Friday, August 30, 2013

Frank stiffs Time – and pays the price

Perhaps Fiji’s dictator forgot for a moment (again) that his omnipotence over news media doesn’t extend beyond the country’s fringing reefs and that he can’t fine or jail or bash overseas journalists who speak ill of his regime. Maybe he was so taken with his new media strategy of silence – which has served to muzzle Fiji’s domestic journalists because of his Media Decree’s requirement for “balance” – that he thought he could use it effectively on one of the world’s great magazines. Once again he has learned to his chagrin that real journalists are not so easily cowed.

The latest example of Frank Bainimarama’s stupidity – or more likely that of his media dominatrix Shazzer Smith-Johns – has now snapped back in his face all over the pages of Time magazine. (Hat tip to the ever vigilant Bubu for unearthing this little gem.) The magazine has used the dictator’s own intransigence against him in posting the most scathing indictment yet of the junta’s media strategy, not to mention laying bare the damage the military regime has been doing to Fiji’s economy for the past few years.

Time correspondent Ian Lloyd Neubauer was tipped off to the appalling situation with foreign investment in Fiji by his DJ buddy Bar’el Wachtel, who told him about what happened last week at the Cloud 9 resort near Nadi, which opened in June. Wachtel recently came from the Maldives to spin tunes at the resort’s floating Club 9, which is moored less than a kilometre from the Cloudbreak reef legendary with surfers. As is often the case in Fiji, the idyllic image presented to tourists was soon shattered by the reality of the country’s tribal lawlessness. The floating restaurant/bar, as was well reported by Fiji media, was briefly cut adrift from its moorings last Wednesday by machete-wielding thugs in a brazen daylight raid. Neubauer traveled to Fiji from Australia to investigate, and he soon learned of other such disturbing attacks on tourist facilities. The raid on Cloud 9, he reported, was “but one in a long line of clashes between indigenous landowners and investors in Fiji.” The halting of a multimillion-dollar expansion project at Vuda Marina earlier this year and the severing of costly zip-line cables last month in the Sabeto Valley were other examples he uncovered. Neubauer used a cutting quote in his report from the owner of the zip lines, which were in a new jungle-adventure park where locals also “pointlessly” poisoned hundreds of fish.
“They still eat people in Fiji,” says the park’s American owner, Kevin Purser, in reference to the unsavory past of what were once known as the Cannibal Isles. “Only now they do it in a different way.”
Ouch! Neubauer followed that comment with one from the junta’s least favorite overseas academic. (Although surely I must be pushing hard for that honour.)
“People take the law into their own hands because that is [the] way things are done in Fiji,” adds Brij Lal, Fiji expert and professor at Australian National University. “There is no real guidance on what people should and should not do.”
The regime will be reeling from that one-two combination, but Neubauer was only just getting warmed up. He followed that salvo with his own damning indictment that put the quotes into context and for a finishing blow added a coup de grace from Lal.
It’s comments like these that put a spotlight on business stability in a country that has seen foreign investment plummet from $450 million in 2009 to a paltry $16 million last year. . . . Says Lal: “Investor confidence will only increase when there is proper rule of law and clarity over ownership.”
Like any good journalist would, Neubauer attempted to balance his story with comment from the interim government. He dutifully submitted his request for an interview with Bainimarama. “But after spending 10 days in hotel rooms while my request was passed backward and forward to members of his inner circle, the interview was denied.” Unlike journalists in Fiji, who are forced to labour under the Media Decree, that didn’t stop him from telling his story. After all, as well-trained journalists realise, you don’t HAVE to get comment from all sides to fulfill the requirement for balance. You only have to give them the opportunity to comment. If they don't want to give their side of the story, you can report that, too. And so not only did Bainimarama’s refusal to comment get reported in Time magazine, but so did the reasons behind it.
Fiji’s military government has refused to comment on the raid at Cloud 9 or the security of tourists and investors in the country. That doesn’t come as a big surprise given its vexed relationship with the media. Fiji’s once-dynamic press has been reduced to a docile government mouthpiece since the army seized power in a 2006 coup, while foreign reporters who rock the boat face deportation.
So again the dictator has egg all over his face, as does the country. Neubauer aptly concluded his article by quoting from his DJ buddy, who might also have expressed the sentiments of many Fiji journalists. “I expected doing business in Fiji would be hard,” Wachtel says, “though not this hard.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment