Friday, May 10, 2013

Military monopoly on truth

And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field. We do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple. Whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? – John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644
Grubby probably thinks that I've lost interest in his splutterings and that it's safe to resume his prevarications, but I have only been otherwise occupied. I do keep one eye on Fiji media, however, and when sufficiently outraged I intend to issue forth accordingly. Such a time has come, as Grubby has chosen a topic on which he is ill-qualified to comment, ie. The Truth.

Logo by Boo
As any second-year journalism student who has learned her lessons knows, The Truth can be a very elusive commodity. Different people have different versions of it. Some claim there is no such thing. Journalism is wedded to reporting the truth, but it is ill-equipped to determine it. Courts can sit for weeks and months taking testimony and hearing argument about exactly what the truth is and can often only come up with a best guess, so how are journalists supposed to determine the truth, as Grubby would have them do? Luckily they deal with a specific type of truth journalistic truth. Journalism, it has been long said, is merely the first draft of history. Often the truth only comes out in the fullness of time, to be told further refined by historians such as myself. The daily grind of reporting only allows a glimpse into what may or may not be the truth. Journalistic truth is hardly the final word. It is instead, according to the Elements of Journalism, more like a conversation. As difficult as it is to divine the truth, it notes, "seen as a process over time, journalism can get at it."
It attempts to get at the truth in a confused world by stripping information first of any attached misinformation, disinformation, or self-promoting information and then letting the community react, and the sorting-out process ensue. The search for truth becomes a conversation. Rather than rushing to add context and interpretation, the press needs to concentrate on synthesis and verification.
This is exactly what is not happening right now in Fiji. Instead of a conversation, some Fijians are told that they must "shut up." Only the military government's version of reality, from the pens of captive journalists and propagandists such as Grubby and Croz, will be allowed. This version is very different from . . . well, from the truth. Just how different depends on the skill of the government propagandists and the degree of control exerted by the government. In this case, they are scant and great, respectively. Which brings us to Grubby's splutterings on truthfulness. He objects to an interview given by former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry to Radio Australia recently in which he issued according to Grubby manifest untruth. 
He claimed that the Fiji media continued to be saddled with restrictions that prevented any party that opposed the Bainimarama Government from getting proper coverage. This is simply untrue. There are no restrictions on media coverage of Chaudhry’s comments or, indeed, the comments of any other political leader.
I try to stay out of Fiji politics and stick to my area of expertise, which is matters of media, but I'm pretty sure that Chaudhry is correct in what he said. The news media in Fiji are firmly under the dictator's thumb. This has been confirmed recently by several independent international observers. Freedom House, for example, gave Fiji a press freedom score of 56 for the second straight year. [NOTE: I made a minor error here -- Fiji's press freedom score in 2011 from Freedom House was 57, not 56.] Despite the lifting of censorship in early 2012, Fiji's press is no [hardly] freer than before because of the draconian Media Decree. Fiji ranked 120th in the world for press freedom, according to this report, right behind Uganda and Moldova. The country report for Fiji has yet to be issued, but it will be presently available here. I'm sure the press freedom elves are cobbling just as fast as they can. In the meantime, what other data do we have by which to judge the truthfulness of Chaudry's statement versus Grubby's? How about the UK’s Human Rights and Democracy report, which was issued last month? The section on Fiji is not flattering.
Media freedom remains severely limited. Although government censors have been removed from newsrooms, the application of a range of punitive measures means that self-censorship now prevails. The judiciary remains compromised. Those who criticise the government continue to face harassment and intimidation.
Then there's the U.S. State Department's Fiji 2012 Human Rights Report, which is available in both HTML and PDF. It is no more heartening than the UK report, but much more detailed. "Independent media could not operate freely under the Media Decree," it reported. "The attorney general continued to prosecute media organizations for contempt of court if they reported any discussion questioning judicial independence." Intimidation of journalists continued unabated, according to the report. "Some journalists reported they were given verbal warnings by authorities not to publish articles critical of the government." There may no longer be government censorship, in other words, but self-censorship has proven just as effective a means of government control.
Journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship . . . with many reportedly fearing retribution if they criticized the government. Media continued to refuse to publish opinion articles by antigovernment academics and commentators.
The main tactic used by MINFO to muzzle reporting on government, aside from intimidation, was noted in the U.S. report. As the Media Decree requires stories to be balanced, simply refusing comment is sufficient to forestall any contentious reporting.
This requirement enabled government departments and private businesses to prevent stories from being published by not responding to media questions, thus making it impossible for the media to fulfill the decree’s requirement for comment from both sides. However, media sources reported that if the story was positive toward the government, the balance requirement could be ignored without consequence.
So I think we can safely conclude that Chaudhry was spot on in his comment to Radio Australia, while Grubby's protestation is just more low-grade government disinformation. It really boggles the mind that he is able to keep his propaganda gig. Perhaps some Fijians are gullible enough to swallow his swill. Hopefully no one who reads this blog is. Even more idiotic than Grubby's insistence that there are no restrictions on media coverage of opposition politicians in Fiji is his explanation that Chaudhry doesn't get any domestic coverage because he doesn't talk to Fiji media and that Fiji media know better than to report his claims because they "have only a passing acquaintance with the truth." According to Grubby, it is not the job of news media to merely report the claims of prominent people on important matters, but instead to first determine their truthfulness and to then report only those it deems to be correct.
As one journalist put it to Grubsheet: “Why should we report what these guys are saying when we know it to be false?” The answer is “you shouldn’t.” As the Fijian opposition evidently sees it, the local media is there to report their utterances without question. No. They are there to report without fear or favour but are under no compunction to report comments that are either untrue or are not newsworthy judged by conventional media standards.
Wrong again, Grubby. If Chaudhry's claims are incorrect, this should eventually be revealed and will reflect poorly upon his competence as a politician. This is how it works in a democracy, where a good reporter is only too eager to report a politician uttering an untruth. Journalistic truth, after all, is a sorting-out process or a conversation. But the problem is that only one side gets to speak in Fiji. Is there any wonder Chaudhry speaks to Radio Australia but not to domestic media? But there is good news on the truthfulness front. According to the Fiji Sun and what more truthful source could one possibly want? the junta has apparently found the solution to the difficult problem of determining what is truth and what is a lie.
Any political party or member found spreading lies to cause trouble will be charged, the Fiji Police Force has warned. Speaking to Fiji Sun yesterday, Police chief of operations Assistant Commissioner of Police Rusiate Tudravu hinted that they have mounted a joint operation with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to monitor political activities.
So from now on if people like Chaudhry attempt to spread lies to foreign media, such as saying there is no press freedom in Fiji, they will luckily be brought to justice. According to Grubby, this will likely be another glorious victory for press freedom.


  1. "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." - A. J. Liebling.

    So who owns the media? According to this insightful article from Business Insider, 90% of the US media is owned by 6 corporations.

    This invariably means that, 'freedom of the press" a mantra sung by the same media agencies and regurgitated by some so called press experts, are in fact, a freedom that is owned by corporations.

    The often cited Freedom House list of country's index of "Free media", gives ignorant people, an 'illusion of freedom' .

    Edward S. Herman's essay: 'The Propaganda Model' does shed light on this conglomerate.

  2. I guess that's why the U.S. ranked only 23rd in press freedom despite its vaunted First Amendment. Ownership concentratin is even tighter here in Canada, where only 3-4 companies control most of the media. We ranked 29th.