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. . . .

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