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.

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