional tool for himself. Each issue had up to five photos of Robie with students doing this or that. He had his own column and students were encouraged to write about him. One student assignment he ran in the student newspaper that really cracked me up was as essay on how there had been two great Western journalists - Pilger and Burchett. . . . Joining this hugely admirable select group of great journalists, according to Robie's student in this essay in the student newspaper, was none other than David Robie for his marvellous work in the Pacific.
Hmmm. I don't know. I don't feel so good. I feel . . . dirty. I need to have a shower.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pacific media puppetmaster

I was somewhat surprised to see David Robie stick his head above the parapet the other day to take some shots at me. That's not normally his style. Robie can usually be found behind the curtain, throwing levers, pushing people's buttons and pulling their strings. But I have noticed his fingerprints all over the smear campaign that has been ongoing against me since I dared to disagree with his pronouncement (and that of Graham Davis) that the PINA conference last March brought peace to Pacific media. Make no mistake, Robie is the third leg of the Fiji regime's propaganda stool that is more publicly presented by bloggers Davis and Crosbie Walsh. Robie's support for the repression the military dictatorship has inflicted on the country's news media is longstanding and central to justifying the current regime's tight control. In fact, his 2001 "Coup coup land" theory was the very justification for the draconian 2010 Media Decree that provides fines and even prison sentences for journalists. This theory is that the Fiji news media, specifically the Fiji Times, were responsible for the 2000 coup because of their unremitting criticism of the government of the day. They thus cannot be trusted with freedom and must be subject to statutory regulation as in the Media Decree. My reading of the record suggests instead that the Times was practising good solid journalism in most instances in holding the government to account. The 2000 coup and other coups are instead attributable, from what I can see, to the overbearing presence of the military and the lack of any rule of law in Fiji. Robie has been pushing government-friendly alternatives to press freedom in Fiji and elsewhere in the South Pacific, namely "development" journalism, which sees media working in partnership with government to encourage development, and "peace" journalism, which envisions media proactively proposing solutions to conflict in society rather than merely reporting events neutrally. I prefer "watchdog" journalism that holds powerful institutions to account, especially governments.

The one thing Robie cannot stand is anyone disagreeing with him. He is, after all, the King of Pacific Journalism. Dissenters and especially outsiders such as myself are subject to denigration, discrediting, and worse. In my case, far from descending to do the deed himself, Robie has let his students and paid henchmen for Qorvis do most of the dirty work in attacking me. In the wake of my interview with Radio Australia last April that questioned the "Pacific media at peace" narrative, his recent Master's graduate Thakur Ranjit Singh got first crack with a scathing column in the Fiji Sun.
Perhaps Dr Edge needs to take a lecture from Professor David Robie, head of Pacific Media Centre and former head of journalism at USP, on peace journalism, on better understanding of press in the Pacific, non-suitability of western-style conflict journalism in Fiji and how to utilise the potential capability of USP’s journalism school. Dr Edge’s assertion that a form of development communication was not suitable for Fiji shows his lack of depth about underlying media problems in Fiji and the Pacific.
I had mentioned to David at the PINA conference how interesting I found Singh's thesis blaming the 2000 coup on the Fiji Times, but I also told him I found it terribly one-sided and biased. Upon reading Singh's insulting attack on me, I felt moved to go public with my misgivings over his scholarship. That drew a defence from Robie, who as I recall privately agreed with my observations about Singh's admitted bias. "Mr Singh was examined robustly by three external examiners with expert knowledge of Fiji media and coups," wrote Robie in a letter to the Sun defending AUT scholarship publicly. "Dr Edge does not qualify in this category." Perhaps not, but I can read, and Singh clearly states his purpose on page 3 of his thesis: “No in-depth study through a systematic content analysis had been done to substantiate the allegations that have been made by Chaudhry and his supporters and repeated by various academics and politicians since initially postulated through MLP by Robie.” He sets out that his goal is to substantiate the allegations made by deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudry, and promoted by his professor, that the Fiji Times was to blame for the 2000 coup. Setting out to prove pre-conceived notions is not supposed to be the goal of scholarship, which is instead supposed to be a process of neutral inquiry.

After that, Robie could barely even mention my name on his blog Café Pacific, instead referring to me only as "one Canadian media educator" in an entry of May 12. Café Pacific and AUT's Pacific Media Centre websites regularly reprint attacks on regime critics by Australian "journalist" Graham Davis, who admitted in September that he is a paid propagandist for U.S. public relations firm Qorvis Communications, which is under contract for US$1 million a year to promote the Fiji junta. Davis, who hounded me relentlessly on his blog and in the Fiji Sun due to my advocacy for press freedom in Fiji, criticised a certain gathering I organised in September which was designed to explore issues of media and democracy in the South Pacific. Davis dubbed it "Edgefest." Robie found the attack by Davis, which was reprinted across a full page of the next day's Fiji Sun, to be the most cogent coverage of the event.
The most insightful preliminary article was actually an offshore blog column on Grubsheet by Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis who wasn't actually even there (and should have been invited). While this mainly dealt with behind-the-scenes tensions leading into the conference, it at least raised some of the core philosophical issues facing the future of  regional media.
The next attack on me soon came from a tag team made up of two of Robie's students. After the September event, they went public with their disaffection for me in reports which were published in successive editions of the Fiji Sun one weekend. Master's student Alex Perottet quoted someone reminding me at this event that there had been great achievements in the past. “It is not year zero, and you need to understand the local context … If you come with the wrong attitude you put a lot of people off, and then it’s a very bad start.” PhD student Rukhsana Aslam wrote a bizarre column which basically screamed "my professor is better than your professor." She saw the difference as a matter of cultural assimilation. "Mostly, foreign journalists enter a new and troubled country with a pre-set mind that already has the division of 'me vs them.' They are there to tell the world how the local communities are falling short of the 'Westernised' ideals of democracy, human rights, tolerance."
Or they are, like Dr Marc Edge . . . working to “raise the standards to an international level”. They may sympathise or even empathise with the locals but always from a distance – they never connect, never become one with them. In order to be accepted by the people, one needs to belong to them. In turn they are owned by people. One example is Professor David Robie, a Kiwi journalist-turned-academic, who is professor in the School of Communication Studies at AUT University and director of the Pacific Media Centre. He has been referred to by many Pacific Islanders as being “one of us”. Not only because he understands the complexities of socio-political context of the Pacific countries, but because of the way has he identified himself with their people.
Of course, my mistake was to suggest in the first place that journalism standards in the Pacific could possibly be raised. That might mean that the Great Professor of Journalism hadn't been doing his job very well over the years. No wonder he reacted the way he did, reminding all present how great things were when he was there, and even when he was in Papua New Guinea. That's what any discussion of Pacific journalism always turns into when Robie is involved. Others might as well not even exist. I noticed that I quickly became a non-person as far as AUT was concerned. Like this story, which I actually sent out to the media. By the time it got picked up by PMC, I was nowhere to be found and instead the story got around to, as usual, how great things used to be under Robie. Or how about just last week, when I broke a bit of a scoop in the form of the Ghai commission's outside report on Fiji's Media Decree, which predicted it would result in propaganda and self-censorship by journalists. PMC just picked it up uncredited, downplayed the criticisms in the report, and even downloaded it and posted it on their own website. It doesn't take too long to figure out the bias of regional media outlets. PMC is obviously pro-regime, as is Robie. Just last week PMC was full of stories about how great things were in Fiji's media, like this one and this one. I should have known that Robie was back to pimping the dictatorship when I read this last week.

But I'm glad that David has come out from behind his curtain and stuck his head above the parapet. When he starts taking shots at other people he will have to start defending his own actions. And he has a lot to answer for.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Media Decree “will bring propaganda, self-censorship”

The Media Decree gives too much power to government officials, provides insufficient avenues of appeal, and limits the ability of citizens to participate in political debate, according to an analysis prepared by a New York-based legal group. The International Senior Lawyers Project also expressed concern over the decree’s lack of transparency, lack of rights of access to information, and provision for direct government regulation of content, including the power to censor criticism of itself. The ISLP, which provides free legal services to grassroots NGOs and governments in least-developed countries, prepared the analysis for the Ghai Commission that drafted a proposed fourth constitution for Fiji since independence in 1970. The commission stipulated in its draft constitution that some provisions of the Media Decree and other laws enacted by the interim government would have to be amended or eliminated, but the regime rejected the draft and vowed to write its own constitution. The 15-page analysis and a summary of the top five issues with the decree have been obtained by Fiji Media Wars. The end result of the government control allowed by the Media Decree, according to the analysis, would likely be propaganda.
Government-owned and/or controlled media have a tendency to promote propaganda crucial to maintaining an existing political power base and suppress attempts by the media or individual journalists to challenge the approved “government line” on controversial issues. In such a context, journalists are (rationally) motivated to report what is deemed acceptable by the government. 
Concerns with the decree identified by the ISLP also include vagueness in wording that could lead to self-censorship by journalists, the personal liability of employees of media organizations, censorship of material prior to publication, and the enshrining of seditious libel provisions that prohibit criticism of the government. The ISLP’s top five concerns with the Media Decree are:
  1. Executive Control
  2. Lack of Procedural Safeguards
  3. No Right to Access Information
  4. Direct Regulation of Content
  5. Restrictions on Political Speech
The decree fails to distinguish between the executive, legislative and judicial functions in regulating the media, noted the analysis. It vests control of the Media Authority, which regulates the media, in the hands of government officials who have broad powers over both it and the Media Tribunal, which adjudicates media disputes. “For example, the President controls the appointment and removal of members of the Tribunal, and the Minister controls appointment and removal of members of the Authority, with or without cause.” The full name of the decree is the Media Industry Development Decree (2010), which the analysis found misleading.
Despite its stated purpose to “encourage, promote and facilitate the development of media organizations” (Section 8(a)), the Authority generally controls and restricts the media, hears complaints against the media, and has broad discretion to launch an investigation against any media organization irrespective of whether it receives a complaint
The ability of media to challenge the decree legally and to appeal its decisions are “severely limited if not entirely prohibited,” the ISLP notes. The penalties provided – media organizations can be fined up to $100,000 and individual journalists can be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned for up to two years – are out of line, according to the analysis.
To prevent the chilling of legitimate speech by disproportionately punishing illegal speech, liability for publication should be specifically circumscribed to limited circumstances and proportional to the government interest being protected by the restriction.
Also worrying to the ISLP are the broad powers provided in the Media Decree to censor material prior to publication or broadcast. “A system of prior restraint curtails the opportunity for public appraisal and increases the chances of abuse, and, in the long run, the preservation of civil liberties rests upon an informed and active public opinion.” While the regulation of content in the public interest or in the interest of public morality is generally accepted in democracies, the ISLP notes, the language used in the Media Decree is too vague to allow good decisions to be made by news media, which would tend to err on the side of caution. Its provisions on religion and public morals, for example, include “overbroad concepts which are likely to cause self-censorship.”

While the decree requires the publication of the Media Tribunal’s decisions, the ISLP notes, it does not provide for Freedom of Information requests by the public. One of the most objectionable provisions of the Media Decree, according to the ISLP, is that enabling pre-publication review and censoring of material that could “undermine the Government and the State of Fiji.” Seditious libel laws that prohibit criticism of the government have been struck down in countries worldwide, but one is included in the Media Decree.
While the Decree’s inclusion of national security and communal discord as justifications for restricting speech find resonance in modern democratic societies, state dignity and honor do not.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Graham Davis just doesn’t know when to give up

I propose to coin a term today – propagandicide. It refers to a propagandist who just doesn’t know when to back off and in making his advocacy efforts too obvious actually squanders whatever propaganda value he may have once enjoyed. Early studies of propaganda following its pioneering use during World War I saw it as a simple process, which resulted in the “magic bullet” or “hypodermic needle” theory of powerful media effects. All you had to do was inject the public with your message or shoot them with your magic bullet of persuasion and they would adopt your preferred view as their own. Subsequent research, however, found that one-sided messages made poor propaganda because they tend to be rejected as too obvious. Instead two-sided messages (which inevitably favor one’s preferred side) are now the accepted standard.

It seemed like Graham Davis got that message late last year, when he announced he was bowing out of commenting on Fiji politics because of his obvious conflict of interest. He revealed in September that he is a consultant for U.S. public relations firm Qorvis Communications, which is the propaganda arm of the regime. For him to continue to comment on Fiji politics would be seen as simply conveying the regime’s position on issues. Word on the street was that Davis had actually been told to back off in this regard by his masters . . . er, mistress at MINFO. From what he wrote on his blog Grubsheet Feejee and in the Fiji Sun late last year, he seemed to understand that there were very good reasons for this. Here is what Davis wrote on his blog on 27 December and in the Fiji Sun the next day.
I have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to commenting on political matters in Fiji, and especially partisan politics in the lead-up to the election. I am now spending much of my time in Suva working on the Qorvis account that services the Fijian Government. As you all know, my support for that Government is long-standing and my support for Frank Bainimarama actually precedes the events of 2006. But continuing to express that support while being actively involved in Government naturally leaves me vulnerable to charges of being a polemicist or propagandist rather than an independent commentator.
In recent days, however, Davis has reversed course for some reason. Perhaps he doesn’t get it after all, or maybe he just can’t help himself. More likely he has been drafted back into action by a regime that is increasingly desperate for any support it can muster in the face of several disastrous missteps. The torching – literally and figuratively – of the Ghai Commission’s draft constitution was just the first of a trio of such blunders recently. Then the regime enacted the Political Parties Decree setting out difficult requirements for any organisation wishing to field candidates in next year’s promised election. That brought criticism even from some backers, such as Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr. But as everyone who has owned a boat knows, bad things come in threes (good things do, too) and the third shoe dropped in extremely ugly fashion when Father Kevin Barr revealed that an irate dictator had berated him profanely by telephone and text message after he wrote a witty letter to the Sun. It didn’t take too long for his shocking account to be spread all over the blogs, reminding everyone that the country’s military strongman has a dark reputation that includes allegations of torture and even murder. Of course, that wouldn’t stop Davis from whole-heartedly advocating for such a leader. He proved it again today, pumping the tires of the regime and denigrating its opponents relentlessly. Here is what he wrote in discussing the new Political Parties Decree.
The SDL now claims to be a multiracial party but as its name suggests, it is almost exclusively i’Taukei. In its current form, can it meet the test of being non discriminatory and respond to the needs of all Fijians, as the law now requires? Probably not. . . .
Chaudhry’s unlovely personality and uncompromising control of Labour drove Baba into the arms of the nationalists in the SDL. The problem for the SDL is that Baba is hardly charismatic and those around him are virtual unknowns.
Here we have not one but several pejoratives against Fiji politicians. “Unlovely personality . . . uncompromising control . . . hardly charismatic . . . virtual unknowns.” Would that qualify as “commenting on political matters in Fiji,” which Davis promised just a few weeks ago to discontinue doing? You be the judge. In weighing in on the pros and cons of Ro Teimumucan, head of the Burebasaga confederacy, he momentarily suggests that he could be two-sided, but then lapses into being horribly lop-sided.
She could be a formidable force if she can overcome her less attractive political attributes. She horrified many Fijians last year with her warning of “racial calamity” if the chiefs were ignored. And she has been strongly identified with the nationalist cause- which will deter many non-indigenous people from supporting her – as well as the unsuccessful campaign to declare Fiji a Christian state.
Davis describes deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry as “wily.” Nah, nothing prejudicial there. But that’s just to set up Chaudhry for the kill shot. "Chaudhry rules the party with an iron fist and broaches no dissent. The style is old-fashioned socialism, authoritarian and unyielding, and there are a string of political figures who’ve exited Labour for daring to question Chaudhry’s authority." As far as Davis is concerned, some potential opponents of the expected Dictator’s Party, such as Chaudry's FLP, should just give up now. “Labour and the Worker’s Party . . . should consider dissolving altogether. . . . Because leaving aside the decree, the way they are going they are toast.” As for the National Federation Party, Davis deems “this once great party” to have become “a pathetic shadow of its former self.”
What on earth is the point of its existence? . . . Pramod Rae is fighting a losing battle against total irrelevance. The great quest of the old NFP was one, man, one vote. Yet now that it’s finally got it -thanks to Voreqe Bainimarama – Pramod Rae thunders on. He too has no hope of meeting the stipulation of being a national party representing the whole country. It’s high time for the NFP to dissolve and its existing members to seek political solace elsewhere. Times have changed but the NFP hasn’t. . . .
Well, so much for no longer “commenting on political matters in Fiji, and especially partisan politics in the lead-up to the election.” What about not continuing to express his support for the regime while being actively involved in it? After all, he astutely observed that doing so would naturally leave him “vulnerable to charges of being a polemicist or propagandist rather than an independent commentator.” Well, I think you know how this movie ends by now. Heeeeere’s Grubby:
No-one can accuse the Prime Minister or his Attorney-General  - the architect of this decree – of double standards. What’s good for the geese in the old parties is also good for the ducks who’ve worked hard over the past six years to produce the Bainimarama Revolution. . . . Now that we have a level playing field at last, Fijian voters may not know precisely right now who is going to make up the competing teams. But get set for one hell of a game.
We certainly are. Over to you Grubby. Let's see you get out of this one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is an "independent journalist?"

At long last we seem to be getting to the bottom of just why Graham Davis seems to think that he is an "independent journalist." It turns out that he doesn't know the meaning of either word. The Grubby One raised some hackles last week when he delivered the coup de grâce in the Trash Ghai smear campaign that preceded the regime's trashing of the draft constitution. Following some whispering by Crosbie Walsh on his blog that Ghai had lost the confidence of the regime because he was seen socialising with its critics, Davis published a lengthy hatchet job on Ghai both on his blog and in the regime daily, the Fiji Sun. Quoting an anonymous friend of Ghai, Davis set about deconstructing where the Kenyan law professor had gotten off the track. From this "friend," Davis concluded that Ghai had bitten off more than he could chew and had been co-opted by pro-democracy forces.
When he arrived in the country – according to this friend – Yash Ghai had a distinctly romantic notion about finally being able to resolve the intractable “Fiji Problem”. Indeed, he apparently came to believe – in the words of this person – that he was “just as big a saviour for the Fijian people as Voreqe Bainimarama”. . . . He seems to have regarded himself as an active peacemaker, someone capable of reconciling the various races and political factions and setting them on the path to a glorious future under his new prescription for a workable democracy.
According to this "friend," Davis continued, "Ghai was stung when he arrived in Fiji to find that far from being universally welcomed, he was pilloried on anti-government blogs as a stooge of the Bainimarama Government and a lap dog of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum." As a result, quoth Davis, he "consciously set about to correct that assumption by actively courting those elements known to oppose the Government." So when the world renowned constitutional law expert came to Fiji he may have been well-intentioned, but according to Davis Ghai simply fell in with the wrong crowd. "It was a well-meaning but ultimately misguided attempt to be even handed because those anti-government elements were all too keen to exploit the opportunity for their own purposes." Basing such an analysis on a single source -- and an anonymous one at that -- is hardly good journalism. Not identifying the source prevents the reader from assessing its credibility. It could even have been (and likely was) Sayed-Khaiyum, who was a student of Ghai at the University of Hong Kong. Father Kevin Barr called it "very questionable."
Who is this friend and what is his/her political bias?  Is it, by chance, someone we might know? Did Graham also seek the opinion of other good friends of Yash? Graham’s early articles provided a more balanced and independent assessment of the Fiji situation but, more and more, he seems to be falling into the trap of accepting unquestioningly the official interpretation of events. 
Father Barr's use of the word "independent" was doubtless a reference to the description of Davis that accompanied his column in the Sun: "an independent Fijian journalist and part-time consultant for Qorvis Communications." As the latter is the U.S. public relations company under contract to the interim government and is well known for conducting online smear campaigns, the description of "independent journalist" just doesn't fit. The fact that Davis can do nothing but sing the praises of the Bainimarama regime and persists in smearing anyone who questions its policies (including myself) makes his lack of independence apparent enough. Grubby likes to cling to the lie, however, because he has another job hosting a weekly public affairs TV programme in Australia. It might not be very good for his television career if it became known down there that he is actually a propagandist for a foreign government.

Davis was at it again this week, getting a letter pimping the regime published in Rupert Murdoch's national daily, The Australian. At least he rightly concluded that the regime "will be judged on whether it keeps its promise to implement the first genuine democracy in Fiji's history." That brought a letter from myself that was not published in The Australian, as Grubby crowed in an email yesterday. Rajend Naidu down in Sydney noticed, too. "Graham Davis clearly does not qualify as an independent observer," wrote Naidu in a letter published on the New Zealand website Pacific Scoop. "His views are predictable. He is on the regime’s payroll." While we both struck out with getting our letters published in The Australian, former Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter hit a home run.
I FIND it incongruous that Graham Davis (Letters, 14/1) bangs on about genuine democracy while suppporting a regime that crushes dissent by using military force, controls the media to an extent the Julia Gillard hardliners wouldn't dare dream about, awards major contracts without tender, keeps ministerial salaries (and just about everything else) secret, has trampled on human rights, and routinely harasses trade unionists and rights activists -- the sad list goes on.
The war of words continued on the Fiji Today blog, on which I was unexpectedly given posting privileges recently. It aggregates most regional discussion on Fiji political issues and provides a forum for discussion that is more moderate than the revolutionaries at Coup 4.5 but is still decidedly anti-regime. It published Naidu's follow-up letter which seconded Hunter's sentiments and tore another strip off Davis. "If the expatriate Australian wants to side with the military dictatorship that [is] his choice," wrote Naidu. "Having made the choice Graham should not go on and on about being an 'independent' journalist. That is being dishonest." Davis, who trolls the blogs assiduously, shot back. "I am an independent journalists [sic.] because I don’t have one employer," he wrote. "I’m a freelancer. So Rajend Naidu completely misunderstands the use of this term." So it appears that the discrepancy boils down to a matter of semantics. To Davis, "independent" means "freelance." To the rest of us, independent means . . . well, independent. As a PhD in journalism, I simply had to weigh in with a bit of theory on this. Don't worry, this won't be too difficult. It's right out of Journalism 101.
The classic book The Elements of Journalism defines independence as “independence from faction” and states that journalists “must maintain an independence from those they cover.” Under this definition, Graham Davis comes nowhere close to qualifying as independent, as he is employed by the Fiji government faction. What he means is that he is a “freelance” journalist because he is not on staff at any journalism organization but instead contracts with different organizations, such as Qorvis Communications and (for now) the Southern Cross Austereo network in Australia.
Having illustrated what "independent" means in a journalistic context, I shall now deal with the other half of the description "independent journalist." What, exactly, is a journalist? Is it anyone who calls themself a journalist? Hardly. Here is what the same excerpt from The Elements of Journalism has to say on the matter.
The question people should ask is not whether someone is called a journalist. The important issue is whether or not this person is doing journalism. Does the work proceed from a respect for an adherence to the principles of truthfulness, an allegiance to citizens and community at large, and informing rather than manipulating -- concepts that set journalism apart from other forms of communication?
The Elements devotes its entire first chapter to the concept of truth, over which you can really tie yourself in knots and about which we don't have time to muse here. Instead let's deal with the other two parts of that definition. By "an allegiance to citizens and community at large," the Elements refers to its second chapter, which discusses a journalist's "social obligation that can actually override their employers’ immediate interests at times." Under this definition, a journalist actually doesn't work for the newspaper or broadcaster that pays them, but instead works on behalf of the public. That is distinctly different from a public relations operative or propagandist, who is always beholden to whoever signs their paycheque. How about "informing rather than manipulating?" That's an easy one. Was Graham Davis comprehensively informing us when he quoted Yash Ghai's anonymous friend, or was he selectively attempting to manipulate public opinion? If he really was a journalist bent on informing us, wouldn't he have bothered to get more than one source for his analysis? Any editor worth a pinch of salt would have spiked such a one-sided hit job in a heartbeat. Apparently that doesn't include Peter Lomas at the Regime Sun. Davis does not qualify as a journalist because he is not out to inform, but instead to manipulate. Islands Business magazine politely described it as a "charade" in a recent editorial.
Davis is hard put to defend his work as a consultant to an overseas public relations outfit engaged by the Fiji government while being a journalist at the same time. Small wonder then that his arguments in defence of juggling two hats and justifying the charade look like the proverbial fig leaf. Such obvious as daylight conflict of interest would scarcely, if ever, have gone unchallenged in the country where this commentator lives and works from. But apparently, as we have known all along, everything is fair game in the Pacific.
Give it up, Graham. We all know you are a propagandist bent on manipulating public opinion. It is an insult to all Fijians for you to continue to claim otherwise. You are hardly an independent journalist, or a journalist at all. You don't even know the meaning of either word.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A letter to The Australian

A counterpropagandist's work is never done. . . .

Dear Editor,

The next time you publish a letter from Graham Davis of Suva, Fiji ("What Fiji needs", 14-13/1), you should add a disclaimer that, in addition to being host of SCA's public affairs programme The Great Divide, Mr Davis is a propagandist for the Fiji government. Mr Davis admitted in September on his blog Grubsheet Feejee that he is a consultant to the U.S. public relations firm Qorvis Communications, which is contracted by the military dictatorship in Fiji. He recently participated in a smear campaign there against Professor Yash Ghai, the world renowned constitutional law expert who led recent consultations on and drafting of Fiji's fourth constitution. This has been widely seen as an effort to discredit provisions of the Ghai draft constitution which are unpalatable to the Fiji regime, such as the return of basic human rights like press freedom.

Marc Edge
Vancouver, Canada

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fiji media called "cowardly"

In the nuclear fallout from the abrogation of the draft constitution, which has been called Coup 5, much finger pointing has resulted. Most of it has been rightly directed at the regime, which abrogated the Ghai draft. I have been trying to spotlight the efforts of regime propagandists in the Trash Ghai smear campaign that led up to the predictable abrogation. Maybe it's because I was recently given the full Fiji Sun/Grubby & Croz treatment and run out of the country that I can see similarities with the regime's efforts to discredit Professor Ghai. But now a finger has been pointed at the Fiji media, which the Fiji Labour Party has called "cowardly" and even "cowed and intimidated." 
It appears to be operating under a rigid form of self-censorship in refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies and actions. Either that, or it is still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast. Either way, the situation is to be deplored.
Hmmm. Where have we heard this before? The last time I tried to suggest that the Fiji media practiced self-censorship, I came under attack from Legend FM for two days. BTW, my complaint to the Media Authority about the underhanded tactics used by CFL in that case is still alive, despite my departure from Fiji. Media Authority chair Professor Subramani has informed me that the complaint is proceeding and that he has ordered CFL to produce recordings that should substantiate my claim. The irony is that even Sharon Smith-Johns, the regime's pit bull propagandist, admitted in that case that the Fiji media were self-censoring. She urged Fiji journalists to “report fully and without fear or favour” and to not use the Media Decree “as an excuse not to do their jobs.” What's ironic about this is that SHE IS THE REASON THEY ARE SELF-CENSORING!!!

Sorry, I didn't mean to shout. I have to stay in control here. No cursing. No shouting. Calm down. Breathe. Nice, reasonable facts and arguments. OK, I'm good to go again. So is there any merit in the FLP's claim that the Fiji media are "operating under a rigid form of self-censorship" or "still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast?" Well, I'm not in Fiji anymore, so it's hard for me to tell whether the news media there are "refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies and actions." It should be fairly obvious to those consuming media there. Oh, I could go online and check the Fiji Times website and even watch the Fiji TV news if I wanted. Oh, all right then. In the interests of due diligence let's check out the Fiji Times website. Well, there's this piece of finger-pointing at the president. So you mean it wasn't Frank and Aiyaz at all but Ratu Epigram? Well, I guess he'll just have to go. Who shall replace him? I wonder. . . .

I also digress.  What about Fiji TV? After all, it and the Times are about the only major news media outlets in the country likely to run anything against the regime. Well, a quick look at its website doesn't show anything likely. What about Fiji Village, the CFL website? Nope, just the official line from the A-G throwing Epigram under the bus. Not surprising. From what I can tell, Vijay Narayan is as deep in the regime's pocket as Peter Lomas is. FBC? Sorry, just kidding. Yes, I know it's owned by the government and run by the A-G's brother. What about Fiji Live? I haven't been able to figure out a bias for them yet. Bingo! There is is: "Govt’s decision is unacceptable, says SDL." So it's not true to say that ALL Fiji media are self-censoring. Just most.

To answer the FLP's question, it's not an either/or proposition whether Fiji media are "operating under a rigid form of self-censorship" or "still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast." Those two are not mutually exclusive. What is happening is that Fiji media are self-censoring BECAUSE of the pressure put on them by Smith-Johns and her minions at MINFO. Ever since the lifting of the PER, which saw censors physically exit Fiji newsrooms, Smith-Johns has inundated any media outlet which might be tempted to print or broadcast anything remotely critical of the regime with complaints under the Media Decree. It provides fines and even prison sentences for journalists who violate what were once ethical guidelines, but the problem with the Media Decree is that it is quite vague in places, like in Section 22: "The content of any media service must not include material which . . . is against national interest." And who decides what is in the national interest? You got that right! Then there's Section 1(d) of Schedule 1 Media Code of Ethics and Practice, which is the former code of ethics of the Fiji Media Council. Now turned into a criminal code by the regime, it states: "Media organisations have a duty to be balanced and fair in their treatment of news and current affairs." According to MINFO, which has apparently inundated certain media outlets with complaints under this provision of the decree, balance means that you have to get the government's side of any story to do with government. If they don't want to give their response, you can't run the story.

Much uncertainty revolves around the Media Decree because, more than a year after lifting of censorship under the PER, no rulings have yet issued from the Media Authority on any of the complaints that have been made. Media outlets thus have no guidelines on how provisions of the decree will be applied. I have asked Professor Subramani for disclosure of both complaints and their disposition, but to date no disclosure has resulted. As much as anything, this is what has created great uncertainty over what news media in Fiji may and may not report. I have been told some chilling tales off the record by senior media people that the regime has threatened to put them out of business if they dare publicise any opposition to their policies. For evidence of that, one need only look to the $500,000 fine the regime wants imposed on the Times for contempt of court after it ran a soccer story from New Zealand that mentioned quite peripherally (and correctly) that there is no rule of law in Fiji. Or how about the TV Decree, which put Fiji TV on notice with licences lasting only six month instead of the usual 12-year term? If that doesn't qualify as blatant media intimidation, what would?

So are Fiji media practising self-censorship in refusing to run statements that criticise the regime’s policies, or are they still under considerable pressure from the Information Ministry on what to print or broadcast? Sometimes the answer really is All of the Above. Are they "cowardly" for giving in to regime intimidation? That might be a little bit harsh, but not by much. Sooner or later, someone is going to have to show some courage. Or maybe not. We'll see. I have offered the media analysis contained in this blog to the Times free of charge, in an arrangement similar to what Grubby Blogger has with the Sun, but I have received no reply. The FLP has nailed one part of its analysis, however. The situation is surely to be deplored.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Old Croz must be turning red

Poor old Croz must be trying to figure out how to block me like Grubby does after having to delete another uncomplimentary comment from your humble counterpropagandist. The octagenarian Kiwi academic/blogger was likely already blushing after his beloved dictator betrayed any faith the international community may have clung to that Fiji's constitutional process might proceed untainted by regime intereference. Instead it must be painfully obvious to all by now that Commodore Frankly Bananas is intent on rigging the rules to allow him to stay in power perpetually as King Bananas I with the support of his personal propagandists Graham Davis, the Fiji Sun, and yes, Old Croz.

"Keep Cool! This is a Time for Clear Thinking," the blog entry was headlined on Fiji: The Way it Was, Is, and Can Be. Croz was probably starting to feel the rancour directed his way from this quarter and others for his part in the Trash Ghai campaign that led up to the junta's trashing of the draft constitution. But old Croz just does not give up in his apologism. Believe it or not, he just couldn't keep from compulsively pimping Frank one more time.
There is far more to the credit of a government that launched the People's Charter that won the support of two-thirds of the adult population, despite opposition from these self-same critics and others in the old political establishment.  I cannot believe that a government that has placed so much emphasis on racial equality, a shared Fijian identity, national unity, and has done so much towards improving the country's physical and institutional infrastructure, not to mention its efforts to assist rural communities and the poor, is merely in power for self-serving purposes. 
To hear Old Croz tell it, Fijians simply don't realise how good they've got it under the rule of King Bananas I. "They need to know how relatively lucky they are in this essentially benevolent dictatorship." To believe Croz, the latest mess is as much the fault as others who would dare to meddle in Frank's plans. Yes, believe it or not, far from being Frank's fault, according to old Croz, there is more than enough blame to go around. Yes, he actually finds fault all around in the disgraceful episode.
First one or another of those capable of finding solutions, whether it be Government, opposition to Government, an NGO or a foreign government, manages to put their foot in it, which in turn produces actions and reactions from the other parties involved, with an escalation of emotions, finger pointing, the intemperate use of words — and an escalation of the problem that needs resolution. No one says  "Stop", and moderate, calming voices are silent.
Sorry, Croz, now is not the time for moderate words. The strongest condemnation possible is the only appropriate reaction to what Bananas I has done. It is obvious to everyone else, even if it itsn't to you and Grubby, who are both on the junta's payroll. Surely even you must be geting just a little bit embarrassed by your undying apologism by now. (Although I would never expect that of Grubby, who is totally shameless.) There is only one hope for Fiji now: Frank must go. Sooner than later. This is getting Frankly Ridiculous. But what do we get from Croz? Only utter undying devotion to toadying for the dictator. "Then there are the old political parties and the anti-government blogs," Croz complained. "I  recall little to no  approval or encouragement for anything government has attempted.. It has always been criticism, criticism, criticism." And why would that be, Croz? Could it be because the dictator has been acting like a . . . well, like a dictator?

Even the New York Times noticed, reporting that the junta "intends to discard a draft constitution unveiled last month by a renowned professor of constitutional law, a key component of measures intended to help return the coup-plagued nation to democracy ahead of elections set for late next year. . . . in favor of one written by the government itself."
The draft constitution . . . may have rankled some within the government because it sharply constrained the power of the military and required the formation of a transitional government ahead of the elections. Members of the junta would have received immunity from prosecution in exchange for apologizing for their actions, which may have been another stumbling block.
But old Croz is prolly turning a deeper shade of crimson after reading my comment on his obsequious blog entry, which he found so objectionable that he deleted it. You can decide for yourself if the following was out of line or simply uncomfortable criticism that Croz obviously could not abide.
Here's one thing I can agree with: "Government's actions have not been flawless.  Its PR has been appalling." As part of its apologism machine, you should be ashamed. Here's one thing I cannot agree with: "The media is relatively free. Things could be much, much worse." First, your subject-verb agreement is appalling. The word "media" is a plural. It should thus be "The media are relatively free." But they are not. Freedom House ranked Fiji in 2012 as 127th out of 197 countries. RSF ranked Fiji in 2011-12 as 117th out of 179 countries. I recently contributed to the forthcoming rankings, and I don't think they will be going upwards. Here's another thing I cannot agree with: Graham Davis's explanation on Why the Ghai draft is to be modified. It was beyond appalling, adding anonymous slander to your irresponsible gossip. Here is my take on that. Here is somebody else's take on it. (EDITOR'S NOTE: HERE IS ANOTHER.) Delete this comment if you wish, but if you do I will expand it into an  entry on my blog. Someone has to counter your vile propaganda. You are talking about things you know nothing about.
That'll teach you. Talk about making things worse for yourself. Keep it up, Croz. I've got lots more where that came from. Now you've got me going. So does Bananas.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Free expression key to democracy

I still can't post comments on the Grubby Davis blog, so it's a sure bet by now that he's blocking me. In the ultimate irony, he sent me an email just now asking me to post his reply to my letter to the Fiji Sun because he can't figure out how to do so. The Sun gave him a copy of my letter pre-publication so his reply could be published simultaneously, which is an advantage not enjoyed by many, so I don't know what he's complaining about. I suggested he ask his buddies at Qorvis to help him post comments on my blog, as others do. Er, other. Then maybe Qorvis can teach him how to put links in his blog. Even Croz has figured out how to do that.

A momentous political maneuvre was made in Fiji last night. Er, tonight. (I still can't get used to being 21 hours behind Fiji time.) As a non-Fijian, I try to avoid commenting on matters of Fiji politics and confine myself to matters of Fiji media. Of course, the two sometimes overlap, as they did a day ago. (There, that works.) Whether two layers of 215 political representatives or one layer of a few dozen parliamentarians would be an appropriate government for Fiji is a matter for political scientists to debate. Whether former civil servants should be allowed to become cabinet ministers if allegations of corruption have been made against them is a legal matter under the principle of presumption of innocence. Whether the military should be downsized and/or return to the barracks in order to end the "coup culture" and restore political stability to the country, on the other hand, is more likely a matter of common sense.

The most important thing, I would argue, is to allow free and open discussion on these important political issues affecting the country's future. The country's new constitution will only have legitimacy if all Fijians are allowed to express their opinions on what it should contain and a thorough discussion and deliberation on the issues ensues. The problem is that free and open discussion is about the last thing the military dictatorship in Fiji seems to want. Instead it seems intent on stifling dissent and imposing its will on the country. As a result, "genuine" democracy is unlikely to visit Fiji any time soon.

After inviting world renowned law professor Yash Ghai to help craft a new constitution, the regime has now announced that portions of the draft document are unacceptable because they would allow elites to dominate and foreigners to influence Fiji's government. In an effort to discredit the respected constitutional scholar, the government has mustered its spin doctors to whisper that he was seen socialising with the wrong people and thus was not neutral and to quote an anonymous "friend" to the effect that Ghai was intent on being a "savior" of Fiji. The movement to Trash Ghai was obviously an attempt to soften up Fijians for the official backing away from the draft constitution he came up with, which is what has now happened.

The government will now revise the draft constitution to its liking before putting it before its hand-picked Constituent Assembly for ratification. Ordinary Fijians will not get to provide the feedback that Ghai had promised before being overruled by decree. And if you expect a vigorous discussion of the issues in the media . . . well, don't hold your breath. That half of the Fiji media which is in the pocket of government will push its amendments as only reasonable under the circumstances, while that half of the Fiji media which is intimidated into silence will be . . . well, intimidated into silence. That's because decrees such as the Media Decree and the TV Decree remain in force and will continue in force despite the draft constitution's warning that they must be repealed or revised if the media freedom it sees as essential to democracy in Fiji is to result. That is simply not going to happen, because these decrees are central to the "reforms" the regime has been busy implementing for the past few years in order to allow it to steer the country in the direction it wants and remain in power for decades to come. The dictator himself admitted as much not too long ago. "This is not an ordinary government," Bainimarama told ABC in a remarkable 2010 interview. "We’re trying to bring about reforms and changes, and for that . . . we’ll need to shut some people up."
We are working towards democracy in 2014 when we have parliamentary democracy, when we have election. And in the meantime there are many reforms that we need to put in place, and those reforms will never happen if we open everything out to every Tom, Dick and Harry to have their say. . . . We need to stop all people speaking out against the government and its reform.
The Media Decree had been recently put in place at the time of the interview, but the TV Decree and the State Proceedings Amendment Decree, which gives government ministers licence to slander poltical opponents at will, had not. The explanation the dictator gave to interviewer Philippa McDonald for the creeping media repression is just as applicable at this critical juncture in the process as it was then.
McDONALD: I think people are grappling with why you have to keep shutting people up four years after the coup.

BAINIMARAMA: Well it’s.... I keep harping about bringing the changes, and we can’t bring about changes if there are people that are still talking about bringing instability. Because if we do that, I can tell you, Philippa, we open this to the public, we’ll never have election in 2014. I tell you that. That I can guarantee you.

McDONALD: What’s going to happen? It sounds like you don’t trust the people.

BAINIMARAMA: I don’t. I don’t trust the people. That why I.... we’re trying to make this bring about all these changes without letting Fiji Times for instance open their mouths about something that is not happening in Fiji.
Which brings me to the comment I tried to post on Grubsheet just now but could not because Grubby is trying to shut me up. "A genuine democracy will only be achieved in Fiji if free expression returns," I tried to say. "It will thus be interesting to see if the Ghai Commission's recommendations about lifting the draconian provisions of the Media Decree are followed."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A letter to the Fiji Sun

Dear Editor,

Your opinion article by Graham Davis "Ghai: Ruled emotion before reason" (8 January) carried the notation that the author is "an independent Fijian journalist and part-time consultant for Qorvis Communications." This statement is contradictory, fallacious and deceitful. Qorvis Communications is a public relations advisor to the Fiji government, for which Davis writes pro-government articles. Do you expect us to believe that he is an "independent journalist" the rest of the time? Davis himself admitted on his blog Grubsheet (27 December) that he has "a clear conflict of interest when it comes to commenting on political matters in Fiji" which naturally leaves him "vulnerable to charges of being a polemicist or propagandist rather than an independent commentator." By publishing opinion articles by Mr Davis on political issues you leave the Fiji Sun open, by extension, to charges of polemicism or propaganda. Claiming that he is an "independent journalist" when Mr Davis himself has admitted he is not leaves you open to charges of deception.

Vancouver, Canada

Monday, January 7, 2013

Yash Ghai smear campaign well under way

Slander is a little breeze,
a gentle little zephyr,
which, insensibly and subtly,
lightly and softly,
begins to murmur.
  • Rossini, "La calunnia," Il barbiere di Siviglia.
It appears that Grubby Davis is blocking me from commenting on his blog, while Crosbie Walsh has taken to deleting my comments, so the regime’s two leading online propagandists have likely learned the first lesson of the business from their masters at Qorvis. Censorship, as Walter Lippmann observed in his 1922 book Public Opinion, is essential for any successful propaganda campaign. You have to be able to prevent contrary voices from being heard, as the regime has done in Fiji, and if possible to prevent inconvenient facts from coming to light. Unfortunately for them, they can’t stop me from blogging, and by running me out of the country they have actually made their job of bamboozling the blogosphere much more difficult. Quoth Homer: Doh! (Homer Simpson, that is.)

Now that the constitution commission has delivered its draft and disseminated it online, the regime's media campaign to discredit its recommendations is off to a roaring start. The dictatorship was unable to suppress the draft constitution because information wants to be free in the age of the Internet. Fiji’s political parties have lined up behind its recommendations, so it’s a sure bet the regime will want to make a few alterations to things like restoring press freedom and reducing the influence of the military. To do that, it will need public opinion on its side, so it will have to machine gun down the messenger. Commission chairman Yash Ghai, as the commission's figurehead, is obviously the prime target. The fact that he spilled the beans to Radio Australia about that little bonfire the Fiji police had at the printer from which Ghai had ordered copies makes it essential that his credibility be destroyed.

Retired academic Crosbie Walsh, who blogs from New Zealand, was the outlet for the regime’s message, which as usual constitututed a crude ad hominem attack on the messenger. First, in what must be galling criticism for a professor of law, he accused Ghai of acting illegally. Luckily Ghai has a better understanding of the law than Walsh, who is a retired political science professor. But then Walsh added the innuendo. The regime, he reported, “had lost confidence in the neutrality of the Commission.” Then he added his assessment.
There were so many stories of Yash Ghai socialising with known Government opponents, and then later there was the appointment of Ratu Joni Madrawiwi as a consultant.  I have no deep problem with these events, though I think them unwise, but I can well understand why government was concerned: a commission whose key member was no longer neutral was also no longer independent. Government had begun to think the Commission was unlikely to produce a document that would fully address the concerns that had led to its creation.
The Fiji Sun, which unabashedly serves as the regime’s mouthpiece, ran with that, splashing it across its front page as "ACCUSED: Neutrality of Yash Ghai's Commission questioned." The Sun usually floats such gossip in its Coconut Wireless gossip column. This time it lifted the calumny from Walsh's blog and repeated the lack of netutrality refrain. It painted Walsh in the most complimentary terms possible. "Prominent blogger and former University of the South Pacific professor . . . The well-informed Dr Walsh – a respected pioneer of development studies at the regional university." Its selectivity was enough to make even Croz blush. "The Sun did not misrepresent what I said but it only published half of it — the half sympathetic to Government," protested Croz, overestimating by a factor of at least ten the writings in which he was even mildy unsympathetic to the regime. Luckily, reported Croz, Sun publisher Peter Lomas agreed to publish his whole blog entry, so everybody was happy.

Finally, of course, Papa Bear weighed in for the kill. Batting third for a change rather than leading off, Grubby allowed that he was "perplexed" by Ghai's behavior. "Almost as soon as he left the country after handing his Draft Constitution to the President, Professor Ghai launched an extraordinary attack on the Fijian authorities." An "attack" on the regime, as I have learned, is anything of a contrary nature said to Bruce Hill of Radio Australia. Ghai gave Hill one of the more memorable interviews in recent history, recounting how proof copies of his draft constuitution were torched before his eyes by Fiji poilice, who seized hundreds of copies Ghai had ordered printed. Davis even admitted to having been taken aback.
Our immediate reaction was to accept without question the account given by such an eminent global authority and to wring our hands with despair about the behavior of the police. It took a couple of days to discover that the story wasn’t quite the way it had been portrayed, and especially by the anti government blogs. Elements of the mainstream international media have also been guilty of misrepresenting the story.
No,  Grubby, your immediate reaction was to think how you could justify your sinecure by spinning this to the favor of your benefactor the dictator. The target was the Australian press when it finally picked up on the story. "The story is wrong," Davis thundered when the news of the torching did appear. "It didn’t happen as reported."

Certainly, no copy of the actual Draft Constitution was set alight. What was burnt were some uncorrected printer’s proofs that had been shredded – yes, cut up into little pieces – and that the police feared may have been reconstituted had they not been destroyed. Their orders, after all, were to secure the document and prevent its dissemination.
By leaking the draft constitution to Fijileaks, Davis stormed on, Ghai had managed to "bastardise the entire process." The reason the Ghai "blueprint" was causing such consternation in official circles, Davis claimed, was because it was "a patently flawed formula" for achieving genuine democracy that requires major revision. "If you dissect its provisions, Fiji would wind up with an elite of non-elected representatives and hereditary chiefs whose numbers would far exceed those directly chosen by the people. And what – pray tell – is democratic about that?" Davis cited an anonymous friend of Ghai who allowed that his “emotions may well have got in the way of his better judgment.” Holding to his strict journalistic standards, Davis paraphrased a lone unnamed source in setting about to deconstruct Ghai's constitution-making efforts. Ghai had a "distinctly romantic notion about finally being able to resolve the intractable 'Fiji Problem,'” according to this friend, and had even come to believe that he was “just as big a saviour as Frank Bainimarama.”
According to his friend, Professor Ghai was stung when he arrived in Fiji to find that far from being universally welcomed, he was pilloried on anti-government blogs as a stooge of the Bainimarama Government and a lap dog of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. So he consciously set about to correct that assumption by actively courting those elements known to oppose the Government.
The resulting over-correction, Davis concluded, was why Ghai had gone too far over to the other side. According to Davis, Ghai "seems to have decided to 'go rogue,' to thumb his nose at due process."

As I tried to point out in a comment on his blog, readers should keep in mind what Grubby wrote on 27 December: "I have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to commenting on political matters in Fiji, and especially partisan politics in the lead-up to the election." As he was now spending much of his time in Suva working for Qorvis, noted Davis, continuing to express support for the regime left him "vulnerable to charges of being a polemicist or propagandist rather than an independent commentator." Or maybe he wrote this in his spare time. . . .